Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Masculinity, 2k9 Edition

Original post here

There have been a couple of articles online lately that have hinted to a new breed of masculinity emerging just in time for 2009. In a Videogum post titled "Bromance Is The Most Important Examination of Modern Masculinity Ever" from a few days ago the new MTV series Bromance is described as Women-Studies-PhD-thesis-worthy. I don't have cable so I haven't actually seen the show, and even if I did have cable I wouldn't have watched already anyway. From what I gather, Bromance is a reality series/pseudo-game show about a dude (MTV's The Hill's Brody Jenner) getting another dude to be his best friend (al la The Bachelor but with best friendship instead of marriage). In theory, the premise sounds noble-- there is a common, almost primal need for good friend. But in reality, it's a lot harder for the machismo male that's celebrated in American MTV culture to have a special platonic same-sex friend.

The reason Videogum calls this series out as a major player in gender theory is the interaction between contestants vying to be Brody's new Best Friend. Apparently the interaction between contestants and with Brody is kind of, well, gay. In the short Videogum recap video they posted of the show (seen above) the contestants are almost laugh-out-loud uncomfortably funny. The video clip is a lot of dudes trying to show how not gay they are while simultaneously showing a whole lot of tender, genuine emotion in order to snag Brody's attention.* At first I thought the uncomfortable humor on an MTV spin off of a spin off of a reality show was coincidental or maybe just a side effect of the cooky premise but now I don't think it is. On Brody's personal website he (or his publicist, or whoever blogs for him) calls attention to the Videogum post. He even calls it a"bomb-ass" (which, I think means, REALLY AWESOME in bro-in-a-reality-show speak) post. For the main character to point out to his biggest fans these theories as positive and important must mean he's in on the joke. I like that he's being playful in his role as a MTV reality star and his acknowledgment of the idea of homoerotic tension between EXTREMELY STRAIGHT bros is appealing and new for the type of dude that's usually hanging around on MTV.

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The other article that's potentially changing masculinty is the MSNBC discussion on Mantyhose. The product mantyhose is being discussed everywhere now and has blown into this huge internet meme (and yes, I'm adding fuel to this fire. you're welcome). Mantyhose is described as a pantyhose (or probably a lot more like tights) for construction workers, athletes and business men (the very manly positions they list is not an accident) that men use for "support, comfort and aesthetic purposes". The market for mantyhose is probably TINY at most and even smaller when you take out those that buy this product as a gag gift, a prop in a sexual fetish, or an actual legitimate product for the cross-dressing/drag queen population (this group of consumers is purposely left out of this discussion saying, " (the) trend has no connection to men who wear hose to cross-dress, since they prefer to wear pairs that are more feminine"). To be honest, if you buy good quality tights they actually can be really comfortable and warm even though a lot of people wouldn't agree. I actually have a pair of tights that I wear when I know I'm going to be in the cold because they have fleece on the inside I can understand why a dude might want to do the same thing.

The disappointing thing about all the buzz about mantyhose is that it only is buzz. One mainstream media outlet needed something wacky to talk about so their research department found the one online mantyhose shop and reported about it. Then a bajillion other outlets picked it up because they know they'll get hits. They think people are all like OMG GUYS WEARING WOMAN'S CLOTHING? I HOPE THERE ARE PICS. SO ZANY. And people probably are like that. That is why something like this isn't really doing much damage on the general concept of masculinity. The only reason this product is subversive at all (and it's bordering on being something that just exudes a new type of sexism instead of a new kind of masculinity) is actually because it is a product that was originally created for females but a few men have discovered its positive qualities.

Mantyhose has had its fifteen minutes and will probably never catch on to any mainstream population. Bromance, on the other hand, might actually be making some people think. There have to be guys that take their social ques from television and after watching an entire season of Bromance they might be willing to interact with their guy friends a little bit more intimately. Or, maybe not. What's important is that the option is being explored and allowed on a bro-centric channel. Who knows, it might pave the way for more important changes in thought in the future.

*Note: I don't think that when guys show emotion they're gay. But I do think the type of guys on this show typically think it's gay if they show that much emotion.

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