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I found the issues of gender as a performance really interesting in ‘Boys Don’t Cry and Female Masculinity’ by Brenda Cooper. The two males (John and Tom) that attack, and eventually murder Brandon (the FTM transgendered character) seem unable to accept or ignorant towards gender as a performance, as they believe Brandon cannot be a male because he has female genitalia. The ignorance towards this issue is echoed by how they wish to display their masculinity in a very typical way; through a violent attack towards Brandon to assert their dominance over the “female”.
In Yvonne Tasker’s reading ‘Fists of Fury’, which discusses the relationships between race and displays of masculinity in American and Chinese martial arts films, she states; “….it is perhaps not surprising to find that the films are centrally concerned with the sexual commodification of the (usually white) male body”. This is one of the many ways men of different races display masculinity differently, and imply that for the Western viewer, it is not acceptable to for a Westerner to find an Eastern individual attractive in this context.
In the 1990s, I’m not sure if the people of Falls City reacted in shock over the murder of Brandon Teena’s death or if they supported it. In Brenda Cooper’s essay, I feel like her best argument was exposing the hypocrisy of the Falls City community behind “America’s Heartland.” While the community has hard-working people, it also has a lot of crime and immoral sins of drinking and drug abuse. It is interesting how two convicts were able to justify the rape and murder of a human being who’s only crime was acting as male. The movie sought to expose the underbelly of this proud town by questioning normality. It also promotes female masculinity and how transgenders must overcompensate sometimes to fit in to masculine norms by being insensitive, aggressive, violent, or tough. The movie sought to address the violence towards queer identities rather than proudly supporting gays and lesbians. In it’s example, it does not paint a happy acceptance and/or ending for gays such as the Ellen DeGeneres Show, RuPaul’s, or even Queer Eye for the Straight Guy does.
In “Fists of Fury,” ultimately western and Asian cinematography seek a common thread in martial arts, to seek justice. However, the ideals or masculinity are portrayed separately. Asian martial arts is about body hardness and skills whereas western martial arts is about white, black, and Asian stereotypes that use deviant behavior to get what they want. I agree with the article in that Americans tend to pay more attention to their bodies and sex appeal rather than strength. One example used in the text is Jean-Claude Van Damme and his direction away from martial arts towards heroism and body-building. I personally like the Karate Kid series as well as the latest Karate Kid movie with Jackie Chan. Instead of being based solely on one race, Asian and white or Asian and black merge together and coexist. Also, even though Jackie Chan uses humor, I would prefer that to a Bruce Lee movie any day. In a realistic situation, one probably would not laugh as they are kicking the crap out of somebody, but rather take life less serious all together. Asian cinematography explores patience, discipline, and control, whereas, Western cinematography implies that we are reckless and impatient.
This article reminds me of my childhood and it goes hand-in-hand with violence. When my brother and I were little, my brother was not allowed to watch karate movies because typically, for him I was the intended target for karate kicks.
The deconstruction of masculine and feminine scripts are occurring in unorthodox sites of interest, as evidenced in Tasker’s examination of race and masculinity construction in martial arts films starring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, and Cooper’s analysis of “Boys Don’t Cry” and normalized heterosexuality. Both Tasker and Cooper position the constructions of masculinity and femininity within these films as a “mainstream spectacle” that is often inaccurate and denigrating. Tasker profiles the creation of martial arts films in both China and America, and concludes that in both, the “body of the hero or heroine is their ultimate, and often their only, weapon” (p. 503) but the way that Chinese masculinity is articulated in American film is vastly different than it is in China. This is grounded in a failure to understand how identities intersect across the race and sexuality intersections.
In Hong Kong, masculine identities are constructed through the anticolonial narrative. Power as a framework to view sexuality and masculinity is important because dominant narratives are often used to position people of color in media. In this regard, Hong Kong’s martial arts films serve as an act of resistance against Westernized concepts of Chinese masculinity. According to Tasker, the West constructs Chinese males as effeminate and “less than men,” so Hong Kong’s martial arts tradition subverts the dominant narrative, and also critiques power in the process. The “race film” genre of the early-and-mid 1900’s served a similar purpose for Black masculinity.
The basis of the modern American film industry is “The Birth of a Nation.” It is heralded for its technical innovations and commercial success, but the film depicts Black American men as brutes that lust for White flesh and must be tamed through lynching while Black American women are constructed as salacious jezebels. Race films offered a counternarrative of Black American life. Black men in race films were doctors, attorneys and in other “reputable” fields. Black women were “respectable” mothers and wives that protected their virtue with iron-clad thighs. The emergence of Bruce Lee in America’s martial arts films was as revolutionary as the development of race films. His “remasculinization” was and remains vital because his body became a space for subverted masculine discourse surrounding Chinese ethnic identification.
In many ways, Brandon Teena’s tale as an entrance into examining heteronormative constructions of femininity breaks the binary of feminine-masculine identity, and offers a continuum instead. Cooper offers four ways that the film “Boys Don’t Cry,” based on Teena’s life and death, interrupt heteronormative constructions of femininity. One of the ways the biopic accomplishes this disruption is by “blurring the lines of female masculinity (p. 358).” Teena’s girlfriend, Lana, opts to overlook her boyfriend’s trans* identity, which challenges notions of gender identity.
Lana doesn’t identify as a lesbian woman and recognizes Teena’s performance of masculinity as authentic. The film centers this relationship, and succeeds in blurring the lines of female masculinity by showing Lana and Teena involved sexually even after her trans* identity has been revealed.
Cooper articulates this on p. 364 when she writes, “Thus depicting Lana and Brandon engaging in sexual relations even when she has acknowledged Brandon’s biological sex can be read as a liberatory strategy that works to blur the dichotomous distinctions between female and male.” Both Cooper and Tasker mine these unorthodox sites of inquiry and presents media as a potentially revolutionary force. These articles remind me of the reason I opted to enter the media field to begin with. Both researchers provide excellent analyses that frame their arguments across multiple intersections. I’m grateful that these pieces were included on the syllabus.
“Bridesmaids” is an important film. It presents complex, nuanced, images of both women of color (Maya Rudolph as Lillian Donovan) and white women, including Annie Walker (played by Kristen Wiig), Becca (played by Ellie Kemper) and Helen Harris III (played by Rose Byrne). The movie centers on the life of Annie Walker, a single woman that is suffering through the quintessential “I’m still single” crisis. She’s a failed entrepreneur, and has taken several backward steps since her baking business folded. Walker’s character is constructed stereotypically. She’s single, childless and miserable. However, what Walker offers is a character that can locate pleasure and joy outside of traditional relationships. She engages in a casual fling in the film and often uses lewd terms to describe her sexual desires.
In contrast, Lillian Donovan – Annie Walker’s best friend – is self-assured, focused and able to balance her career with her engagement. This is a direct challenge to the stereotypical constructions of women of color. Donovan is sexual, but she isn’t a jezebel. She’s loud, but she’s not a sapphire. She’s nurturing, but she isn’t a mammy. This is revolutionary. Though there are other characters that can be mined, including Helen Harris III and Megan (played by Melissa McCarthy), Annie and Lillian are central to their plot. The turbulence of their friendship is the basis for the film, and thus, their character construction is essential.
Upon reading Tasker’s article, I was intrigued to follow the rise of the Asian martial arts action hero in Western cinema. It was indeed the result of an evolving socially aware civilization which admitted a non-western hero into its acceptable hero iconography. However, I am curious if there will ever be an openly homosexual male action hero in action cinema.
I am incredulous, at this point. It seems as though action heroes function as an overtly masculinized fantasy for both straight and gay males to idolize as a representation of those things missing in the real male. However, is it so incredible to envision a gay action hero, or are my priorities all wrong? Perhaps I should be doing my best to abandon social tropes constructed on problematic patriarchal priorities.
In regard to some of Tasker’s writing, I find this Asian action here Bruce Lee / Jackie Chan dichotomy interesting. Tasker suggests, that while Bruce Lee represents kind of ‘masculinity taken serious’ — hard and tough — Jackie Chan is perhaps a softer kind of hero. Chan, unlike Lee is vulnerable, cheery, and often portrays characters that don’t take themselves too seriously (his title character in Legend of the Drunken Master, for example). Chan is also famous for his performance in Rush Hour as a character named Lee (ironically). Rush Hour, problematic as it is at times, is about culture class, Chan’s Lee representing asian culture and Chris Tucker’s Carter representing black american culture. Tucker’s character is a hypermasculine cop, performing his masculinity at every turn–mostly this entails hitting on girls. He demeans and belittles Chan at first, but when Chan reveals his abilities vis-a-vis his martial arts skills, Tucker feels threatened and begins to get competitive. Often times, this manifests itself in cheap shots taken at Chan’s asian heritage. Ultimately, throughout the film–and this is where I think it comes full-circle to Tasker–Chan’s masculinity is confused between Western ideals: he’s competent, skilled, and can kick butt, but he’s also small, goofy, and mostly uninterested in sex.
This week, I found Steven Cohan’s article on the TV show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to be an extremely interesting read. His detailed textual analysis of the show was a useful insight into analysing a visual text in order to unearth the ideologies and tensions that it contains. I found his idea of “metrosexuality” helpful in my research and I have also referred to it in my Critical Analysis Paper. The image of the hero in Hindi cinema is changing, with representations ranging from the urban metrosexual to the unsophisticated ruffian of small town/ rural India. Cohan’s idea of the “metrosexual” male identity and what it connotes would enable a reading of one type of masculinity in Hindi cinema and the underlying cultural factors that influence such representations. I also found that I could use Judith Halberstam’s idea that masculinity is considered natural as opposed to femininity which is derivative and artificial in my research. The representation of women in Hindi cinema has already received much critical attention, but in contemporary cinema the image of the Hindi film heroine is pushing the limits of what was expected from her earlier. The new-age heroine is unapologetic, she smokes, she indulges in casual affairs and lives her life on her own terms. This is an interesting development on how femininity is performed on screen. The ideas that I got from this week’s readings about the connection between gender, identity and society will be helpful in talking about the construction of gender in Hindi cinema.
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