Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema

Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema

Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema

Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema


Screening the malere-examines the problematic status of masculinity both in Hollywood cinema and feminist film theory.
Classical Hollywood cinema has been theoretically established as a vast pleasure machine, manufacturing an idealized viewer through its phallocentric ideological apparatus. Feminist criticism has shown how difficult it is for the female viewer to resist becoming implicated in this representational system. But the theroies have overlooked the significance of the problem itself - of the masuline motivation at the core of the system. The essays here explore those male characters, spectators, and performers who occupy positions conventionally encoded as "feminine" in Hollywood narrative and questions just how secure that orthodox male position is.
Screening the Malebrings together an impressive group of both established and emerging scholars from Britain, the United States and Australia unified by a concern with issues that film theorists have exclusively inked to the femninie and not the masculne: spectacle, masochism, passivity, masquerade and, most of all, the body as it signifies gendered, racial, class and generatonal differences.


Steven Cohan and Ina Rae Hark

Perhaps the most extensively argued premise of film theory is that the structures of pleasure which Hollywood cinema offers male and female viewers alike ultimately work to prop up the phallocentric bias of its representational system. Starting with Laura Mulvey’s much reprinted essay on visual pleasure and narrative film, in the past two decades numerous critics have analyzed classical Hollywood cinema as a pleasure machine which manufactures a masculinized viewer through the ideological apparatus of cinematic address. There is now a coherent body of strong feminist criticism which has repeatedly shown how difficult it is for a woman to resist becoming implicated in the representational system that is Hollywood cinema: the apparatus not only uses the female figure to signify a male desire that disavows difference, but it excludes her from its masculine address as well.

In concentrating on the female body as the primary stake of cinematic representation, however, even the most acute and insightful of those discussions have ignored the problem of masculinity which motivates that system. There have been some exceptions, of course—such as the discussions of ‘male trouble’ in several issues of the feminist journal Camera Obscura as well as scattered analyses of men and masculinity in various films, most of them cited in the bibliographies of the essays to follow—but even these are symptomatic. Generally speaking, the feminist film theory based in Mulvey’s analysis of visual pleasure, though critiquing both the feminine spectator implied by her theoretical model and the psychoanalytic assumptions that inspired it, has by and large minimized or taken for granted the complex and considerable cultural investment which classical Hollywood cinema has historically expended in the display of the male, especially as his figure on screen calls into question the stability and unity equated with ‘masculinity’ and epitomized in the diegesis by the gaze of the male actor.

Until recently, at least, while it has been recognized that orthodox masculine subjectivity functions as the central problem raised by classic Hollywood film, the status of the male in both the cinema auditorium

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