Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush

Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush

Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush

Manhood in Hollywood from Bush to Bush


A struggle between narcissistic and masochistic modes of manhood defined Hollywood masculinity in the period between the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. David Greven's contention is that a profound shift in representation occurred during the early 1990s when Hollywood was transformed by an explosion of films that foregrounded non-normative gendered identity and sexualities. In the years that have followed, popular cinema has either emulated or evaded the representational strategies of this era, especially in terms of gender and sexuality.

One major focus of this study is that, in a great deal of the criticism in both the fields of film theory and queer theory, masochism has been positively cast as a form of male sexuality that resists the structures of normative power, while narcissism has been negatively cast as either a regressive sexuality or the bastion of white male privilege. Greven argues that narcissism is a potentially radical mode of male sexuality that can defy normative codes and categories of gender, whereas masochism, far from being radical, has emerged as the default mode of a traditional normative masculinity. This study combines approaches from a variety of disciplines--psychoanalysis, queer theory, American studies, men's studies, and film theory--as it offers fresh readings of several important films of the past twenty years, including Casualties of War, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, The Passion of the Christ, Auto Focus, and Brokeback Mountain.


During a particularly suspenseful sequence in Wolfgang Petersen’s In the Line of Fire (1993), Clint Eastwood, playing Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent haunted by his failure to prevent JFK’s assassination, races across rooftops in pursuit of John Malkovich’s wily, manipulative would-be presidential assassin, Mitch Leary. Part of the joke and the pathos here is that, at sixty-three years old, Eastwood is past these heroics, yet he valiantly pushes forward, sprinting over roof after roof, Horrigan’s young partner Al (Dylan McDermott) trailing behind. Malkovich leaps across one last great gulf; Eastwood follows suit, but he can’t quite make it, hanging desperately by his fingers on the edge. This is one of the most vertiginous sequences ever filmed; indeed, the shot of Eastwood hanging above a vast Nietzschean abyss recalls the opening sequence of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). When Hitchcock leaves James Stewart hanging over the edge, he creates a metaphysical statement about the predicament of humankind, suspended above the unknown.

What statement does Wolfgang Petersen seek to make here? As Horrigan clings to the edge, Leary appears above him, saying, “Take my hand or you’ll die.” Leary needs Horrigan alive, to serve as witness to his ingenuity and to partake in a lonely game only the two men can play. Eastwood, consistently rejecting Leary’s offers of kinship, takes his gun out and points it up at Leary, who finds the gesture amusing (as only Malkovich can convey). “If you shoot me, we’ll both die,” Leary says, while also taunting Horrigan about his resolve to save the current president. Eastwood resolutely keeps his gun on Malkovich—and then, to demonstrate his confidence that Eastwood won’t shoot him, Malkovich takes Eastwood’s gun into his mouth.

As if to give vent to the building pressure, Malkovich’s Leary shoots young Al, who, across the other rooftop, is trying to save Frank. From a low angle, we see Al’s face fall before us as he lands on the roof’s edge, a bullet wound . . .

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