Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the Twenty-First Century

Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the Twenty-First Century

Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the Twenty-First Century

Cable Guys: Television and Masculinities in the Twenty-First Century

Synopsis

From the meth-dealing but devoted family man Walter White of AMC's Breaking Bad, to the part-time basketball coach, part-time gigolo Ray Drecker of HBO's Hung, depictions of male characters perplexed by societal expectations of men and anxious about changing American masculinity have become standard across the television landscape. Engaging with a wide variety of shows, including The League, Dexter, and Nip/Tuck, among many others, Amanda D. Lotz identifies the gradual incorporation of second-wave feminism into prevailing gender norms as the catalyst for the contested masculinities on display in contemporary cable dramas.

Examining the emergence of "male-centered serials" such as The Shield, Rescue Me, and Sons of Anarchy and the challenges these characters face in negotiating modern masculinities, Lotz analyzes how these shows combine feminist approaches to fatherhood and marriage with more traditional constructions of masculine identity that emphasize men's role as providers. She explores the dynamics of close male friendships both in groups, as in Entourage and Men of a Certain Age, wherein characters test the boundaries between the homosocial and homosexual in their relationships with each other, and in the dyadic intimacy depicted in Boston Legal and Scrubs. Cable Guys provides a much needed look into the under-considered subject of how constructions of masculinity continue to evolve on television.

Excerpt

Depending on what channel you tuned to on a Monday night in January 2010, US television offered very different versions of masculinity. Broadcast stalwart CBS alone provided a menagerie of contradictions. Its prime-time program lineup began with How I Met Your Mother (2005–2014), a comedy that depicted six urban professionals negotiating their twenties’ transition from college to marriage and family life—the 2000s take on Friends. The series offered a solid ensemble of characters, but Neil Patrick Harris, in the role of Barney Stinson, often stole the show. Barney was renowned for his sexual conquests and love of finely tailored suits, but was more a caricature of a suave and debonair ladies’ man than a sincere manifestation. The series contrasted Barney with male friends Ted (Josh Radnor)—who narrated the series, telling his children the ongoing story of his search for his wife—and Marshall (Jason Segal), the contentedly coupled man of the group. Harris’s over-the-top depiction of Stinson was imbued with added contradictory meaning given the audience’s probable extratextual knowledge of Harris as an out gay man, and the series’ storylines and laugh-track organization made clear that Barney’s masculinity was not to be emulated or idealized. Rare moments exposed Barney’s playboy masculinity as performance to the audience, although his surface identity was rarely revealed as false to his friends. This allowed Barney to operate as a mechanism for voicing an embodiment of masculinity that the series often mocked; Barney’s promiscuity, objectification of women, and performance of a masculinity unreformed by feminism was laughed at in comparison with Ted’s and Marshall’s pursuits of heterosexual partnership and respectful treatment of women.

But at 9:00 on that Monday night in 2010, CBS offered a very different gender script. The extremely popular Two and a Half Men (2003–) . . .

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