American Tough: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character

American Tough: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character

American Tough: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character

American Tough: The Tough-Guy Tradition and American Character

Synopsis

"Wilkinson's discussion contains many insights. He sees numerous tensions and many internal contradictions in the toughness tradition. Some of his best perceptions revolve around the use of language to express toughness.... The author is also astute in probing the relationship between the producer ethos and the consumer ideal and in considering how those polarities affect the notion of American individualism....the book is a useful addition to the growing body of literature on gender roles and masculinity in American society." The Journal of American History

Excerpt

This book started life in the notes of an earlier book on drinking in American culture (Wilkinson, The Prevention of Drinking Problems [1970], pp. 241-42). I remarked there on some conflicting traditions that seemed to exacerbate male concerns about ruggedness versus consumer indulgence. It was my first attempt to articulate something I had sensed for a long time: that the meanings and pressures of toughness were different in America and Britain; that this was true especially for males but due to wider causes than any theories of masculinity could supply. The problem was one for cultural history in the broadest sense.

One difficulty with the subject is that every American above the age of two is, knowingly or not, an expert on it. The trick is to avoid saying the obvious without confining oneself to a mere collection of insights. I decided to center this book on three essays (chapters 1-3), each dealing with a set of paradoxes that has complicated and shaped American ideas of toughness. Chapter 1, "Contrary Strains," explores traditional dualities within those ideas. "Producers and Consumers," chapter 2, looks more chronologically at an old but continuing source of conflict: the tension between strenuous producer values and indulgent consumer ones. "Organized Individuals," chapter 3, uses the theme of toughness to connect some familiar but disparate writings on individuality and conformity in America and then examines the trade-offs between ideals of self-reliance and self-assertion and the pressures and attractions of modern organization. The last chapter pulls together other aspects of toughness in America--including the sociological and historical--and compares American toughness to toughness elsewhere. The book as a whole takes its story up through the 1970s with occasional forays into the eighties, and it deals mainly with middle- and upper- class groups.

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