Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Rewriting the American Astronaut from a Cross-Cultural Perspective: Michael Lopez-Alegria in Manuel Huerga's Documentary Film Son and Moon (2009)

Academic journal article Culture, Society and Masculinities

Rewriting the American Astronaut from a Cross-Cultural Perspective: Michael Lopez-Alegria in Manuel Huerga's Documentary Film Son and Moon (2009)

Article excerpt

Manuel Huerga's documentary Son and Moon (2009) is a singular hybrid: an English-language film on Spanish-American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria by a Catalan team. Huerga's film is particularly interesting for Masculinities Studies. First, it makes us consider how limited international distribution conditions the availability of relevant cross-cultural alternative representations of masculinity. Second, Huerga offers an innovative representation of the American astronaut, here the concerned father of a 7-year-old son who resists communicating with him while in space. Astronaut and film argue that a father has the right to (partly) sacrifice family life for his career but also that he must justify his choices to his children. This is an engaging alternative to previous one-dimensional representations of the American astronaut.

Keywords: cross-cultural representation, masculinity, documentary, astronaut, Michael Lopez-Alegria, Manuel Huerga, Son & Moon

Analysis of the representation of diverse masculinities seldom includes consideration of how the availability of examined texts conditions consumer and scholarly choice. Obviously, the study of social practices associated with masculinity and with the material realities of men's lives is also conditioned by particular availability constraints. There is, simply, no systematic program to examine all the masculinities in the world. No institution can be that ambitious or capable. This means that, whether actual or in representation, the masculinities we regard as significant, or worth considering, form a haphazard selection, with plenty of blanks on the global map. Many instances, no matter how hegemonic or alternative locally, may pass unnoticed unless scholars pay attention to them. The problem is how to be alert and find them, which is unlikely to happen even in the case of the best informed specialists. For all we know, Basque television or Brazilian theatre might be generating the most potent debates on masculinities. Yet only speakers of their local languages might see this.

Below I call attention to this state of matters by focusing on one of the ignored alternative texts on masculinity: Manuel Fluerga's documentary Son & Moon (2009). It is not my intention to discuss which specific strategies must be followed to locate this particular text, or others similarly relevant for the study of masculinity. I aim, rather, at discussing this Catalan documentary film first in the context of the restrictive distribution-related politics of the falsely globalised film market, and second, as an example of how a persona as central to American masculinity as that of the astronaut can be, if not thoroughly challenged, at least renewed from the periphery of the Western world. Son & Moon shows, in short, that the field of Masculinities Studies can be much enhanced by considering the increasingly important role of documentary film, particularly because of its cross-cultural flexibility; also, that the onscreen representation of the American (male) astronaut can and must be reconstructed to make up for the loss of his former heroic status in aspiringly post-patriarchal contexts. This reconstruction can perhaps best carried out from outside the United States, as Huerga's excellent cross-cultural film shows.

Limited Availability: Alternative Representations of Masculinity in Cross-Cultural Documentaries (and the Myth of Globalization)

Extant scholarship on the representation of masculinity focuses mainly on English-language texts: literature, films, TV, comics, video-games, advertising, etc. This is the case whether the academic work is produced in Anglo-American universities or beyond these. The study of masculinities has no doubt opened up to a diversity of angles, such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, nationality, age and many other identity markers. There is, however, little cross-cultural interaction. Whenever non-English-language masculinities are examined1 (and I refer particularly to their representation), this is, somehow, assumed to be of "local" interest, whereas English-language texts representing masculinities are granted a "global" interest. …

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