Academic journal article Social Alternatives

'Toys R Us': Toy Story 2 and the Re-Inscription of Normative American Masculinities

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

'Toys R Us': Toy Story 2 and the Re-Inscription of Normative American Masculinities

Article excerpt


Drawing on Judith Newton's (2005) idea of 'male romance' as articulated in her study of 'Men's Movements in America' - specifically The Promise Keepers - entitled From Panthers to Promise Keepers: Rethinking the Men's Movement, this article analyses specific forms of representations of American masculinities in the film Toy Story 2 (1999). In tracing how Toy Story 2 deals with traits identified by Newton as constituting 'male romance', the article aims to, first, raise questions regarding the role of popular media in both reinforcing and challenging the prevalent ideas of 'normative' masculine gender performativity in American culture. As the article argues, such scrutiny is especially significant in light of the target audience of this movie series, namely, children. That is, since movies such as the Toy Story series engage a large population of the American public (if one takes box-office profits figures at face value), it is important to inquire about the role played by popular media in helping propagate or challenge ideas regarding gender identity formation.

In other words, the article highlights not only how seemingly 'simple' children's stories mask 'greater' ideological narratives about gender identity-formation, but also how the consumption of such narratives can be problematic for the broader contemporary context of rethinking and reformulating the social imagination of gender, race, and sexuality as part of the project of achieving equality and justice. While the inquiry into the ideological impact of animated children's films is not new per se, the particular focus on masculinity is not a subject of much scholarship and, moreover, it is still important to investigate how supposedly 'simple' children's stories mask entrenched and problematic narratives about gender identity-formation - especially given the proliferation of scholarship analysing Disney movies in relation to other forms of identity representation such as that of women, racialised groups, and colonial subjectivities.

The article's second aim, which is put forth through the argument that the representations and treatment of the discourse of masculinities in the film Toy Story 2 are informed by the same concerns raised by the 'crisis of masculinity' discourse, is to challenge the ways in which both the proponents and detractors of the 'crisis of masculinity' discourse gloss over the complexity of masculine identity-formation in settling for a singular narrative of hegemonic masculinity within American culture. That is, rather than simply pandering to the dominant narratives of loss or regression prevalent within the discourse of the 'crisis of masculinity' the article argues that Toy Story 2 also offers examples of the reinscription of the hegemonic masculine identity along the lines proposed by Newton regarding certain types of men's movements, such as The Promise Keepers, in America; where such men's movements re-negotiate masculine gender performance through reconfigured scripts about fatherhood in particular. In this sense, the article's discussion highlights how the themes of agency and subjectivity in male identity-formation need to be perspicaciously attended to in similar ways that are taken as norm in feminist discussions of intersecting matrices of power with regards to gender in general.

The 'Crisis of Masculinity' and the Men's Movements in America

The public prominence of men's groups concerned with articulating various forms of 'masculine identity' (however varied this identity is conceived) has been part of both the academic and non-academic American scholarship for quite some time now. As Newton observes, 'National dialogue over masculine ideals has been common to U.S. history' that the latter half of the past century can be said to have been 'characterized not only by conversations about masculinity but by a series of organized efforts to revise, reinvent, and/or revive masculine ideals' (2005: 5). …

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