Masculinity has changed over the last 70 years in so many ways. What it meant to be a man in the post-war period is categorically different to what is expected of a man today. Media, and in recent decades especially Cinema, has always been a motivator or mirror image of social change. This would might lead to believe that the change in the perception of masculinity could have been a product of recent Cinema trends. In this edition of this blog, we will be exploring how Cinema has influenced this social change in Western Culture and how that is relevant to us in the future as Filmmakers.
The traditional Western man was best defined by Ronald Regan who built his political career and his success in his presidency on masculine character. The image of men who were independent, physically impressive and were infused by the American frontier spirit revived US morale.
Men who had power and agency is what the United States needed to believe in themselves again and that is what Reagan provided and succeeded in. Hollywood enforced this idea by flooding the market with Films depicting stoic characters like Rambo in First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982). It gave rise to a series of actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone.
But towards the end of the millennia, masculinity took another change and not only in the US but globally. During the 1990s the ideal man shifted from striving for hyper-masculinity to a caring, family-oriented, hypo-masculine man.
The traditional, rooted, dedicated, hardworking masculinity has been almost fully replaced with an ornamental and image-based culture. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who became a idol for manliness in movies such as Terminator (Cameron, 1984)
suddenly started to take on roles such as Kimble in Kindergarten Cop (Reitman, 1990).
This type of culture had been well-practised by women for decades and thus has a subconscious influence through commercial advertisement and media on the 21st century man who takes on a very feminine touch. This new version of hegemonic masculinity has been confusing to many men who grew up with the traditional masculine role in their childhood home.
It becomes interesting where both ideals collide, or the process of transition is not complete. Films such as City of God (Meirelles, Lund, 2002) illustrate the difficulties of masculinity in Latin America. In these countries, even today, hyper-masculinity as the accepted hegemonic masculinity is still an anchor-point for many men in a rapidly changing world.
But with this rapid change many men are ready to explore the new masculinity of the 21st Century and that is where the two ideologies collide. Again, it should be noted that Cinema, in the form of City of God, is not only the messenger of this notion to the rest of the world but also a mirror for Latin American society.
Filmmakers are always influenced by their environment and thus Cinema always has an aspect of social reflection consciously or subconsciously and this on the other hand affects society again. This mirroring through culture and art is a phenomenon that has been observed throughout history and must be considered by us, as a Filmmakers, in the works we create.