Posted tagged ‘violence’

Masculinity of the Month: Yukio Mishima

April 28, 2010

(This is actually a very late edition of my monthly masculinity post for March, hopefully I get one for April out in the next few days)

Yukio Mishima is how Japanese author and general creative type Kimitake Hiraoka  (1925 -1970) is better known to the world. One of the most prominent Japanese literary figures of the twentieth century, he is primarily known for his writings and plays. He is also remembered for the manner in which he died. There are a lot of interesting elements to Mishima’s life, especially in regard to his masculine expression. Mishima’s early life is an interesting and perhaps telling blend of isolation and bullying.  I am not going to write about Mishima’s extensive literary output which is rich in terms of expression of gender and masculinity & identity, but rather point out a few other things that I think demonstrate his masculinity and the complexity of it.

Mishima’s sexuality is somewhat ambiguous, he was married and had children, but he also had homosexual relationships.  He became interested in bodybuilding and martial arts and he articulated his relationship with his body in Sun and Steel. The above image is, I think, interesting in terms of embodied masculinity and particular post war Japanese masculine identity. As can perhaps be guessed from the above, Mishima was strongly nationalistic, to the extent that in 1968, a few years before his death he founded a nationalist militia, the Shield Society. This right-wing group was a short-lived one, disbanding after a failed coup, when a small group of members, led by Mishima, briefly seized control of the defence force headquarters and tried to rally the troops and restore imperial rule. After the failure of this, Mishima and one other member of the group, Masakatsu Morita, committed ritual suicide.

These actions, the dedication and belief demonstrated by them, along with the extensive output of Mishima as an artist are fascinating to me. Rich in terms of a masculinity that seems amazingly passionate, disciplined and destructive. I don’t think it’s a good model of masculinity, but it sure is interesting from a historical and cultural perspective.

Reading: The Pixel Project

February 3, 2010

The above organisation has come to my attention throught the wonders of the internet, and rather than re-hash their words I’ll let them speak for themselves….

We are a worldwide coalition of grassroots activists and volunteers using the power of Web 2.0 to mount a global effort to raise awareness about and hopefully mobilise millions to get involved with ending violence against girls and women. We strongly believe that men and women must take a stand together for the right of women to live a life free of gender-based violence.

We aim to raise US$1 million for NCADV and WAO by selling a world-exclusive million-pixel collage of Celebrity Male Role Model portraits online for US$1 per pixel. The project will invite 6 world-famous male celebrities with strong family connections, no history of violence, and are role models for men in relationships with women and children, to participate in the collage of portraits.

The philosophy behind choosing positive male role models from different walks of life is to emphasise that men have a major role to play in breaking the cycle of violence against women.

All I can say to this is Bam! Awesome! Well, I could really say a lot more, but that gets across my sentiments pretty well.  I also like that the Pixel Project has a section on the site engaging directly with men, (called The Men’s Room ) with links to resources, a section on how to recognise gender based abouse and violence, and an excellent bit on how men can actively help to prevent and end gender based violence. I especially liked this little list.

Like I said, The Pixel Project are clearly Awesome AND Bam, by which I obviously mean a great example of an organisation advocating the importance of including men and getting them onboard  to make meaningful changes to how we think and act about gender, and hopefully help in preventing gender based violence. Love it.

Today is White Ribbon Day

November 25, 2009

Today, in Australia at least, is White Ribbon Day – a day aimed at rasing male awareness around, and action towards the prevention of violence against women.

So, check out their website (I’ve linked to the Australian one) and educate yourself about violence against women and do something to help bring about cultural change when it comes to violence against women.

And in an interesting and somewhat related link, check out this article from the Guardian on research into lyrics dealing with sexual violence and it’s impact on women.

Generation Kill – a study in hypermasculinity.

October 16, 2009

Oh that’s right, I don’t just talk about regular masculinities, I talk about hypermasculinities.

In the last week or so seven of my hours were spent watching  Generation Kill – a HBO produced 2008 miniseries,  from Ed Burns et al. It’s a 7 part miniseries that tells the story of a Marine Recon Units involvement in the invasion of Iraq. On a production level, it is superb, visually impressive, well shot, acted and written. 

What was of particular interest to me, and relevent to this blog, was the depiction of masculinity in Generation Kill.  I should also point out that I am not attempting to form any detailed or conclusive analysis of masculinity in the series. It is very dense and to do it justice requires more time and commitment than I can offer at the moment, so please read my thoughts as a few notes and broad impressions relating to the series as a whole.

Now, it might be obvious, but I’ll still say it – in terms of representation of masculine identity, The exclusively homosocial world of marines in  wartime is a pretty extreme example. An archetypal hypermasculine identity.  Hypermasculinity is term used to describe a masculine identity, that is in one or more ways, extreme; marines, pro-footballers, Tom of Finland are all good examples.

And from my “extensive” research (ie – reading comments on IMDB from Marines and other service personnel/veterans) it seems that Generation Kill is a reasonably accurate depiction of events, and more importantly for us, the culture and lifestyle of marines at war (I have no objective way of verifying this, and in some ways, there is no point – but to me, it certainly feels a lot more real than other war drama).  There is a LOT of misogyny, racism & homophobia, both casual and very explicit represented in the series. My thoughts about this are mixed. One one hand it is good to see a realistic representation of an oft valourised community, a counterpoint to common sanitized representations. On the other hand Generation Kill risks further glorifying a culture of hate, oppression & violence. This is something I think true of all representations of war, including anti-war texts; Anthony Swofford, the author of Jarhead noted how movies like Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now where popular with Marines, and that their reading of those films was not necessarily one critical of war. Not much can be done about subjectivity, and if you ARE going to produce war dramas, I’d rather they were like this than say, something from Bruckheimer.

What I found particularly interesting and good about the depiction of masculinity in Generation Kill was the was it demonstrated the powerlessness, real or imagined at the core of hypermasculinity. These Marines, trained, physically and psychologically to be and believe in themselves as elite warriors, have a very limited realm in which to exercise any power. One notable scene shows some marines observing a hamlet for possible mortars, they radio in that there are only women and children in the village, only to see it blown up by artillery minutes later. In other instances the marines are shown as identifying genuine military threats, or obtaining legitimate intelligence, and are ordered not to act on it.  Their powerlessness is also demonstrated in a scene where they encounter some Iraqi farmers, naked – their clothes stolen by Iraqi soldiers. The naked Iraqis ask the  marines what the can do about it, and all they can do is give them some water and drive on. Their powerlessness is also represented on a more micro level, they are poorly equipped, for example their state of the art technology is useless without batteries. Seen in this context their aggressive masculine posturing is a veneer, a comforting and communal lie to make their lack of agency less galling.

Generation Kill also represented a few other things in notable ways; the standard trope in war dramas is for the soldiers to be traumatized or deeply affected by the act of killing, and many in Generation Kill where shown like this, especially one soldier who (perhaps not accidently?) shot some children. But refreshingly, for a representation of this type, several soldiers were shown as not only unaffected by their acts of violence, but revelled and relived their experiences, and sought more grotesque acts of violence, and treated the mutilated bodies of dead civilians and enemy soldiers as entertainment.  That Generation Kill shows a varied and complex range of reactions to sanctioned violence is a good thing, it challenges the traditional understanding of war time masculinity, and problematises the dominant understanding act during, and after war. It isn’t comfortable, but it (again) feels true.

Interestingly though, I noticed that Generation Kill did not depict or deal explicitly with rape or sexual violence. It formed a large  part of how the marines speak about women (and men) – but to my recollection no physical sexual violence is depicted. I am not sure why this is the case, as the show is not at all uncritical or glossing over the unsavoury – and the absence of this aspect of war surprised me.

Generation Kill is television, it is about war, and I’m sure a lot of people who watch it, will not do so critically, and enjoy it for the explosions, violence and tension. In this Generation Kill will not hugely promote a deeper understanding of masculine identity or gender relations.  But if someone is at all inclined to view Generation Kill critically, they will find a rich and nuanced representation of hypermasculinity, and one which, quite explicitly, expresses the powerlessness and anxiety under the muscles and bravura posturing, at times heartwarming, but for me at least, overwhelmingly sad.