Oscarwatch Podcast: Unforgiven

Hey folks! In my ongoing effort to get this old blog of mine back up and running, I thought I would tell you about my recent guest appearance on the fantastic new podcast, Oscarwatch. Hosts Steven Buja and Alex Riviello graciously asked me to come on and talk about one of my all-time favorite movies, Clint Eastwood’s elegiac Western Unforgiven. In this episode, we discuss how the film demythologizes everything from violence to masculinity to the American West itself. It gets kind of heavy at times, but still manages to be a lot of fun throughout.

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The Pop Culture Lens: Episode 4 – Bewitched (1964-1972)

The Pop Culture Lens is a scholarly podcast hosted by myself and Dr. CarrieLynn Reinhard of Dominican University. In each episode, we seek to offer fresh perspectives on past media as we attempt to determine whether or not it holds any relevance to the contemporary sociocultural experience. We structure the podcast so the format loosely resembles an academic paper, but we present the information in a way that everyone can understand.

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I successfully defended my thesis!

On Friday, September 26, 2014, I successfully defended my thesis titled “Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings, and Drivers: Cinematic Masculine Archetypes and the Demythologization of Violence in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn.” Not only did I pass, but I passed with distinction, which is the best feeling in the world after struggling with a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty during the two years it took to research and write the damn thing. Anyway, I thought I should share the final version my thesis with the readers of this blog, because it might be of interest to some of the scholarly types out there. To visit DePaul’s online depository, you can just click the link above, or just click here. Both links will take you directly to the page housing my thesis. Thank you, and I hope you not only enjoy reading my ramblings, but also find the information contained within useful.

Valhalla Rising and the Demythologization of Male Violence

This post is based on my Master’s thesis, now titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings, and Drivers: Cinematic Masculine Archetypes and the Demythologization of Violence in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn, written for the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul University in Chicago, IL. This version represents an early draft of a journal article that my partner, Dr. CarrieLynn Reinhard and I are preparing in the hopes of publishing. As always, I welcome any and all feedback/suggestions, so feel free to comment below or email me directly. Thank you.

INTRODUCTION

In a video essay produced for RogerEbert.com, film critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Peter Labuza (2014) explain that with Pulp Fiction, director Quentin Tarantino establishes his characters as cool and larger-than-life by visually and textually enlarging their personae before they ever appear onscreen. Seitz and Labuza point to the characters of Marsellus Wallace, Mia Wallace, and Winston Wolfe as examples, explaining that Tarantino creates ideas of these characters long before they actually appear in the film. Other characters talk about Marsellus and Mia before they ever appear onscreen, and the film offers brief, tantalizing glimpses of both characters before finally revealing them in full. Seitz and Labuza argue that this serves to mythologize the characters in the minds of the audience, and that these characters attain the status of legendary figures as a result. Furthermore, he argues that other characters in the film actively construct larger-than-life personae by self-mythologizing, and they establish themselves as cool simply because they frequently refer to themselves as such.

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Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part IV

This is the final post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. This post serves as an examines how violence contributes to the construction of a recurring notion of masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

VIOLENCE AND MASCULINITY

In interviews, Nicolas Winding Refn has stated that he believes cinema does not make people violent, but it does show them how to be violent. In particular, he points to classic gangster films such as Mean Streets (1973) and The Public Enemy (1931) as primers in how to be a violent man, and considers this to be a case of “life imitating art imitating life” (Refn, 2006). More importantly, however, Refn has stated that his films are often a response to “how the media repackages and glamorizes violence and crime and all these terrible things” that he considers immoral (Westcott, 2006, online). This might explain why masculinity is often depicted within Refn’s films as being both violent and aggressive; Refn is reflecting and reacting to a recurring notion of masculinity that is informed by the hegemonic masculine ideal, which often positions masculinity as violent and aggressive (Horrocks, 1994; Jhally, Earp, & Katz, 1999;Robinson, 2000; DeRosia, 2003; Nayak & Kehily, 2008; Rehling, 2009).

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Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part III

This is the third post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. In this post, I examine the concept of individualism as it relates to masculinity. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

INDIVIDUALISM AND MASCULINITY

In addition to stoicism, Nicolas Winding Refn is also using his films to explore the concept of individualism, which is another important component of the hegemonic masculine ideal that is perpetuated by mass culture (Cowen, 2004; Connell, 2005; Nestingen, 2008). Indeed, many of the films that Refn claims he is drawing upon when making his own films feature lone heroes, such as in the Leone Westerns, or protagonists who consider themselves tough individualists, such as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976) or Popeye Doyle in William Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971). Furthermore, stoic heroes are often portrayed as rugged individuals who possess an excess of physical toughness and a personal set of skills (Robinson, 2013). Thus, stoicism and individuality appear to be two hegemonic masculine traits that often go hand in hand. The protagonists in nearly all of Refn’s films are (or consider themselves to be) rugged individuals who are determined to make it on their own, whether they directly embody the hegemonic masculine ideal, or are simply engaged in an act of complicit masculinity in order to gain the benefits of hegemony (Kahn, 2009). Therefore, Refn’s exploration of individuality indicates that he is once again drawing from this mythical masculinity that represents a stable notion or approach to masculinity that has been created and reinforced by mass culture.

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Violent Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part II

This is the second post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to violent masculinity in his films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Cinematic Masculine Archetypes and Violent Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. In this post, I examine the concept of stoic masculinity, which is a vital component of the hegemonic masculine ideal. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

STOICISM AND MASCULINITY

In addition to violence, aggression, and emotional constipation, one of the defining traits of dominant hegemonic masculinity is stoicism. Whereas men are often positioned as existing outside of language, and their silence is used as a way of emphasizing their lack of power, men who exist outside of language are often positioned as having an excess of power, and they are depicted as not needing language because they instead let their actions speak for them (Lehman, 1993). Indeed, the muscular tough guy characters that embody dominant hegemonic masculinity in Hollywood films (particularly action movies) are traditionally depicted as men of few words who are quick to act (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: In the film Commando (1985), John Matrix (as embodied by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a prime example of the strong, silent type. Image credit: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/tracing/tracing.htm
Fig. 1: In the film Commando (1985), John Matrix (as embodied by Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a prime example of the strong, silent type who lets his actions speak louder than his words. Image credit: http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/tracing/tracing.htm

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Violent Masculinity in the films of Nicolas Winding Refn: Part I

This is the first post in a series looking at how Nicolas Winding Refn engages with a recurring notion or approach to violent masculinity in his own films. This series is based on the first draft of the second chapter of my Master’s thesis, titled Gangstas, Thugs, Vikings and Drivers: Global Hegemonic Masculinity and Cinematic Masculine Archetypes in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn. This post serves as an introduction to the concept, and features a brief introduction to Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, as well as a brief look at the four films I am focusing on in my research. As always, this is a work in progress, so if you are interested in quoting any of the information here, please contact me first for permission. Additionally, I welcome any and all feedback, so please feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions about how the work could be improved or altered. Thank you.

INTRODUCTION

In this post, I will examine how Nicolas Winding Refn’s films Pusher, Bronson, Valhalla Rising and Drive engage with a recurring notion of contemporary masculinity and violence. The question of what type of masculinity Refn draws upon in the construction of his own characters is vital to the discussion of his films. In order to determine whether or not this is the case, I will begin by conducting an examination of Refn’s own discussion of his body of work through interviews and DVD commentaries. Along with this discussion, I conduct a textual analysis of the four films I have chosen to look at for the purposes of this study to determine whether or not the depictions of masculinity in each film conform to the recurring notion of masculinity Refn has described. I believe that this analysis will provide insight into how transnational and transcultural media images – particularly those associated with cinematic masculine archetypes – are contributing to the construction of a gender order that includes a conception of globalized hegemonic masculinity. More importantly, this analysis will allow me to situate Refn’s films within the larger discourses surrounding the notion that masculinity is in crisis during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and will contribute to my discussion of how Refn’s films visually and textually project the troubled state of masculinity at the turn of the millennium.

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Language and Masculinity in the Films of Nicolas Winding Refn

Over the weekend, I created my first ever video essay for an assignment in Dr. Paul Booth’s class on Communication and Technology (CMNS 545) at DePaul University.

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Masculinity under the gaze

It has come to my attention that Nicolas Winding Refn (director of Drive and Only God Forgives, and the subject of my Master’s thesis) directed a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl this past weekend. While I’m not normally one to pay much attention to commercials, this particular ad is very interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which because of how it subverts and challenges the idea of the male gaze.

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