Key images of 1980s films: Close-ups on Rambo’s throbbing biceps! A naked and powerful Arnie lit by the afterglow of a post-nuclear future! Gibson’s lethal body (especially fatal for women!) as a response to the baddies declaration “there are no heroes anymore!” and save the day! An astoundingly durable Bruce Willis whose body can withstand broken glass, explosions, beatings and falls from aeroplanes to still catch the bad guys!! “If there is anything heroic left in American culture it rests in male bodies like these!” Susan Jeffords (1990)
Masculinity in the 1980s The impact of second-wave feminism caused social conceptions of masculinity to be thrown into flux by the 1980s and this confusion was echoed in the media: The 'New Man' of the men's fashion magazine represented a somewhat feminized type of masculinity - sensitive, romantic, and fashion-conscious. However Alongside the 'New Man‘ appeared the ‘Action Man’ - an independent, violent, aggressive, and hyper-masculine hero (sometimes called retributive man)
The Action Hero: a backlash to the ‘feminisation’ of society! The action-heroes of the 1980s: Working-class (very different to seemingly impotent middle-class male, the victim of social change). The working-class hero represented a more traditional masculinity, unaffected by female empowerment- with a job that involved hard physical labour and a hyper-masculine physique to perform that labour (neither of which attainable by women!). The working-class work place could not be so easily invaded by women like professional and high-level positions in offices had been! The male body = symbolic as men had to work through personal and at times, national traumas in films!
19 80s America During the Reagan years, the male "hard body" in films represented "an effort both to remasculinize the nation after what was widely perceived as the post-Vietnam impotence and the result of a feminized presidency of the Carter years and to get government off the backs of the average citizen" Reagan came to symbolise a perceived crisis of nationality with a crisis of masculinity . Films such a ‘Rambo’ and ‘The Terminator’ became metaphors for the symbolic resolution of the wider social and political conflicts and crises.
‘Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema’ (1993)Yvonne Tasker
THE 1980’s Male Body: A spectacle of muscle, beauty, toughness and bravery. A body which could carry out extreme physical feats.
Stallone and Arnie 2 iconic images of American masculinity in the mid-1980s: The image of Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam veteran John Rambo, brandishing a rocket-launcher whilst parading his musculature. Ex-Mr Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger. “Many critics saw the success of Stallone and Schwarzenegger as a disturbing sign, signalling the evolution of a previously unseen cinematic articulation of masculinity”
It caught on! “ Through action films in which bodybuilders became movie stars through the 1980s, other male stars began to build their bodies, influenced by the change in appearance of masculinity.”
The Need for Muscles “Muscles are signifiers of struggle, of hard physical labour, of the working class. The importance of masculine muscles in the action film can be attributed to a form of nostalgia or a need to identify with men who are clearly men”. “Different actors bring different qualities to the screen: Bruce Willis is not just a working class hero associated with muscles and a vest, he is part parody with a wise cracking voice”.
Tasker’s analysis of the Die Hard (1988) Tasker suggests the particular representation of the male body in the 1980s reflects an anxiety about the roles that men and women have in their everyday lives, both at home and at their work, and their concerns regarding shifts in society and gender roles. Die Hard reflects on the lack of control for the male in the workplace, where the hero finds himself in impossible situations controlled by incompetent bureaucracies: “anxieties to do with difference and sexuality increasingly seem to be worked out over the body of the male hero”.
Importance of dress “The use of military and police uniform in many action films appears to relieve masculine anxieties, giving some stability in a society of changing values and thus raises self esteem”. “The dress of the action hero gives an appearance of phallic power, a substitute for the ‘lack’ feared: the muscular, phallic body functions as a powerful symbol of desire and lack”.
Die Hard and Ideology Protect the Frontier from intruders!! (California is on the outer edge of American soil) Save wife from her feminist leanings(by saving her from the German terrorist and her Japanese multinational corporation). She is a princess glad to be rescued and re-adopts her married name at the end of the film: not Holly Generro but, as she corrects her husband, “McClane. Holly McClane”. The restoration of a particularly white masculinity(black side kicks are often emasculated through injury etc.)
‘Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era’ (1994) Susan Jeffords Entering a new phase in the 1990s
1980s male body to 1990s male body A closer look at the ‘Terminator’ films: ‘The Terminator’ (1984) and ‘Terminator 2’ (1991) demonstrate clearly changes in masculinity. “In T2 the Terminator becomes the perfect father and mother and therefore, Sarah's role as mother and saviour of the human race is diminished. Ironically, Sarah becomes a parody of the tough, fearless 1980s action hero and similarly there is a fascination with her muscles and her body.”
Jeffords research on T1-T2 cont. T2 demonstrated a shift in position regarding violence and male machismo: a non-destructive , anti-killing morality is imposed (e.g. the Terminator is directed by John Connor to shoot at the knees and that killing is not good. John Connor himself holds the real power in the narrative as the saviour of the human race and the Terminator becomes a metaphor for the old Hollywood concept of masculinity. T2 provides a new way for masculinity not outward aggression but “inward into increasingly emotive displays of masculine sensibilities , traumas and burdens.
Conclusion 80s man muscled their way into the hearts of the cinemagoer at the time, ready to kill anyone who got in the way! 1991 saw the year of the transformed man: OUT was the hard fighting, weapon-wielding, independent, muscular, heroic man IN came a more sensitive, loving, nurturing, protective family man!