The discerning man: The rise of pornography

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Head of the family:

Man as provider

There is a collective rendition of nostalgic prosperity when you contemplate the Fifties:155 a multiplicity of happy marriages and the perception of a resemblance to (some sort of) social order. Carefree affluent families living in urban modernist houses, diligent fathers off to work while mom ungrudgingly cooked dinner in a modish, chic kitchen, and looked after the kids. Dad driving his spacious new car on the weekend or tinkering in the garage or the shed, family picnic trips, Do-It-Yourself magazines and TV shows on how to build a treehouse for your son, a dollhouse for your daughter or a wheelbarrow for the garden.
These commodified normative white masculine ideals of the era were hardly true to the layered social differences at the time. As World War II came to a close and the troops were decommissioned, there was intense social pressure on men (and women) to settle down, get married, and have children. Single men over thirty were considered perverts with serious emotional and psychological problems, they were regarded as pathological juvenile drifters with significant sexual and social failures.156 Talcott Parsons’ social theories on sex roles, division of labour, functionalism, and socialisation,157 attempted to regulate social cohesion in mid-century America. His writings on social systems and nuclear families justified the prevailing gendered spheres for the smooth operation of society and collective goals.158 These ideological concepts, where man was the “instrumental” breadwinner in contrast to the “expressive” homemaker woman, permeated a newly recovered western culture with a looming political/national159 crisis.
On the other hand, Erik Erikson, a leading developmental psychoanalyst at the time, defined the word “identity” as we understand it today. His theory on human psychosocial development influenced by Freud, divided personal growth into eight distinct stages of conflict and resolution. Erikson claimed  the human ego navigated the social and cultural topography through cycles of crisis and resolution, building upon the previous stage in a “maturation cycle.” He described the fifth phase, the adolescent stage (12 to 18 years old), as “Identity vs Role Confusion.”160 According to Erikson, for the young adolescent to assume maturity, they needed to answer for themselves questions of selfhood and identity to properly advance to the first stage of adulthood: Intimacy vs Isolation (stage 6). These developmental tasks, and of course their corresponding failures, entered the psychologists’ lexicon as markers for maturity and conformity. It was widely accepted in post-war popular culture, that the man who did not marry before 30 was immature or a bit odd. As Barbara Ehrenreich explains “Adult masculinity was indistinguishable from the breadwinner role”161 and the man who fell short of that role was deemed “either not fully adult, or not fully masculine” or if all fails, a homosexual. And of course, on further research it would be obvious to conclude that the real place of a woman was “home.” Women were encouraged to stay away from vocational desires at the risk of being labelled too masculine, or verging on bisexuality. Although it was widely accepted that women contributed to winning the war by keeping the factories and supplies running, the anxiety created by the mental instability of returning soldiers exaggerated the problem of a masculinity in crisis, and sought to restore gender relations disturbed by World War II. The menace of homosexuality and non-masculine “limpness” challenged especially American manhood.
Normative definitions of manliness were further problematised with the publication of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male in 1948.162 The normative locus for the placement of masculine roles during this period: manliness, masculinity, manhood, virility, or whatever was needed to place men “in contrast to,” was femininity—after all, for masculinity to exist and function within a culture it needed an Other.163 Masculinity relied, and unfortunately still relies, on the social and the cultural. To define gender is to place it in opposition (or connection) to the social Other, as R. W. Connell clarifies, “No masculinity arises except in a system of gender relations.”164 It is important to note here, homosexuality became another point of reference to Otherness; marriage and offspring functioned as domains to assert normativity or un-otherness, though masculinity in the 50s was threatened not only in the bedroom, but in the workplace at the same time.
The upturn of the post-war economy meant more buying power for the average white dad. The breadwinner was able to afford a house in the suburbs, a car, refrigerator and later a TV, all signaling a rise in status and class. This emerging corporate middle class became more and more terrified by the inclusion of women in the workplace.
Even though the female population worked in subordinate posts, their existence in the white collar executive office created an uneasiness which disparaged its masculine sphere of status.165 This unease was further complicated by other men, this time from the lower classes of post-war society: working men.
The corporate white-collar man wielded a claim of superiority and a certain managerial hierarchy over blue-collared working men, but when it came to physicality, the working man exhibited a basic, somatic masculinity which hung on the body. A labouring, muscular male body, as you might recall from previous chapters, flaunted countless times through the representation of nationalistic ideals, art, photography, and semiotics of power, aroused—now subliminally—desire and lust (Fig. 1.55), to not only have and hold, but also to contain and control it. As these new representations of working class men proliferated through culture and attracted society’s gaze, they were consumed and commodified, stemming the appropriation of its labour and a reproduction of its significance. The post-war era can be considered the first period in Western history where the breadwinner, including his tools, clothes, and environment gets commodified. The Foucauldian pattern of production (or truths) mentioned earlier, evolved as illustrated by du Gay, Hall et al.166 to produce a key moment in cultural representations: a “circuit of culture.”167 These new renditions of gender performativity didn’t just replace white-collar office worker representations, but intersected with it, creating new burdens of representations for the male body to ingest and imitate.
“Teach yourself” magazines became popular bestsellers in the 50s and 60s. From house repairs and maintenance to servicing your car, plumbing, joinery, Do-It-Yourself magazines like Popular Science Popular Mechanics, and other flourished. The provider archetype— including its incarnations like the mechanic, builder, carpenter, etc.— got coverage not just in print, but in a new medium: TV.
Television played an immense role during the post-war years, attracting huge viewerships through entertainment and politics, bombarding the audience at the same time, with commodity and lifestyle advertising through sponsors. TV corporations, having identified a trend through the proliferation of a DIY culture in print, launched TV programmes targeting the new middle-class white-collar male.168 These programmes, along with their illustrated and photography-laden print counterparts, presented the office-worker with symbols appropriated from the blue-collar labourer. The eroticised male bodies from a forgotten eugenic culture were now wearing worker uniforms. Handyman culture became a popular hobby, and consuming it represented a certain association of knowledge and power, signified by the eroticisation of the brawny blue-collar physique. This working man Other, now absorbed into the persona and identity of the flaccid middle class white man, satiated a lack. The Other’s tools became extensions, his hard-hat covered a barrenness, while leather tool-belts accentuated his manliness. As the overalls and basement workshops entered the psyche of post-war male population, they recreated a yearning for the missing uniform and an attempt to fill the gap left by the disappearance of the homosocial army camaraderie. Manliness intertwined with an exclusive and an overt interest in women, deep friendships with other men were rebuffed, affection was denied and directed to more ambitious or competitive pursuits.
Kinsey’s 1948 report on male sexuality not only challenged the assumptions of human sexuality, it also revealed that participants with most homosexual experiences came from the upper and lower classes of society, while the middle class, which represented the majority of men, were repulsed by it and considered the homosexual man soft and “feminine”—woman-like. Proving manhood became the performance of the white-collar post-war man.170 Regulated by the new petit-bourgeoisie who replaced the Eugenicists, this new partitioning of a homo-hetero matrix created boundaries, while its construction became entangled in identity politics and its production—a crux for self-assertion. When homosexuality was categorised as an illness by the American Psychological Association in 1952, the breadwinner became the intersection of normative sexuality, combining social responsibility and virility. He was the orderly packaged man, performing the instruction of masculine gender, while the homosexual, locked in a male template, was subject to the regulation of a constant “medical gaze.”171 At the risk of getting exposed, or even named a homosexual, the male population conformed by enacting the prevailing modes of masculinity.
The bared muscular male body, previously displayed countless times through Art and Science or at the service of the Nation, was starting to get thoroughly eroticised in a nascent mass-consumerist culture. Stripped of its racist and patriotic connotations of purity, the body now revealed itself under the banner of muscle and manliness, concealing its own crisis under a simulacrum of power. Although sports periodicals, dedicated for physique, boxing, and weightlifting were still in circulation during this era, no magazine emphasised exclusively on male beauty as such. However, as TVs and movie theatres became popular, shirtless muscular actors started getting coverage and became in demand, resulting in a new Beefcake trend. This re-appropriated muscular physique, optically satisfied not only the underground homosexual male population hiding behind the mask of the provider, but also served as a mould to copy and replicate. To suppress the label of “degenerate” or “homosexual,” the nonconforming male population, while in crisis,absorbed the symbolic representations of the now-forgotten oppressive body and its spectacle. These “crisis tendencies”172 created, as Connell suggests, a new pattern of representation, revealing the entanglement of masculine representations within the historical.

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Man as rebel

In dichotomies crucial for the practice and the vision of social order, the differentiating power hides as a rule behind one of the members of the opposition. The second member is but the other of the first, the opposite (degraded, suppressed, exiled) side of the first and its creation.


In the face of an impending Cold War and an imminent Communist threat, it was compulsory for the post-war middle-class man to come across “hard” against national threats, but when it involved the home he was required to be orderly, gentle, responsible: mature. This domesticated man, who had to comply with the law and fit the suit, was entangled in an identity metanarrative174 that was sometimes considered a happier version of the enemy: a conformist Soviet communist.175 The turbulent times of Cold War politics, Space Race, Civil Rights Movement, decolonisation, and sexual liberation, the 60s through to the early 70s was fraught with dissidence.
In his 1956 book “The Organisation Man” the urbanist and the organisational analyst William Whyte laments the disappearance of individuality, questioning his “obligation to the group” and “the moral constraints of his free will.”176 On the other hand Robert M. Lindner, an eminent psychologist, questioned mass-conformism and considered rebellion and anti-adjustment as part of the human instinct in overcoming tyranny.177 The protests that started across the US as part of the Civil Rights Movement were compounded by TV. Now present in almost every household, the TV became the fire around which the family gathered to hear stories, but “the contrast as what you saw on your entertainment and what you saw on the news was… planetary.”
The repressive attitude of post-war society and gender roles, pop music (now rock‘n’roll) crossing continents, and the absence of laws against new drugs, coupled with the Civil Rights Movement and sexual liberation, created a culture of activism and an anti-consumer Marcusian179 rebellion to social stability dominated by a capitalist culture.
With a family-centric society of the 50s leading to a population boom in a post-war affluent Fordist culture, the 60s saw the establishment of the teenage consumer. From music, movies, and magazines to food, clothing, and… drugs. Teenagers became the largest market not just in the US, but also in Europe. Product placement revolutionised the consumer “experience,” new readership, and of course a new medium audience on a mass scale, created the proliferation of a new young consumer culture: The counterculture.180
As suburbia stretched and entertainment on TV sought to standardise a consumerist culture, adolescents found themselves confronted with homogeneity and compliance on one side, and the realities of a totalitarian world on the other. The ideology that was forced on the suburban mainstream population through late-night and variety shows was in conflict with news programmes reporting on the turbulence: politically and socially.
Television educated, and in a way introduced racial and social relations to Americans, and became the facilitator that acquainted the mainstream white middle-class population, to the oppressed and stigmatised coloured Other. The resulting activism, which was triggered by self-government and independence movements in colonised nations throughout the world, gave rise to an “identity politics” which confronted whiteness, affluence, and conformism. This culture of activism subsequently extended in later periods, challenging heteronormativity, patriarchy, sexuality, and in turn created new representations defying the status quo.
The “momism”181 of the 50s was slowly changing to “badism” of the 60s, personified mainly by white movie stars of the decade. Fatherhood was now in retrograde and a bad-boy masculinity was engendered not just on screen, but in print as well. Activism became synonymous with hip, and participating in any rebellious movement, be it political or cultural, became the focus of teen culture. The rebel persona became a new motif, pushing identity boundaries and establishing himself as an emerging figure to fight against authoritarian politics of compliance.
Through representation in media including TV and radio, this figure slowly amassed what Pierre Bourdieu calls: symbolic capital. In Distinction, Bourdieu introduces the concept of “habitus” as a “generative principle of objectively classifiable judgements,”182 which at the same time organises social classes, producing “taste”183 and distinction, setting itself apart by creating a disposition.
During this period, dissidence became a classifier of “taste” and non-conformism created a distinction, legitimising itself through media exposure, utilising it as “self-assurance… by the certain knowledge [of] one’s own value… linked to the [social] position…”184 and accumulated as cultural capital.
The symbolic power of the rebel, legitimised through the 60s society by exposure, exchange, and reproduction, much like Stuart Hall’s “circuit of culture,” licensed it as “social difference,” and in effect: cultural capital. The rebel motif was commercialised and commodified, the difference between rebellion (against unfairness) and counterculture (just for the sake of dissent) disappeared185 as capitalism consumerised the social significance of the classification. Counterculture became The Pastiche, taken advantage of in every consumer trend hereon, showing up in every cultural, aesthetic, artistic or political movement complicating it further by commodifying its representations and turning “everything it touches into a potential source of progress and exploitation, of drudgery and satisfaction, of freedom and of oppression. Sexuality [was] no exception.”186
Through an exploding consumer culture, mediated by TV and the printed media, the bad boy figure was slowly intersecting with post-war affluence and creating what Michael Kimmel calls the “pleasure seeker.”187 Magazines like Playboy, building on the cultural hierarchies of counter culture, sought to liberate the “immature” bachelor from the domestic ideology of the 50s to offer outlets, aligning itself with a middle-class audience, while setting itself apart by presenting a self-styled masculinity, combining sex, dominance, lifestyle, and consumerism. “What sort of man reads Playboy?” frequently asked in the magazine’s attempt to attract more advertising, was retorted as “this take-charge young guy, the newest model is just his speed and a pretty girl is standard”188 (Fig. 1.67).
Women became props in his advertisement pages, glorifying his supremacy. Cigarette ads coupled with slick dressed boaters or skiers indicated his sense of adventure and vigour where he became the centre of attention while leaning “unpretentiously” onto his new convertible, preoccupied by his new expensive gadget, as the less fortunate gazed at him admiringly. Personified through advertising, this virile pleasure seeker demanded and sought attention, accessorised by his belongings acting as extensions to his masculinity.
These gendered representations inclined to seduce and sanction male readers with new pastiches of manhood—a stronger and a firmer one, indicated an anxiety.

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Table of contents
List of figures
Introducing the man
Method and Scope
1. Producing the man
Surveying the man: Man as machine
The discerning man: The rise of pornography
The hygienic body: Eugenics as truth
Man in nature: Man as consumer
The disciplined warrior: Man as nation
Head of the family: Man as provider
Man as rebel
Man, sexualised
The interlaced man: Masculinities globalised
The unique man: Man on-the-line
2. Decoding the male body
The sporting musculine
The leather-master
The cocksure
Marked men
The furry barbarian
3. Stripping the masculine
Revealing the layers
Transgressing the medium
The postmodern man (In lieu of a conclusion)
Liquid masculinities
The new alpha

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