Friday, July 15, 2011

Constructs of Femininity and Masculinity in a TV - based Aspect of Pop Culture

    Californication, a Showtime comedy-drama production set in California, is rife with constructs of masculinity and femininity.  Gender constructs are both supported and challenged throughout the wide range of character tropes presented in the show.  Hank Moody, the protagonist of the series, is a novelist who moves to California to pursue his career while simultaneously juggling his family life and celebrity life.  While the show appears to take a progressive approach to gender constructs at first glance, the overall character of Hank Moody and the world created around him conform to the traditional masculine and feminine roles as perpetuated by mass media and social constructions.  In the episode entitled “And Justice for All…”, Hank Moody’s actions and words construct a masculine perspective that reinforces the socially constructed roles of gender and supports traditionally accepted family values. 

    The episode covers Hank Moody’s sentencing regarding a statutory rape case and the events that follow his sentencing.  As the judge begins to announce the verdict, Hank faints and is awoken by his beautiful female lawyer.  She explains to him that he fainted and he responds with, “Like a little girl?  What a pussy I am.”  Here Hank immediately reinforces the notion that only little girls would faint and he also uses vulgar slang to describe himself as a weak person.  The slang also happens to refer to a woman’s genitals.

    The fact that Hank associates his moment of weakness with little girls and the female body is no simple occurrence.  This slur is a direct attempt to damage the female identity and elevate the male status.  As Newman points out, “They always reflect broader cultural and political themes” (75).  By referencing the female body in a crude way and using the idea to make himself seem worthless, he is in essence removing power from the female body and in turn granting power to traditional masculinity.  Men are expected to be powerful and stoic, and showing any kind of momentary emotion or weakness is immediately condemned as a feminine action.  Hank’s own self critique of his fainting spell shows just how ingrained the masculine gender role is present in his mentality.

    After the good news that he only received three years of probation, Hank has celebratory sex with his lawyer and even deigns to take her out to a social gathering that evening.  On the way into the house she wonders aloud what it will be like to be at a social function with Hank Moody.  He responds that it would be the same as having sex with him because in the end, somebody always gets “fucked”.  This clever play on words equates the process of screwing someone over with intercourse.  Sex has become a type of confrontation to be conquered.  The person that he is having sex with could also be getting screwed over because it’s all the same in his world.  In the world of the alpha male, having sex is just another action that is solely for the male to enact his prowess, whether the partner enjoys it or not is irrelevant.

    This idea of women being an object of men pervades media and reality in general.  Newman points out that,  “we continue to see the stereotypical image of the "exhibited" woman,” (91).  Hank reinforces this idea that women are here for his enjoyment and haphazardly compares sex with a female to getting one over on someone in some way.  The male gaze is a powerful construct in our social reality and is a vital part of the masculine gender role.  Males assume women to be objects of pleasure and deny actual value or personal identity to females.

    The social dinner event is underway and the gathering quickly devolves into chaos.  The entire evening is filled with misogynistic dialogue and scenes of females being over the top and “insane” in their actions.  An actor is present who is planning on playing Hank in an upcoming film and Hank quickly makes sure to ask this actor how he is going to play him.  Hank hopes that he won’t portray him as a “cross of Bruce Springsteen and Mickey Rorke, in a gay bar”.  This homophobia is displayed much earlier on in the episode during Hank’s sentencing when he mockingly claims that his “ass has been saved” once he realizes that he won’t be going to prison.

    Mary Rogers sums it up nicely how “in many cultural worlds heterocentrism and heterosexism prevail in no uncertain terms”, (95).  This too is true of Hank Moody’s world, which seems not to contain any alternative type of sexuality or gender construction.  In a world of artists and celebrities, none appear to homosexual in any way.  A heterosexual view is expressed constantly throughout the show and the only visibility that homosexuality gets occurs when it is being negatively portrayed by the main character.  “How these shows resolve tensions often results in a reinscription of heterosexuality and a containment of queer sexuality,” (Raymond 100).  Modern masculinity has no place for homosexual thought or process.  Hank continually degrades homosexual life by using it in the crudest form of humor and making clear to any man watching that homo equates with something negative and hetero is the way to be a real man.  In fact, being a real man may even be achievable simply by bashing homosexuality.

    The episode concludes with Hank realizing that his ex-wife and his daughter are leaving California.  This sends Hank into a drunken stupor and visibly depresses him in the following days.  The ending montage suggests that perhaps the infamous Hank Moody may change who he is and try to turn his life around.  Instead he ends up having sex with the young actress who is playing his wife in the upcoming film.  This resolution seems to suggest that the sexual deviance of a masculine man is almost a fact of nature.

    Hank’s continual issues with womanizing and cheating are so out of hand that the viewer might begin feeling sorry for him.  Masculinity and sexual prowess are so intertwined at this point that the audience is beginning to feel sorry for Hank and how he can’t control himself.  He is just so masculine that this might not even be his own fault!  “As long as people continue to believe that gender differences are rooted in nature, they will continue to accept social inequalities as natural.” (Newman 69).  This kind of idea about male sexuality can then in turn excuse male deviance as a part of nature and then also subvert femininity by forcing females to adapt to the male lifestyle.  After all, feminine deviance has no such excuse as masculinity provides to males.

    Californication and more specifically Hank Moody, represent a traditional model of masculinity.  It is filled with heteronormative ideas and objectifies women as sexual objects.  This is accomplished through portraying Hank Moody as the ultimate bad boy who every male viewer wants to be.  He is rich, famous, handsome, smooth, and has sex with a different woman in every episode.  This is the pinnacle of masculinity as displayed by the show.  Homosexuality, when mentioned, is negatively portrayed and shown as something to be avoided at all costs.  Only through making fun of it can it be relevant in this show.  Femininity too is damaged by this interpretation of masculinity because by the very nature of accepting masculinity as portrayed in this show, females must be devalued and ranked below the status of a man.  Like most media, Californication perpetuates the stereotypical masculinity of society and any “meta” message that may be being made about masculinity is lost on the average viewer.  


Works Cited

"And Just For All...". Californication. By Tom Kapinos. Perf. David Duchovney.  Showtime.  Showtime Networks, Inc. (CBS Corp.) New York, New York.  27 March 2011.

Newman, David M. “Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 30-70. Print.

Newman, David M. “Portraying Difference: Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality in Language and the Media.” Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2007. 71-105. Print.

Raymond, Diane.  "Popular Culture and Queer Representation"  Gender, Race, and Class in Media.  Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003. 98 - 110. Print.

Roger, Mary F. “Hetero Barbie?” Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003. 94 – 7. Print.