Detecting Men: Masculinity And the Hollywood Detective Film (Suny Series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video)
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Looks at how detective films have reflected and shaped our ideas about masculinity, heroism, law and order, and national identity.
Detecting Men examines the history of the Hollywood detective genre and the ways that detective films have negotiated changing social attitudes toward masculinity, heroism, law enforcement, and justice. Genre film can be a site for the expression and resolution of problematic social issues, but while there have been many studies of such other male genres as war films, gangster films, and Westerns, relatively little attention has been paid to detective films beyond film noir. In this volume, Philippa Gates examines classical films of the thirties and forties as well as recent examples of the genre, including Die Hard, the Lethal Weapon films, The Usual Suspects, Seven, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Murder by Numbers, in order to explore social anxieties about masculinity and crime and Hollywood’s conceptions of gender. Up until the early 1990s, Gates argues, the primary focus of the detective genre was the masculinity of the hero. However, from the mid-1990s onward, the genre has shifted to more technical portrayals of crime scene investigation, forensic science, and criminal profiling, offering a reassuring image of law enforcement in the face of violent crime. By investigating the evolution of the detective film, Gates suggests, perhaps we can detect the male.
“There have been many books on detectives on film, but few have approached the genre in as broad a theoretical and historical sweep. Beginning with William Powell and Humphrey Bogart, and ending with villainy (Hannibal Lecter and Keyser Soze) and criminalists (Gil Grissom), Gates grounds her remarks in genre and gender theory, and ably demonstrates how in ‘moments of time’ American film and television detectives have reflected our changing views of heroism and masculinity.” — Journal of the American Studies Association of Texas
“Gates cites trends through the decades: how the tenor of an era produced matching screen treatments, how the financial success of one work spawned more titles within a particular genre.” — CHOICE
“This topic is timely and in many ways overdue. This is the first book to really put all the pieces together, and in the process of constructing this historical overview, Gates discovers profound connections and shifts that others have missed.” — Peter Lehman, author of Roy Orbison: The Invention of an Alternative Rock Masculinity
time. In some cases these fluctuations last for decades—in others it may be a matter of weeks or months. For example, if we look at the fashion of men’s hairstyles over the past 20 years or so, we find that they range from the shoulder length vogue of the sixties, to the punk cuts of the late seventies and early eighties. During the same period men have experimented with both macho and androgynous types of self-presentation. At the same time, we have been bombarded with stories about role
(Pleck and Pleck 24). As Gaylyn Studlar states, in the early decades of the twentieth century there existed a conception of masculinity as instinctual, impulsive, and primitive in opposition to the industrialized, consumer-oriented, bureaucratic, and sedentary society that was seen as feminized (Mad 29). This feminization and over-civilization were seen as the antagonists of traditional masculinity—masculinity defined by physical strength, moral action, and individual independence. With World War
perpetuated these myths of sexual difference— myths based in the outdated politics of patriarchy as a result of broader cinematic codes rather than social reality. As a culture, we are still captivated by the ideas of true, authentic, and essential masculinity and femininity and this is often played out in genre film4; furthermore, a “naturalized” difference between men and women also helps to simplify (or ignore) real-life concerns about gender roles. Film genres function for a culture by
indicative of a new political conservatism. Jeffords states that the action films of the 1980s were “part of a widespread cultural effort to respond to perceived deterioration in masculine forms of power” (“Terminated?” 246). Feminism attempted to lessen the differences between men and women, and images of new masculinities—such as the New Man—had begun to appear in the media as a redefinition of masculinity embodying “feminized” traits of sensitivity, nurturing, and vanity. In response to this
individual investigative talents of each man and the leads each follows result in the discovery of police corruption going right up to their captain. More importantly, through the course of the investigation, each man learns something about the others as well as about himself. Ed discovers that although the truth is valuable, justice requires a bending of the rules; Jack learns that pursuing the truth is a reward in itself; and Bud learns that he can use his brains as well as his brawn. Because