Science Fiction Repair Shop: Mansculinity Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2013-03-05 15:00:00 No comments

A really good essay on the way several of the most popular TV shows in recent history are all about threatened masculinity:

Asking the Wrong Questions: Late to the Party: Thoughts on Mad Men and Breaking Bad

... I think that we deserve shows of this caliber that focus on a less narrow aspect of humanity, and for that matter, shows that recognize that the lust for power and control, and the fear of death, are not qualities unique to a certain gender or race.

This came by way of a Ferretbrain article on the House of Cards remake, which argued something similar: the show isn't about political power or revenge, but threatened masculinity, and because it doesn't recognize this properly winds up becoming something a lot less than it ought to be. The article also argues that you don't need eleven episodes to tell a story that was told more succinctly before in four, something you don't have to reach too far back into my archives to know I agree with completely. But the real meat of the piece was about masculinity.

An aside. I haven't seen Cards -- what little TV-watching time I have left is devoted to my duties — but my parents have, and I remember sitting at the dinner table with them a few weeks ago while they described with great and meticulous glee the political machinations of the main character. This took minutes on end. It reminded me of something I've said before: that something is complicated does not make it complex, or deep, or even particularly interesting. It just makes it complicated, shilling for convoluted.¹

Anyway, the article's comments about masculinity caught my attention, in big part because some of the same sentiments seem to spill over into SF. When so many of the people writing it are white guys of varying degrees of nerdiness,  when they have an inordinate amount of their self-definition bound up with their masculinity (or any imagined threats mounted to same), and when they go to fair lengths to make it seem like any questioning of their work is motivated by nothing more than mean-spirited revenge, you can bet your Elks pin that very worldview is going to be reflected in their work on some level — and that their stories will be constructed to give such masculinity something to do, even if it consists of little more than setting fire to several Burning Man Festivals' worth of strawmen.

The nadir of this sort of thing for me is not the sweaty machismo of pulp trash fantasy, but the pesudo-intellectual meatheadedness of the likes of Game of Thrones, where all the hairy-chested goings-on are allegedly legitimized by the realism of the setting. That doesn't make them any more legitimate to me, or even realistic; that just seems like a convenient excuse to shoehorn in as much unpleasantness as possible and explain it away by claiming life would be like that in such a setting.

But the unpleasantness of a setting should not be an excuse for anything, especially not lapses in taste on the part of a creator with a narrower worldview than the fact he's a fantasy or SF author would hint at. (Again, why is it that people who make the greatest pretenses towards the harnessing of the power of imagination are often themselves so unimaginative about human experience?)

The opposite of all this is not the demonization of masculinity (I almost typed mansculinity -- hence, the title), but rather a way of examining it with intelligence and grace, of giving it something to do other than thump its chest or rattle a saber. Another one of the reasons I liked Theodore Sturgeon, come to think of it. Now there was a man, not a "guy".

¹ I fully expect to be called on the carpet for having broken this rule myself. You can never completely know what you consider "simple" until someone else is baffled by it. See: most first-draft UI designs.

Tags: Science Fiction Repair Shop masculinity science fiction television