We hardly realize how much media is constructed to appeal to ours and the opposite gender on a daily basis. Everyday, consumers of pop culture are bound to run into a gender constructed form of media. It is so common that it often goes unnoticed. However, spending a day really trying to pay attention to gender constructed forms of media did I truly see how much it happens. Almost every single piece of media that pop culture supplies for consumers is geared toward gender roles and the ideal hegemonic forms of masculinity and femininity.
The other day I sat down and was trying to catch up on a few television shows that I recently started to watch and/or revisit in my spare time. I had watched The Walking Dead after reading the comic books way back when it first aired on television back in 2010. However, i stopped watching around the fourth season, but recently decided that it was worth my time to try and catch up. So, I came into revisiting the series with a good idea of who the characters are and what the shows aim is. As I sat there watching this zombie-horror television show it’s evident that this is a show that’s geared toward males. Most horror themed media is almost always trying to appeal to the males due to the extreme violence and gore, especially in a zombie television show. Similarly, the show follows multiple male characters who fit the hegemonic idea of masculinity. By that I mean that these characters are almost overly masculine in the sense that these characters fit the ideal role of masculinity and always seem to overcome all the obstacles that get in their way. The how reinforces that the male characters need to be tough leaders that better the group’s chances of survival.
It’s important to understand the reasons for gender construction within popular culture and media. In His essay on mass culture, A Theory of Mass Culture, Dwight MacDonald states that “It is sometimes called “Popular Culture,” but I think “Mass Culture” a more accurate term, since its distinctive mark is that it is solely and directly an article for mass consumption, like chewing gum” (MacDonald, 1953). This means that pop culture is for the masses and is engineered to garner as big of an audience as they can get. So, it’s no wonder why a show like The Walking Dead would try to make a show as masculine as possible so it can get as big of a male audience as it can get. These shows are tailored to get viewership ratings and rely on getting a big audience. In other words, shows like this have to conform to creating overly masculine and feminine concepts and characters so it can gather a wide range of males or females, whichever demographic it is.
Another example I noticed that contained a lot of gender constructed themes was in the HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm, starring Seinfeld creator, Larry David. The show follows one man, Larry David, as he goes through his daily routines and consistently getting anxiety about day to day things. While getting anxiety isn’t an aspect of the hegemonic male, the character still greatly conforms to the ideal version of masculinity. Even though Larry David might appear to be weird or even queer in the show, he is still a man who is constantly trying to please his wife and constantly getting fed up with her. He and his wife endlessly get into arguments about silly things that show a clear battle between the sexes, ussuall showing Larry David coming out on top.
Secondly, the two eventually get divorced and Larry tries desperately to get back out on the dating scene. Although he usually has pathetic attempts at dating women, one of the central plots in the later seasons is him trying to get back out there, reaffirming the necessity of a middle aged man to be have, or be in search of a spouse. The show’s audience might not consist of only middle aged men, but it does reaffirm to all males that you need to make getting married to a women a priority in your life, hence the series taking the time to dedicate a few seasons to Larry trying to achieve this. In fact, this show goes could be seen as an example of the gender construction Michael Mesner talks about within his essay and his “loser” theory. In his essay, Messner thinks of male characters in beer advertisements are depicted as losers, much like how Larry David’s character is depicted in Curb Your Enthusiasm. Messner says that this loser “hangs out with his male buddies, is self-mocking and ironic about his loser status, and is always at the ready to engage in voyeurism with sexy fantasy women but holds committed relationships and emotional honesty with real women in disdain” (Messner, 2005). Larry is constantly seen trying to hang out with his buddies and consistently attempting and failing to go out with attractive women.
I watch a lot of television and I have so many favorite shows. These two are just the tip of the iceberg for the amount of gender construction is hidden beneath the media society is always consuming. However, these shows are great examples of the hegemonic ideal for masculinity. While they might occasionally have characters with many more dimensions rather than extremely masculine characters, most of their content solidifies that there is a hegemonic perspective of masculinity that there is a large demand for.
MacDonald, Dwight (1953). “A Theory of Mass Culture.” Diogenes No. 3 1-17.
Messner, M. Montez de Oca, J. (2005). “The Male Consumer as Loser: Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events.” Journal of Women in Culture and Society: University of Chicago Press 879-1909 .