Friday, March 9, 2012

'Friday Night Lights' and Masculinity

Hamilton Carroll discussing some very interesting points about blue-collar masculinity, how it is portrayed through a working-class lens, and why it is such a phenomena through media.  The points were really interesting, but I would like to discuss the messages discussed in this article and where else we see them in the media (frankly, I would not like to discuss/read about motorcycles anymore-HA! And because 'Friday Night Lights' is one of my favorite shows and deals with masculinity).

Football, like motorcycles, represents an authentic American identity and masculinity.  As society shows the over-paid, bad-boy athlete, or the white-male in power and part of the "1%", it is interesting to see the portrayal of working-class, patriotic, and religious culture.  Throughout the first couple seasons of 'Friday Night Lights', we see coach Eric Taylor portrayed as the ultimate masculine character.  He is like a God in this small Texas town and so is high school football.  This is exactly what we think of when authentic America comes to mind.  High school football, religion, patriotism, racial and gender relations, and tradition.  The coach and these players are not wealthy, but they are extremely well respected and powerful.  I cannot help but think that the tradition of high school football is one of the only concepts of American authenticity and identity that says you do not have to be rich to be powerful.  The ultimate portrayal of masculinity therefore, has nothing to do with money, but instead respect.

But as the seasons progress, we see this idealistic image of masculinity turn into a more realistic portrayal of masculinity and the real struggle between the private and public spheres of society.  Suddenly, Eric realizes his power is not untouchable and that vulnerability and loss of confidence leads to a loss of masculinity.  It is as if the first season sets the viewers up with an idealistic image of masculinity and authenticity and by the time the series finishes, we see a completely new portrayal of masculinity.  In this clip, we can see how Eric's wife (the private sphere) confronts him about family decisions based around his job (the public sphere).  What this clip does not show, and one of the scenes that stands out in my mind, is when the team comes to Eric's doorstep to ask him to be a coach, while his wife stands on the other side of the door inside the house and says, "I've been a coach's wife for 18 years.  It's my turn".  It is literally the confrontation between the private and public sphere.  Ultimately, Eric chooses the private sphere and follows his wife to her new job.  As "How To Make A Critically Acclaimed TV Show About Masculinity" explains, Eric realizes that he has to stop ignoring the private sphere influences and has to allow a balance between the two:  "Friday Night Lights starts off as a show about a man with a housewife and a football team, and by the third season, it would be better described as a show about a married couple tackling the world as a team, with Tammi Taylor's career getting nearly as much screen time as Eric's".

While many shows on TV are shifting their view about masculinity and we see the portrayal of different types of masculinity and what it means to be a man, there is something to be said about a plot revolved around this American authenticity and tradition.  It is authentic because it portrays many of the problems we can all relate too, and luckily, we get to see how masculinity shifts from a patriarchal stance to one surrounding equality.

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