Thursday, July 31, 2008

We see them every day on television, in magazines, and in advertisements. Hot, sexy, built male models used to sell consumer ideas to the public. Their built six packs gleaming with perspiration would make any woman’s heart beat race and any man’s body boil with envy. Many people do not see the sexual exploitation of men occurring within advertisements because the popular attention is on the woman standing next to him (or lying beneath him). However, men’s sexuality is used to sell products.

To understand the unnoticed sexual exploitation of men is to understand the value of men and women within Western society. Hesse-Biber explains that the Western culture “judges a man primarily in terms of how powerful, ambitious, aggressive, and dominant he is…” (32) These traits are all related to the mind and none with the body. Therefore, a man is not judged or understood solely on his physical qualities but more so of his success. A woman is understood in the complete reversal than that of a man. She is judged solely on her appearance and less on her success, making her more of an object than a human.

There are still those advertisements that only include men. These advertisements, in most cases, are usually black and white, which, as Pat Kirkham states in his article, “is an essential element in the overall rational and objective tone of the male” (268). This “tone of the male” includes the male being shirtless, exposing his well built torso, starring either straight into the camera or away as if in deep thought. The sexiness of the image itself would inspire men and women to buy the product that the man is portrayed to be representing.

Works Cited

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene Nagy. Men and Women: Mind and Body New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Kirkham, Pat and Weller, Alex. "Cosmetics: A Clinique Case Study". Dines, Gail and Humez, Jean M.
Gender, Race, And Class in Media. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 268-273.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Boys, Toys, and Masculinity: Extreme forms of Masculinity in Video Games

Sitting one night in my living room, I asked my 10 year old brother what five items would he like if he knew he would be able to get those five items. Of course, being a 10 year old boy, he listed some unreasonable items, such as all of the Final Fantasy video games (there are about thirty of these games). Finally, he composed the following list:
1. An X-Box 360 video game console with two controllers
2. A Playstation 2 video console
3-4. 2 X-Box 360 video games:
a. Army of Two: which he claimed was the best co-op game ever created
b. Devil May Cry 4
5. A Playstation 3 video game called Sly3
Looking at this list of games, an average person might not find anything wrong with it. They may actually think it normal for a young boy in America to be obsessed with video games, especially those that may seem like they might have some violence in them. This is not normal. Many young boys go through gendered socialization through their interaction with video games and other forms of media. Through these interactions they learn an exaggerated version of what it means to be man.

In today’s society, media is a very influential factor for young people to form their self identity and more so their gendered identity. Newman states children learn their gender identity in a way that is not passive. They do not simply absorb everything that they see. On the contrary, “children actively construct gender as a social category…they are like gender detectives searching for cues about gender, such as who should and shouldn’t engage in certain activities, who can play with whom, and why boys and girls are different” (Newman, 113). So, when my younger brother told me his selection of video games, I decided to do some detective work myself and see what these video games show young boys in terms of masculine acts.
Devil May Cry 4 contains a variety of characters, most of which are white men and women. The white men are tall, elegant looking. All of them look muscular with a feminine touch to them. The white women all, but one, have very revealing clothing on, mostly leather. They are big breasted and extremely skinny. They have an hourglass shape body. Within the character descriptions, they are described as having “exotic appearances”, being “a bit moody”, “voluptuous assets” and in one instance a female character was described as “a quick fighter” ( The only female character whose body is not objectified is Kyrie. She is depicted as being motherly and holy. This video game is rated seventeen and up on the basis that it contains extreme violence, sexual content, and language. When playing this game, the young boy would be killing zombies, competing with others, and attempting to save a maiden in distress. The message this game sends out is that men have to be violent, use explicit language, are sexual, and must always save the girl.

The next game, Sly3, seems to be the complete opposite. This game consists of characters that are mostly male animals, with only one female animal. These animals range from a raccoon to a turtle. Sly cooper, the main character, is portrayed as a very muscular, but lean, raccoon. He almost seems handsome. He is labeled as the thief. Bentely, the turtle, looks very geeky. Therefore, he is labeled as the geek. Murray, the Hippo, is very big and almost seems like he is fat. Due to this physical trait, he is the muscle. Penelope, the only girl animal, looks almost human. She looks close to geeky, always wearing big glasses and coveralls. It is hard to state what type of animal she is. She is labeled as the mechanic, RC car and chopper expert, and bi-plane co-pilot. Panda King is a Panda of course. He looks violent, aggressive, and very dangerous. He is given the task of demolition expert. Dimitri the slick frog is labeled as the Mega Pimp and the deep sea driver. ( This game could be viewed as a portal of the mass masculine identities within society. There is the thief, brains, muscle, engineer, violent being, and the hyper-sexual. This game is rated everyone, so it is accessible to a young audience. Starting at a young age, children would be able to connect violence, aggression, brains, and hyper-sexualness to being a man. There is only one girl in there that is able to do male-orientated things such as mechanics. Yet, she is only one girl making it seem women like her are one of a kind.

I saved Army of Two for last for a specific reason. When my brother claimed that this was the best co-op ever created, I was skeptical about the foundation of the game. I wanted to know the aim of the game, what was portrayed within it, and what types of characters were represented. This game is rated mature for intense blood, strong violence, and language. This game can be played by two players (hence the term co-op). The two players go through missions to fix the army’s mistakes, right the political wrongs, and kill millions of people who are deemed the ‘enemy’. The graphics are realistic and seen in a first person view. An analysis of this game could be read on In the analysis, the creators state that this game is reminiscent of the Vietnamese war. A trailer of this game is also available at To view this trailer, the viewer must prove that they are over eighteen by entering their birthday, which could easily have been false.
The trailer shows the controversy within the political party of the game and the increase in a ‘threat’ to the security of America. They then show three skinny Vietnamese looking characters running through a forest. The two men that are in the back get shot down. The last one standing turns around and shoots at the attacker, who casually stands up and lifts his skull mask. The attacker is a white male who looks vicious, angry, and violent. The Vietnamese look alike looks almost scared. As the two men look at each other, the second attacker comes behind and shoots him. Then the screen flashes “2 elite soldiers, 2 capitalists, 2 killing machines”. This game shocked me to no end. Not only does this game encourage extreme violence against the Vietnamese, but it also reinforces extreme versions of masculinity.
Games like An Army of Two are very dangerous for young boys to play, especially if they are still trying to figure out their own identity. These young boys are vulnerable to the extreme versions of masculinities that these games portray. Sut Jhally states in her article Image-Based culture: Advertising and Popular Culture” images that deal with gender “strike at the core of individual identity; our understanding of ourselves as either male or female…is central to our understanding of who we are” (Dines & Humez, 253). She goes on to state that since advertisements and images portray what it means to be a man or a woman in this society is fed to the audience in a glance, gender socialization becomes much more easier.
As young as ten years old, boys are being introduced to violent forms of masculinity and the sexual objectifications of women. Through video games, children gain information on what is the right way to act for boys and girls. Some research revealed that “girl toys still revolve around themes of domesticity; fashion, and motherhood and boy’s toys emphasize action and adventure” (Newman, 112). Some adults even agree that “the most male toys [are] guns, toy soldiers, boxing gloves, G.I. Joe, and football gear and the most female toys [are] makeup kit, Barbie, jewelry box, bracelet, doll clothes” (Newman, 112). If parents see no problem with buying games that reinforce the white masculinity to young children, then it would be even more challenging to show these young children that these forms of gender performances are formed on false pretenses. There is a long road ahead of us to deconstruct these gender norms and form expectations that are more reasonable. Until that goal is reached, we should attempt to censor the forms of media that influence young children the most.

Works Cited

Jhally, Sut. "Image-Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture". Dines, Gail and Humez, Jean M. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. A Text Reader" Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, Inc., 2003. pgs 249-257

Newman, David M. "Identites and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality". Boston: McGraw Hill (2007)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Family Guy and Identities

A brief view of Family Guy: This television series is centered on an American middle class family, who are the Griffins, in the made up town of Quohog, Rhode Island. The family consists of parents, Louis and Peter, and their three children: Chris, Meg, and Stewie. They have a dog named Bryan who speaks and is very intelligent and is an alcoholic and a possible racist as well. Chris is un-intelligent like his father. Meg is a social outcast. Stewie is a baby that creates diabolical plans to kill his mother and rule the world. Peter contains three main friends: Cleveland, Quagmire, and Joe, each which seem to have some sort of social handicap. Joe is crippled from the waist down, Cleveland is Black, and Quagmire is a pedophile. No other family member’s friends are shown as elaborately as Peter’s.
Family Guy provides a means to critically analyze the American popular culture without actually having to look into the various aspects of this culture. Taking into account that Family Guy is a parody and does tend to exaggerate many of its acts, this television series does contain many of the ridiculous trends that Americans call ‘fashion’. Through these trends we are all able to look at the American society and learn more about the way that it works in terms of its social structures. Through these social structures, however, we are able to distinguish the many identities that dwell within this society. These identities are formed on the basis of gender, race, sexuality, class, and age, upon many other traits.
The basic events that took place within the episode “Done Make Me Over” were triggered by Meg’s dissatisfaction with her appearance. Louis decides that she wants her daughter to fit in and look sexy so takes her shopping, which did not work out too well. With a play of luck Meg receives a makeover which transformed her from an average looking high school girl into this sexy, blonde, pop icon. As Meg is receiving her makeover Peter decides to form a rock band. This, however, fails. Meg’s new sexy looks saved Peter’s band from failing completely. Meg was the focus of the attention while the rest of the family played instruments in the background. Through a cruel joke played on live television, Meg was ripped from her pedestal of fame and realized that she no longer wanted to be beautiful.
There are many identities presented within this episode. Meg is a high school girl that has to deal with the various pressures from her peers. Her clothing does not show off the curves that she has nor does her style fit in with what is considered “hip”. Louis tried to explain to Meg that she should not let what her peers tell her to influence her self-judgment yet, she also brought her spirits up with a promise of a shopping spree in which they would go shopping for clothing that would show off her ‘cute butt’. At the shopping mall, Louis was picking out shirts that had logos that were very devaluing to girls. Such logos consisted of ‘Little Slut’ and ‘Sperm Dumpster’. However, since they were written in glitter it was alright.
This scene portrayed the nature of society objectifying women into sexual objects. Not only were these girls expected to be ‘little sluts’ but there were only empty vessels in which sperm was to be deposited in. This type of influence can shape a young girl’s sexuality. There logo is assuming that the girl is heterosexual and she is sexually active, even though the targeted audience for the shirts are high school girls. This concept is very disturbing and true. It reflects on today’s young girls being expected to participate within activities that were expected at an older age within previous generations.
The age that Meg is portrayed as is the targeted audience for many advertising companies that are trying to sell beauty products. At this age, young girls are sensitive about their looks; which causes them to be sensitive about how their peers view them. Meg’s age is unknown; however she is a high school student. The high school environment is influenced tremendously by social expectations of beauty. The beautiful people that wear designer products are the most popular ones while people like Meg, who look mediocre, are placed as outcasts. This is apparent when Meg goes through her makeover and becomes a sexy high school student. She gets accepted into the popular girls group and gets asked out by a cute guy.
The sexuality of young girls is shaped by peers as well. Meg has feelings for a boy named Craig Hoffman. She is attracted to him because he gives off the dangerous vibe, a wild child, someone who does not follow the rules that are set up by authorities. That dangerous aspect appeals to many girls. Some girls actually state that they would prefer a ‘bad ass’ as a boyfriend rather than a ‘sweetheart’. However, Crag did not have the same feelings for Meg. He believed she resembled a boy. This belief sparked Meg’s dislike of her appearance. She shaped her self-image by what a boy she had feelings for thought of her as many other girls do within society. After her makeover, she was blonde, wore clothing that showed off her flat stomach and curves, and was very attractive. When walking down the hallway, she was cat-called at, the popular girls recognized her, and Craig asked her out on a date.
Meg’s class is a form of identity as well. Since she is a part of the middle-class she is vulnerable to various advertisements as well as social expectations. The resources to make herself look ‘beautiful’ socially are accessible to her. She is not poor, nor is she rich. She can not have every material thing, yet she can go shopping to find jeans to show off her ‘cute butt’. With her middle class status comes a nice house to live in. Even though her father, Peter, works in a toy factory, the family seems to be living in a nice home with a nice lifestyle. The mother, Louis, stays at home, raises stewie, and cooks and cleans for the family. The lower-class people are depicted as being no good and their final destination would be incarceration. In the scene in which Peter’s newly formed band perform at the jail house, mostly all of the people depicted there look like they come from lower-class families. They are stereotypical representations in that the white inmates have large muscles with long hair and tattoos. The black inmates were not even shown, but in the crowd the viewer could clearly see the large amount of black inmates within the prison.
The identity category of race is played into the episode as well. Keeping in mind that Family Guy is a parody, there was a quick snippet scene after Peter decides that he would like to form a rock band in which a black man is presented as a viewer. He was commenting on how Peter is known for his crazy decisions and wondering how the outcome would be. The black male is shown wearing clean clothing but, his surroundings looks like he is very poor. He is depicted as if he lives in a garbage dump. There is a table that is propped up by garbage cans. Tires pop out of the side of the screen and there is broken refrigerator as well as a mattress in the background. An old, tattered wooden fence marks the boundary of the garbage dump and the outside world. This character is the only character that is black and says something within the episode, other than Cleveland. The other black characters were only depicted in prison.
As stated before, Family Guy is a prodigal representation of the different identical categories within society. In these episodes, the characters exaggerate the traits of each identity. By making Meg into a hot, sexy high school girl and showing how she was automatically accepted among her peers and was asked out, Family Guy shows the ridiculous weight society puts on appearance. The contrast between the classes as well as the races presents the serious implication that lower-class people are more prone to crime than middle class and black lower-class people are the biggest criminals of all. In conclusion, the different identities portrayed in this series carry truth about how society functions in the real world.