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Professor's book explores 'Crisis of Masculinity'

March 3, 2006

Photo of Brent MalinA new book by Assistant Professor Brenton J. Malin theorizes that the Bill Clinton presidency popularized a "more sensitive manhood" that is now ubiquitous in American film, television and politics, from the "metrosexual" phenomenon to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

"American Masculinity Under Clinton: Popular Media and the Nineties 'Crisis of Masculinity,'" published late last year by Peter Lang Publishing Group, explores the image of the "new man" that has helped win elections, box-office success and television ratings.

The crisis of this new man, as presented in the book, is his anxiety and conflict. Is it more acceptable to show his sensitivity and be politically correct? Or are people still attracted to traditional masculine stereotypes of muscularity, toughness and power over women? The new man's struggle over his identity has affected issues of class, homophobia and race.

"There is pressure to be politically correct," said Malin, who teaches in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department, "yet built in are these traditional values of sexuality and masculinity."

Image of the cover of Brent Malin's book "American Masculinity under Clinton"Clinton has been portrayed as a conflicted and sensitive, yet tough, man -- and it helped him win both presidential elections, Malin said.

"Sensitive to our pain, but tough on crime; wealthy graduate of Yale, but down-home Arkansas boy," Malin writes. "Clinton's persona remained a bundle of conflicts that variously embraced and overturned different stereotypes of masculinity."

This masculine identity differs substantially from that of the President Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s, when hard bodies and violence dominated film, television and public discourse.

The book includes analysis of a wide range of personalities: from President George W. Bush, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone to "Beavis and Butthead," Leonardo DiCaprio and Wesley Snipes.

Malin researched hundreds of mass media images, books, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly work, and other material from American film, television and politics. The book grew out of his dissertation at University of Iowa, where he earned a doctorate in communication studies.

Malin's interest in masculinity stems from a lifelong fascination with popular culture. He grew up a fan of "Star Wars" and action heroes. He was inspired by James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," in which the title character learns to escape the uncontrollable circumstances of his life -- including an outspoken wife -- through elaborate fantasies and daydreams. Malin, a native of Newton, Kan., is also a country-folk singer and songwriter.

The largest and most influential program of its kind in the West, the BECA Department has graduated some of the top names in broadcast journalism, entertainment television and new media, including Bay Area news anchor Frank Somerville, "Frasier" producer Peter Casey and CNN Headline News anchor Mike Galanos. BECA faculty members are authors of the most widely used textbooks on radio and television performance, broadcast news writing, television production, electronic field production, and media aesthetics. BECA celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

-- Matt Itelson
Photo of Malin by Mitch Wong


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Last modified March 6, 2006 by University Communications