A distinctive television genre has emerged in the shadow of 9/11: the male-centered drama. The Shield (FX), Nip/Tuck (FX), Dexter (Showtime), Rescue Me (FX), and Boston Legal (ABC) feature a distinctive discourse about the experience of modern American manhood that departs from previous programming in its reflection of post-backlash feminism and post-9/11 masculinity. The "masculinity crisis" in these dramas is a narrative shift away from earlier masculinity crises blamed on various social changes and then-emerging feminism. In the wake of 9/11, male-centered cable dramas offer what was previously infrequently seen on television: intense and intimate engagement with men's anxieties, failures, and contradictions, amid sometimes regressive gender politics.
As the Twin Towers collapsed, so did swaggering American heroism; the male archetype was quickly reconfigured to allow for heroes who are uncertain and flawed. Gone is the cock-sure Cold War "rescuer" (Dragnet) who never questioned himself or his country and always had all the answers, replaced by the deeply anxious "rescuers" (Rescue Me) who struggles with fractured family relationships and is haunted by victims they could not save.
The new television masculinity is part reinscription of patriarchy, deceptively cloaked in feminist-friendly behaviors. It is also part resistance to patriarchy, and an attempt to grapple directly with what it means to be masculine, inventing a myriad of possibilities rather than reverting to a single, hegemonic icon. Both parts merit uncloaking and thoughtful, probing criticism.
The critical and commercial success of these dramas signals that these narratives emerging at this time reflect important cultural shifts that resonate powerfully with critics and audiences. This study considers what is at stake in the issues raised in these dramas, what makes them emerge in popular culture at this point in time, and what kinds of cultural and social work is being done by these mediated images.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. November 2009. Major: Communication Studies. Advisor: Mary Vavrus, Ph.D. 1 computer file (PDF); iv, 301 pages.
Nettleton, Pamela Hill.
Rescuing men: the new television masculinity in Rescue Me, Nip/Tuck, The Shield, Boston Legal, & Dexter.
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