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Macho, or alpha male

Related: men - stereotype - sociology - hierarchy

Contrast: femme fatale


In American literature, a memorable example of machismo comes from Tennessee Williams' character Stanley Kowlaski, the egotistical brother-in-law in A Streetcar Named Desire. In the play (and in the motion picture), Stanley epitomises the hyper-masculine alpha male, socially and physically dominating and imposing his will upon his wife and her sister, Blanche Dubois. Bound up with Stanley's aggressive and occasionally misogynist views is a strong sense of pride and honour which leads to his hatred of Blanche. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machismo [May 2005]

An alpha male or alpha female is the individual in the community to whom the others follow and defer. Humans and their nearest species-relatives, the chimpanzees, show deference to the alpha of the community by ritualized gestures such as bowing, allowing the alpha to walk first in a procession, or standing aside when the alpha challenges. Canines also show deference to the alpha male in their pack, by allowing him to be the first to eat and the first to mate. Wolves are a well known example of this.

The status of alpha is generally achieved by means of superior physical prowess. However in certain highly-social species such as the Bonobo apes, the alpha can use more indirect methods (such as political alliances) to oust the ruling alpha and take his/her place. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpha_male [May 2005]

Masculinity, art, Pollock vs Duchamp

This essay focuses on the relationship in art between gender and power, and on the past decade's increased interest in man and male identity as subjects of study. A relatively obscure theme previously, the contention that man is in the throes of crisis has become a major topic within gender research. The amount of literature on man has skyrocketed since the contours of this fresh academic field were first defined around 1990.

The relationship between art and gender drew attention and critical analysis in the wake of the feminist reform movements of the 1960s. It is during this time that we also find a dawning interest and desire among male artists to use their own masculinity as a theme in their works. This theme is particular apparent in works by several artists using self-staging in some sense, as in Yves Klein and Chris Burden's hyper-masculine actions of the 1960s, and Vito Acconci and Paul McCarthy's self-compromising or abject outpourings at the beginning of the 1970s. Instead of taking their own gender identity for granted, as something natural and unequivocal, these artists dealt with issues related to maleness as a role; as something constructed.

Masculinity is emphasized as behavior that is exhibited, acted out and demonstrated. Prominent artists of the 1990s have also addressed this topic in different ways, using self-staging and meta-masculine themes. Matthew Barney, John Coplans and Peter Land are three such artists: Barney has produced films and videos revolving around body-building aesthetics, sports and male hero figures; Coplans reveals his own, naked body in photographic works and Land has staged scenes of himself as a falling figure in implicit dialogue with artists such as Klein, Burden, Acconci and McCarthy. Their works play on time-honored traditions in Western visual culture in general, and the relationship between art and gender in particular. However, before considering their production in depth it may be useful to consider the background for the interplay and relationships in their works. --Řystein Ustvedt via http://www.forart.no/ustvedt/ustvedt.html [Jul 2005]

Jackson Pollock
As art historian Amelia Jones has shown, there is good reason to begin with the phenomenon Jackson Pollock in discussions of recent art's masculine self-staging themes. Pollock's images and the way that they are perceived do not only render his work a paragon of late modernism's aesthetics in general. His production is also uniquely qualified to demonstrate modernism's masculine aesthetics, resonating with the self-revelation and bravura that is essential to this aesthetic. The enormous attention and significance accorded Pollock's paintings during the 1950s enables them to represent what was typical of the attitudes and thinking that dominated the epoch's — and in a larger sense, modernism's — trend-setting art scene. His works demonstrate contemporaneous notions of artistic creativity, subjective expression and how the artist's role was to be performed. --Řystein Ustvedt via http://www.forart.no/ustvedt/ustvedt.html [Jul 2005]

Marcel Duchamp
A common characteristic of leading tendencies in art from around 1960 was a turn away from or a rebellion against the heroic gesture and the transcendental aspirations of Pollock's generation. It was at this time that a renewed interest in Marcel Duchamp is seen among younger artists and art historians. This 'father figure' shift is interesting in this context, as Duchamp is one of the few male artists who worked with a kind of meta-masculine subject matter prior to 1960.

With his sense of irony and wordplay, his play on gender and his dandy persona, Duchamp was basically working with a de-essentializing of sexual identity. His de-naturalizing of the concept of a whole and stable artistic subject as the fundamental, authoritative reference in art obviously challenges the Pollock-generation painters.

Duchamp's own relationship to Abstract Expressionist painting is also telling, revealed in the small painting Paysage fautif (Wayward Landscape) 1946. The amorphous splash-form against a black background seems in keeping with avant-garde abstract painting of the times (the 1940s were the formative period for Abstract Expressionism), but deviates from what characterized Duchamp's work. However, subsequent analysis has shown that sperm, not paint was used, the image thus testifying to his critical and ironic stance toward gender, sexuality and creativity. As ironic commentary on the relationship between male sex drives and artistic creativity, he mocks contemporaneous avant-garde painting and its mustering of large, emphatically masculine gestures as in Pollock's "drip" paintings. Masculinity is shown to be a self-construction, a form of masquerade. The swipe at 'Abstract Expressionism' grand rhetoric is typical for Duchamp's anti-aesthetic attitude, which anticipates both the essence of the 1960s rebellion against expressionist painting and body-related performance art. --Řystein Ustvedt via http://www.forart.no/ustvedt/ustvedt.html [Jul 2005]

see also: men - art

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