Toni’s Response to Halberstam

From “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Men, Women, and Masculinity”

“In all these films, the heterosexual conversion fantasy rests upon two crucial factors: first, heterosexual white male masculinity appears as naturally attractive and desirable despite any socially repulsive behaviors that may accompany it.  In fact, the presence of a gay masculine rival allows the heteromale to voice his most homophobic and misogynist sentiments without repercussions of any kind.” (2641)

Halberstam brings to the fore several movies in which she can identify the “good” pattern of “heterosexual conversion narratives” in order to highlight the fact that a gay man or a lesbian is positioned as a rival to the heterosexual male (2639).  She claims that this neo-homosocial triangle provides for the assertion of heteronormativity into a position of privilege. I agree that this genre of movie is holding up heterosexual relationships as the ideal – though I find her description of the “naturally attractive and desirable” character problematic because that is the goal of casting in many movies – isn’t the good guy always handsome??? Ok, maybe not always.

Later in the section on the “good,” Halberstam writes that “[m]ale narcissism also plays a huge role in these dramas, since the male lead never doubts that he is attractive nor that he is entitles to social power, social dominance, and all available sexual objects” (2643).  I am struck by the fact that not only is Halberstam speaking of the character in the film, but could be speaking of the stereotypical actor himself.

I find Halberstam’s essay companionable with that of Laura Mulvey.  Mulvey writes that “[u]nchallenged, mainstream film coded the erotic into the language of the dominant patriarchal-order,” and though she is speaking of the “1930s, 1940s and 1950s” this statement is applicable to Halberstam’s heterosexual conversion narrative of the 1990s (2085).  Certainly the ultimate goal of these movies is to perpetuate not only heteronormativity, but to no so subtly highlight the fact that in the end the “good” white man always gets the girl in a patriarchally influenced film industry (my emphasis).

One thought on “Toni’s Response to Halberstam”

  1. I thought your comment about the “good guy” always being handsome was interesting. I think that’s often true, but on the other hand the good guy can also be old, or overweight, or odd-looking, or what-have-you, and he will often STILL be paired up with an invariably attractive, slim, young (or young-looking) woman–that seems even more of a casting imperative. What’s more, on the occasions where the woman starts out “Hollywood homely,” she always seems to undergo her visual transformation by the time the leading man stakes his claim, so that in the end, he ‘wins’ the most mainstream-beauty-inbued version of her. I think that ties into the male narcissism idea as well: the message, ultimately, is that even if you (as a man) are not handsome, or fit, or young, you are still “entitled” to an optimal sexual object.

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