Compare And Contrast The Representation Of Masculinity Of John Wayne’s Rio Bravo (1959) And Die Hard (1988).

2209 words - 9 pages

Narratives of the hero action has sustained the interests of audiences across the ‘changing space and time’ of popular culture and has become a ‘stalwart genre’ (Shimpach, 2010:30). This study will explore the construction of hegemonic masculinity by comparing the representation of heroic masculinity between John McClane (Die Hard, 1988) and John Wayne (Rio Bravo, 1959). It will examine: the framing of the physical body, the development of intelligence, the role of emotion and the depiction of heroes in relation to those around them. Die Hard and Rio Bravo depict heroic law enforcers, an American image of masculinity. Examining Rio Bravo and Die Hard diachronically will conceptualise the historical negotiation of hegemonic masculinity in response to gender issues such as first and second wave feminism. The overpowering assertion of masculinity in cop action films suggests that there are lingering cultural anxieties about the establishment roles of gender. To sustain hegemony requires the ‘poling of men’ and the ‘discrediting of women’ (Connel and Messerschmidt, 2005:837), hegemonic masculinity is a social construction and is a performance by an individual (Galdas, 2009).Social expectations collapse gender into individual sex differences, contrasting identities, fixed social role and physical appearance. This construction is aided by the representation of heroic masculinity in popular culture.

The representation of John Wayne in Rio Bravo (1959) is distinctly masculine and presents a stereotypical image of a ‘manly’ man. John Wayne’s most noticeable attribute is his unusual height at 6 feet 4 inches. In the opening scene, John Wayne is framed in a medium long shot that is positioned on the floor, emphasising his unusual height. He is then framed in a long shot beside the bar and appears to be dominating those around him. Contradicting Wexman’s (1993:94) interpretation between stature and race, height connotes a gendered privilege that is specifically attributed to masculinity. This relationship between stature, authority and power is a cultural expectation of masculinity. To be powerful is to be able to exert physical superiority over those around you. In Die Hard (1988), McClanes stature is not a prominent feature of his masculinity. At only 5 feet 11 inches, John McClane (Bruce Willis) falls short of the towering figure of John Wayne.

Thus, Rio Bravo attributes symbolic power to John Wayne and his representation of hegemonic masculinity. His dominant height has been referred to phallic symbolism in gender theory. The establishing shot of the morning sunrise frames the western landscape and centres on a tall cactus protruding upwards which dominates the frame. The frame then dissolves into John Wayne transferring the phallic symbol of the cactus. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (2000:191) in Feminist Phenomenology argues that heroic male figures such John Wayne cannot expose their bodies as it disassembles the representation of phallic power....

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