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Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture

Princeton University Press
3/30/1998

Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture Overview

From the Beat poets' incarnation of the "white Negro" through Iron John and the Men's Movement to the paranoid masculinity of Timothy McVeigh, white men in this country have increasingly imagined themselves as victims. In Taking It Like a Man, David Savran explores the social and sexual tensions that have helped to produce this phenomenon. Beginning with the 1940s, when many white, middle-class men moved into a rule-bound, corporate culture, Savran sifts through literary, cinematic, and journalistic examples that construct the white man as victimized, feminized, internally divided, and self-destructive. Savran considers how this widely perceived loss of male power has played itself out on both psychoanalytical and political levels as he draws upon various concepts of masochism--the most counterintuitive of the so-called perversions and the one most insistently associated with femininity. Savran begins with the writings and self-mythologization of Beat writers William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac. Although their independent, law-defying lifestyles seemed distinctively and ruggedly masculine, their literary art and personal relations with other men in fact allowed them to take up social and psychic positions associated with women and racial minorities. Arguing that this dissident masculinity has become increasingly central to U.S. culture, Savran analyzes the success of Sam Shepard as both writer and star, as well as the emergence of a new kind of action hero in movies like Rambo and Twister. He contends that with the limited success of the civil rights and women's movements, white masculinity has been reconfigured to reflect the fantasy that the white male has become the victim of the scant progress made by African Americans and women. Taking It Like a Man provocatively applies psychoanalysis to history. The willingness to inflict pain upon the self, for example, serves as a measure of men's attempts to take control of their situations and their ambiguous relationship to women. Discussing S/M and sexual liberation in their historical contexts enables Savran to consider not only the psychological function of masochism but also the broader issues of political and social power as experienced by both men and women.


Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture Table Of Content

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ix
INTRODUCTION 3
PART I 39
CHAPTER ONE The Divided Self 41
CHAPTER TWO Revolution as Performance 104
CHAPTER THREE The Sadomasochist in the Closet 161
PART II 211
CHAPTER FOUR Queer Masculinities 213
CHAPTER FIVE Man and Nation 240
CHAPTER SIX The Will to Believe 293
NOTES 321
INDEX 365


Taking It Like a Man: White Masculinity, Masochism, and Contemporary American Culture Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

Covering a spectrum of masculine imagery that embraces everything from John Wayne and Rambo to Tony Kushner and gay S&M, Savran (Communists, Cowboys, and Queers) traces the rising fortunes of the white-man-as-victim in recent American history. At first isolated and alienated in the margins of the 1950s Beat generation, the American White Man as a type was "feminized" at the center of the '60s radical discourse before returning as a reconstructed concept in an array of backlash movements in the '70s, finally establishing itself as a cultural center in the '80s and '90s. Despite Savran's wide range of accessible sources and broad canvas, however, his demanding, psychoanalytically informed prose, dense with wordplay, parentheses, and jargon, makes for tough going. Moreover, the sheer volume of material hereamong the genres surveyed are poetry, fiction, literary criticism, drama, political discourse and filmsometimes becomes overwhelming; the same case might well have been made with fewer examples. Yet the author's argument is worth pursuing, and a number of readings are acute and original. In the movie Twister, for instance, he finds both a post-Cold War fear of terrorism ("a new and unpredictable monster that may strike at any moment, destroying property, killing innocent people, and uprooting families") and a renewed spirituality (the awful, and awe-ful, monster twister as "the finger of God"). Not for the uninitiated, but valuable for those with the stamina to push to the end. (May)

Library Journal

A professor of English at Brown University who has published widely on American theater and culture, Savran draws on earlier journal articles and research to take a critical look at the white male as a victim of contemporary society. He observes the changing model of masculinity in post-World War II America, examining the social and sexual milieu that has created that model and scouring literary, film, and journalistic material to lay bare the foundation for the self-destructive, feminized, masochistic, and victimized American white male of today. Noting the differing social and power status of men and women, Savran argues persuasively that white masculinity has been a casualty in the battles fought by the Civil Rights and women's movements. His well-written, scholarly study is for academic and larger public library cultural studies collections.Michael A. Lutes, Univ. of Notre Dame Libs., IN


Readers' Reviews