I’m not a big admirer of classic movies, but there are some that have made an indelible impact on our culture.
Take for instance the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause, (which I recently got the chance to watch). I’ve associated the film with James Dean, even though I was unfamiliar with it. His characterization of Jim Stark (not to be confused with Tony Stark – different franchise), a troubled socially isolated teenager was apparently quite identifiable to youth of the 1950s. He seemed to embody the pulse of adolescent angst against the stiff and stuffy establishment, as well as the misaligned relatability and tension between the young and the old.
The driving force behind the movie was the larger than life James Dean whose untimely, tragic accidental death may have catapulted the film further into the realm of legend. (I read somewhere that he became the first to receive an academy award nomination after death.)
Mind you, I’m not sure if the movie aged well (in terms of acting techniques) but I was fascinated at the depiction of male characters, and pondered on its (perhaps) timeless relevance.
There was the absent father of psychologically troubled teen Plato – who wound up with gun in hand in trouble with the law. (Was it my imagination, or did he seem to have a man crush on Jim?)
There was the ineffectual father, who awkwardly caused his daughter (Judy) to feel socially isolated, and was unable to deal with her developing sexuality. (I found those scenes uncomfortably weird…)
Finally, there was the imasculated father of Jim (cowed by a dominerring wife) who seemed to fail his son in masculine identity and leadership.
All three main characters (Plato, Judy and Jim) experienced sad, chronic suffering due the lack of an effect masculine presence.
Despite the movie’s poor depictions, James Dean became a familiar template of masculine coolness in our culture. You don’t have to look very far to see his replicated style and influence in many male characters in contemporary media.
Ebert (the famous film critic) made a profoundly relevant comment saying that James Dean (along with Marlon Brando and Elvis Presley) changed masculinity in the popular culture. Men could be more “feminine, sexier, confused and ambiguous.”
Now, I’m not naively stapling the crisis of male identity solely on the backs of these sex symbols, because we are all involved in the process of change (whether actively or passively…)
I do propose that there is a desperate need to search and shine the light on the immutable, unwavering qualities of masculinity.
If you striped it down to essentials, what are the “just the facts ma’am” of masculinity? Or, better still, is culture the cause of masculine uncertainty?
I would welcome your thoughts towards this discussion.