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Working bodies, dislocated identities: class and masculinities in Derek Cianfrance's films.

[1] Global elites have prospered in the past decades, yet paradoxically and simultaneously, the hegemonic male has become something of an endangered species in films outside the fantasy realm of superhero epics. While Yvonne Tasker characterized the 1980s, the previous "greed is good" era, as the decade of "musculinity," the 2000s seem to be emblematized by the flawed, damaged or immature man, the wimp or the Big Baby (cf. Scott and Dargis). In other words, although economically, the hegemonic position of the white elite man has not changed, in popular culture he has become problematized, possibly reflecting the inaccessibility of the ideal to an increasing number of (young) middle-class men locked into prolonged adolescence (cf. Kimmel, Guyland).

[2] 2011 Oscar contenders, however, included several films that dealt with the socially immobile white lower class (Blue Valentine, The Fighter, Winter's Bone). That year was not an anomaly as new films about working-class men and their malaise have continued to emerge (Take Shelter, Mud, A Place Beyond the Pines, etc.) side by side with the habitually escapist Hollywood fare. Power, physicality and self-respect have held center stage in working-class masculinities and thus it is significant that the films listed above present us with pervasive images of male ineffectuality and powerlessness, often vis-a-vis women, both in public and private spheres, raising questions about how hegemonic white working-class masculinity can be on or off screen. David Savran, writing about the 1990s, saw the visibility of the often belligerent white male victim as an attempt to respond to the "steady decline in the income of white working- and lower-middle-class men" (Savran, 5). The belligerence has waned since the mid-1990s when the permanence of the decline has been increasingly hard to deny. Rather than being merely a mimetic representation of the fate of the American working class, I argue, this thematic emphasis on men who have given up echoes the justified anxieties of the middle classes about their own increasing failure in a society where the status gap is not so much between the working and middle class, but rather the upper-upper class and the rest. The present article will first consider the concept of hegemonic masculinity in today's socio-economic circumstances and the problematic uses of gender in the negotiation of social change. It will then explore the representations of masculinity and class in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012).

Hegemonic masculinity and its discontents

[3] R. W. Connell's concept of hegemonic masculinity (first outlined in Carrigan, Connell & Lee) has arguably been the most influential paradigm in masculinity studies, with its emphasis on the normative core among multiple masculinities competing in a dynamic social and discursive universe. It highlighted the multiple determinations inherent in gendered practices, but at least in its initial form it downplayed the agency of the marginalized and the dialectical pragmatism of masculinities that mix hegemonic and marginal features for strategic ends (cf. Demetriou). Although Connell updated the concept (in "Masculinities and Globalization" and Masculinities) to include a wider discussion of globalization, the characterization of hegemonic masculinity was not radically transformed. The white upper-middle-class heterosexual man still stood, proudly, center stage, with his cell-phone and briefcase, even if he did this in the first-class lounge of an international airport. Connell's normative core of the gender order continues to be transnational business masculinity and, although its interrogation is intended, it inevitably maintains its dominant status (for a similar critique, see Beasley), overshadowing other forms of masculinity that have changed more than the elite in the processes of massive economic dislocations of global capitalism in the 2000s (relocation of Western working-class jobs to the developing economies in Asia, widening income gap and inequality, global financial crisis, etc.). I am not so much interested in criticizing the model as in finding out how widely Connell's concept continues to be useful outside the social elite.

[4] The working classes are a prominent case in point. The term itself has become problematic in past decades as many former working-class men and women have lost their jobs and have fallen into an unemployable underclass. (I will, nevertheless, use the term "working class" in the present paper for the sake of terminological continuity with earlier literature.) Working-class men have traditionally had access to hegemonic masculinities based on domination over women, sexual prowess, physical power and athleticism as a sort of "protest masculinity" (Connell & Messerscmidt, 847) against the middle-class norm of education and white-collar careers. According to Messner, Connell (Masculinities) and others, hegemonic masculinity has appealed to working-class men as it allows them to compensate for economic powerlessness with gender power, usually expressed in physicality and a rigid gender hierarchy. Although excluded from the hegemonic core of social power, working-class men could find social pride in their gender power. Working-class male identities have also been rooted in a strong identification with work, especially skilled work as a source of social status and respect (Morgan, 76). Entry into the labor force has been seen as a sign of maturity in many working-class communities, as opposed to the investment in higher education. This core access point to hegemonic working-class male self-identification has become increasingly tenuous. There are no Heroic Artisans, to use Kimmel's (Manhood) concept, in a labor market dominated by Walmart and McDonalds'. Moreover, hegemonic identifications have become problematic also for many middle-class men whose middle-management jobs are evaporating as industries restructure or relocate.

[5] Recent economic shifts and the attendant crises have only widened the rift between the haves and have-nots in the context of ideologies of masculinity as well. The hegemonic transnational capitalist is invulnerable, while working-class and middle-class masculinities in the global West have become increasingly insecure (cf. Kimmel, Manhood, 219). In masculinity studies, this shift has traditionally been framed as the loss of white male entitlement and much has been written about the related anger (e.g., Savran; Kimmel, Manhood). The discussion is equally frequently placed in a broader context of a supposed masculinity "crisis" in the 1990s and 2000s (Faludi; Robinson; Clare), "masculine anxiety" (Boudreau) or "male angst" (Peberdy). This sense of crisis has at times become a semi-hysterical media staple, with concerns about schools failing boys or women dominating in universities and even the labor market (the recent recession has, among other things, been called a "mancession"). The crisis rhetoric, imprecise and emotional, overshadows the fact that gender is always changing and thus in crisis, and that the actual power position of white men in society has not changed radically, relative to women or minorities. What has changed is the position of increasingly few mostly white men relative to everybody else. Gender might be distracting us from a critical interrogation of the wider socio-economic transformations. This is not to say that we do not need to focus on gender, but to emphasize that this focus should be informed by socio-economic insights into shifts that have made previous gender norms untenable.

[6] Women (outside of the elite) are certainly not winners in what has in effect become a race to the bottom among the lower rungs of the society (it is up to debate as to how high exactly the lower rungs begin). Both women and men have been negatively affected by the economic changes and, in many ways, "the crisis is not one of masculinity, but one of the working class" (Heartfield). The marginalized and endemically workless working classes whose jobs and social status have fallen victim to global capitalism have lost their social standing and are increasingly stigmatized as white trash (cf. Wray & Newitz). Media representations also feed this othering of the working poor, moving from images of working-class heroes to those of greedy unions and caricatures of white-trashed working class as bigots and buffoons (Kendall). The latter representations are creating a visible class divide that has not been traditionally seen in American popular culture.

[7] This shift, a result of the neoliberal consensus of the 1990s-2000s, has also affected film representations of class and masculinity. On the one hand, the global economic crisis has made non-elite masculinities more visible in popular culture; on the other hand, the representations are not necessarily sympathetic. Nystrom believes that the visibility of working classes in films is generated by middle-class concerns about their own class identity and masculinity (Nystrom, 5). The very fact that class difference that otherwise remains hidden in American popular culture is focalized today calls attention to the identity work that is being done with the help of sharp class differentiation.

[8] The representations of othered lower-class men echo our era when globalization is turning Western industrial working-class jobs into unstable--and feminized--service jobs and when the restructuring of the economy has also led to the undermining of middle-class occupations. The American public discourse tends not to acknowledge the power of fundamental economic forces or class and, rather, makes people seek answers in the more tangible personal sphere of life, for example, in gender relations. Many men seem to believe that women or other minorities have "stolen" jobs that have in fact vanished not because they were "stolen" but because of the iron logic of capitalism (Kimmel, Manhood, 221). This translates into a broader social trend in which "political-economic troubles are experienced as racial and gendered, rather than class grievances" (Wellman, 321). In this context "the domestic, therefore, becomes a location, both real and symbolic, where sociocultural change is not only felt but also negotiated and managed" (Carroll, 4). Most of such analyses have focused on male-female relations; the present paper will seek to parse the tensions between multiple masculinities.

[9] Carroll, viewing post-9/11 popular culture, suggests that white masculinity has been placing itself in "other identity locations (white trash, queer, blue-collar, Irish), in order to disavow that it is normative" (Carroll, 7). In such a context "performing class becomes a means of performing whiteness without apology" (Carroll, 103). Although I find Carroll's reading of race important, I would argue that class is not as ubiquitously useful a form of disguise for patriarchal power as Carroll suggests. His example is white trash (specifically, Eminem's film 8 Mile), a form of whiteness where class failure has erased the privilege of race. While the privilege of race cannot be denied, we should also be mindful of how overreliance on one axis of difference alone mutes significant differences, in this case within whiteness, between the elites and those designated and discarded as trash (Hartigan, 7). In other words, we should be alert to the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, age, etc. (cf. Crenshaw; Coston & Kimmel) and the work the specifically located intersections of the axes do to maintain elite privilege. Importantly for the present article, white trash designation, with its deep historical roots, continues to be a mode of validating class disdain that seeks to reassure the middle-class audiences about their own class and gender security, dominant fictions that are necessary for continued belief in the American Dream. In my case study, it is class that is a visible, but undiscussed presence, a contingent space in which race and gender constantly shift under the influence of social circumstances.

[10] As Steven Cohan has pointed out, "'masculinity' [...] imitates a dominant regulatory fiction authorizing the continued representation of certain types of gender performances for men (like the breadwinner); marginalizing others (like the momma's boy), and forbidding still others (like the homosexual)" (Cohan, 57). The list, needless to say, changes with shifts in gender norms. What stays constant is the tension between the dominant regulatory fiction and the marginalized. The present paper will look at whether the filmic representations in Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine (2010) and The Place Beyond the Pines (2012) can be seen as regulatory fictions cementing or subverting hegemonic masculinities within a working- and middle-class setting. The basic plots of both films are simple, yet they hide an interesting and contradictory engagement with the intersectional tension between gender and class. They also raise questions about the gender work of the voyeuristic middle-class gaze. I am interested, to echo David Buchbinder, in how "such representation works to enable men to 'recognize' themselves and each other within the relevant culture and social class, and hence to approve male behavior in terms of ideological correctness" (Buchbinder, 29). In the following, I will be analyzing the two films separately and then synthesizing the two in a concluding discussion of class and masculinity.

Working-class romance and ruin: Blue Valentine

[11] In Blue Valentine, the protagonists, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), meet by accident, fall in love and get married, despite her being pregnant with another man's baby. In a cinematically innovative manner, the love story and courtship narrative is interspersed with the scenes of the marriage breaking apart. Many reviews of Blue Valentine mentioned that the couple is working-class, but none as far as I could tell delved into the question of how class affects the representation of gender.

[12] Dean is a working man who lacks any ambition for upward mobility, the central regulatory fiction of American culture (cf. Kimmel, Manhood, 17). Although the film opens with happy and romantic images of courtship, the visuals change when we shift into the mundane routine of the marriage, when the socio-economic reality has made itself clearly felt. Dean is now given clear lower-class signifiers, such as unfashionable T-shirts, tattoos, and, especially, the cigarette that seems to be plastered to his lips. His menial laborer status is indicated by blue paint marks that he does not bother to clean from his fingers.

[13] Dean's wife Cindy works as a nurse in a private clinic and has ambitions for career advancement. In contrast, Dean is content to just make do, as if echoing the recent statistics of increased female and decreased male labor force participation among working classes. The emotional focus of Dean's life seems to be in the private, not public sphere. Dean's refusal to take on the primary breadwinner position has reversed the roles in the relationship where she has a career (as much as it is possible in their social milieu) and he has a job. Dean's primary identification is with his family and he is being shown as having a considerable degree of empathy. We seem to be looking at a new caring mode of working-class masculinity.

[14] Dean justifies his lack of ambition by idealizing his decision to marry Cindy:

Listen I didn't wanna be somebody's husband and I didn't wanna be somebody's dad. That wasn't my goal in life. [...] But somehow, I've found what I wanted. I didn't know that and now it's all I wanna do ... I don't want to do anything else, it's what I want to do. I work so I can do that. (Cianfrance, Delavigne and Curtis) [15] This can be read as choosing personal life over career--a choice that has this far been seen as the woman's. Dean started a family with the girl he loved, in a path that he expected to lead to happiness and maturity according to the old hegemonic norm. The realization that he has achieved neither has created frustration that begins to manifest itself more frequently, especially in the context of his wife's social mobility, which he experiences as a challenge to their class status and his self-identity.

[16] Dean is able to understand emotions and give affection (e.g., in his relationship with Cindy's daughter), yet lacks the vocabulary for expressing himself coherently. For example, he almost obsessively asks his wife what she wants him to do throughout the film. Dean seems to want to live a domesticity-oriented life, but it is unclear whether this is due to his identification with family life or lack of opportunities in the social world. The film does not commit itself to a clear interpretation. Increasingly, Dean lays blame on the gender dynamic of the family. That is, an incoherent social or class tension is being translated into a more tangible gender conflict. He interprets criticism about his lack of ambition as attacks on his ability to support the family and, through that, his masculinity. In an inchoate reaction, he turns to macho behavior (drunkenness, violence) to assert his dominance over his wife, to regain gender power when social power is impossible.

[17] In one of Blue Valentine's key scenes, which takes place at a down-market love hotel, Cindy's attempts to goad Dean to ambition unleash Dean's insecurity. His response is defensiveness, followed by sexual aggression. When she seems indifferent to his sexual advances, he shouts, "Do you want me to rape you? Do you want me to hit you?" (Cianfrance, Delavigne and Curtis), as if the only successful masculinity were one marked by power over women. Dean's supposedly sensitive self-ideal contrasts sharply with what we are seeing on the screen. Hegemonic masculinity is being mimicked, but it is not achieving the desired effect of respect and power.

[18] In the movie's climax, when Dean comes to Cindy's office to assert himself, Cindy actually verbalizes their gender role reversal, challenging his masculinity: "Fuck you, fuck you! I'm more man than you are, you fucking cunt." (Cianfrance, Delavigne and Curtis). The challenge that could not have been more explicit elicits futile violence against office furniture and Cindy's boss. Dean, attempting to perform a normative masculinity, succumbs to the physical gender role "ideal" as a means of taking control of his life, but this performance results in loss of control and of the familial identity that has been shown to be so important to him. Dean, in effect, becomes a loser in both the public and private sphere.

[19] Part of the problem may lie in the fact that there is no working-class--there is a service class, which is both unstable and devoid of the (masculine) status symbols attached to blue-collar work. The transient nature of the labor market (at the beginning of the film Dean works for a moving company, in a telling detail) is transferred to the working man who has to get used to the workplace where he has to obey and please, that is, perform a feminized role devoid of agency. Finding Cindy promises Dean a center of gravity, family and fatherly authority that could give his life a purpose and compensate for the transience of work. However, the stable working-class family model is no longer viable in a context of low employability of unskilled men. The regulatory fiction of hegemonic masculinity no longer provides valid guidance for gender performance or access to the patriarchal dividend (Connell, Masculinities, 79) among the working class.

[20] The damage done to working-class masculinity is also conveyed visually. As Connell (Masculinities, 55) has pointed out, hegemonic masculinity in the working-class context has been associated with strength, endurance, toughness and group solidarity. Dean lacks all of these. He is lanky and slouching, with his cigarette and unkempt hair. We never see him do anything more skilled than lifting boxes. This passivity comes off especially ironically in contrast with the worn t-shirt with a large bald eagle that Dean wears, as if in a faint echo of the glorified hyper-masculine images of the muscled bodies of firefighters and police officers that saturated the cultural landscape in the post-9/11 years and created a brief visual renaissance of the working man as the idealized American self. (The American Enterprise Institute's magazine cover boasted in 2003 "Real Men, They're Back" (Ducat, 229)). Dean almost demonstratively defies that slogan and visual code. His shirt and its image are worn out, much like that brief celebration of the working body in American culture. The movie ends with Dean walking into the 4 July fireworks, in an ironic commentary. This is not the heroic worker, but a social outcast.

[21] The film, however, does not delve into this set of complex issues, but presents us with a socially isolated individual case (there are very few other characters in the film, in addition to Cindy and Dean). We get an interesting, if somewhat incoherent, critique of hegemonic masculinity in the working (or workless) context, one that is emotionally harrowing, but socially limited. It does, however, implicitly conjure up the anxieties felt by middle-class Americans, living beyond their means, in houses that are under water, watching middle-class jobs evaporate as well.

Masculinity, fear and social determinism: The Place Beyond the Pines

[22] Cianfrance returned to a similar nexus of themes in his The Place Beyond the Pines, where the questions of masculinity and class are even more clearly focalized because of the explicit class contrasts that make the working class-middle class tension palpable (Cianfrance, Coccio and Marder). Here, in a triptych of narratives, we get the story of Luke (Ryan Gosling), an aimless carnival stunt rider, who discovers a son he has not been aware of, and this awakens his desire to perform his paternal duty. Well-paying jobs are lacking for working-class men in the rust-belt city where the story takes place (the film was shot in Schenectady, NY) and thus he turns to a life of crime. One of his bank-heists goes wrong and he is killed by a police officer, who becomes the second protagonist of the story. Avery (Bradley Cooper), a son of an elite family, has declined to take advantage of his privilege and idealistically serves in the police force. Although hailed as a hero after the shooting, Avery is disillusioned by police corruption and assumes the political career his class status prescribes to him. The third part of the triptych, not discussed in the present article, deals with the sons of Luke and Avery. The following analysis focuses on the two adult protagonists and their relationship with hegemonic masculinity. Although this film has a larger supporting cast, the focus is on the two central male characters who struggle to be men and fathers in their respective social milieus in a declining urban landscape. Work as a source of pride has become tenuous and hence the film turns its attention to the question of fatherhood as the locus of male anxieties.

[23] Luke is a continuation of Dean, only he has explicit "social outsider" signifiers from the very beginning of the film, like his loud tattoos and dyed hair, careless clothes and persistent chain-smoking. He works at a carnival, an even more itinerant setting than the moving company in Blue Valentine, and the driving shots used in the film associate him with the road rather than settled employment or domesticity. Luke's aspirations seem to be limited to the carnival success that guarantees some access to women but does not burden him with too many responsibilities. This, however, is not conveyed to us as a sense of freedom but rather as a dead end. After all, in his stunt staple, he drives around in circles in a closed round iron cage, perhaps too obvious a metaphor for his fate. To cite David Denby, it is "Existentialism in a nutshell: life and possibly death on a journey going nowhere" (Denby, 84). His is anything but hegemonic masculinity. Yet Luke is also an intriguing mix of emotional tones, emphasized by the silent intensity of the acting (he remains more or less silent for the whole film).

[24] Discovering his fatherhood, Luke recognizes it as a rite of passage into maturity, a point at which he, in order to do the right thing, has to become a man, demonstrated by the hegemonic characteristics of taking control of "his" woman and child and supporting them. However, the film suggests this role is unavailable to men like Luke. His being closed out of the familial and institutional norm is emphasized in the scene where he is witnessing his son's baptism from the back of a church as an outsider. The exclusion is marked, given that the new partner of his former girlfriend Romina is a more securely employed black man, a fact that resurrects old fears of white male dispossession.

[25] Unlike Dean in the previous movie, Luke is unable to project himself successfully into the domestic sphere and its attendant emotional economy. Delivering a crib for the baby, he gets into a fight with Romina's new partner. Luke seems to believe his masculine worth is dependent on his ability to provide things to what he calls his family. However, a working-class man's ability to earn a respectable living is no longer a given. In the town that ironically has a neon General Electric headquarters sign hovering over it, jobs for blue-collar men with few skills are hard to come by. Luke drifts into casual employment and then into crime. His aimlessness is very clearly contrasted to the determination of Romina, who is going to college while waiting tables, in yet another sign that men are the losers in the new urban and gender landscape. Resorting to traditional hegemonic male responses of violence, however, is also not a pathway to a stable masculinity or viable life option, as Luke's death shows.

[26] Avery, Luke's counterpoint, is seemingly more secure in his social and masculine identity. His privileged social background and educational credentials should guarantee swift social mobility. However, Avery seems to be beset by his own masculinity anxieties, unwilling to ride to success on his powerful father's coattails. He seems to search for a stronger form of masculinity in the blue-collar world of the police force. That setting seems to provide him with the traditional working-class requisites of hegemonic masculinity: breadwinner role, assertive male strength, camaraderie with the colleagues. The fact that he is wounded in the line of duty is a badge of honor and a reassertion of masculinity and fellowship, celebrated as a rite of passage by fellow officers who now recognize him as one of their own, rather than as a trespasser. However, this myth of seamless male community is exploded by the discovery of the corruption of the police force. Our upper-middle-class hero informs on his former colleagues and uses this as his political seed capital for transitioning to his class fold and a political career.

[27] Women remain mere presences who bear children and chide men, but whose impact is represented as almost offensively negligible. Romina, especially, who does an admirable job raising her son in difficult circumstances and carves a position for herself in the labor market, is given too little credit in the drama that believes that the only significant lineage is from father to son, even if the father's presence has more or less ended at conception. Avery's wife gets even less emotional fleshing out--she is represented as a feminizing threat to Avery's blue-collar masculinity project and later as a failed mother.

[28] Tellingly, masculinity is never stable in the film. The key emotion of the male protagonists, in fact, is fear, often inarticulate. Luke loses his initial cool on assuming his life of crime. The first bank robbery, his supposed ticket to responsible fatherhood and manhood, makes him throw up. He is undone by his fear and anxiety in the last heist. The same can be said about Avery, both in his shooting of Luke and in his escape from his corrupt colleagues. A man trying to perform normative masculinity is never secure about his success, regardless of whether he is lower-class on the verge of self-destruction or middle-class, fearful of slipping lower. Avery never feels safe, quite tellingly in today's social context, even when he has returned to his expected social position and his father's mansion. Fear, in turn, breeds violence that seems to be wedded to masculinity in the film--violence the destructive effects of which stretch long ahead into the future. In a way the film's almost epic and deterministic take on legacy suggests that the quest for the illusion of hegemonic masculinity is doomed and damning. The regulatory fiction that has ceased to be realistic in the current socio-economic circumstances compels a hegemonic performance of masculinity, but the performance can never be anxiety-free in the middle classes. It proves to be impossible for the working classes. The film ends with Luke's son leaving the stagnant town but this is not necessarily a path to redemption. It could equally well suggest a recreation, in a fatalistic cycle, of his father's life: when the boy buys a used motorcycle in the end it is hard not to think of his father riding in the iron cage.


[29] Cianfrance's films are different in their scale and ambition, but they are similar in their engagement with the questions of masculinity and class. Working- or lower-class masculinities in Northeastern urban landscapes are doomed and excluded from the central American regulatory fiction of success and striving. Not only are the lower-class men unable to live up to the hegemonic norm of the middle class, but they have also fallen out of the traditional working-class norms. The lower-class male survives only because of the woman by his side who has adjusted to the changed economic and social landscape. This decline is viewed rather deterministically, although not without sympathy. The films, in fact, highlight the fictionality and destructiveness of normative masculinity and thus contribute to the subversion of the hegemonic ideal.

[30] Blue Valentine shows us unstable gender roles in today's working-class families. As industrial and construction jobs have vanished, the service and care industries dominated by women also change the dynamic inside families. Working-class men have lost the work-based identity and, through that, also a viable core to a strong gender identity in a social milieu that has not been tolerant of plural masculinities. Dean struggles to construct a manliness to suit his circumstances, combining semi-responsible fatherhood, intermittent employment and violent aggression. He no longer has access to the aspects of hegemonic masculinity that earlier generations of working-class men had, with the exception of futile projections of physical violence, it appears.

[31] The Place Beyond the Pines is no more optimistic. The itinerant lower-class man has few opportunities for gainful employment and his masculine self-identification is equally volatile: capable of projecting violence and aggression, but not emotional and moral strength. His only fitting role is in the margins of society, it seems, in the carnival that enables him to re-enact the existential pointlessness of his existence on a daily basis. Differently from Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines contrasts lower-class masculinity with upper-middle-class masculinity and reveals the latter, too, to be characterized by insecurities and fears. The demise of the working-class man is a constant warning and a source of lasting guilt in middle-class consciousness. Despite this inherent instability and doomed legacy of violence, nevertheless, both Avery and his son survive the film, cushioned by their social and economic capital. They see the abyss, but only as a warning about the fatality of slipping into the lower class, the dead end of American masculinity and life.

[32] In both films hegemonic masculinity--now the sole privilege of the white upper middle class--appears to retain its invisible and toxic influence on men for whom it has become unachievable. Working-class masculinity is dislocated and relocated even farther from the hegemonic ideal than it was in the 1970s, the last decade to produce a series of films with working-class heroes. Today, it might be problematic to speak about a coherent working class in the US, where unemployment or underemployment is becoming a norm rather than the exception (Center for Working Class Studies at Youngstown State University estimates the de-facto unemployment to have been around 28.7 % in 2010-11). Instead of a proletariat we should speak about an increasing precariat who lack stable jobs, occupational identities or social protections (cf. Standing). While women have always been disproportionate in precarious jobs, now the precariat is taking an increasingly male (and young) face as well. This not a crisis in (hegemonic) masculinity, but rather an eloquent reminder of the erosion of the working class.

[33] What's more, the precariousness is creeping up the social ladder. Both films analyzed echo the fears of the middle classes about their own slippage into an underprivileged status. This fear is allayed, to an extent, by distancing the lower-class protagonists from the viewing audiences. The prevailing mood in contemporary popular culture seems to be gleefully voyeuristic class condemnation or pity, not identification. If in the 1970s, the working-class heroes provided a foil for projecting a resistance, even if untenable, to the challenges of civil rights, women's and gay liberation movements (cf. Nystrom, 13), then in the two films analyzed here a positive self-identification is no longer available, possibly because the position of the white middle-class has become too unstable. Middle-class men recognize themselves all too well in the representations of the working-class other. The attendant anxiety is an almost compulsory part of today's middle-class masculinity and feeds the persistent, albeit mythical, discourse of gender crisis. It is easier to find culprits in gender relations, rather than structural economic changes. It is harder to face the fact that the current economic crisis is not a transient turn in the economic cycle but the new normal.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. The research for the present paper was supported by Estonian Research Council grant PUT192.


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Contributor's Note

RAILI MARLING is Associate Professor of American Studies and Senior Researcher in Comparative Literature at the University of Tartu, Estonia. Her most recent research interests have been the politics of masculinity and tensions around gender in the post-socialist context. She is an editor of Aspasia: International Yearbook of Central, Eastern and Southeastern European Women's and Gender History and Ariadne Long, Estonian journal of gender studies.
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Author:Marling, Raili
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Date:Mar 22, 2014
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