Outline and evaluate the view that the Mass Media is the most influential agent in creating and reinforcing Masculinities 
(Note: This is an extended essay - a student wouldn't be expected to write quite this much in a 24 mark essay for the exam!)
According to Connell (1995), boys have traditionally been socialised into a hegemonic masculinity. This means that, throughout the socialisation process, boys are encouraged to display behaviour that is sexist, aggressive, ‘macho’, heterosexual and individualistic. The mass media is an increasingly influential agent of socialisation, arguably competing with family, peers and education throughout a person’s childhood and youth – and beyond. So does the media help create and reinforce the norms and values of hegemonic masculinity?
Easthope (1996) believes that it does: He claims that a whole range of media (but especially Hollywood movies) create and reinforce the idea that being a man is about being competitive, violent and strong – and that this should be something boys should naturally strive to believe. We can see this in Hollywood action movies, where the likes of Jason Statham, Vin Diesel, Bruce Willis and Tom Cruise routinely play characters that fit this ideal, whereas men who are more gentle, weak or cowardly are reduced to roles as either villains or comedy sidekicks. Action heroes who are pacifists or homosexual are still few and far between in 2013.
A similar pattern can be found in superhero texts, which are increasingly popular today in movies and video games, as well as comic books. In a study by Marsh & Millard (2003), children could easily identify the ways in which hegemonic gendered activities were embedded in the stories. For example, superheroes are almost always white males who are strong, powerful, violent, heterosexual and individualistic. Superman, Batman, Wolverine, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and three of the Fantastic Four are just a few of the popular superheroes who fit perfectly into this category (and all of them have recently enjoyed multiple Hollywood adaptations).
In the music world, the hegemonic male could still be argued to rule. Storey (2003) claimed that the likes of Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley represented an aggressive, hegemonic masculinity in their time – and that today, modern musicians are repeating this. Certainly, some of today’s most popular music genres – rap, hip-hop, metal and R&B – are overpopulated by males who boast of violence, power, wealth and (hetero)sexual conquest, for example Eminem, Chris Brown, Lethal Bizzle, Jay-Z.
The norms and values of hegemonic masculinity however, pre-date the mass media. It could be argued that these expectations of boys and men have been present in most human societies for centuries. In this case, the media is in no way responsible or influential in creating hegemonic masculinity – this would be more down to families, peers or workplaces. The mass media certainly appears to reinforce the concept of hegemonic masculinity, however – and given how influential the mass media is in the overall lives of young people, it could certainly be argued that whatever norms and values it reinforces are going to be adopted to some extent.
However, as Connell pointed out, masculinities in the contemporary UK have become much more diverse. If the media really is influential in creating and reinforcing masculinities, then surely it must therefore also reflect a more diverse range.
I would argue that it certainly does do this – and particularly so in more recent times. Many areas of the media rely increasingly less on traditional gender stereotypes. For example, recent, big-budget superhero movies like The Amazing Spiderman and Kick Ass have featured male heroes who are scrawny, shy and awkward whilst some of the most successful recent television programmes such as The Big Bang Theory, Sherlock and Doctor Who feature characters who use brains rather than brawn, are virtually sexless and very rarely (if ever) resort to violence. Additionally, television advertising increasingly reinforces a more complicit masculinity, with commercials for cleaning and household products regularly featuring male rather than female actors.
Perhaps the biggest example of how influential the media can be in relation to masculinities, however, is in the concept of the New Man – a form of masculinity entirely created by the media. Nixon (1996) traces the origin of the concept back to a 1985 television commercial featuring a male model stripping to his underwear. Nixon argues that this encouraged men that it was ‘cool’ to look good and to take care of one’s appearance. What has followed is a huge surge in men’s cosmetic products, related adverts aimed at men and magazines and television programmes all about men’s health, style and fashion. While some sociologists cast doubt over whether or not the new man concept is just an excuse for health/cosmetic companies to target male consumers, the fact that the mass media may have ‘single-handedly’ created a new form of masculinity surely adds weight to the idea that it is the most influential agent of socialisation in relation to masculinity.
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