Campus: San Francisco -- February 16, 2006

New book by SFSU professor explores contemporary 'Crisis of Masculinity'

Brenton Malin finds 1990s pop culture, notably Bill Clinton, struggled with 'sensitive manhood'

A new book by Brenton J. Malin, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, theorizes that the Bill Clinton presidency popularized a "more sensitive manhood" that is now ubiquitous in American film, television and politics, from the "metrosexual" phenomenon to "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy."

"American Masculinity Under Clinton: Popular Media and the Nineties 'Crisis of Masculinity,'" published late last year by Peter Lang Publishing Group, explores the image of the "new man" that has helped win elections, box-office success and television ratings.

The crisis of this new man, as presented in the book, is his anxiety and conflict. Is it more acceptable to show his sensitivity and be politically correct? Or are people still attracted to traditional masculine stereotypes of muscularity, toughness and power over women? The new man's struggle over his identity has affected issues of class, homophobia and race.

"There is pressure to be politically correct," said Malin, who teaches in SFSU's Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department, "yet built in are these traditional values of sexuality and masculinity."

Clinton has been portrayed as a conflicted and sensitive, yet tough, man - and it helped him win both presidential elections.

"Sensitive to our pain, but tough on crime; wealthy graduate of Yale, but down-home Arkansas boy," Malin writes. "Clinton's persona remained a bundle of conflicts that variously embraced and overturned different stereotypes of masculinity."

This masculine identity differs substantially from that of the President Ronald Reagan era of the 1980s, when hard bodies and violence dominated film, television and public discourse.

The book includes analysis of a wide range of personalities: from President George W. Bush, Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone to "Beavis and Butthead," Leonardo DiCaprio and Wesley Snipes.

Malin researched hundreds of mass media images, books, newspaper and magazine articles, scholarly work, and other material from American film, television and politics. The book grew out of his dissertation at University of Iowa, where he earned a doctorate in communication studies.

Malin's interest in masculinity stems from a lifelong fascination with popular culture. He grew up a fan of "Star Wars" and action heroes. He was inspired by James Thurber's short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty," in which the title character learns to escape the uncontrollable circumstances of his life - including an outspoken wife - through elaborate fantasies and daydreams. Malin, a native of Newton, Kan., is also a country-folk singer and songwriter who performs at cafes and bars in San Francisco.

The largest and most influential program of its kind in the West, the BECA Department at SFSU has graduated some of the top names in broadcast journalism, entertainment television and new media, including Bay Area news anchors Ken Bastida and Frank Somerville, "Frasier" producer Peter Casey and CNN Headline News anchor Mike Galanos. BECA faculty members are authors of the most widely used textbooks on radio and television performance, broadcast news writing, television production, electronic field production, and media aesthetics. BECA celebrates its 60th anniversary this year.

One of the largest campuses in the California State University system, SFSU was founded in 1899 and today is a highly diverse, comprehensive, public, urban university.


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