A2 essay first draft: To what extent does the changing representation of movie heroes reflect society’s attitude towards masculinity?

A protagonists/heroes role in every movie is to connect with the audience, they have to invest in the character whether it be excitement, intrigue, lust, sympathy or any other emotion it doesn’t matter, what matters is the audience is invested in the character. With the constant evolution of the media, different eras of stereotypes for these heroes have passed, some have been more successful than others but were these sudden changes in heroes reflecting the current events in society and in turn how masculinity was looked upon by society?

A hero can be defined as a [1]‘person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for their brave deeds and noble qualities’. To fit the definition it seems anyone could be a superhero, however that tends not to be the case as these heroes have to have something special that makes the audience connect with them, in the late 70’s into the early 80’s the movie industry was booming and grossing more money than ever before and one thing was consistent, the representation and appearance of the male hero. A fascination of muscular, larger than life males took place, taking over not only the sports world but all grounds of the media including movies. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean Claude Van Damme among others dominated the red carpet all portraying buff, strong and brave super heroes in some of the highest grossing movies ever at this time. They all possessed enormous amounts of charisma and always had the audience emotionally invested, the talent of these heroes can’t be diminished by putting their success down to their physical appearance but soon a new era of super heroes was going to take over and the muscular physiques began fading out…

Societies romanticizing of men with muscular physiques was reflected in all forms of media and especially movies throughout the 70’s and 80’s but in the early 90’s a scandal would take over America and muscular physiques went from being romanticized to looked down upon and American heroes of the 80’s were publically spotlighted and many had their images chopped down by the media due to a drug which had garnered much negative attention, steroids.

The dawn of the new decade saw a huge turn for the movie industry, a steroid scandal rocked the home of the movie industry, America, in a national debacle which changed both the entertainment and sports world. American heroes from the past and present were publically torn down due to past admission or accusation of using steroids. The news was taken over for weeks upon months with doctors and scientists giving their views on the drug and persuading the public of the ramifications of taking them, however in the opinions of many these views were unjustified as there had never been any long term monitoring of the drug due to its illegal status. Christopher Bell, the director of the Bigger, Stronger, Faster documentary which particularly looks at the steroid scandal in the 90’s among other negative and positive outlooks on the drug, shares his views on the media’s coverage regarding steroids claiming [2]‘despite extensive negative coverage on the drug you can tell simply by watching the news their opinions are one sided and not backed up with any scientific research’. Despite this, the public were convinced, the media had marketed these former heroes as being unworthy role models for children and it changed the careers of many successful actors. Steroids continued to be in and out of the media continuing into the 2000’s, but with society’s views on masculinity at an all-time low a new era of male heroes was on the rise….

During this time a small dry patch took place in the movie industry but shortly thereafter the rise of technology helped recreate the success from the 80’s. CGI – computer generated imagery became frequent in big money blockbusters towards the end of the 90’s and with that came much success. Films like Star Wars, Toy Story, Aladdin and The Matrix were some of the most successful movies of the decade, with the CGI special effects now being the wow factor in the movies we saw a different breed of male heroes, some were computer generated and others were just regular actors as the days of jacked up heroes were gone. CGI brought an added dimension to movies at a time when the audience was craving change, however some writers credit the rise of CGI in movies as being a long term negative effect to the movie industry. [3]Garry Maddox, an Australian newspaper writer who has wrote many articles on the evolution of the audience as well as the evolution of films believes CGI has led to the ‘compromising of good film making’. This begs the question to whether CGI was excessively used as the focal point in many blockbuster movies in the 90’s due to the bad attitude that society had regarding masculinity, possibly stemming from the bad publicity that was directed towards many of the most successful male movie heroes of the 80’s.

However on the flip side in the book ‘Image and Representation – key concepts in media studies’ by Nick Lacey, when discussing the eras of action heroes he defends the shift in the 90’s as different actors proving they could play credible action leads, quote [4]‘In the 1980s muscular bodies defined the biggest stars of the genre: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. The muscular body was de-emphasized in the 1990s, when actors such as Keanus Reeves in Speed (1994) and the Matrix trilogy (1999-2003) and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic (1997) could play credible action leads’.

In 2001 another shocking change in society would again affect the movie industry. The September 11 attacks, more commonly known as 9/11, was a tragic terrorist attack on the world trade centre which led to almost 3,000 deaths and thousands of injuries. It heavily effected America and the world as a whole, the entertainment business suffered whiplash from the event starting with the [5]changing, delaying and even in some cases cancellation of movies and television programmes, however according to Charlie Anders, co-founder and editor of the science fiction blog ‘io9’, it changed the movie industry in a far greater way, by creating the super hero boom in the early 2000’s. She claims Hollywood went super hero crazy following 9/11 in her popular [6]‘Where would super heroes be without 9/11 article’. She points out that super heroes ‘regularly confront evils that are organized but hard to identify, in much the same way terrorists are stateless’ and goes as far to say that Spiderman, one of the highest grossing movies of 2001 ‘was a huge success partly because people wanted a fun, escapist movie following 9/11. Also included in her article she credits the continued improvement of CGI animation in movies as another reason for the super hero boom.

There’s no denying 9/11 changed all forms of entertainment, to this day terrorists are still used regularly in film and television as the ultimate heel. What is debatable however is whether society’s views on masculinity changed following the tragedy? In my opinion, no, in fact to the movie industry it was a positive as it allowed for villains that the audience would instantly hate, playing off the 9/11 attacks, then allowing almost anyone to play the role of the hero if represented correctly. If anything 9/11 re-defined masculinity in movies, changing from the already fading ‘hard body’ look into more attainable features such as bravery, courage and pride.







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