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Volume Cite Citation. Permissions Icon Permissions. Article PDF first page preview. Issue Section:. You do not currently have access to this article. Download all figures. Sign in. In fact, male friendship seems to be the dugout where the boys catch their breath during the game of heterosexual conquest" Greven Arguments can and have been made that more than just breath-catching is happening in those dugouts, but in this essay I will limit the discussion of the homosocial to its exclusionary function in the exaltation of male autonomy.

Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the insistence on heterosexual desire in films so otherwise concerned with ensuring the absence of women can be explained through sexual displacement: the men reassure themselves of their own heterosexuality in those moments when the narrative becomes homoerotic. For example, in Pineapple Express , dir. Later, after Saul begins to cry about missing his friend, the narrative quickly cuts to Dale calling an ex-girlfriend, thus reestablishing his heterosexuality.

The later reconciliation of the two men which includes Dale, in his underwear, carrying an unconscious Saul out of a burning building in slow motion can be seen in a completely safe indeed, even humorous context. Such narrative wrangling is common throughout the films, which seem to include women for just such reassurance. The guarantee, ultimately, is a space in which blatantly homoerotic play can occur without any real threat of homosexuality-which also acts as another form of female exclusion. The apparent double-bind in which these men situate themselves they sexually desire the same women they must exclude creates the potential for the loss of male autonomy that might occur were these men to cede some authority to the women in the construction of equal relationships.

The answer resides in the foregrounding of various forms of male "victimization" that can then only be overcome through the exclusion of the women on whom the narrative assigns blame. Tim Edwards suggests that "masculinity is at once everywhere yet nowhere, known and yet unknowable, had and yet un-have-able [sic]" Edwards 1. Thus the containment through exclusion can be seen as part of a process to "have" masculinity. The "dugout" described by Greven, though ubiquitous, takes different forms in these films. For example, Anchorman , dir. Adam McKay features the invasion of a s newsroom resembling a fraternity by an ambitious female anchorwoman; Wedding Crashers presents two men who troll wedding receptions for sex while operating a divorce mediation business together; and Knocked Up , dir.

Apatow foregrounds a house shared by a group of young men primarily interested in smoking marijuana and fantasizing about women. Generally, it seems imperative that these men maintain a males-only space in which to find sanctuary from the surrounding "judging" women. Candace West and Don H. Zimmerman suggest that "doing gender means creating differences between girls and boys and women and men, differences that are not natural, essential, or biological.

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Once the differences have been constructed, they are used to reinforce the 'essentialness' of gender" West and Zimmerman The "safety" of the homosocial spaces exists precisely because it does not allow women inside-but they must narratively exist to make that safety viable. Here, my argument incorporates a portion, but not all, of Robert Walser's concept of "exscription," which he defines as the "total denial of gender anxieties through the articulation of fantastic worlds without women" Walser Vaughn's films do not create narrative worlds "without women," nor do they successfully achieve "total denial of gender anxieties," yet I still find the concept of "exscription" to be very useful in understanding how these narratives deliberately construct women in either extremely limited fashion or as large but ultimately narratively insignificant players-but, in either case, women do not seem to exist except to further men's journeys toward successful "manhood.

Dodgeball Dodgeball exemplifies this type of contemporary narrative in its construction of male "victimization," a process identifiable with variations throughout "Dude Flicks. Initially, only men play for the team Average Joe's has only male members , but eventually, when the men display little talent for the game, Peter allows bank lawyer Kate Veatch Christine Taylor to join the team.

As the film progresses, Kate becomes an integral part of the team and second in skill only to Peter. Ultimately, the team beats GloboGym in the championship game and Peter maintains ownership of Average Joe's. Dodgeball engages in a deeply regressive set of consistent discourses in its continual attempts to define masculinity as something inherent in and only appropriate for men.

In keeping with this description, the Average Joe's team is made up of a variety of men-and, at least initially, no women: Dwight, a middle-aged black man Chris Williams ; Gordon, an older white man Stephen Root ; Justin, a younger white man Justin Long ; Owen, a spaced-out white man Joel David Moore ; and, most bizarrely, Steve, a white man who lives his life as a pirate Alan Tudyk. Peter, as owner of the gym, is the ultimate "Average Joe" and, not surprisingly, the team leader. Yet, despite their foregrounded positions as team members, these men receive very little substantial narrative time to independently establish their masculinity.

Instead, subplots involving their relationships with women dominate the film, and that structure ultimately reveals the film to be less about men competing with each other for ownership of the gym the film's overt plot and more about them overcoming the threat embodied by women-all of which eventually allows for the standard narrative in which the journey to "successful" manhood must occur through an escape from victimization. While Dodgeball overtly codes this victimization as the result of the loss of "manhood" that will occur through GloboGym's attempted takeover of Average Joe's, women actually present the real threat.

As such, the film's primary narrative problem is not the acquisition of the money necessary to retain ownership of the gym, but rather the containment of the women whose increasing control over the lives of the men has been displaced into the potential loss of the gym, that "safe" space in which they find homosocial freedom. Gordon, a late-middle-aged man, slightly overweight, bespectacled, and coded as a "nerd" through his clothing, mannerisms, and interests for example, he reads a magazine called Obscure Sports Quarterly , might represent the prototypical "Average Joe": he is not conventionally attractive, physically fit, or wealthy.

Furthermore, Gordon is not particularly aggressive-and, in fact, initially remains quite passive even during the competitions. The film makes an explicit connection between Gordon's passivity and his lack of "manhood" during a training session when the team's coach, Patches O'Houlihan Rip Torn , throws the ball directly at Gordon's genitals and screams at him: "You gotta get angry!

At each of the matches, his four small children from a previous marriage, whom Gordon showers with affection, surround her. Yet he tells his teammates that he hates when his wife "watches. Gordon, passive, ineffectual, and weak, begins the film in a state of castrated masculinity, most obviously evidenced by both the presence of his glaring wife and O'Houlihan's deliberate demarcation of his groin-that symbolic site of his loss of phallic authority.

The solution, "getting angry," may ostensibly be a prescription for success on the Dodgeball court, but he must defeat his wife for the restoration of his authority. Initially, then, Gordon presents an image far removed from traditionally "strong" masculinity. Joan Mellen argues "the more a man possesses those qualities deemed feminine-such as intuition, tenderness, and affection for children-the less secure our films make him feel about his identity as a male" Mellen 7. In fact, as Dodgeball progresses, it makes no effort to recuperate the presence of women; rather, it continually moves away from them in an effort to mark Gordon's "femininity" in more conventionally male terms.

This process reaches its climax when he finally "gets angry," which occurs when the team needs him most-again linking the athletic competition to the need for the men to regain a sense of authority. After looking up in the stands and seeing his wife openly flirting with another man, Gordon enters a state of rage, dominating the remainder of the game and achieving victory for the team.

Here, the earlier admonition to "get angry," combined with the deliberate identification of Gordon's phallic weakness, becomes literalized as he substitutes the males on the other team for the man in the stands in whom his wife has suddenly found interest. It is no real surprise, then, that at the conclusion of the scene, when she looks upon Gordon with newfound respect and admiration, she tells him that, "I always knew you could do it.

Rather, he immediately requests a divorce. Thus, "proving" his dominance on the court also reestablishes it off the court in his marriage. The tournament simply narrates the conflict between the men and women and creates a mechanism through which the men can "find" their lost authority. The final shot in this sequence is of Gordon, standing with his two children, making an "L" shape on his forehead with his fingers-the sign for "loser"-at his wife, opposite him and isolated in the frame. This visual construction makes obvious the "winner" and the "loser": Gordon has unquestionably regained his patriarchal authority by eliminating hers.

His success, it seems, depends upon her failure. Thus, as it will be with the other women in the film, "it is Gordon overcomes the "trauma" of the threatening wife and relinquishes his status as a victim by reestablishing gendered boundaries and containing his wife's desires and behavior. The victory on the court becomes secondary and in fact works only to visualize this more important success. Furthermore, despite her small role, Gordon's wife's narrative ends in a truly marginalized position where she is entirely abandoned even from negative stereotypes.

In their discussion of how men's appropriation of children from women when more traditional means the workplace, athletic endeavors, etc. Gordon's status as a victim-evidenced by a failed first marriage, his inability to impress his second "purchased" wife, and his failure to escape her "judging" gaze-is here, as she disappears from the film, "written out. Specifically, Justin wants to make his high school cheerleading team.

He works out at Average Joe's in an effort to build his body to be more in line with the men already on the team and to impress Amber Julie Gonzalo , one of the high-profile cheerleaders. During a tryout, Justin must hoist Martha Johnstone Lori Beth Denberg , an obese woman, over his head during one of the cheers. Her subsequent fall onto him ensures his failure to make the team as well as to make him the object of ridicule for the observers.

At the film's conclusion, when the cheerleading team happens to be in the same city as the final Dodgeball tournament, Justin must step in for another injured cheerleader and help the squad to victory thereby earning him the love and admiration of Amber. While, as with Gordon, the narrative constructs the potential loss of Average Joe's as the structural problem Justin must overcome to recuperate his masculinity, to find successful "manhood" he must defeat the actions and judgments of women.

First, Martha's fall onto Justin during the tryouts thwarts his attempt to make the team. However, the film does not just place the blame for this failure onto the body of a woman; it exaggerates and emphasizes the size and awkwardness of that body and makes it literally fall on top of Justin. Following the work of Kathleen Rowe Karlyn, who argues that the bodies of "unruly" women can momentarily "unsettle" gender norms, there seems to be potential space in this scene for a reading of Martha's disruption of typical patriarchal norms through her presence at the cheerleading tryouts Karlyn Yet this reading is abruptly denied.

Though the film gives Martha a name unlike Gordon's wife , it does not present any other details, revisit her in any subplot, or humanize her in any way. Naming Martha, I would argue, merely personalizes the target responsible for exposing Justin's "failure" of masculinity. Narratively, she exists solely to humiliate Justin by revealing his apparent weakness, and her exaggerated size merely acts as a visualization of the metaphor of women literally bearing down on the men of the film.

Of course, this humiliation works both ways: Justin's humiliated state only works because of the outright contempt the film has for Martha, who disappears after this scene. Justin, like the other men in the film, must progress forward from this state of victimization to find "successful" manhood. While Martha falls on top of Justin, Amber and the other cheerleaders make the decision not to permit Justin's inclusion on the squad. Once again, women are "always judging" the failed masculinity of the men who can seem to do no right; here, the film literalizes that judgment process.

As the film progresses and spends extended time with the men in the "boy's club" training for the Dodgeball tournament, the characteristics of Justin's failed masculinity become increasingly dismissed in favor of images of positive growth, such as athletic prowess, exaggerated confidence especially toward women , and a tendency to identify and confront male rivals. This is particularly evident when cheerleader Derek Trever O'Brien cannot participate in the national competition, and Amber begs Justin to take his place.

Here, the very woman who deemed him insufficiently masculine now requires his help. Thus, the "castration" of Justin through the literally crushing force of excessive woman-ness has been relocated onto the body of his rival, allowing Justin to step in as a hero and earn Amber's love and respect. In a reversal from Gordon's narrative conclusion, the "judging woman" is not contained through exclusion but acquisition : Justin not only erases the original judgment against him, but also "wins" Amber away from Derek, which seems more the purpose of Justin's interest in the cheerleading team in the first place.

Ultimately, the subplots involving Gordon and Justin merely reinforce Peter's interaction with Kate, the film's primary narrative. If Peter cannot pay the back taxes, the bank represented by Kate will seize the gym and sell it to White. Here, then, it is Kate who establishes Peter's manhood, and her position of authority must be contained if Peter is to acquire the type of patriarchal dominance that will restore the "appropriate" narrative order.

Indeed, the film introduces Peter by showing him asleep on a couch in a dirty home, surrounded by empty beer cans, followed by the Average Joe's members having to push his broken car to work. Furthermore, the film repeatedly cuts to a sign in the gym reading "Failure IS an option," and early in the narrative, he tells Kate his personal philosophy: "No goals, no disappointments.

Peter's efforts involve the "acquisition" seen with Justin and a variation on the "diminishment" seen with Gordon. Peter's attempts to "acquire" Kate begin in their first meeting. As she enters his office, he tries to verbally demonstrate his masculine superiority through sexualization and control: "What kind of law are you in, pretty eyes? In this construct of Kate as arbiter, not only of Peter's finances but also his conduct, the narrative sets up a scenario in which she becomes the roadblock to Peter's success; in other words, the bank is really just a symbol of the castration threat posed by Kate that can accept the displaced fears and tensions regarding Peter's failure to mature into adulthood; indeed, no physical bank is ever seen, and no other bank representatives appear.

Christine Holmlund, working from Karen Horney, argues, "Men oppress women because they dread them. They then try to excuse this societal oppression by making the woman the guilty party: 'The man strives to rid himself of this dread of women by objectifying it'" Holmlund Dodgeball , by thwarting Peter's attempts at acquisition through Kate's status as a former sexual harassment attorney, adheres to this formula.

Along with Kate's position as bearer of "the law," she is also established as the judge of Peter's inappropriate sexual behavior.

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Thus, his "successful" masculinity depends upon containing her threatening status. The attempts to seduce Kate, when seen through this lens of containment, take on a subtextual lack of sincerity. Kate's intervention into the "boy's club" threatened Peter's masculinity, and in this opening sequence he seems most concerned with recuperating that masculinity.


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Peter's real motivation echoes Mellen's observation that "Male sexuality, it is feared, might shrivel away to nothing were there a strong instead of a passive Despite Kate's hierarchical position as an authority figure, Peter's attempts at seduction work to chip away at her dominance and restore the "natural" heteronormative and patriarchal order in which men dominate women. In other words, if his subordinated position as the target of her financial examination places him in a conventionally feminized position, his attempted seduction can be seen less as a real romantic interest in her indeed, Kate continually refuses his advances and more about the narrative's avoidance of a genuine interrogation of traditional gender roles.

Diminishment occurs only after it becomes clear that Peter cannot acquire her through sexual or romantic means. After attending one of the team's practices, Kate realizes the men are woefully inadequate and face potentially humiliating defeat in the Dodgeball tournament. After her demonstration of athletic skill acquired through her years playing softball , Peter accepts her on the team.

While this narrative maneuver opens an interrogative space that questions inherent male athleticism, that same space also reveals that Kate's inclusion on the team actually excludes her from equal standing with the men because it allows Peter to demonstrate his superiority over her through bodily displays. Furthermore, it allows the narrative to question her sexuality, which directly counters her status as an authority figure and her refusal to be acquired by Peter.

Athleticism itself represents the first means of Kate's diminishment, which is somewhat ironic given her ostensible display of prowess. Yet the film immediately codes this display as different from the men by having Kate throw the ball underhand, thus engaging the discourse of the way "throwing like a girl" represents a marker of femininity that separates men from women.

This allows the men on the team who have displayed no real aptitude for the game to prove their "superiority" over the very symbol of the threat against them. This exclusion-through-inclusion allows Peter to reverse Kate's judgments against him by de-emphasizing her masculine attributes and foregrounding her female body. Michael Messner argues "the institution of sport historically constructs hegemonic masculinity as bodily superiority [sic] over femininity and over nonathletic masculinities" Messner I would extend Messner's argument to suggest that, in Dodgeball , the inclusion of the athletic female body allows for the silencing of the male femininity that could be classified as "nonathletic masculinity.

The second means of diminishment by which the narrative contains Kate's threatening status is the suspicion regarding her sexuality. From the moment Kate joins the team, the other men voice their suspicions that she is a lesbian, most notably Patches, who continually connects this suspicion to her athletic skill.

Messner notes "sports are something that men do.

Women do not do sports. And when it turns out that some women do [sic] do sports, well, then they are not real women" Messner With this questioning of her sexuality the narrative completes its exclusion and containment of Kate: when containment through sexual acquisition fails, the film pushes her into the impossible paradox of athleticism.

Her participation in sports negates her status as a "real woman" even as it emphasizes her status as female, as well as calling her very sexuality into question. Only Peter refuses to participate in the skepticism regarding Kate's sexuality; in fact, he defends her heterosexuality to the other men whenever the subject is raised, a further indication of his efforts to "acquire" her. Yet, Kate does turn out to be a lesbian-at least momentarily. In the film's conclusion, after the Average Joe's team has defeated GloboGym, Kate's "girlfriend" Joyce Scarlett Chorvat comes down from the bleachers and gives Kate a long, passionate kiss in front of a baffled Peter.

Yet, in a startling moment of male fantasy, Kate turns back to Peter, announces that she is "bisexual" and gives him a long passionate kiss as the film ends. Dodgeball , much like these films more generally, engages in a great deal of contradiction: Kate is ridiculed for being a "lesbian" even as she is prevented from being one; she is praised for her athletic skill as she is limited in its display; and her position of authority is finally made useless when the team's financial spoils erase the need for her audit.

This "hegemonic incorporation" might be another way of describing the phenomenon that I have outlined in these types of films: "successful" manhood defines itself through a process of containing the threats women pose. Indeed, in the film's final scene, a television commercial for Average Joe's, Peter states what might be the ideological message of not just this film, but the entire movement: "You're perfect just the way you are. But if you want to make a few changes, Joe's is the place for you. In his examination of the development of the male psyche, Chris Blazina argues that the failure of men to achieve the goals of a culturally-sanctioned masculinity frequently leads to a fear of all those characteristics that reside on an opposite binary, gathered under the broad term "feminine.

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Thus, men engaged in a cycle of failed indeed, impossible attempts to achieve "successful" masculinity become inextricably tied to the potential threat women represent. He goes on to argue that the convergence of the fears of the feminine and of actual women lead to a sense of male security: By symbolically associating the fear of feminine characteristics with the fear of actual women, e.

Men may assume that through distancing themselves from actual women or characteristics of women, they have effectively achieved the masculine ideal, throwing off a need for object relations and allowing the deeper intrapsychic conflicts to rest-temporarily. Blazina 6 This configuration matches the desired goal of the homosocial exclusion of women in these films: in the ultimately successful efforts to "distance themselves," these men believe they have confronted the judgmental forces embodied by the women who have apparently limited their success as men.

Male Wounds Despite the evidence for successful containment in these films, spaces of disruption and contradiction nevertheless exist. Indeed, the incessant emphasis on "proving" male masculinity reveals the cracks in its facade. These fissures, as Greven argues, even frequently create sympathy for transgression Greven The very need for these narratives to focus so obsessively on containment can thus be seen as evidence for a dramatic cultural increase in the interrogation of patriarchy as a viable social solution.

The continuous effort put into the homosocial exclusion of women offers potential for this type of "reverse" analysis, in which the need to perform the exclusion means the women in these films really do represent a threat just not the same threat as the men have constructed. Ultimately, that threat might be maturity: these men, unwilling to "grow up," see women as representative of a world in which "fun" can no longer be had whenever and however men want.

This notion of loss resonates with the victimization that the men in these films feel. The narratives might deal superficially with improbable and convoluted plotlines Dodgeball tournaments, for example , but their real subject matter remains the psychic wounds men experience from the actions and even the presence of women. The consistent phallic obsession in these films literalizes this motif most graphically. For example, Dodgeball offers Lance Armstrong in its conclusion, playing himself, to give Peter a "pep talk. This is further reflected in the film's tagline: "Grab Life by the Ball.

Apatow's films further foreground such imagery: Seth, in Superbad , obsessively draws pictures of penises; an extended sequence in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story , dir. Jake Kasdan features a roomful of naked men; Sarah Kristen Bell , in another prototypical "judgment" moment, breaks up with Peter Segel while he is completely nude in Forgetting Sarah Marshall , dir. Nicholas Stoller. This desire to reestablish the penis, when seen alongside the failed masculinity of the men populating Apatow's films, seems much less about "helping" America get beyond its unfamiliarity with cinematic male bodies than it seems about reasserting the phallic dominance of the men in perhaps the last way possible.

This construction links the films back to the "hard body" era, suggesting that the goal of patriarchal reassertion remains the same. In his analysis of the Rambo films, William Warner argues that the action film's appeal "depends upon subjecting hero and audience to a certain masochistic scenario-the pleasure of intensely felt pain, and crippling incapacity, as it is written into the action, and onto the body of the hero" Warner The men in "Dude Flicks" may not engage in the same sort of "action" as Warner examines, but the results remain the same: audiences watch as these men overcome the "crippling incapacity" of surviving in a culture which no longer seems to appreciate or approve of their status as "men.

Yet these films do not blame such vulnerability on a vague or neutral force; rather, they assign it quite forcefully to women.

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This reveals a complicated disassociation and projection process occurring in these films, in which women take the blame for the negative aspects of the same feminine traits that are accepted in the men. The result, as these films make continually clear, is a need to connect the containment of those women to the potential for a successful "manhood.

Ultimately, that denial happens most efficiently and successfully when employed against the women who threaten to make it most visible, and it is often literalized with the presence of the penis alongside the judging women. This adherence to narrative conclusions in which the men find "success" suggests that, underneath the overt plotlines detailing men's "crises" of where and how to fit within a culture that no longer accepts them, the standard cinematic fantasy still exists in which men regain lost power and authority.

Arthur Brittan argues that "what has changed is not male power as such, but its form, its presentation, its packaging. In other words, while it is apparent that styles of masculinity may alter in relatively short time spans, the substance of male power does not" Brittan The incessant victimization, the anxiety toward outside threats, and the "never good enough" responses to judgmental women in these films might represent the "packaging" of contemporary male masculinity-but the "successful" narrative conclusions merely point out the familiar and predictable patriarchal goals.

The historical consistency and predictability of the restoration of patriarchy thus finally and firmly situates the meaning of "successful" manhood in these films with the long, ongoing effort of filmic male masculinity to regain cultural ground perceived to be lost. This latest iteration-comedic men foregrounding their apparent status as unfairly judged victims of irrational, angry, female evaluators-does not even necessarily represent a completely new image of male masculinity. Certainly such themes appear throughout film history, particularly in the films of the s featuring isolated, vulnerable, and "wounded" male protagonists.