Celebration Of Hyper-Masculinity And The Working-Class Hero In ‘Die Hard’

Die Hard yeehhh

While channel surfing with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon the beginning of Die Hard – a particular favourite of mine. The adventures of John McClane and his constant irritation at bad guys always popping up to ruin his day never gets old. However I found watching the film with my new found critical eye and gender stereotype awareness, that there were certain themes and motifs rife throughout this seemingly shallow action film. Throughout the film there is a re-occurance of the celebration of the ‘working class hero’ with the middle to upper class white collar worker oscillating between the butt of the joke or the one who comes close to letting the bad guys win the fight.

From the moment we are introduced to John McClane his class and masculinity are defining traits of his character and are quickly established as the ‘proper’ male ideal. Unlike the rich men in suits that pervade his wife’s workplace, McClane is the working class cop whose unassuming demeanor and basic vest-and-no-shoes ensemble set him up as the antithesis of the wealth and privilege that surrounds him. Throughout the film, as it become apparent that McClane is the only one who can save the day, he becomes increasingly bloodied and rugged with his absence of shoes being repeatedly referred to – putting him at odds with the helpless Versace loafers being held hostage in the foyer.

                                                            Although to me, this is the face of a man who wishes he had worn shoes

This class conflict is also played out outside the building in the stand-off between Reginald Veljohnson’s Sgt. Powell, the lowly street cop who believes in McClane and his ability to save the hostages, and Paul Gleason’s Deputy Police Chief who insists on taking over the operation and nearly winds up ruining everything. Powell and McClane’s similar socio-economic backgrounds help them bond and trust each other and in the end, both of them get a chance to save the day.

The triumph of the working class hero over the white collar pencil pusher is encapsulated in one of the final scenes of the film. With McClane, his wife Holly and the nefarious Hans Gruber all dangling perilously from the side of the remains of Holly’s workplace, McClane must make the decision to save himself and his wife and let Gruber fall to his death. In order to do this they must release him from the only thing keeping him from his fatal descent – the expensive Rolex watch given to Holly by her slimy executive admirer at the beginning of the film. With the release of the watch, we see both it and Gruber fall into an inferno. With this sacrifice of the expensive watch, Holly has officially relinquished the allure of the wealth that previously surrounded her, only to end up happily ever after with her masculine hero.

Although it could be argued that Die Hard as an action film was inherently going to celebrate all things masculine, I think there is something to be said about the masculinity it celebrates. We do not have the usual beautiful and toned action hero; instead we have a weary cop with no shoes and a wife beater. McClane’s original brand of hyper-masculine heroics make him an easy figure to root for throughout the film and a poster boy for all of the “man’s man” action heroes that would follow.

Yippie Ki Yay

All images sourced through Google Images.


‘Immaculate Manhood’ – Masculinity Crisis in James Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’


The following post is the text of a presentation I gave recently at a conference in UCC titled “Textualities 2013”. My talk dealt with what I perceived to be the masculinity crisis at the centre of James Baldwin’s 1956 novel “Giovanni’s Room”. This novel deals with the main character David and his struggle to come to terms with his relationship with Giovanni and the implications of homosexuality on masculine identity and male power relations.

For those who are unaware, Baldwin was born in Harlem, New York in 1924 and died of cancer aged 63 in 1987. To escape from African-American and homosexual discrimination in America that was rife when he was growing up, he moved to France in 1948 where he would spend most of his life becoming an incredibly influential expatriate writer of novels and essays.

“Giovanni’s Room” was Baldwin’s second novel after the semi-autobiographical “Go Tell It On The Mountain”. With its strong themes of homosexuality, “Giovanni’s Room” was incredibly controversial with Baldwin’s publisher telling him to “burn it”, as his white homosexual protagonist would not appeal to Baldwin’s African-American market.The novel deals with David’s relationship with the Italian Giovanni and the ways in which this relationship both liberates him from the stagnation of his loveless relationship with his fianceé Hella but also threatens his concepts of his masculinity and postion in the relationship.

As the title of the novel suggests, Giovanni’s room (his bedsit in Paris) is a powerful symbol in the text and one that acts as a representation of David’s emotional state. In the early stages of the relationship, David acknowledges the limitations of the space but accepts it. However as David feels his masculinity being smothered by Giovanni, the room becomes and oppressive symbol; something he must escape if he is to regain his misguided masculine identity. The symbol of the room is particularly interesting considering the novel’s subject matter. In the novel, David is engaging in his first public homosexual relationship and it could be seen as his first forays into officially “coming out”. However it is curious that Baldwin frames this by juxtaposing David’s new found sexual freedom with the physical restrictions of Giovanni’s room. This idea is encapsulated in a quote from the novel:
“But it was not the room’s disorder which was frightening; it was the fact that when one began searching for a key to this disorder one realised…it was a matter of punishment and grief”

In the novel Baldwin makes curious links between David’s obsession with “ideal” masculinity and the manner in which homosexuality threatens it. This is seen when Jacques mocks David’s obsession with his “immaculate manhood”. David is afraid that his relationship with Giovanni will feminize him and, as Giovanni is the breadwinner of the relationship, he will be forced to take on the role of the wife. The room that Giovanni and David spend their time in while they are together further instills this paranoia in David that he is losing a key part of his masculine self in the relationship. The image of the room is a recurring motif of anxiety for David as he feels increasingly feminized and emasculated within it. In fact David comments on how he felt almost compelled to fulfill such a role with the lines:
“I invented in myself a kind of pleasure in playing the housewife after Giovanni had gone to work”
However Baldwin juxtaposes this seemingly idyllic image of domesticity with David’s underlying masculine uncertainty:
“But I am not a housewife – men can never be housewives.”

Despite the novel being built around the male characters and their burgeoning yet uncomfortable homosexual/homosocial bonding, the female characters both present and absent play a pivotal role in the text. Both Giovanni and David have come from heterosexual relationships that are hugely influential in their new relationship and how they relate to one another. As we learn towards the end of the novel, Giovanni has previously been married to a woman and they had a child who tragically died in his infancy. This gives an interesting twist to David’s stereotypical idea of masculinity. While he has up to this point viewed Giovanni’s homosexual lust as damaging to his “immaculate manhood”, in reality Giovanni is the one who has fulfilled this ideal more than David. He has lived comfortably in both states, something David could not do. In contrast to Giovanni, David is unable to even feign satisfaction in his relationship with Hella. The torment she causes him is signaled in Baldwin’s naming of the character. Despite undoubtedly caring for her, David realises that he is unable to commit to this idea and must end the chance of either of them fulfilling their ideal roles as husband/wife. When it is revealed to Hella – upon her return from her holiday of self discovery in Spain – that her fiancé David has had a relationship with Giovanni, she leaves him saying:
“If I stay here much longer, I’ll forget what it’s like to be a woman”
Although this can be read solely as Hella’s desire to be a wife and mother, it also plays into David’s fears of no longer being the dominant male in the relationship. This fears are encapsulated in David’s description of a picture on the wall of the bedsit of a man and a woman walking together surrounded by flowers. This ties in David’s claustrophobia in the room with the almost threatening role of women in the novel. David is haunted by the imagery of “ideal” romance and it is just a further reminder of what he will have with Giovanni or Hella.

Irish novelist Colm Tóibín has written quite a bit on James Baldwin and “Giovanni’s Room” and offers an interesting perspective to the novel’s idea of homosexuality being troublesome and conflicting to the individual. Tóibín has talked about his own difficulties with “coming out” and discusses this with references to “Giovanni’s Room” in his collection of essays, “Love In A Dark Time”. Tóibín describes the unsettling narrative of the text and its portrayal of homosexuality as “alarming”, which certainly ties into David’s perspective of it. He also sums up David’s state of mind with the quote:
“The subject is the flesh itself and sexual longing, and how close to treachery lies desire, how the truth of the body differs from the lies of the mind.”

If we look to comments Baldwin himself made regards homosexuality it’s clear that his view is far less troubled that that of David’s. He said:
“Everybody’s journey is individual. If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy. The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.”
This particular quote is rooting David’s troubled relationship with his sexuality to his being an “American in Paris”. David’s expatriate status is just another “other” label he is coupled with and further emphasises his distance from Giovanni both emotionally and geographically. However Baldwin also alludes to David’s conflicted self with:
“The face of a lover is an unknown, precisely because it is invested with so much of oneself. It is a mystery, containing, like all mysteries, the possibility of torment.”
This in fact summates the theme of the novel; in Giovanni David sees so much of himself that, up until that point, he has been afraid to express. But when the time comes, he is too inhibited by his preconceived notions of proper masculinity that he is unable to commit.

So to conclude, a crisis of masculinity pervades Baldwin’s novel “Giovanni’s Room”. Through the various images in the novel, Baldwin has given us a character in David who is so consumed with preserving some sense of his “immaculate manhood” that he dooms himself to a life in flux; unable to commit to a hetero or homosexual relationship until he can readjust his unflappable views on true masculinity.

Works Cited:
Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room. London: Penguin Books, 2007. Print.
Tóibín, Colm. Love in a Dark Time. London: Picador, 2002. Print.

All Badwin quotes via Goodreads Quotes
Image of Baldwin via Google Images



Sunday night saw, not only the return of HBO’s “Girls” to our television screens (or America’s television screens at least), but also the show winning two awards at the Golden Globes ceremony that evening. Despite the honours and largely positive critical reviews for “Girls”, there is a huge amount of hatred and vitriol directed towards the show and its creator/director/writer and lead Lena Dunham. The show has been accused of being many things including elitist, racist and degrading for women. Not only that, but the appearance of the girls, particularly Dunham herself, has been the source of much criticism for failing to fit into the mould of what is commonly seen on mainstream television. As a fan of the show I can identify where some of the controversy is coming from but can also see how some of what is written is misguided and, in some cases, misogynistic.

As a brief synopsis, “Girls” centres around Dunham’s lead character Hannah, a struggling writer in her early 20s who has just been cut off from her wealthy parents and is forced to go it alone in the big bad world of New York city. Joined in her journeys by her three equally privileged friends Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna the series follows these women as they gauge their way through life, love and everything in between. To the casual observer the links with another New York based, HBO female-centric series must be overwhelming but, to me at least, “Girls” is a superior and less infuriating offering that, despite the social standing of its main characters, succeeds in offering a level of relatability that more often than not alluded Sex and the City.

The primary criticism leveled at “Girls” is its representation of solely white, entitled, middle class women. As writer Dustin Rowles points out in an article examining the hatred many people had for “Girls”: “I think the source of consternation for most viewers is socioeconomic in nature. It’s not that we can’t enjoy unlikable people doing unlikable things, it’s that these characters are unlikable in a specific way that revolves around money and class and entitlement. It has less to do with the way they look, the fact they’re unlikable, or nepotism (which isn’t even a real issue) and has most to do with our disdain for privileged white people” (Pajiba). 

And this has been a huge problem for viewers of the show, particularly in the early days (those watching the season two opener will have noticed Hannah now has a black boyfriend – hopefully this is more central to the plot than just a token to silence dissenters) The world inhabited by Hannah and her Brooklyn peers does indeed seem to be almost solely white and upper middle class. This is the world that Lena Dunham has chosen to represent and has said in more than more interview is partly inspired by her own experiences growing up. As a writer and child of privilege she has chosen to write about what she knows, however I don’t feel that it is done without criticisms of this society. Dunham does not write these women as wholly sympathetic and is often darkly comedic about their struggles in the city. Such scenes as Hannah convincing her parents that if she “slums it” she could get by on $1100 a month and her unwillingness to sacrifice her artistic spirit in menial jobs are not written to garner sympathy but to point to the ridiculousness of these women and their “struggles”, something many critics appear to be missing.

With regards the accusation leveled at Dunham for her “whitewashing” of New York, it is true that the show features solely white characters. Do I believe that this shows an elitism or racism on Dunham’s part? No, I do not. Seeing as how many of the actors are friends of Dunham and worked with her on many of her previous projects it seems more reasonable that she hired friends she trusted and felt comfortable working with for her cable network debut. But if people wish to read further into it that is their prerogative. I would suggest, however, that if a show revolving around upper middle class twenty somethings does not feature more people of varying ethnicities that this is perhaps more reflective of the flaws in American society as a whole that immediately pointing to inherent racism on the part of the writer.

Finally I would like to quickly address the repeated attention garnered by the girls themselves, particularly Dunham. It’s no secret that the show is quite flippant with its portrayals of sex scenes and nudity, and Dunham herself is more than game to strip off in many of the episodes. However the audacity that she do so while not being conventionally beautiful and a size 6 appears to confound and enrage many a critic. In her article on the “Girls” season one pilot, writer Andrea Peyser refers to Dunham’s “dimpled ugliness” (New York Post). And just last week, self proclaimed “shock-jock” Howard Stern described Dunham as “a little fat girl who kind of looks like Jonah Hill” and likened her sex scenes to watching a rape (Huffington Post). Although since apologising, it is a continuing trend that Dunham is written about more for her looks than her extraordinary achievement of directing, writing, producing and staring in a successful and critically acclaimed cable television show. It’s  worrying that many articles written on her are keen to belittle such achievements by pointing to her wealthy background and “unconventional” body shape (I stress to point out that only in Hollywood would Dunham’s physique be classed as the unconventional one in the tv show).

As a fan of the show I am looking forward to seeing how the new series will play out. The wins at the Golden Globes will hopefully allow it some breathing space and quieten the detractors. The show may not be perfect but neither are the demographic it is looking to represent. So while it may be the show that everyone loves to hate, it is also the show that I unashamedly love to love .

Works Cited:

“Howard Stern Says He Loves ‘Girls,’ Apologizes To Lena Dunham.” Huffington Post. N.p., 15 Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.

Peyser, Andrea. “You Go, ‘Girls’ – Far, Far Away.” New York Post. N.p., 16 Apr. 2012. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.

Rowles, Dustin. “HBO’s “Girls” and Our Resentment Toward Privileged, White America.” Web log post. Pajiba. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2013.




The best thing about this MA for me, is being introduced to so many different texts and authors. Of our reading list for the year I had only read one of the books before although many had been on my “to-read” lists for quite some time. However it has also introduced me to texts and authors with whom I was previously unacquainted. For instance, this week we were studying Willa Cather’s novel The Professor’s House,  which I had never heard of prior to this course. Although it could be argued that this was no great loss as I was not bowled over by the text and found it a rather disjointed read. However this post will not be dealing with the problems I had with the novel but the similarities I found with a text that is rather close to my heart: Arthur Conan-Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.

For those unaware (or for those who, quite frankly, could not care less) I have a love for all things Sherlock Holmes. Mine and Holmes’ relationship has been ongoing for many years now and shows no sign of abating, even with the renewal of interest in him from other parties that kick started with Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of him (although…let’s not discuss that…anytime soon) I have all the books (including some multiple copies), I have DVDs, I have the board-game (highly recommended by the way) and a stop to the Sherlock Holmes museum is always on the cards when visiting  London. I even got the opportunity to do a course devoted to Holmes in the final year of my undergrad which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience (I am unlikely to enjoy writing essays that much ever again). So obviously I will be quick to search for Holmes comparisons in almost anything. However the correlations between The Professor’s House and A Study in Scarlet are striking even to the casual observer.

Both texts follow a similar structure: both are split into three sections with two geographical locations. The first and third section of both texts deal with the main character in their respective domestic spaces. The second section of both texts features a dramatic shift, both in a geographical sense and in terms of the writing style. Also, these sections are recollections and have taken place long before the action of the previous section.

Content wise, there are many parallels that can be drawn between the two texts. Each text is centred around domestic settings and the threats that can be posed against them from outside sources. In The Professor’s House Godfrey is trying to come to terms with a new living arrangement and how he must relinquish the old. In Scarlet, Dr. Watson is not only coming to terms with his new dwellings but also the new housemate that comes with them, in the form of the eccentric Sherlock Holmes. The middle section of each book show us domestic spheres under threat. In Cather’s book, this is the mesa discovered by Tom Outland and the threat posed by the money grabbers with no appreciation of its history or significance. In Scarlet, the Ferrier home is invaded by the Mormon cult intent on curbing their disobedience. Even the setting of the middle sections bear resemblance to one another in parts. Some descriptions of the Utah terrain (e.g. the “swift flowing rivers which dash through jagged canons”, the “enormous plains”) could be applied quite comfortable to the area surrounding Tom’s mesa.

For me personally, both texts suffer due to their departure from the domestic setting. Although they undoubtedly serve an important purpose to each story, I found the deviation to be disappointing. And if you want to read that as “they should have stayed with Holmes for the whole thing because he’s brilliant” then I for one am reluctant to correct you.

Although it seems initially unhelpful in an MA about American Literature to be drawing comparisons with British Victorian fiction, I think the whole idea of intertextuality is key to this kind of learning. Drawing comparisons and parallels with themes and settings across the genres is a key skill for this sort of study and will no doubt prove essential with the eventual write up of the dreaded thesis. And if that gives me further excuse to talk about the great man himself, well I’m just fine with that.


Works Cited:

Cather, Willa. The Professor’s House. Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008. Print.

Conan Doyle, Arthur. “A Study in Scarlet.” The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes. London: Penguin, 2009. 15-88. Print.



First off, I really should apologise for my embarrassing lack of blog posts. It appears I need to work harder at updating regularly and stop getting distracted by mounting readings and appalling procrastination. For you matter just as much as they, little blog, and let no one tell you otherwise.

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been studying Modernist texts, which I have been enjoying immensely. We kicked off with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and this week we also discussed Ernest Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises, both of which I really enjoyed. However, when discussing the main female characters in each text, I couldn’t help but notice startling similarities between them. Certain aspects of their characters seemed familiar and then it suddenly clicked: these characters are Manic Pixie Dream Girls.

For those unfamiliar with this relatively new term, Manic Pixie Dream Girl was coined by blogger Nathan Rabin while writing a piece on the Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown. Rabin applied the moniker to Kirsten Dunst’s character in that film and many characters similar to hers in a variety of films. Rabin describes the Manic Pixie Dream Girl as existing “solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures”.  Other Manic Pixie Dream Girls include Natalie Portman in Garden State and Emily Mortimer’s painful portrayal of Mackenzie McHale in The Newsroom. Some have dismissed the label and have gone so far as to call it misogynistic. However it does have its uses for drawing similarities with these various characters. And Zooey Deschanel pretty much built a career around it, so it can’t be all bad.

The phrase just stuck in my mind while studying the texts and, once my attention had been drawn to it, I found it difficult not to notice it. In The Great Gatsby the character of Daisy Buchanan certainly fits the now commonly accepted idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She is appears not to have a care in the world and is determined to live life to excess. She also has an almost bewitching power over men, with even her voice rendering them powerless in her presence. After a brief love affair between Daisy and Jay Gatsby is ended as he goes to fight in the war, Gatsby dedicates his life to becoming the type of man worthy of a woman like Daisy; becoming a multi-millionaire and throwing nightly lavish parties in the hope of her attending and seeing his success. Clear comparisons can be drawn between Daisy and Lady Ashley (heretofore referred to as Brett) in Hemingway’s Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises.  Both an inspiration and a curse to the troubled Jake Barnes, Brett flits through the novel as a woman determined to live life to the full and, with her bold fashion choices and unusual behaviour, leave her as the ideal woman for many men in the novel. Similar to the men associated with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in modern films, the men Brett has dalliances with in the novel see her as someone who can either rescue them from the doldrums (Robert Cohn) or inspire them to greatness (Romero). Ironically the one character in the novel who loves her just for who she is, Barnes, is the only one who cannot have her. It is perhaps interesting that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is rarely loved as a person in her own right but rather what she promises her suitor; the ideal of her is often more satisfying than the actual person.

I’m sure the Manic Pixie Dream Girl can be found in other American fiction (I’d personally argue a case for Daisy Miller – if anyone has any other suggestions I’d be happy to hear them!) Any feedback is appreciated and I* promise* to post again soon.

‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ image taken from http://debrabrenegan.blogspot.ie  (via Google Images)

Works Cited:

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. London: Penguin Popular Classics, 1994. Print.

Hemingway, Ernest. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises. London: Vintage, 2000. Print.

Rabin, Nathan. “The Bataan Death March of Whimsy Case File #1: Elizabethtown.”avclub.com. N.p., 25 Jan. 2007. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.


Last week in my course in college (MA in American Literature and Film for those of you easily impressed) we were lucky enough to attend two guest lectures by Prof. Bill Lawson and Mr. Corey Barnes (University of Memphis) on the thoughts and writings of the great reformer Frederick Douglass. I’m ashamed to admit that prior to this my sole knowledge of Douglass was the following clip:

Which, despite being humourous is not particularly informative. What I have since learned (and what many already knew) was that Douglass was a former slave who went on to be leader of the abolitionist movement in America and was famed for his stance on equality and his oratorical gifts. However this post is not going to be an exploration of Douglass himself but rather my concluding thoughts of the debate we had with Prof. Lawson and Mr. Barnes on Douglass and his ideas on ‘reformers’ and ‘heroes’.

Mr. Barnes’s research is centred around Douglass and his idea that there are no heroes in modern society. Anyone thought deserving of such a title was in fact just a great reformer, or at the very least fulfilling their duty in their chosen field. For Douglass, everyone had the ability to achieve great acts of reform, thus when one achieves great strides in an area they are merely fulfilling a duty and realising their inherent ability for greatness. Our discussion of this theme then led us on to the topics of heroes and whether or not we had any modern heroes, or just people doing their duty. This discussion got me thinking about definitions of heroism and what, for me personally, defined a heroic person – something I had never given much thought to prior to this.

The traditional idea of the hero is that of the superhero. The ‘Caped Crusader’ or the ‘Man of Steel’ who, despite great odds and intimidating foes, comes to the rescue of those in need. But can they really be defined as heroes? Is Superman not compelled to use his superhuman strength to carry people out of burning buildings? Is Batman not compelled to use his vast wealth and martial arts skills to protect the people of Gotham City? With great power comes great responsibility and by that token there is nothing particularly heroic about these characters; they are simply fulfilling the obligation their elevated position and ability has afforded them.

But the term superhero is loaded in itself. A ‘super-‘hero implies that the special powers and gadgets etc rank these individuals above the average hero. So what makes a hero? If an argument can be made to lessen the heroism of the superhero, as seen above, what chance does the average hero have? And what do they have to do to claim such a moniker in the first place?

Examples given in our in-class discussion of ‘modern’ heroes yielded such candidates as Oskar Schindler, Mahatma Gandhi and most recently the fire-fighters of 9/11. These people all risked their lives in order to save others, with some not surviving to see the impact of their actions. No one would argue for belittling what these people achieved; what they did saved the lives of thousands of people and they deserve to be remembered and applauded. But are they heroes? Schindler was an incredibly wealthy man who had the means to save all of those Jews thus, was it not his duty to do so? The fire-fighters of 9/11, immense though their actions were, still upheld the oath each took when entering that profession. Thus could their actions truly be described as ‘above and beyond the call of duty’ or are they simply meeting it?

Although it is easy to argue the influential merits of these individuals and remove the claims of heroism, my gut feeling was to reject such a hypothesis. For me personally, a hero is not born but made. By which I mean, as long as people are capable of heroic acts then they deserve to describe themselves as a hero. Whether someone had the means to do so is irrelevant. These people are human; they have been given the same physical abilities as the rest of us. But not everyone utilises their abilities in such a selfless fashion and for the benefit of others. For instance there is nothing physically stopping me from training to be a fire-fighter (apart from inherent laziness and a love of crisps). But while I would be fairly comfortable rescuing cats from trees, the idea of risking my life by charging into a towering inferno is not quite as appealing. It is here the differentiation lies. Whether we have the ability to do something is irrelevant if we do not act upon it. Those that do are more than just reformers and are deserving of the title of hero.