Some thoughts on father's milk, dreams of masculinity, fashion violence and hockey

by on Mar.27, 2013

[Hi all rejects and deviants. I meant to write this a while ago but somehow didn’t, then reading Christian Peet’s post yesterday and rereading Johannes and Joyelle’s previous posts on the Memphis three reminded me of it.]

Some Thoughts on Masculinity (Or Whatever)

A couple of weeks ago I had a vivid dream in which I was writing a manifesto. It was one of those dreams when you wake up and feel terribly regretful and disappointed because you were doing something awesome. Writing the manifesto was coming very easy and it was full of exciting hyperbole and many different fonts and exclamation marks. Something about a “thin veneer”? I could see the text but it was blurry. I’m pretty sure it was a manifesto about masculinity. I don’t remember if it was for or against.

silly pastel boy

I think what made me think about masculinity more than usual was watching an episode of 20/20 a couple of months back and this interview they were doing with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o which made me write the following (grammatically suspect, but impassioned) post on facebook:

(yes, I’m officially using my own facebook post as a reference)

“so i finally got caught up on this manti te’o thing. the crime seem to be two-fold. 1) to as a man (and football player, a symbol of masculinity and violence) be duped and otherwise victimized (how come you didn’t suspect anything?) not just by a woman but another (lesser) man. it’s an interesting conflict of interest, confess to involvement and retain your masculinity. consider last weeks brief mention of crabtree’s suspected sexual assault and many others, violent crimes don’t contradict the story line of masculinity. if the culprit had been a woman it could possibly had been explained by women’s general devious nature and offered some relief, instead there are creepy gay undertones (“she sounded like a woman”) leading to 2) the suspected use of a dead girlfriend to further own “overcome” story-line, an overcoming that is quickly adapted by media as an integral part of character building. the hoax then doesn’t just reduce manti’s masculinity index which corresponds directly to his drafting number but threaten to turn a digestible success story into a collective gorging on dead bodies. phew. did i get close?”

*

Thinking about masculinity in this way reminded me of a Swedish poet that made his debut a number of years ago when I still lived in Sweden and it was widely written about at the time (or so I recall) mainly because he was something so weird as a hockey player who turned to poetry, writing poems about what goes on in those testosterone-packed towel-slapping don’t-be-a-pussy locker rooms.

I had to google for a while to find out that his name is Tom Malmquist and the book fittingly called “Sudden Death”. Here is a blurb (translated) that I like (for the writer, not the book:)

“He’s written about hockey as oppression-mechanism and about men who breast-feed, is a country singer, have dental trolls rather than groupies and like to root around masculinity’s hole.” (See)

Apparently his second collection is called Fadersmjölken (“Fathersmilk”, if you allow the merger). There is a poem from it at that link but I couldn’t decide how to translate words like “uppdragna” and “sugreflexen” so I got frustrated and didn’t.

Also, one of his country songs is called “Van Gogh’s Ear”, which I wanted to like more than I did.

It’s on youtube somewhere.

*

I’ve always loved both poetry and sports. I don’t really see the contradiction. It’s costumage, it’s beautiful, a spectacle of nothing but its own spectacle.

Except neither really wants to own the spectacle so they start to hate on the other for being a spectacle because they are real.

Why can’t we all just be spectacle together.

*

What’s interesting I think is how much the fact that Tom Malmquist was a hockey player influences what he is, a man, in opposition to being a poet, spilling over with emotional shit, or whatever it is poets do. In fact he didn’t even go pro but played only in his youth like many swedish boys (though with some talent, he supposedly once scored 3 goals in the span of 9 seconds) do and yet his story line had already been firmly fixed: Hockey dude writes poems.

Doesn’t it kind of feel like of the many different sports people that it is the hockey players that are the most empty somehow? Or that’s the impression. Complete airheads. Sorry hockey players. Then its a bit of a stir if there suddenly is something inside. If poetry is meant to be “inside”.

Here is a sensationally conservative review of Sudden Death published by one of Swedens top two morning newspapers, though the more conservative of the two, if you happen to read Swedish (I like to torture myself with these types of things).  The gist of which completely leaves the poetry behind and goes in defense of hockey as a sport and its positive influence on men.

“This is my most important reservation against this poetry collection, that it gives an aura of unrestricted macho brutality in a sport which usually is more fair and influenced by other virtues, not least intelligence and smarts. For contrast to Tom Malmqvist you can read the more positive poems about hockey that Canadian Margaret Atwood has written. “

I do really need to read these Atwood hockey poems but I’m not going to read them for “contrast”.

“Tom Malmqvist descriptions of bullying in the locker room, how the game’s worst player has to put a piss-smelling jockstrap over his face, is reasonably the stuff of boy’s hockey and is, of course, distressing, but is there anyone outside the Cultural Centre at Sergelstorg who tear their hair out over that? Such grotesqueness you can encounter in other social contexts.”

Yes I’m sure you can. One thing that’s interesting here though is that the the aura of brutality is negated by an aura of intelligence, of smarts, suggesting that these are but minor incidents that infringes and are not representative of “the normal”. Real men don’t do stuff like that, they grow out of it, they contain it– well a little jostling is good for moral.

Never mind that it is precisely these types environments where men are supposed to be contained, normalized, smart, good students, respectful of authority and codes of conduct — the military, fraternities, team sport — that have cornered the market on gang rapes.

Johannes on the west memphis three:

“To be truly masculine, to be truly benefitting from the patriarchy, you should be normal, brilliant, “rigorous,” and “smart” – words that may have gender connotations of masculinity – but you should most of all be in control of your masculinity. You should most of all be in control. It would be tasteless to be out of control. It would be tasteless to let the violence overtake you.”

*

Sports, like poetry, viewed in the same way, is not just bodies-lines smashing into each other, not just another man’s hot breath on your face, not the rhythm-spit but the substance, secondary to character building (if not national character building). Each personal extravagance, dribble or image, has to be earned, correspond to the whole of the work/gameplan in a meaningful way. It’s very educational! If you lose your composure, you lose. It’s not a game of bodies, it’s mental. Don’t burn out, stay patient. Don’t stand out, play as a team, fit in, be normal, because normal apparently isn’t the one fucking that barely conscious girl, that’s some weirdo fringe psychopath that has just happened to infiltrate normal…

 

One thing that bothers me is that a lot of feminist rhetoric has a lot in common with a lot of super conservative rhetoric, in identifying fringes like say high fashion and art and good old fashion video violence as the culprits of corrupting more healthy gender roles, phrases such as our “diseased sexual culture”, a general fearfulness of deviancy. One post that circulated on facebook recently where there seems to be a consensus of disgust is this one by Michaela Larsson (Swedish again, sorry) about gay artsy Eurodisco group Army of Lover’s weirdo frontman Alexander Bard’s stabbing of a blow-up doll (“sexdoll”) during a performance that might or might not have represented the recently fired band member Camilla Henemark.

The blog entry quickly ties fictive violence to real violence, the violence we “see every day, everywhere. The violence that is fake, but still real…” It then briefly notes Rihanna, I suppose as an example of how this fictive but real violence is influencing women to make bad choices and men to get away with being assholes. The blog entry then attaches an astonishing amount of pictures taken from high end fashion magazines (I say high end because you will typically not run into them at JC Penny) depicting violence or suggestions of violence against women, or maybe more like post-violence, photo shoots inspired by crime scenes,  anyway a complete gorge out of surface-image-violence. What these commercial images does is then summed up in 3 points:

1. Trivialising and normalizing abuse/murder/violence
2. Connects sex/erotica with violence, and
3. Establishing a stereotype of masculinity that demands violence

Also, later on: “I don’t care of Alexander Bard’s action was an “art project”, or if the doll wasn’t suppose to be Camilla Henemark. It doesn’t matter. It was a horrible act and despicable statement that doesn’t do anything more than establishes above mentioned masculinity and its attached attitude.”

My main interest here is that there seems to be a consensus that normal is desirable, that normal is what we should strive for, a normal that is clean of depravity and deviation, of art that isn’t fostering but dangerous and also dangerously contagious. What about these men that routinely beat their wives and rape them? Do they really get their inspiration from “W’ magazine and Von Trier movies? Maybe they get it from the concept that demands they be “real” men, wtf that now means? Men singular, man. Men that don’t act out, until they do? Art seems like the perfect place to act out, to be many, to dress up. What about consensual sexual violence, can men tell the difference? Probably not. What about these five year old boys who get arrested because they touched their teacher’s breast? Are we successfully containing these budding serial rapists?

Personally I find in high fashion magazines a rare respite from mainstream media’s endless pressure of motherly pink-hued story lines of how women should remain youthful and full of life and men mature high-functioning metro-flannel-jocks of potency and I’ll-take-care-of-you psycho dimples. He went to fucking Jared! Patrick Bateman went to Jared! By promoting one story line aren’t we simultaneously condemning all these women that aren’t feeling particularly alive? Or men that aren’t feeling particularly functional? By chasing normal it feels like you have to constantly pass judgement in order to just stay level, instead of splitting gender wide open, instead of abandoning “normal”, to become, say (why not?)

wolf-woman!

wolf woman

Another aspect of this type of rhetoric, I feel, is that it, like how one is suppose to respond tastefully to poetry, seem to call for reverence instead of discussion, interaction, you’re suppose to be appalled, disgusted, overwhelmed to silence. If you find it “interesting”, as a man, you’re probably looking for a loophole or you’re some sort of perv sadist. It threatens my masculinity, my violence, making me defensive. Only sociopaths find violence “interesting”.

*

When I edited a tiny little poetry zine called Kitchen one thing that I felt considering female and male submissions was that in a majority of the male poetry it seemed like this concealment was going on that wasn’t going on much in the female submissions, this tentativeness to give into the spectacle of the image, or maybe the spectacle of the self, a kind of macho-passive-hiding, behind the craft, behind irony, behind story etc. This feeling of hiding.

I wonder about this masculinity that seems to be lodged so firmly, so fixed, so early. One thing about that Manti Teo interview was how subdued he was, that in a way he was given the court-room-rape-treatment: how didn’t you know? Like a last call for “are you really sure you want to be a victim”? There’s still time to regain control, be a man (like that sad bull, Ferdinand, in that old disney short): “do something, anything!” But he just sat there, under that bright light, smelling those decomposing flowers of his ruptured manhood.

ferdinand

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5 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes Göransson

    Great post. Tom Malmquist is an interesting writer. I believe he was Aase Berg’s student when he started writing.

    In that blog post about Alexander Bard it should also be noted that he’s the one in the act of violence while the high fashion add don’t allow their characters to be wild like that. Bard is an interesting guy, I walked next to him in the Stockholm gay pride parade one year. He also has a band called Bodies without Organs and writes about D+G.

    Johannes

  2. Kim

    Yeah I remember Bodies without Organs. Damnit. That would have been a great segway!

    Good point about those ads. Some of them even feature suicide violence.

    Now I feel really uncomfortable writing about that blog post, so I guess all is well.

  3. Christian

    I want to believe that something like sex-positive post-porn punk feminism, or genius Annie Sprinkle’s existence alone, makes the Dworkinesque old-school hyperbole just a joke, including the Tipper-Gore music warning labels and the movie/art-violence rhetoric — especially as that hardline hyperbole was challenged by (most?) other feminists from the moment it began, however necessary in our species’ dialectic such a brand of feminism may have been. I can’t even think of it as feminism, really, given that so much of it is about telling women what they should and should not do with their bodies, etc.

    That said, however, although the violence-in-art-is-bad-like-real-violence argument is just as tired as the other oldschool rhetoric, I think the man/masculine/violence conflations can offer some value at least from the perspective of how art is more interesting when it includes art-violence made by women.

    Anyway, none of what I just wrote is as interesting as your multi-layered post above, which I really enjoyed. And the real reason I wanted to comment was, being that I too love poetry and sports (the latter meaning only US football, of all things, and watched from my couch, rather than played) I still had these ideas about masculinity in my head, as well as your Rodney King riff —

    I’ve always loved both poetry and sports. I don’t really see the contradiction. It’s costumage, it’s beautiful, a spectacle of nothing but its own spectacle.

    Except neither really wants to own the spectacle so they start to hate on the other for being a spectacle because they are real.

    Why can’t we all just be spectacle together.

    –as I read a brief essay by Drew Kalbach this morning: “Grimes, Oblivion, and the Man-Boy Body” (here: http://www.actuarylit.com/?p=195 ), which Johannes apparently also read months ago when it was published. Perhaps you read it already as well, Kim, but I thought to post it here in case you or others might enjoy the connections.

  4. David Applegate

    The end of this post is really similar to the end of Sandy Florian’s “Am I Latina?” post.

    “Macho-passive-hiding” seems a reaction to the oppressive message “only your strangled voice counts” which Florian encounters.

    For Florian, the “white majority” is the opposition. Who is the opposition for the male poet? Who makes him hide? Feminists? News reporters?

    Is strangulation a necessary precursor to poetry?

  5. Kim

    Christian, David. Sorry– haven’t had time to think and respond. Will soon, I think. But I love that grimes thing!