Movie Review on Tough Guise

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Movie Review on Tough Guise

This essay will offer a critical review of the documentary “Tough Guise,” which examines the crisis of masculinity in American culture. The review will focus on the documentary’s main arguments and its impact. At PapersOwl, you’ll also come across free essay samples that pertain to Gender.

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In short, Tough Guise is an educational documentary geared towards students in college and high school to systematically examine the relationship between the use of imagery in pop culture and the social construction of masculine roles in the United States. Jackson Katz, who is known as a social critic and anti sexism activist argues, “that the ongoing epidemic of men’s violence in America is rooted in our inability as a society to move beyond outmoded ideas of manhood.”(Katz)Furthermore, Katz provides a slew of male figures portrayed in films, media, sports, etc… to examine the expectations of a “real man.

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” He also analyzes the construction of violence pertaining to sexualization, mass shootings, bullying, and gay bashing. This in turn provides us with an outlook on violent, sexist, and homophobic messages shown to young men at every corner of our society. Although this documentary lacks a set historical setting, examples of male role identities are shown from the early 1930s all the way up to the dawn of the twenty-first century. The major theme of this documentary is the media’s representation of masculinity. Some secondary themes found in this documentary are invulnerability, vulnerability, changing bodily norms for men, and the issues of school shootings.

The “Tough Guise” documentary does not focus on a set of main characters, instead, it provides numerous men from movies, wrestling, sports, and the media. Katz argues that regardless of what ethnic group or socioeconomic status boys might come from, they are all pressured by society to put up the macho man act or to be simply one of the guys. However, he explains that it is more pronounced for men of color because there is so little diversity of images of them in the media culture. For example, latino men in movies are almost often portrayed as tough guys, boxers, or even gang members in the barrio. The same goes for asian men who are disproportionately portrayed as violent criminals and martial artists in movies. Transcending race, the media is responsible for constructing violent masculinity as a cultural norm for all males. Towards the end of the documentary Katz tell us that we as a society must find out how to encourage a more positive representations for men of color. For a long time, the media images for men of color have been concentrated around violence and narrowly defined compared to the images of white males. He uses the actor Avery Brooks from the movie “Deep Space Nine” as an example of a black man who is portrayed a leader and a loving father who is not afraid to show his nurturing side. Another area that can be seen promoting this notion of positive, progressive, and alternative forms of masculinity is found in popular music from the artist John Lennon. Garth Brooks the famous country singer is another great example used by Katz who was known for displaying the soft and sensitive side of masculinity in his songs.

C. Wright Mill’s concept of Sociological Imagination enables us to grasp the connection between History and Biography. History being the location in broad stream of events and biography having to do with an individual’s specific experiences. Katz gives us an example of a young girl being interviewed. She explains that her male friends carry themselves with a tough manner every time they are out in public but behind closed doors it is a different story. They open up to her about their own personal relationships whether it may be family or girlfriend issues when they’re alone. She even goes as far as to say that they act like babies and cry. The historical facts affecting this mentality that males have to put out this “masculine” front in public stems from socially constructed identities or expectations of their given societies. From an early age, young boys are told to “man up” or “don’t cry” by family members and even friends. These colloquialisms in a way are like a set of expectations that have to be followed to prevent ridicule. In today’s society, we have come a long way in accepting men who speak on their emotions. However, the “tough guise” front is still being put on by many men and boys who are scared to be called out for being quote on quote, soft. So to answer the question I would say that there isn’t much of a difference in the way that boys and men act but they wouldn’t be shamed by others for opening up in the community we live in today. There may be circumstances where other men will still shame men but the point I’m trying to get across is that not everyone is that way.

Culture is the ways of thinking, the ways of acting, and the material objects that together form a people’s way of life. Including material and non material cultures. The most dominant and recurring culture discussed throughout the entirety of this documentary is “Masculinity” other wise known as “Tough Guise” by cultural theorist Jackson Katz. He goes on by saying that their values or traits are categorized into strength, dominance, egotism, and assertiveness. These boys and men are subjected to putting on this mask or “Tough Guise” persona in order to thrive in a variety of peer cultures based on this extreme culture of Masculinity. For example, a clip of young men is shown where they describe qualities of manliness in which the most common words used were tough, independent, and stud. Furthermore, they were then asked to describe boys and men who didn’t measure up to these qualities. Words like fag, weak, and wuss were used to describe men who portrayed emotional vulnerability. The second culture portrayed throughout the documentary is the “Mass Media” culture. Katz says that images of men In the media have changed over the last fifty years to portray them as muscular and more aggressive. For example, he compares the slender/chubby body types of Batman and Superman during the sixties to the more muscular/lean body types of these two superheroes in the nineties. Another example of this are pro wrestlers during the sixties having flabby bodies compared to wrestlers in the nineties who are bigger and way more muscular. The same pattern can be seen with gun imagery changing over the course of fifty years starting with the actor Humphrey Bogart holding a small gun with a non aggressive pose in the 1930s. Moving into the 1970s we can see Clint Eastwood holding a slightly larger gun with a more menacing pose. And finally in the 1980s we see Sylvester Stallone in Rambo showing of his muscular body and large weapons, portraying a more menacing and hyper masculinity image. Arnold Schwarzenegger being the epitome of this in the movie “Terminator”.

One instance of nonverbal communication in the documentary is the use of gang signs. During the 1980s, gang signs were considered the secret language of the streets. Depending on the situation, hand signals were used by gang affiliated members in a variety of ways to identify, greet, conduct business, and even to disrespect rival gang members. Gang members also embedded their gang affiliations into what they wore as well as the tattoos that covered their bodies. Graffiti also constituted this vocabulary for members to communicate with one another. Furthermore, bandanas can be worn in various types of colors and ways to signify the gang their loyal to. The second example that Katz mentions is the posture portrayed by many men in the media. In one scene we can see a man taking up most of the space on the couch while the women which can be associated with dominance.

In the documentary, Katz uses the Marlboro man to symbolize this notion of a real man who can also be described as a rugged and stoic individual. The Marlboro man is the most recognized figure for the tobacco industry. He then goes on to explain that the message being portrayed by the Marlboro man is that interdependence, relationships, and connections are considered forms of weakness. This creates a sense of individualism and that the act of seeking for help is what women do not men. However, this individualistic approach that some men take on can be detrimental to their psyche because we as humans are interdependent of one another. Another example of a symbol that appeared a couple times throughout the documentary are guns. Although I have already addressed the size of the guns changing throughout time in question 4, it is the first time they are mentioned in the documentary. This change in gun size to me symbolizes aggression and power. The second time it is brought up is when Katz talks about the horrific tragedy of the Columbine Highschool massacre. On the April 20, 1999, two young men decided to launch a deadly assault on their high school in Colorado. They were victims of bullying by some of their peers but mainly received it from the “Jocks” who were known to be a big part of the “masculinity culture” at the school. The guns used by these “sick” individuals represented the revenge and respect they longed for. The final example of gun symbolization surrounding respect is carrying a glock in your waistband. A young black male says it’s commonly used for showing off and a white male say that a lot of social arguments are solved immediately at the sight of a gun.

Culture shock can be defined as a two way process in which a traveler may experience culture shock when meeting people whose way of life is different as well as the traveler being able to inflict culture shock on others by acting in ways that offend them. An example of this in the documentary is when Mark McGwire, a well known baseball player started to cry during a press conference when talking about donating a million dollars each year to a organization that served girls and boys who have been sexually abused. This was a shock to many of the reporters at the time to see a man of great stature who embodied “masculinity” show emotional vulnerability in front of the cameras. Not only did he show vulnerability but McGwire also acknowledged that he went to therapy and how important it was for his mental growth which was rare to see in the “masculinity culture.”

Ethnocentrism is the practice of judging another culture by the standards of one’s culture. It is exhibited by people everywhere and generates misunderstanding and sometimes conflict. In all honesty, I couldn’t really find a scene where a character uses ethnocentrism but I will use an example of a scene of the movie smoke signals that was used in this documentary that I think could be related to the use of ethnocentrism. So there is a scene where Thomas is rambling on about his father when Victor interrupts him by saying, “Why can’t you have a normal conversation?” Victor Then asks him how many times has he watched the movie “Dances with Wolves”. Victor seems to imply that Thomas does not know how to act like a real Indian to which he offers to show him how to be one. He tells him that real Indians have to be stoic and look like warriors to avoid being walked all over by white people. The way I interpreted this is that Victor is judging Thomas for having this false sense of how Indians must carry themselves and criticized him for dressing like a “white man”. This example I used might not be the best when it comes to defining ethnocentrism but I feel that it is somewhat related in a sense that Victor is judging Thomas’s “fake” Indian culture to his idea of real Indian culture.

Cultural relativism is the practice of judging one’s culture by its own standards. For this question I was asked to describe a scene in which a character uses cultural relativism, but I couldn’t find a direct scenario in the documentary. Despite this, I will be using the example of men of color having to adopt this role of hyper masculinity in order to gain the respect that they have been stripped of by the dominant “white” culture. For example, take the book “Cool pose” written by Richards majors where he explains the phenomenon of poor African American adopting this mannerism. They do this because that’s all they have going for them in gaining authority and validation for their manhood. Growing up, a lot of these poor urban black males don’t have access to a good education and hold a low status in their communities. Having this in mind, someone who exhibits cultural relativism will look at it from the perspective that it is not necessarily the faults of young black man. They can also acknowledge that the social and economic structures of society have systematically denied these young black men to access these opportunities that are present for upper and middle class people. Only then can one understand why they must assert their dominance in the form of the “cool pose” to gain respect.

Resocialization is defined as the process of tearing down and rebuilding an individual’s role and socially constructed sense of self (Goffman). Gender Roles are behaviors, attitudes, and activities that a society links to each sex. It is important to note that most people do not display strictly “masculine” or “feminine” qualities all the time and people socially construct behavior to create or exaggerate male/female differences. Since this documentary focuses heavily on the behaviors of males it was hard to find an example of gender roles for women. However, I was able to find an example of teen dating violence in which boys acted out in controlling and abusive ways towards their girlfriends. Although this behavior isn’t genetically inherited nor programmed, it is a result of cultural expectations that link masculinity to dominance. Moreover, it is expected of the women in these relationships to be “submissive” or under the control of men. Another example of gender roles in this documentary is brought up while Katz is talking about the book written by Terrence Williams called, “I Don’t Want To Talk About It.” This book is about male depression and how men actually have this “I don’t to talk about it mindset” when dealing with psychological and emotional issues. On the other hand, there’s a more permission from the culture for women going to therapy while men are told to “suck it up.”

Folkways are norms for routine or casual interaction. Katz explains to us that media is responsible for constructing violent masculinity as a cultural norm. In other words, violence is not seen as much of a deviation as it is an accepted part of masculinity. An informal negative sanction coming from this is that there is growing connection between being a man, and the violence that comes with it. Not only are they inflicting pain on other individuals but are also doing it to themselves. Morally speaking, I don’t see any positive sanctions to violent masculinity other than gaining the respect from others. Moving on, mores are norms that are widely observed and have great moral significance. For example, Howard Stern is shown reinforcing traditional sexism during one of his talk shows. Stern starts off by asking the women to disrobe then proceeds to body shame and sexually degrade them. In another episode of the Howard Stern show, he uses the Columbine shooting tragedy as an opportunity to make a rape joke. In which he says, “At least if you’re going to kill yourself and kill all the kids, why wouldn’t you have some sex.” A negative sanction of making rape jokes and degrading women on national television could have resulted in him losing his career in the television and radio talk show community. In today’s’ society, he would be given a hard time for making such remarks. A positive sanction from this is that Stern creates a world in which a lot of his young male viewers can feel good about themselves by putting down women and laughing at the jokes. A taboo is a norm that is so strongly ingrained that even the thought of it’s violation gives a feeling of revulsion. An example of a taboo in the documentary were the school shootings that occurred at Columbine high school and Pearl high school. There are many negative sanctions of school shooting such as death, the grief experienced by the community/family members, and jail time for those who commited the heinous act of murder.

The two theoretical perspectives used in this documentary are Symbolic Interactionism which emerged as the strongest and Functionalism being the second strongest. Symbolic Interactionism is displayed throughout the documentary in the sense that the characteristics portrayed by men as well as their practices of violent behavior are socially constructed from this idea of manhood. Manhood symbolizes body size, strength, and muscularity. Katz introduces us to this notion that masculinity or this “tough guise” front is more of acting out a role. To further add on to this, I want to mention a sociologist named Charles H. Cooley who developed a theory called “looking glass self.” In this theory, Cooley argues that one’s perception of him or herself is based on how society views them. In the context of this documentary, young men and boys have no choice but to act out on these set expectations to avoid being shunned by the society they live in. And in the process of this end up performing day to day tasks and interactions as it pertains to their gender role. Functionalism in this documentary focuses on the social structures that shape society as a whole in terms of the norms, behaviors of masculinity.

In conclusion, I would recommend this documentary to young children and adults of all ages and genders. I speculate that male viewers will be more impacted than female viewers in the sense that they can relate to portraying the “tough guise” persona in their everyday lives.

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Movie Review on Tough Guise. (2021, Jun 30). Retrieved from