I recently read Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel. I'd like to do a more in-depth post on Guyland in the future, but as I have also of late been watching Blue Mountain State and Friday Night Lights on Netflix, I've been doing a lot of thinking about masculinity. For whatever reason I don't care about actual sports, I love TV/movies about sports. They're usually awesome.
No debate about it, Blue Mountain State is a shitty show. It is bad on a million levels. It is racist, it is sexist, it promotes rape culture, it is badly written, and basically a show written by and for dudes who worship at the thrown of machismo, irresponsibility, and boobs. Just take a look at the opening. It sums it up. The show is less about a football team (at a fictional school modeled off Penn State-type football machines) than it is about the boozy, sexy hijinks of its players.
The show's gopher-faced star, Alex, is the back up QB, whose goal in college is to sleep with as many women as possible, be drunk and high as often as possible, and play as few games as possible. He eschews "traditional" values, going to college for learning, being in romantic relationships, having responsibility, playing football for the love of it. Instead, he is a Guyland fantasy. Alex has girls offering to sleep with him at every bend. He gets all the perks of being on a good team without a lot of the effort. In one episode a women pays him $100 to sleep with him. Alex lives the fantasy of Guyland, and sums up the culture that Michael Kimmel describes as boxing men in. It's not that there aren't people who think Alex has it all and this is the ideal. However, this is what culture (& Spike TV, the "man channel") push on men and say, "This is what you should want." It's three seasons of crap. While there were many moments of the show that I thought, "This should could be funny... if it were a parody," it's really not good. Certainly it does poke fun at some elements of football machismo, for example, the team captain doping up on rabies, the show isn't smart enough to actually accomplish anything other than being a sloppy excuse for its viewers to vicariously sleep with lots of big-boobied coeds.
On the other hand, Friday Night Lights is the shit. I love love love it so far. I'm only halfway through the first season, but this is a quality show. While there are differences between BMS and FNL (BMS is college/FNL is high school, BMS is a comedy/FNL is a drama, etc), I can't help but watch Friday Night Lights and think to myself, "They got masculinity right." In the fictional town of Dillon, Texas, football rules. As one of the best teams in the country, the football players of the Dillon Panthers are treated like stars and coddled by the town. Their mess-ups mean little when they win games. The cheerleaders act as de-facto girlfriends or groupies. But the show is multi-layered. Each player struggles with being a man in a world where people both baby them and treat them like kings. The star QB is paralyzed in a football accident the first episode, and then struggles to regain his identity while he learns how to function as a paraplegic. The back-up QB lacks confidence and experience, but when thrust into the spotlight has a hard time balancing other people's expectations, his responsibilities at home, and his need to provide for his senile grandmother while his father is deployed in Iraq. Other characters deal with race, socio-economic differences, family problems, broken homes, relationships, and growing up.
And most of all, Friday Night Lights passes the fucking Bechdel Test. The show is certainly not about women, but the female characters are more than mere decorations. The coach's wife has to struggle with the town's expectations of her and her own expectations, and she's a freaking boss. She gets a job as a guidance counselor at Dillon and is really freaking good at it. The disabled QB's cheerleader girlfriend has to deal with being called a slut when her infidelity goes public. And the coach's daughter Julie is strong in the face of her dad when she decides to date the QB.
Each of the main and supporting characters, whether male or female or football player or not is an interesting person with a personality, past and goals, and the show's writers treat them with respect. I'm so looking forward to watching the rest of the show (although one of my friends told me season 2 is "meh," season 5 is the bomb) because I really feel like there aren't a lot of shows about men that treat them with this kind of sensitivity and respect. Don't get me wrong. There are a lot of shows about men, but we don't often get to watch this level of careful character development with men. It's nice.