RSS

01b: The Essays

Let’s look at some marking criteria.

Taking as typical some of the kinds of statements for mark range 17-20 from an Advanced English Module 3 HSC, we should find the very best student:

– Composes a persuasive argument showing highly developed skills in evaluation of texts.

– Demonstrates comprehensive knowledge of the texts and insightful understanding of the relationships between the ways that ideas are portrayed through texts, and meaning.

– Demonstrates insightful understanding and evaluation of the ways texts present ideas, attitudes and values, and the impact of purpose, audience and media of production on the language used in texts.

– Evaluates and uses language forms, features and structures of texts skilfully, and effectively demonstrates the ways in which they shape meaning and influence responses.

– Demonstrates sophisticated control of expression.

Question A and Question D could be very similar in content and even in organisation, as each is a sustained argument. However, the mode in A is different from D: A is speech, while D is writing: an argument essay. In order to fulfil the last two criteria, you would have to select the appropriate style, tone and register in each case.

Question A is similar in mode to Question C: they are both speech situations. But C involves dialogue, while A is a monologue. Again, this will affect the language choices open to you. You would also have considerations about the appropriate level of formality in A and C, as the audiences differ markedly for one thing. A is addressed to your peers, yet in a rather formal setting. C is presumably addressed to a fairly well-educated adult audience, complicated by the dialogic situation where the presenter and the student are also interacting with each other.

Question B has specifically said “popular newspaper”, which implies Daily Telegraph or Sun-Herald, rather than Saturday’s Herald or Australian. This is going to have implications for the degree to which there may be a certain conversational quality to your writing, and a more personal approach overall. You may also need to think of how to “hook” a very general audience who are not necessarily deep thinkers. It may also affect the length and complexity of your paragraphs. It would certainly lead you to avoid passive voice sentences.

Do yourself a favour. During the next year or two, read widely in the media and in literature so that you are exposed to a whole range of registers, styles and tones. Stop now and again to examine the choices the composer has made in order to create a successful text for his or her purpose, situation and context. It will help in your own composition. And do listen to Radio National from time to time. :)

NOTE: Model answers should NOT be copied or learned by heart. You may learn from them, but you must answer the exact question you get in your way in terms of that question. You will never get precisely the same question on the same topic with the same instructions as this one anyway.

See also the texts referred to in these essays.

MODEL ANSWER A:

You should compose your answer as a speech to be delivered to your class in the course of their study of Images of Men.

I am glad of this chance to talk to you today about something that really concerns us, being boys. Masculinity. It is amazing how some guys get really annoyed or uncomfortable when this comes up, and it may be that there is a clue to why that is in the quotation we have been given from the film The Fight Club. Personally, I haven’t seen it, but I get what that character is saying. “We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression.”

Well, I guess we have a War on Terror now, don’t we? But the point remains that a lot of guys don’t really know what it is to be a guy any more.–I’m talking about what is expected of them (gender), not their biology (sex). They associate masculinity with being a hero — or “being in control” or “being a champion”. If they don’t have some extreme situation, they feel lost. Such images come from texts, and they get repeated over and over so that we don’t question them any more, until a text comes along that makes us see things differently, or until we become critical responders who can see how the texts are “positioning” males. I have three texts to talk about today. I hope you will see what images of men each one produces, something of how this is done, and what I, as a responder, make of them.(252 words)

Two of the texts I studied are quite old — nineteenth century stuff: “Vitae Lampada”, a poem by Sir Henry Newbolt, and “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” by Stephen Crane. The first one I’d like to look at is the poem. It promotes an image of men that may have suited the British Empire in the 1890s, but if you remember Wilfred Owen and the war poets we studied in Year 10, you will see it promotes everything Owen came to hate.

It is short on poetic qualities, I am afraid, though it does have a strong rising rhythm like a drum beat, but phrases like “bumping pitch” and “blinding light” — not to mention “the sands of the desert are stained blood red” — could well be called cliches. The rhymes are flat and obvious: “tonight”/”light” “fame”/”game”/”name”. Again, you would only have to pick any poem by Wilfred Owen (“Dulce et decorum est” being most appropriate) to see that Owen is much more sensitive to words. Also, I doubt very much if Newbolt was anywhere near the tragic happenings at Khartoum that I believe inspired this poem.

Newbolt gives us a kind of equation: war=sport, or maybe soldier=cricketer. Boys’ business, to Newbolt, is not to question superiors, to live rather for the pat on the shoulder by your captain, and to be a captain yourself when your fellows are about to be mown down by hordes of dark-skinned “fuzzy-wuzzies” (a term used at the time Newbolt wrote his poem), simply because your “Gatling gun,” by being jammed, can no longer mow the fuzzy-wuzzies down as God intended.

The image of man in this case is communicated by the details Newbolt has chosen to tell us: two vignettes, one the sporting field in an English Public School, the other a far-off part of Empire, the Sudan. The (white) man is a heroic boy in both cases. It is amazing how popular and how powerful this image was.This image of man has no personal emotion, just loyalty to his race or class. There is not a woman in sight. (347 words: total so far about 600. Over half-way with two texts to go!)

“The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” is set in George Bush Country, but about a century ago; it contrasts East (Boston, New York) and West (Texas, Yellow Sky, the Frontier). Critics argue about how serious the story is. Of course, it is about a lot more than images of men, but in that respect one critic sees the two worlds of the story as representing male and female. (See Katherine Sutherland, “Never the Twain Shall Meet” in W F Garrett-Pett, Writing About Literature.) The East, which the bride represents, even though Potter met her in San Antonio, is female; the Wild West (most clearly symbolised in the drunken gunslinger Scratchy Wilson) is male. Wilson is tamed in the end by the bride’s presence, and by the (to him) amazing fact that his old adversary, Marshal Potter, has come back married to this Easterner.

“Well,” said Wilson at last, slowly, “I s’pose it’s all off now.”

“It’s all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn’t make the trouble.” Potter lifted his valise.

“Well, I ‘low it’s off, Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

As Sutherland points out, the bride, even though she is never named, dominates the story, because it is she everyone is the town is talking about, and it is she who transforms everyone she comes in contact with. The locals are presented as ridiculous in various degrees, with the exception of the Marshal himself — although even he is out of his depth in the train restaurant(the Pullman car, a product of the East, is female too.) The macho image of the Marshal and the gunslinger (like in the classic movie High Noon) is being subverted in this story. Some of the most powerful American images of men are really being held up to ridicule, and femininity is seen as a threat:

He knew full well that his marriage was an important thing to his town. It could only be exceeded by the burning of the new hotel. His friends could not forgive him.

Crane is no feminist. At least on the surface, the bride submits to her husband, allowing him to sneak her into the town unseen by everyone except, as it happens, Scratchy Wilson, who is waiting outside the Marshal’s house in order to challenge him to a gunfight.The Marshal himself represents some of the positive aspects of the Western hero too, with his “brick-red hands” and his courage when confronted by Wilson. Yet at the same time he is worried that his friends will think he has become “sissified.” (484 including quotations at 130. Maybe 354. So far 960+!)

Look now at my final text. (The text is projected on a screen.) According to the website Male Ads, where it comes from, this text represents a deliberate attempt to change the dominant images of men in advertising. How has this been done?

Many ads for male toiletries go out of their way to link the product, which some might find a bit “gay,” with athletes or other macho men, even cowboys. This image is of a domestic man in a family setting, even if he is still placed outdoors and is obviously young and fit enough to do manly things like sport. You can imagine him on another day playing footie with his son in the park.

The first thing I saw in this image is the dog’s eyes, which are gazing at the responder. He is cute and cuddly, and needing affection, which the boy is giving him. Then, the boy is sitting on his father’s lap, protected by his father in turn, and gazing at the father who is gazing back at the son. The father is looking away from us, but his dominant position on the left side of the frame invites us to follow his gaze and identify with it. The product, in turn, is identified with the father, being literally superimposed on him. So all at once we see father and product as one: “for the best times in life” and we are invited to read the product name, “Pleasures for Men” in a particularly innocent way. It would be easy to imagine it meaning something quite different if there were a beautiful woman in front of the man, for example.

It is a sweet image, and is obviously meant to promote men as warm and caring. At the same time, I am slightly worried about how handsome everyone is, and how well-dressed (rich perhaps?) It is obvious this is not a cheap product and is unlikely to be on sale at Coles.

On the other hand, it may be the advertisers are saying it is good for kids to have time with their dads, and that men can be both manly and soft at the same time. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. If you want to follow that up, let me recommend a book in the Library: Real Boys by William Pollack Ph D. I have been thinking of getting my dad to read it. (404 — so now about 1400.)

I found these three texts good for this study. They clearly show how images of men can be created by the way men are depicted, by what they are shown to be doing, and what they seem to value as seen in what they are doing. In Newbolt’s poem they obey, play sport, and fight wars. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” the macho West is shown to be incomplete without the feminine East. In the ad for “Pleasures for Men” we see that real men enjoy time with their son, are protective, and like puppies. I will leave you to judge which of those images might encourage a man’s personal growth, and which is really connected to chaos and death: Scratchy Wilson, really, is doomed, because that is what he represents — chaos and death. (136: total about 1500. Way over! On 20 line pages as in HSC, 7 to 8 pages. Mind you many students do write that much.)

MODEL ANSWER B:

Write a feature article for a popular newspaper exploring these issues in a fairly personal way, with clear reference to the texts you have studied.

(PICTURE: Text One: Ad for “Pleasures for Men”)

(Caption: Trailblazing agency upends stereotypes.)

(Headline: 21st Century Man Plays Different Games)

I don’t really like that headline. Can you think of a better one?

(Lead-in and byline: Today’s male might smell better, but is it cricket? Geoff Beringer looks at changing images of men.)

Cutting-edge advertising guru John Mangleton has a gut feeling for what sells and what doesn’t. He didn’t make his millions by being out of touch.

“The butch bloke, the mindless goon with a gun — the cowboy, the Terminator — that’s history, dead as a duck, mate,” Mangleton confides over a steaming Latte at Balmain’s trendy Cafe Leaper. “Family values is what sells today. John Howard knows this and plays it for all it’s worth, and so do I.”

I’m about to say “George Bush” but Mangleton is ahead of me. “Bush plays well with the Yanks, mate, but this is Oz. It’s different here. Mind you, George is big on family values too, even if he is a bit more into cowboy aggro and executions than we are…”

I’m talking to Mangleton about the phenomenally successful campaign he has just done for Lauder, flogging male scents to the mainstream.

“‘Pleasures for Men’, mate. Brilliant brand, brilliant image. I mean, at first you hook them with horny, if you know what I mean, but you marry that to family values. Just look at that image. Strong, virile bloke, obviously a good sport. No wuss, mate, but just look at that image. The little guy sitting on his lap gazing back up at daddy, who must just smell fantastic of course, and to really get to your heart, mate, that dog. Did you ever see anything so appealing? Those eyes just gaze right back at you as if to say, ‘How can you resist?'”

It has definitely worked. “Pleasures for Men” has moved from just one percent of the market, mostly in Oxford Street pharmacies, to becoming the cologne of choice in the 25 to 45 age range. And women buy it for their husbands too. Maybe they wish their husband was like that spunk on the poster.

So soft, yet strong, is the go in 2004, is it?

It wasn’t always so.

Mangleton recalls his grandfather’s favourite poem, a cheesy old thing called “Vitae Lampada.”

“They were still drumming it into us at Trinity House in the 1950s, mate. Tell you what, we heard it so often we could almost say it by heart, not to mention some really filthy variations on it as well…”

There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight,
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat
Or the selfish hope of a seasons’ fame
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up Lad, play up and play the game!”

Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem was written around the time Gordon of Khartoum bought it at the hands of the Osama bin Laden of his day, the Mad Mahdi. It unashamedly transfers the esprit de corps of the old English Public School — Eton and all that — from Cricket to the battle field. Newbolt’s man is not a guy to ask difficult questions, like “What are we doing here trying to mow down poorly armed natives with our Gatling guns?” No, he just obeys and does what a man’s got to do, just like the Duke did in all those equally cheesy John Wayne movies they so loved during the Cold War.

“Yeah mate, but their Gatling chucks a freeze and they’re cactus, aren’t they?” Mangleton goes on, his eyes glazing over as if he is still half-in-love with this image, despite what he says. “Can’t help wondering, though, how many of those guys a few years later who bought it in France and Belgium during World War I trotted off to war so carelessly because they bought old Henry’s idea that war is the same as Cricket and is the greatest game of all for men. Not really a healthy image of men, is it? Anyway, Newbolt was a silly bloody Pom, so what can you expect? Still love Cricket though…”

I ask him when he began to see through that particular image of men.

“Funny you should ask that, because I think that started at Trinity House too. There was this English teacher, a bit younger than the others, who got us looking at what at first seemed just another cowboy story like High Noon. “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” it was, by Stephen Crane.”

Mangleton entertains me by retelling the story. It’s about this Marshal who dares to bring his Eastern bride back to Yellow Sky, a piss-poor town in the middle of nowhere in Texas, sometime in the 1890s or so. The town’s most colourful character is a drunken gunslinger called Scratchy Wilson, who is in the habit of having a shootout — obviously not too lethal — with Marshal Potter every time Scratchy has had more than a skin-full.

But this time turns out to be different. Scratchy just can’t cope with the idea that Potter has seriously hooked up with a woman, and not just with one of the good-time-girls this macho place can understand.

Mangleton even remembers the end of the story word-for-word. “Terrific writing, mate. As an ad-man, I appreciate people who can handle their words.”

“Married!” said Scratchy, not at all comprehending.

“Yes, married. I’m married,” said Potter distinctly…

“Well,” said Wilson at last, slowly, “I s’pose it’s all off now.”

“It’s all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn’t make the trouble.” Potter lifted his valise.

“Well, I ‘low it’s off, Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

“So that’s it, do you see?” says Mangleton, blowing on his second cafe latte. “It’s all over for blokes like Scratchy. Family values, that’s what wins in the end, mate, every time.”

Just then Dawnie comes in with Thorpie.

Now there’s a guy who doesn’t have a problem with being what they call “metrosexual.” Probably uses “Pleasures for Men” as well. Looking at Ian Thorpe, I begin to see something important. Here is a young guy who seems quietly determined to be his own kind of man, intense as the pressures must be to live up to media images of him and people like him. He is his own person, as in her own day Dawn Fraser has always been too.

I think of that angry character in The Fight Club who laments: “We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we’d be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars–but we won’t. And we’re learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” In the images Mangleton and I have been discussing I see how what you select in your frame, whether it is a picture, a poem, or a story, and what you leave out can cumulatively, representation by representation, reinforce some qualities as “male” and cut off others as “effeminate.” Males who are too much influenced by such representations can end up as big-time losers.

It seems today the thing to do is just find the image of men that suits you and go with it. Didn’t the Marlboro Man die of lung cancer anyway? But I can’t help having doubts about people like Mangleton who deliberately manipulate the images, even if in a “nicer” direction, to line their already well-lined pockets.(about 1200 words.)

MODEL ANSWER C:

Write a radio discussion for a quality program on, for example, ABC Radio National between a presenter and a student of media and literature entitled: “Toxic Manhood? Gendered Images in Literature and the Media.”

Marcia Ross: Hi, Marcia Ross here with Life Matters. “We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression… We were raised by television to believe that we’d be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars–but we won’t. And we’re learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” So said a character in the cult classic, The Fight Club. Time and again we are told that men and boys are in trouble today, and some say this is all due to the kinds of representations of men that dominate advertising, television, film and even, believe it or not, many of our favourite works of literature. Today we are going to be exploring the topic “Toxic Manhood? Gendered Images in Literature and the Media.” My first guest is a Year 12 student from Boystown High. Michael Jones has been part of a class research project on Images Of Men for the past year. Each member of Michael Jones’s class had to find three different texts and then decide whether the representations they found support or inhibit a healthy concept of masculinity. Michael Jones, I guess we should begin by asking you what exactly you understand by “a healthy concept of masculinity?”

Michael Jones: Thanks, Marcia. Well, first we should realise we are talking about gender here and not sex. Gender has to do with the cultural expectations that are associated with being a person of either sex. Now I guess you could say that male sex is just biology — hormones and body shape and such — though there is quite a range of body shapes for example. But gender isn’t just Nature. So many guys think they are failures if they’re not aggressive, competitive, built like Arnold Schwarzenegger (or maybe like he was built), interested in footy, girls and fast cars. It can really get serious: some guys might use steroids, or drink too much, or get eating disorders, or get depressed, all because they are hung up on a certain image. Now where do those images come from? That’s what we were trying to find out. And I guess a healthy image is one that fits you. Mind you some images are really unhealthy — like all those images in beer ads for example — because they actually make unhealthy and self-destructive behaviour seem both normal and acceptable, and in fact make you believe that unless you enjoy that type of thing you’re not “really a man.” After I saw how representation works to create this or that image of “a man”, I actually found myself feeling better about myself. I mean, they’re only images, for Heaven’s sake, and when you start seeing where they’ve come from you start being less messed up by them. (433 words: careful!!!!)

Marcia Ross: Now I will agree with you about things like beer commercials, and what some regard as the cynical way sporting events and heroes are pumped up in order to sell products or attract television sponsors through ratings, but surely in the calm world of classical literature we only find healthy images of men? Is that what you found, Michael Jones?

Michael Jones: Well, yes and no. The way we study literature now, we are encouraged to see what meanings different readers might make of a work of literature, and we don’t just respect the work because it’s “great” or our grandmothers liked it. We actually question texts really carefully, and sometimes find surprising things. I mean, take a poem like “Vitae Lampada” by Sir Henry Newbolt…

Marcia Ross: Oh, my English grandfather’s favourite poem! “There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight …”

Michael Jones: That’s the one. Well, what image of men is “privileged” by that text?

Marcia Ross: “Privileged?” What do you mean, Michael Jones? Isn’t that just hideous Cultural Studies jargon?

Michael Jones: Yeah, well I agree this sort of language can get over the top sometimes, but in this case it’s useful because it is pointing out that the poet (or the composer) has set up a representation which prefers one view of “men” and then excludes other views of men, and that’s important to realise, because otherwise we start thinking Newbolt’s image of men is “natural”, “normal” and “good”. Think how many young men went off to die in World War I with Newbolt’s poem ticking away in the back of their minds… I mean, look at it. Stanza 1 is all about Cricket and deferring to the Captain and “playing the game.” Then suddenly in Stanza 2 we are in the middle of what a modern reader would realise is a very nasty colonial war where the Gatling gun is being used against a much less well-armed native population, and somehow this is like Cricket? War is a game? Except this time the gun jams, and the English are at a disadvantage, and this schoolboy voice suddenly comes straight off the Cricket field and tells them they’re British, basically. Did you ever read the end of Lord of the Flies?

Marcia Ross: Yes, “I expect you chaps have been behaving like true English school boys” or something like that, from this naval officer who has just stepped from one war into another, without realising it. Well, Michael Jones, I suspect some would say you’ve chosen a bit of a straw man with “Vitae Lampada.” It is cliched and totally mechanical in rhyme and rhythm anyway, with all due respects to my grandfather, isn’t it? Surely there are more subtle representations of men in the literary texts you looked at? (466 words.)

Michael Jones: Well maybe it is the unsubtle ones that affect most people most deeply, but “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, a nineteenth century American story by Stephen Crane, is much more subtle, yes. It’s about a US Marshal, Jack Potter, who brings his new bride back to the small Texas town of Yellow Sky. At the end, he and the bride are confronted by a drunken gunslinger, Scratchy Wilson, who is described thus:

A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration and made, principally, by some Jewish women on the east side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver.

Marcia Ross: Well those are obvious phallic symbols, aren’t they?

Michael Jones: I guess so — we talked about that in Extension 1 when we did The Big Sleep. Certainly the gunslinger provides a clear representation of one kind of masculinity, lawless and dangerous, but the whole town of Yellow Sky is a masculine sort of place, and Potter is described as a “traitor” for bringing the bride back into it. When that final confrontation takes place, the gunfighter gives up:

“Married!” said Scratchy, not at all comprehending.

“Yes, married. I’m married,” said Potter distinctly…

“Well,” said Wilson at last, slowly, “I s’pose it’s all off now.”

“It’s all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn’t make the trouble.” Potter lifted his valise.

“Well, I ‘low it’s off, Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

Marcia Ross: That’s beautifully written, isn’t it? A Canadian critic, Professor Katherine Sutherland, has said that East and West have symbolic value in this story: the East (represented by the bride) represents the feminine and the West (Texas, Yellow Sky, and at its most extreme Scratchy Wilson) represents the masculine. Would you agree with that reading?

Michael Jones: Well it’s certainly one way to read the story. And I think by being a “traitor” to the dominant representation of masculinity — the American Wild West (and George Bush’s home state incidentally) the Marshal is moving towards a healthier image of himself as a man. Certainly the image of the wild and lawless male is seen to have had its day as Scratchy Wilson puts his guns away and trudges sadly off. So this text has taken a stock representation of men, just like the one used later in the movie High Noon, and has made us question it. In this case we are getting a healthy representation of men because we are made to question the representation. (498 words including 167 in quotations: 331.)

Marcia Ross: Now I notice you have brought in a third text, an advertisement from some glossy magazine for something called “Pleasures for Men.” That sounds dangerous, Michael Jones. Would you tell us your response to that?

Michael Jones: Many ads for male toiletries go out of their way to link the product, which some might find a bit “gay,” with athletes or other macho men, even cowboys. This image is of a domestic man in a family setting, even if he is still placed outdoors and is obviously young and fit enough to do manly things like sport.

The first thing I saw in this image is the eyes of the dog in the boy’s lap. The dog is cute and cuddly, and needing affection, which the boy is giving him. Then, the boy is sitting on his father’s lap, protected by his father in turn, and gazing at the father who is gazing back at the son. The father is looking away from us, but his dominant position on the left side of the frame invites us to follow his gaze and identify with it. The product, in turn, is identified with the father. It’s superimposed on him. So all at once we see father and product as one: “for the best times in life” and we are invited to read the product name, “Pleasures for Men” in a particularly innocent way. It would be easy to imagine it meaning something quite different if there were a beautiful woman in front of the man, for example.

It is obviously meant to promote men as warm and caring. At the same time, I am slightly worried about how handsome everyone is, and how well-dressed (rich perhaps?) It is obvious this is not a cheap product and is unlikely to be on sale at Coles.

Perhaps the advertisers are saying it is good for kids to have time with their dads, and that men can be both manly and soft at the same time. Perhaps that is not a bad thing.

Marcia Ross: So in this case the advertisers are trying for an alternative image of men?

Michael Jones: Yes, but I still wonder if they’ve created an image as stereotyped in its own way as the ones it replaces.

Marcia Ross: Interesting point. So what did you conclude from your study?

Michael Jones: I found these three texts good for this study. They clearly show how images of men can be created by the way men are depicted, by what they are shown to be doing, and what they seem to value as seen in what they are doing. In Newbolt’s poem they obey, play sport, and fight wars. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” the macho West is shown to be incomplete without the feminine East. In the ad for “Pleasures for Men” we see that real men enjoy time with their son, are protective, and like puppies. I will leave you to judge which of those images might encourage a man’s personal growth, and which is really connected to chaos and death: Scratchy Wilson, really, is doomed, because that is what he represents — chaos and death.

Marcia Ross: Michael Jones, a very articulate young student of literature and the media on gendered images of men, and it is so nice to meet such a confident young man, don’t you think? (another 564 words.)

MODEL ANSWER D:

A character in the film The Fight Club laments: “We are the middle children of history, with no purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. The great war is a spiritual war. The great depression is our lives. We were raised by television to believe that we’d be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars–but we won’t. And we’re learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.” Would the representations of men you have encountered in the texts you have studied support or inhibit a healthy concept of masculinity? How are these representations created in your texts, and how should a responder regard them?

In your argument, refer to images of men found in the texts you have studied.

“Images of men” has at least two possible referents: one, the particular images created by the texts to be discussed here; the other, the picture of “male gender” which a particular culture might value most and judge individuals against. Obviously there is a feedback link between the two. The images that appear will tend to come out of the values of the culture, and those values will in turn be reinforced, or modified in some cases, by the images that appear in texts. An uncritical responder will tend to see as “natural” any images that conform to the expectations of his or her society and may tend to reject images that do not fit the stereotype. Such a responder may also attempt to force himself, if he is a boy, into the mould dictated by the images. This, surely, is unhealthy. A critical responder will realise that no images are “natural” as all are representations conditioned by their social and historical contexts. Such a responder will tend to question stereotyped images and value images that break stereotypes.

In our society boys and men often feel alienated, in much the way that character in The Fight Club is “very, very pissed off,” by the lack of fit between the available images of men and their own sense of who they are. In an advertisement we studied for a male cologne, the composers have attempted to make a fresh image that widens the available range of “masculinity.” On the other hand, the image of men offered in the nineteenth century poem “Vitae Lampada” is a very narrow, possibly destructive, one, while in Stephen Crane’s short story “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, such a destructive image (even if in another context) is subject to question through satire. (295 words.)

Many ads for male toiletries go out of their way to link the product, which some might find somewhat “gay,” with athletes or other macho men, even cowboys. The visual text here is of a domestic man in a family setting, even if he is still placed outdoors and is obviously young and fit enough to do manly things like sport. The first thing one sees in this image is the eyes of the dog, centrally placed in the frame, the dog being held on the boy’s lap. The dog is young, vulnerable and needing affection, which the boy is giving him. The boy, sitting on his father’s lap, is protected in turn by his father, gazing at the father who is gazing back at the son. The father is looking away from us, but his dominant position on the left side of the frame invites us to follow his gaze and identify with it. The product is identified with the father, in fact literally superimposed on him. Thus a responder sees father and product as one: “for the best times in life” and is invited to read the product name, “Pleasures for Men” in a particularly innocent way. It would be easy to imagine it meaning something quite different if there were a beautiful woman in front of the man, for example.

This image is obviously meant to promote men as warm and caring. At the same time, one notices how handsome everyone is, and how well-dressed (rich perhaps?) It is obvious this is not a cheap product and is unlikely to be on sale at Coles. Perhaps the advertisers are saying it is good for sons to have time with their fathers, that men can be both manly and soft at the same time. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. While this would appear to be a healthy representation of men as having more possibilities than the stereotypes of domination, competitiveness and sexual power, it could be said to be stereotypical in its own way, privileging the heterosexual, nuclear family norm, for example. As in all images, what is created depends on what is in the frame, and what is excluded.

This is certainly true of “Vitae Lampada” by Sir Henry Newbolt. What image of men is privileged by this text? The composer has set up a representation which prefers one view of “men” and thus excludes other views of men: think how many young men went off to die in World War I with Newbolt’s very popular poem ticking away in the back of their minds. Stanza One is all about cricket and deferring to the Captain and “playing the game.” Suddenly in Stanza Two we are in the middle of what a modern reader would realise is a very nasty colonial war where the Gatling gun is being used against a much less well-armed native population, and somehow this is made analogous to the situation on the cricket field. War is a game? This time the gun jams, the English are at a disadvantage, and a schoolboy voice (possibly the same schoolboy as in Stanza One) exhorts the troops to “play the game.”

“Vitae Lampada” is cliched and totally mechanical in rhyme and rhythm, and represents that mindless jingoism which the World War I poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon came so much to despise. It is short on poetic qualities, although it does have a strong rising rhythm like a drum beat, but phrases like “bumping pitch” and “blinding light” — not to mention “the sands of the desert are stained blood red” — could well be called cliches. The rhymes are flat and obvious: “tonight”/”light” “fame”/”game”/”name”. Any poem by Wilfred Owen (“Dulce et decorum est” for example) demonstrates that Owen is much more sensitive to words. Newbolt is unlikely to have been anywhere near the tragic happenings at Khartoum that inspired this poem. Yet it may be that such unsubtle representations affect most people most deeply, something a critical responder, asking how accurate or healthy an image of men might be, would have to expose.

“The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky”, a nineteenth century American story by Stephen Crane, is much more subtle. It is about a US Marshal, Jack Potter, who brings his new bride back to the small Texas town of Yellow Sky. At the end, he and the bride are confronted by a drunken gunfighter, Scratchy Wilson, who is described thus:

A man in a maroon-colored flannel shirt, which had been purchased for purposes of decoration and made, principally, by some Jewish women on the east side of New York, rounded a corner and walked into the middle of the main street of Yellow Sky. In either hand the man held a long, heavy, blue-black revolver.

The guns are obvious phallic symbols, and the gunslinger provides a clear representation of one kind of masculinity, lawless and dangerous. Yellow Sky is a very patriarchal place: Potter is described as a “traitor” for bringing the bride into it. When the final confrontation takes place, the gunfighter gives up:

“Married!” said Scratchy, not at all comprehending.

“Yes, married. I’m married,” said Potter distinctly…

“Well,” said Wilson at last, slowly, “I s’pose it’s all off now.”

“It’s all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn’t make the trouble.” Potter lifted his valise.

“Well, I ‘low it’s off, Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away. His feet made funnel-shaped tracks in the heavy sand.

A Canadian critic, Professor Katherine Sutherland, has said that East and West have symbolic value in this story: the East (represented by the bride) represents the feminine and the West (Texas, Yellow Sky, and at its most extreme Scratchy Wilson) represents the masculine, certainly one way to read the story. By being a “traitor” to the dominant representation of masculinity — the American Wild West in this case — the Marshal is moving towards a healthier image of himself as a man. Certainly the image of the wild and lawless male is seen to have had its day as Scratchy Wilson puts his guns away and trudges sadly off. This text has taken a stock representation of men, just like the one used later in the movie High Noon, but has made us question it. In this case the composer offers a healthier representation of men because responders are invited to question the representation, Wilson, the men of Yellow Sky, and even, to an extent, the Marshal, having all been presented in an ironic light, made to seem in varying degrees ridiculous. (Body: 1135 words, including quotations.)

These three texts have been instructive ones to study. They clearly show how images of men can be created by the way men are depicted, by what they are shown to be doing, and what they seem to value as seen in what they are doing. In Newbolt’s poem men obey, play sport, and fight wars. In “The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky” the macho West is shown to be incomplete without the feminine East. In the ad for “Pleasures for Men” we see that real men may enjoy time with their sons, are protective, and like puppies. It should be clear which of those images might encourage a man’s personal growth, and which are really connected to chaos and death: Scratchy Wilson, to take one example, is doomed, because that is what he represents — chaos and death. (Conclusion: 138 words. Total again about seven to eight HSC exam book pages.)

No, I am not saying these are for sure Band Six brilliant essays, but I hope they give some idea how changing text type alters the way in which you approach a piece of writing.

 

Comments are closed.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 28 other followers

%d bloggers like this: