Bakhtin and Pleasure: Reading Politically Incorrect Masculine Comedy

By Allison Carter.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper is an exploration of how the characteristics of carnival or grotesque realism in Bakhtin’s conception can be applied to a popular cultural form: “politically incorrect” masculine film comedies such as Harold and Kumar: Escape from Guantanamo Bay, Borat, There’s Something about Mary, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, and Knocked Up. I will be drawing on work on the “underground” culture of masculinity in men’s studies.
This inquiry is embedded in a project on masculine culture, where the influence of Bakhtin is anticipated in an articulation of the process of critical inquiry as reading “for pleasure.” One example is the depiction of the development of an underground culture of pleasure in the “warrior narrative” in the kindergarten classroom, which can be seen as a prototype of a continuing underground survival of a version of masculinity that is prohibited from much of the “official culture” of the market economy: corporate culture and the educational sphere, but survives in sports and as spectatorship of popular culture in such forms as sports and film. Where action films seek to embody the hero myth in the form of the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity, politically incorrect masculine comedies seem to articulate a form of masculine protest or revolt (as Ehrenreich depicts in The Hearts of Men) against the market. The place of the “official” dogma of the Catholic Church that serves in Bakhtin’s work as the foil for Rabelais’s carnival is held on the one hand, by conventional forms such as corporate culture or the civic culture of the schoolroom, and on the other, by hegemonic masculinity itself. Masculine comedies embrace a theme of revolt against “growing up” into the responsible, male adults that the official culture demands.

Keywords: Masculinity, Film, Comedy, Theory

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 9, pp.219-232. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 625.765KB).

Allison Carter

Instructor of Sociology, Sociology Department, Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, USA


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