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Hyper-masculinity is more than just peanuts How does the character of Matt in Dog Sees God show the performative nature of masculinity in the US?

Abstract

In this essay I will explore how the character of Matt in Dog Sees God shows the performative nature of masculinity and by that, heterosexuality in the US. Especially in the scene where Matt and Beethoven interact after CB and Beethoven have kissed in public. During the scene Matt commits an act of violence against Beethoven and hides his own homosexual feels. I will use statistical analysis, refer to experts of mythos and masculinity, and argue that the culture of hyper-masculinity encouraged by our ancestry prevails in inciting violence as seen in this play.

Description

The play uses the classic characters of the cartoon “Peanuts”. The comic strip ran from 1950-2000. A period ripe with violence and historical hyper masculinity. The Comics are set in an ambiguous time period in Minnesota. Dog Sees God follows the same characters as in the comic strip but now in high school. Snoopy, CB (Charlie Brown)’s Dog, has been put down due to rabies and he is struggling with the loss. Throughout the play CB is writing a letter to his pen pal (who is revealed to be Charles M. Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, who at the time the play was written, had very recently passed away.) The play deals with the themes of sexual awakening, bullying, mental illness, abortion, violence, self-discovery, and many more. Matt is an aggressive school bully who uses intimidation, abusive language and strong sexual overtones to interact with his peers at school.

Matt is based on the character "Pigpen". Dog Sees God suggests that due to his bullying as a child, Pigpen has developed mysophobia, or germaphobia as it is commonly referred to. The author Bert V. Royal, also imagines that Matt is gay but is hiding it to protect himself from ridicule. The part of the play I will be focusing on is a scene near the end. Beethoven (Schroeder) and CB (Charlie Brown) have kissed publicly and Matt becomes enraged. Known as the school bully, homophobic, and angry, it isn't surprising when Matt goes to confront Beethoven. Beethoven's realization that Matt is closeted triggers Matt to go off the handle and he breaks Beethoven's fingers by bring the piano cover down over them. The scene displays the performative of heterosexuality and masculine behaviors such as aggression, violence, and dominance and their destructive effects on both victim and oppressor. Matt is unable to express his true feeling to even his best friend CB and feels the pressure to over compensate by hurting those people he once considered his friends. In America hyper-masculine ideologies have been the basis for centuries of oppression. The mythos of the manly-man in American History informs the construction of this character. Certain ideals of male dominance were cemented by late 1800s mythos such as Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boon, and many depictions of Cowboys. Even real people who were turned into more of a myth like Buffalo Bill were an influence.

Pictures of Productions of Dog Sees God

Hyper-masculinity or toxic masculinity defined in the Britannica Encyclopedia:

Hypermasculinity [is a] sociological term denoting exaggerated forms of masculinity, virility, and physicality. Scholars have suggested that there are three distinct characteristics associated with the hypermasculine personality: (1) the view of violence as manly, (2) the perception of danger as exciting and sensational, and (3) callous behavior toward women and a regard toward emotional displays as feminine."
“By far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them...very fragile ."--Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author

The reason I classify Matt's behaviors as hyper-masculine and not just masculine is because for the purposes of a stage performance many times subjects such as these are exaggerated to make a point. If Matt were a real person he would undoubtedly be labelled hyper-masculine and face serious social and judicial repercussions for his actions. I think it's important to note why I've made this distinction and how the stage has effected this analysis.

1:27:43 The Matt Scene- TW: violence and strong language.

As you can see, in the production above the actor used his physicality to intimidate, manipulate and threaten Beethoven. He uses alcohol to show the characters inability to deal with his feelings. Influenced by America's demand for men to be less emotional than women, to not show weakness, and to be able to drink large amounts of alcohol. These masculine traits are what Matt tries to immolate as an impressionable teenage boy. Royal shows a facet of the American experience of assimilation. Although in class we mainly focused on assimilation in the experience of people of color and especially immigrants. This role has been predominantly played as a white character. Assimilation of people of the LGBT+ community is prevalent and in this play profound. As Matt and CB have been denying themselves the freedom to be who they are they have perpetuated the cycle of violence and fear of coming out. And it almost seems like the reason they are afraid to be themselves is because of people like them. This is a paradox in America that we see over and over referenced in plays and movies.

"If we shame boys, men, and masculine identified people for crying, we take away their direct connection with their own sense of vulnerability, and thus, their self-awareness and trans-formative abilities. If we shame boys, men, and masculine identified people for crying and label it effeminate and therefore undesirable, we cut them off from their capacity to empathize with other’s emotions and feelings, leading to continued issues with violence and inflicting harm on others." Lotterhos 119

According to the article, Big Boys Don't Cry: Navigating Masculinity in Therapy "these types of subtle messages convey a normative stance of stoicism, invulnerability, and detachment that contribute to toxic ideals of masculinity."

America performs masculinity through it's youth, through its media, and through violence. The violence perpetrated from these sorts of attacks are sourced from a place of fear of othering. If we as a society choose to change our performances, and change the way we expect the people in our lives to perform this toxic form of masculinity the happier and safer we will be in America. Royal's play show that detriment. I hope we can show him, a new way.

Work Cited

Adichie, Amanda N. We Should All Be Feminists. Fourth Estate, 2017

Branney, Peter, and Alan White. “Big Boys Don't Cry: Depression and Men: Advances in Psychiatric Treatment.” Cambridge Core, Cambridge University Press, 2 Jan. 2018, www.cambridge.org/core/journals/advances-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/big-boys-dont-cry-depression-and-men/D29C58F5EB6348BBE8807FA51167D1FA.

Brickell, Chris. “Masculinities, Performativity, and Subversion.” Men and Masculinities, vol. 8, no. 1, 2005, pp. 24–43., doi:10.1177/1097184x03257515.

Cohen, Theodore F., and Steve Craig. “Men, Masculinity, and the Media.” Contemporary Sociology, vol. 22, no. 2, 1993, p. 235., doi:10.2307/2075775.

Craig, Ronald O. “Hypermasculinity.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2 Jan. 2019, www.britannica.com/topic/hypermasculinity.

Lotterhos, Forrest Hamrick. “Men Cry: Embodiments of Masculinity in Western Cinema circa 1999.” University of Colorado, Boulder CU Scholar, 1 May 2015, scholar.colorado.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2112&context=honr_theses.

Sijtsema, Jelle J., et al. “Direct Aggression and the Balance between Status and Affection Goals in Adolescence.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2019, doi:10.1007/s10964-019-01166-0.

Wilson, Macy. “Big Boys Don't Cry: Navigating Masculinity in Therapy.” Time2Track Blog, 11 Aug. 2017, blog.time2track.com/big-boys-dont-cry-navigating-masculinity-in-therapy.

Credits:

Created with an image by Alex Iby - "Claw Eyes"