This will be the start of what I will call Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). During these weekly posts I will be examining the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.
I thoroughly enjoyed No More Heroes. The game’s satire had me laughing often enough that my roommate’s interest was piqued as to what game I was playing. I was playing this at the same time that I was reading David Coad’s The Metrosexual. To say that Travis Touchdown’s masculinity interested me would be understating it a bit.
In a recent interview with Suda51, a few new screens came to the fore, mostly concept art. What also appeared is the picture above, with Travis sitting on a toilet, trou dropped, staring at the audience. This is hardly a new pose for males, and it automatically brought to my mind a few other books I’d read and classes I’d taken.
Susan Bordo’s The Male Body does a rather thorough job of looking at how the male body’s presentation in present day media has evolved. In the first chapter, entitled In Hiding and On Display, she presents the reader with two Jockey ads. One has five males presented in various medical greens, their trousers dropped to reveal five different styles of underwear. Its sister ad has five females in cowgirl gear, trousers also dropped to reveal pretty tame and non-varied looking underwear.
While on initial glance they appear the same, there is a vast difference in the language and context. The females are smiling, their bodies are flirtatiously curved and bent, while the males have their arms crossed, do not look particularly amused, and there is also the fact that every one is facing forward, where as some of the females are facing to their sides or looking over their shoulders. The males have a very aggressive stance, and considering society’s shying away from the male body’s penis, the fact that it is barely hidden presents a dare of sorts. In no way does this state of undress make the males vulnerable, whereas the females seem to be much more exposed and lacking any autonomy.
The picture of Travis above juxtaposed with a Calvin Klein model is quite intentional. Both have aspects of their masculinity that are somewhat questionable in today’s society. For the Calvin Klein model, he has longer hair, a slightly boyish (read: young) face, and unlike the males in the Jockey ad, he leans back, seemingly more inviting. Yet, he too has no trace of a smile and his gaze is slightly challenging. The way his arms are posed, he shows off his muscles, and while his face and hair might seem slightly effete by most male standards in the United States, he is not really feminized or vulnerable.
Travis is much the same, though his questionable qualities vary slightly. Instead of a boyish face, he wears his otaku pride in an anime t-shirt and poster behind him. He’s a bit less challenging in his pose, but he is also staring at the audience without any particular flirtation or guile. If one has played the game, one also knows he’s an assassin with a rather foul mouth and penchant for witty comeback.
In fact, the other part of Travis’s masculinity that comes into question (masculinity as defined by mainstream society), is the fact that one of the collectable items for him is clothing. His sartorial penchant offers no bonus to the character, so in case of pure gain to the player, there is none. It is all an aesthetic choice for the player, and for Travis himself. He blends his otaku love with a care for his fashion that borders on being a dandy, if he were not so interested in physical sport through assassination. Yet, does he cross into the realm of metrosexual?
The original definition of metrosexual was to include all sexualities of men. However, over time it quickly became a buzzword hanging around heterosexual males who were particularly keen on their style. Travis clearly illustrates his heterosexuality and failed attempts to bed Silvia Christel. The dynamic between the two of them further plays with Travis’s sense of traditional masculinity, in that she is, in effect, his boss and is chiding to him in various phone calls, reminding him to go to the bathroom, take care of his oral hygiene, and such tasks–in essence, feeding him opportunities to either become or indulge a metrosexual lifestyle.
Travis’s portrayal is quite nuanced, and oftentimes, as with much of the game, I wondered how much of his gender portrayal was purposely designed. Suda51 admitted that he modeled Travis after Johnny Knoxville. Still, there exist moments when Suda51 clearly seems to be playing with the player’s expectations, such as any time the player enters Thunder Ryu’s gym and is taunted with demands for Travis to take off his clothes and bend over for Ryu’s training. Even I was taken aback when I first entered that particular building.
Despite all questioning of his masculinity, Travis continually proves himself in opposition of being labeled a true sissy or even queer. At the same time, he does not quite cross the realm of the sports playing metrosexuals or urban men so self-assured that they can dabble in more ‘queer’ affairs. His masculinity teeters in a rather comfortable range that is further exasperated by the purposefully over the top script. Instead, he seems a foil to examine both the follies of machismo and of a man too soft too kill his women adversaries in the beginning. Which is something else of note, worthy of a whole other post (maybe next Friday?).
So, while Travis has a troublesome masculinity, it is a masculinity that is still in place and within a certain acceptable norm. That does not mean it does not flirt with concepts, much as Calvin Klein’s ads unabashedly appropriating gay culture to sell male bodies (and underwear), however.