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  • Sex Machine: Global Hypermasculinity and Images of the Asian Woman in Modernity*
  • L. H. M. Ling (bio)

Three visions of globalization currently dominate the popular imagination: “the West is best,” “the West versus the rest,” and “jihad versus McWorld.” 1 All three treat globalization as a Westernizing assault with little input or agency from local, non-Western sources. This Western exceptionalism relies on two main assumptions: (1) global, Western forces subsume, if not destroy, local, non-Western ones, and (2) identity is singular and “hard.” The logical conclusion is that much of the world faces a stark choice between globalization and localization. 2

This essay proposes an alternative view: in order to succeed, globalization necessarily engenders a postcolonial mix of hybridity, simulacra, and other such global-local conversions. Together, these conversions provide a common, global context for diverse pursuits of markets, products, and profits in local contexts. This essay further endorses the position that identity is multiple, [End Page 277] layered, and malleable. One facet of identity that typifies this is a global hypermasculinity that is currently permeating the world political economy. In East Asia especially, this is dispersed through and disguised as modernization and internationalization. 3 Under the rubric of globalization, local and global media (backed by state and corporate capital, respectively) naturalize hypermasculinity as part and parcel of the economic development of manly states and manly firms.

Confirmed in this is a deepening of the globalist bias. In addition to a valorization of openness, globalization carries with it an association of capital-intensive, upwardly mobile hypermasculinity. This is opposed to an implicitly closed, localized, service-based, and socially regressive hyperfemininity. Hypermasculinity’s promise and its appeal lie partly in its easy application to diverse contexts where it—and such notions as the manly state and the “bull market”—can be grounded in entrenched traditions of the patriarchal household. At the same time, hypermasculinity cracks with internal contradictions as it pushes for greater and more intensive competition, often for the same (and thereby proportionately shrinking) objects of desire. Furthermore, by its very nature, global hypermasculinity contains “the Other” within. To demonstrate, I focus here on media (re)constructions of gender identity for women in East Asia.

Three Visions of Globalization

Francis Fukuyama claims that the “West is best” in terms of history and economy. 4 He asserts that all countries will follow invariably a single path of development toward liberal capitalism, thereby instigating an “end to history.” Although he laments a future when all passion, daring, idealism, and struggle “will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems . . . and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands,” he concludes that world-order integration is an “inevitability.” 5

This line is reworked by Samuel P. Huntington into “the West versus the rest”: the post-Cold War era, although no longer burdened with great economic or ideological struggles, presents a “clash” of civilizations, thereby [End Page 278] counterposing “the rest” against “the West.” 6 In particular, Huntington warns of threats from two civilizations with supposedly historic antipathies toward the West: the Confucian and the Islamic. 7

Finally, Benjamin J. Barber sees globalization as “jihad versus McWorld.” 8 He bemoans the potential loss of democratic rights and freedom in two late modern juggernauts: “McWorld,” a glitzy corporatization of global capitalism, which bulldozes individual and communal rights in the name of profit, and “Jihad,” its fundamentalist counterpart, which does the same in the name of such primordial motivations as Allah and ethno-nationalism.

Despite their differences (including their suggested responses to these dangers), all three agree that globalization means one-sided Westernization. Fukuyama’s West “wins,” based on Hegel’s notion of a world-encompassing superculture. Huntington, who already assumes the West’s superculture status, offers a Machiavellian guide to maintaining this princely status by cementing relations with friendly nations while exploiting hostilities among the others. In Barber’s variation, McWorld ultimately consumes jihad. He captures the either-or quality of all three of these arguments most succinctly: “[There is] no room in the mosque for Nintendo, no place on the Internet for Jesus. . . . Life cannot be both play and in earnest, cannot stand for the lesser gratification of a needy body...

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pp. 277-306
Launched on MUSE
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