- Modern Argentine Masculinities ed. by Carolina Rocha
Carolina Rocha’s sociological approach to literature and film has been immensely productive for her: in the last seven years she has published her own book Masculinities in Contemporary Argentine Cinema (Palgrave, 2012), and no less than five edited or co-edited anthologies. This most recent collection definitely shows her own shaping hand. Less obviously, it is an intervention on the conflictive field of Argentine identity.
The book’s introduction argues that the question of Argentine masculinity is relatively untouched territory, perhaps with the exception of Eduardo Archetti’s 1999 book on early twentieth-century masculine models in tango, soccer, and polo. Rocha cites heavily Australian sociologist R. W. Connell’s work on masculinities [End Page 608] since 1995, and seems to have encouraged her other contributors to do so, in part because Connell’s work emphasizes plural and conflictive ideas about manhood within “hegemonic masculinities,” but also, one suspects, because Connell’s work argues that traditional masculinity has undergone further shifts in the last thirty years due to neoliberalism.
None of the sixteen essays is bad, and some are terrific. Of the ones covering the early twentieth century, Pablo Ben’s brief piece questioning the “Mediterranean” model of homo/hetero relations is perhaps the liveliest: through examination of court cases, bathroom graffiti, and dirty poems of the pre-1920 world, Ben calls into question the idea that active and passive roles in gay sex would have defined the active male as masculine. Most of the other authors of these essays take their material from loftier cultural productions. And yet not too lofty: as the essays march from nineteenth-century statesman poets through Arlt, then Quiroga, then Peronist film melodramas, the reader may notice the absence of Florida and the Sur intellectuals, from Rojas and Girondo, through Borges and Bioy, through Cortázar and Bianco. Of course, one can’t cover everybody, but the book’s introduction gives space to those topics that Rocha feels have been covered well by others—work on the compadrito or the tango singer—with the result that all upper-class masculinities disappear in these chapters. Rocha thus seems to be equating Argentine identity with mid-century Peronism, the working-class movement brought into the middle class but devastated by the military junta of the seventies and by deindustrialization; it is this “modern” Argentine masculinity that the book as a whole focuses on.
Within this self-limitation, the essays cover ground not always part of an Argentine cultural historian’s purview. Currie Thompson notes the irony that the cult of sacrificial heroism in military film melodramas was invoked but not actually practiced by the various military governments that funded these propaganda films; correspondingly, Erin Redmond reads Puig’s thoroughly ironic take on Perón-era machismo in La traición de Rita Hayworth. Rocha mentioned in her introduction the next lacuna in the book’s range: she remarked that gender roles loosened in the sixties except among Argentina’s guerrilla groups, which “followed Peronism’s traditional gender-role doctrine” (7); the chapters leap over these years. In any case, Rocha’s greatest interest is in Argentina’s neoliberal turn, imposed by Menem and only fitfully undone by the Kirchners.
Masculinity in the age of neoliberalism tends to combine the reality (or identity) of the loser, and the practices (or the identity) of the criminal. Nicolas Poppe studies the delinquents of disaffected youth culture in the new Argentine cinema: aggrieved masculinity results from the loss of working class options and values, and is performed within the gangs of Pizza, birra, faso (among other films). Viviana Plotnik’s essay reads father-son conflicts in three films where the “loser” son rejects the successful upper-class father who has adopted neoliberal internationalism; the sons accept the loser identity as a more authentic Argentinity than the father’s model. Assen Kokalov returns to criminality, in his reading of Piglia’s Plata quemada and Piñeyro’s film adaptation, marking the homophobia of the novel’s 1963 moment and the questioning of it in the 1990s novel...