Concepts of Masculine Camaraderie in Films and Screenplays by David Ayer

Male Families, Friendships and Brotherhood

Master's Thesis, 2017

80 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Conceptual overview
2.1. Hegemonic masculinity
2.2. Hegemonic masculinity and homosocial camaraderie
2.3. Cinematic masculinity
2.4. Masculinity, genre and the “buddy formula”
2.4.1. The action-adventure genre
2.4.2. The police-drama
2.4.3. The war film
2.5. A first look at the intertextual relay and an updated research premise

3. Homosocial, masculine relationships in stories by writer David Ayer
3.1. Subordination in Training Day
3.2. Co-Dependence in Harsh Times
3.3. Equality in End of Watch
3.4. Competition and betrayal in Sabotage
3.5. Manipulation in Fury
3.6. Highlighting concepts of scripted masculinity
3.6.1. Macho posturing and macho banter
3.6.2. Tracing homosexuality
3.6.3. Women and home
3.7. Preliminary conclusion

4. Masculinity in montage and mise-en-scène by director David Ayer
4.1. Shooting and framing macho posturing and heroism
4.2. Music and scores between hip-hop and melodrama
4.3. Framing and juxtaposing friendship and marriage
4.4. Setting up “Ayer Land”
4.4.1. A masculine arena
4.4.2. Bonding in mobilized man-caves
4.4.3. Women — “inside” and “outside”
4.4.4. Living in war-zones

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

7. Illustration directory

1. Introduction

Germany, spring of 1945: Among mud, corpses and battle fatigue a battered trio ofAmerican tankers welcome the newest addition to their small crew — a shy and freshlyrecruited boy. After initial intimidation, Grady, arguably the toughest of the three, bites,kisses and chokes the boy, while assuring to “like him” — right before abruptly shovinghim away and calling him “weird” for having allowed Grady to touch him like that. Thisalternative version of the protagonists’ initial meeting found among the additional sceneson the home entertainment of David Ayer’s war film Fury sums up an incongruity thatRaewyn Connell calls the “tension” between patriarchy’s prohibition of homosocialaffection and its tendency to “constantly produce[…] homo-social institutions” in itsattempt to consolidate its power (1995: 85). The new millennium has seen severalnegotiations of this masculine control, yet few films have focussed as much on exactly thiscombination of — or conflict between — the “male ego, attitude andcamaraderie” (Schager 2016) as the works written and directed by David Ayer. A look atarticles on Ayer’s films supports this claim: While many call him a “macho helmer” (Perez2016) — going so far as to accuse him of “single-handedly trying to put the macho backinto the movies” (O'Hehir 2014) —, Ayer is equally often recognized for his “knack fordramatizing the ins and outs of male relationships” (Schager 2016, cf. Singer 2016) and hisinstinctive feel for their intimacy and “social currency” (Axmaker 2006). Thus, Grady’sbehavior is arguably representative for ambivalence of egoistic machismo and homosocialintimacy in his works.

This thesis will review David Ayer’s stories, screenplays and films focussing on masculine camaraderie, homosocial bonding and the relationships of its characters in an attempt to get a deeper sense of the ambivalence between machismo and male-male affection that seems to characterize Ayer’s projects. After laying out a theoretical basis of hegemonic masculinity, male friendship and cinematic masculinity, this thesis will try to channel its findings into a hopefully unified reading of the concepts of masculinity that stories and films by David Ayer tend to perpetuate.

2. Conceptual overview

Before analyzing Ayer’s stories and films a theoretical foundation needs to beestablished outlining the existing theoretical concepts in gender and film. To fully dissectthe complex entanglements of male-male camaraderie and masculinist machismo in Ayer’sfilmography, the following chapters will (A) outline hegemonic masculinity, (B) its conflictwith homosociality, and connect both aspects to their cinematic representation in a deeperlook at (C) masculinity in cinema and (D) buddy constructions in various genres.

2.1. Hegemonic masculinity

In arguably one of the most groundbreaking theorizations of masculinity, Raewyn Connell defines hegemonic masculinity as

the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer tothe problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken toguarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women. […] [T]hemost visible bearers of hegemonic masculinity […] may be exemplars, such as filmactors, or even fantasy figures, such as film characters. (Connell 1995: 77)

In classifying masculinity as “configurations of gender practice” Connell argues inideological succession to Judith Butler, whose thesis on gender as non-binary and acultural, practically performed construction opposite the biological sex founded thebedrock for gender studies and remains largely unquestioned to this day1. According toButler, gender is acquired through enactments of gender — “practice”, as Connell calls it—, which are not a priori masculine or feminine but culturally inscribed with a certaingender. Hence, gender performances are always re enactments of an already establishedand conventionalized gender image, which, in turn, performatively stabilizes this image through complying with it. In essence, gender is “a copy without original”2 (Hißnauer/ Klein 2002: 23). If theorists classify gender, and masculinity specifically, as a “fiction” (23) or “masquerade” (Bord 1995: 13) — a terminology with a strong connotation of deception — they hint on the role of patriarchy behind the construction of hegemonic masculinity. To “legitimize” its authority, which founds on the “overall subordination of women and dominance of men” (Connell 1995: 74), patriarchy separates the sexes by hierarchically structuring and assigning mannerisms and virtues. The most important binaries for this thesis are active—passive, strong—vulnerable, independent— dependent, stoic—emotional, and violently aggressive—gently reserved3.

Hegemonic masculinity is an essentialist concept, which is supposed to define thenatural core of masculinity. At the same time, hegemonic masculinity is a tool of power —not only over women, but men as well — functioning as a normative yardstick anddictating “what men ought to be” (Connell 1995: 70). Connell distinguishes several mostlymarginalized masculinities all subordinated to hegemonic masculinity as the “defaultcategory in patriarchal society” (Benshoff/Griffin 2009: 538, cf. Connell 1995: 77ff):Whereas homosexuality is obviously subordinated for its assimilation to femininity as “therepository of whatever is symbolically expelled from hegemonic masculinity” (Connell1995: 78), men who do not embody the hegemonic ideal are pressured to comply throughconstant performance, if they do not want to be bullied or ostracized. In doing so, these socalled “complicit masculinities” stabilize hegemonic masculinity by acknowledging itsideals and subordinating themselves to them by struggling to “comply” via stockperformances (79f). Among these performances open displays of sexism and machismo arenot only very effective in achieving the masculine ideal, but also the most stronglyestablished confirmations that “men have a natural right to power and domination” (Wood2003: xviii).

However, hegemonic masculinity is anything but a constant. Connell’s definition ofhegemonic masculinity stresses its necessary acceptability in the social present andtherefore its potential fluidity. Social changes, cultural upheavals and public resistancescontinuously question the legitimacy of patriarchy and erode the “bases for the dominanceof a particular masculinity” (Connell 1995: 77). Since the late 1980s, such changes haveled most works in the field of men studies to “agree on one defining parameter:contemporary masculinity is in crisis” (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 1). Reasons for the decline of patriarchy and the traditional image of masculinity are strongly linked to the erosion of themale body as a “site of production” (Bord 1995: 19f): AIDS disrupted the iconography ofthe male body as a signifier of health, virility and strength, while the growing presence andempowerment of women in the traditionally male workplace coincided with theautomation of manual labour. Simultaneously, emerging queer theory and gender studiesthat questioned traditional gender identities fueled anxieties among men “about thestability of traditional notions of masculinity” (Purse 2011: 94f). The traditional image ofthe ideal man as relentless, independent and tough was more and more replaced by a newhegemony, the more sensitive, caring, self-reflecting and emotionally aware New Man (95;cf. Kord/Krimmer 2011: 110). A decade later, 9/11 marked a fresh “feminization” (2) ofhegemonic masculinity and the Western World, both being visually robbed of their myth ofinvincibility. While “such crisis tendencies will always implicate masculinity” they may asoften “provoke attempts to restore a dominant masculinity” (Connell 1995: 84). Theelectoral campaign of Donald Trump — and its success — are only one of the most recentexamples.

2.2. Hegemonic masculinity and homosocial camaraderie

The scrutinization of traditional masculinity through the emergence of the NewMan also underscores varying concepts of male-male friendship. Theoretic works from thebeginning of the 1990s still strongly draw on traditional masculine virtues — mainlyindependence and stoicism — to explain, why men struggle to engage in intimatefriendships: Men “grow up learning to be independent and self-sufficient” and “to want tohave control” (Seidler 1992: 15). Intimacy has been conventionalized as un-masculine —bearing implications of femininity and homosexuality alike — and intimate friendships canbe seen as signs of vulnerability that undermine the essence of masculinity as independent,dominant and tough. These “[t]aboos around self-revelation and expression” (Cohen 1992:115) prevent men especially from showing emotions to other men or asking them forsupport, which amount to giving up control and risking emasculation. Meanwhile, “a newgeneration under the impact of feminism has learned to communicate more openly witheach other” (Seidler 1992: 23). The New Man has learned to confide in and depend onother men and not to interpret intimacy as vulnerability. Stiehler’s empirically grounded study of male-male friendship in 2009 contests that many men named both an emotional foundation and a distinct interdependency as pivotal to their friendships with other men (193f). According to Stiehler, dependency for these men — instead of impairing their selfimage as independent men — confirms their identity (190). Nevertheless, the importance of trust to male-male friendship as the prerequisite of support (192) — and the implied fear of betrayal as the ultimate threat (59) —, still include men’s traditional fear of making themselves vulnerable and therefore open to emasculinization.

Of course, such fear is even more common, where “friendships between men interms of intimacy and emotional support inevitably introduce […] questions abouthomosexuality” (Nardi 1992: 1). This chapter has already stressed how men are taughtearly on to not make themselves vulnerable, and they are likewise taught the culturallyconstructed impropriety of male-male intimacy as threatened by the stain ofhomosexuality. Patriarchy propagates homophobia as means to guarantee its succession,and it is “often the repression of homosexuality on which a successful performance ofnormative, heterosexual masculinity depends” (Bruzzi 2013: 51). In turn, distancingoneself from friendship is for many similar to distancing oneself from homosexuality. In apatriarchal society, “[h]omophobic concerns, growing out of a lifetime of malesocialization, further trap men within narrow, somewhat superficial positions” (Cohen1992: 115). The fact that patriarchy likewise builds on institutions that encourageinteraction and close contact between men (see 1.) leads to the necessity of homosociality as an alternative concept to homosexuality that does not impair hegemonic masculinity:

Traditionally understood as heterosexual male bonding in male-only social environments (such as sports, the military, etc.), the concept of homosociality precludes homosexuality. […] This disunion maintains a normative masculinity regulated by heterosexuality. (Straayer 2001: 117)

No one has questioned this “pertinacious espousal of a distinct separation” morethan Eve Kosofsky-Sedgwick in her book Between Men — English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985), in which she rather “posits a continuum between homosocialityand homosexuality” (Straayer 2001: 117). However, more importantly for a thesis focussedon the interaction of camaraderie and the cult of machismo, she identifies patriarchalinstitutions as places where homosociality is precisely negotiated by homophobia in order to negate that men desire one another sexually (Kosofsky-Sedgwick 1985: 1, cf. Bruzzi 2013: 59). More generally, men in the military, sports teams and fraternities are

encouraged to learn masculine behavior through belonging to and participating inhomosocial groups […]. In these realms, men learn how to embody traditional imagesof masculinity, through conscious and unconscious study and imitation[4…] heavilynegotiated through competition and aggression, since the masculine ideal contradicts“feminine” emotions of love and nurturing that such close relationships might invoke.(Benshoff/Griffin 2009: 540)

According to Stiehler, similar practices also apply to homosocial friendshipsoutside institutions, where traditionally gendered performances and expectations arepivotal to the homosocial enactment of masculinity (Stiehler 2009: 188). Naturally, male-male relationships are primarily based on activities (10)5. Through the expression ofstereotypical masculine virtues such as aggression and competition as well as thecultivation of machismo and the vilifying of homosexuality members homosocial groupstend to guard themselves against the incursions of un-masculine intimacy and intend tobreak the link to the erotic component that Kosofsky-Segdwick coined “male homosocialdesire”. Between this pressure to prove their heteronormative masculinity and the desirefor emotionally deep, intimate, self-confirming friendships (see above), men might behaveas ambivalently as Grady in the introductory example.

2.3. Cinematic masculinity

In her extended definition of hegemonic masculinity, Connell mentions how “theproduction of exemplary masculinities is […] integral to the politics of hegemonicmasculinity” (Connell 1995: 214). Media in general plays an important role in theproduction of these fictive and excessive masculinities and therefore in theconventionalization and stabilization of hegemonic masculinity. In the performative senseof Butler’s theory of gender as performance, media creates gender reality through itspresumed representation.

This is how film, for example, is able to create essentialist and normative standardsof “what is […] manly, and how men and women should ’properly’ react in any givensituation” (Benshoff/Griffin 2009: 447f, cf. Kord/Krimmer 2011: 8). To this day, mostfilms are “decidedly masculine affairs”, not only because central positions in theproduction process are still primarily occupied by men, but also because films “arecentrally concerned with the challenges and dilemmas of masculinity” (Kord/Krimmer2011: 1). While feminist are consequently not afraid to identify Hollywood in particular asa patriarchal tool to “perpetuate dominant ideologies that impact negatively onwomen” (Jacey 2014: 240), nearly all theorists writing on masculinity in film agree oncinema’s potential to construct ideal exemplars of masculinity, of how it should behave and— most importantly for film — how it should look6. Necessarily presenting malecharacters as realistic focalizers, role models and idols to an presumably male audience,which then constantly expects more of the same realism, potentially propels a never endingcircle that solidifies the reality of patriarchal power (Hißnauer/Klein 2002: 31).

The theoretic study of masculinity in film “developed as an afterthought of thefeminist-inspired spectatorship paradigm of the period 1975-85” (Powrie/Davies/Babington 2004: 1, cf. Bruzzi 2013: 7) and therefore builds on the realization of themedium’s power to construct reality. In her groundbreaking essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975), Laura Mulvey identifies that the Hollywood film “manufacturesa masculinized viewer through the ideological apparatus of the camera” (Cohan/Hark1996: 1) — the male gaze. By grounding her theory on the structural, binary relation of anactive, voyueristic, gazing, and intrinsically male spectator and a passive, exhibitionist,intrinsically female, spectacle presented to be gazed at on screen Mulvey essentially“sought to demonstrate the extent to which the psychic mechanisms cinema has basicallyinvolved are profoundly patriarchal” (Neale 1996: 9). While Mulvey’s spectatorial paradigm has been heavily criticized — especially for its binary rationale7 — its separation into active male and passive female touches on uncontested, narrative regimes:Hollywood’s preoccupation with telling stories of men. Narratives of able masculineheroes serve to stabilize hegemonic masculinity — especially, in crisis: “Hollywood films[…] show us the trauma of destabilized masculinity and the triumph of remasculinizationand replay both crisis and triumph in sequel after sequel” (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 226; cf.Purse 2011: 97).

How strongly the “narrative and visual regimes of Hollywood film arise […] fromthe problem of masculine subjectivity in patriarchy” (Cohan/Hark 1996: 2) becomesevident in the shift of filmic masculinities between the 1980s and the 1990s, whichcoincides with the progressing crisis of masculinity that defines masculinity on film to thisday (s. 2.1.). The 1980’s had been dominated by a “muscular cinema” (Tasker 2003: 1) and“hard body” action heroes as signifiers of a potent, masculine virility (Kord/Krimmer2011: 3). Icons like Schwarzenegger and Stallone were only the newest brand in asequence of effective constructions of stylized male heroism, organized inside filmscollective memory to survive centuries of crises as role models for future generations(Connell 1995: 72, Gruteser 2002: 189). Yet, had the rise of the “pumped-up, hyper-muscular body” and its establishing “hysterical” gender practice, bodybuilding, not already“revealed anxieties about its capacity to remain intact and in control” (Purse 2011: 97), theadvent of the sensitive New Man in the 1990’s clearly did. While cinematic masculinityinevitably adapted to the new hegemony, remasculinzation narratives remained the norm.

By the end of the 1990s the construction of masculine heroism and empowermentbecame increasingly challenged, yet, the attack on the World Trade Center sparked similar“anxieties that had been found in the millennial male-hero-in-crisis films of the1990s” (Purse 2011: 109), as 9/11 was experienced by many as an “emasculation” ofAmerica (Falludi 2007: 9). Eager to simultaneously restore the myth of Americaninvincibility and a “Cold War manhood” (4) traditional male heroes conquered moviescreens in narratives of remasculinization. Especially the contemporary success of thesuperhero genre and the resurfacing of violence8 demonstrate once again cinema’sweakness to be instrumentalized as a platform on which overcoming crisis can be staged.As films of the twenty-first century, it will have to be seen whether or not Ayer’s works fit into this trend, but given that his films are regularly accused of presenting their own “brand of cinemacho” (O’Hehir 2014, see 1.), it stands to reason that they do.

2.4. Masculinity, genre and the “buddy formula”

Several genres are linked so dependently to stereotypical gender roles and behaviors that it is nearly impossible to talk about them without also talking about masculinities: On the one hand, especially the western and the action film are populated by “Male White Movie Heroes” , which as the “most sustainable exemplars of masculine attributes” — are necessarily self-sufficient, egocentric, and notoriously alone (Gruteser 2002: 189). Given that these attributes stand in direct opposition to camaraderie, the buddy films’ potential to “negotiate[…] crises of masculine identity” (Fuchs 1996: 195; cf. Feil 2014: 174) is on the other hand not surprising. However, due to their inevitable marginalization of women they are potentially just as much a patriarchal response to the masculine “feeling of lost ground” (King 1999: 164; see 2.1.)9.

Historically, the buddy film emerged as a genre in the late 1960s with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy (Wood 2003: 202,DeAngelis 2014: 6, Fuchs 1996: 195). Of the standards set by these films, Wood identifiesthe male/male relationship as the “emotional center” and “patently what the films are about” (Wood 2003: 204) by denying their characters “any domestic grounding oranchor” (DeAngelis 2014: 9) and narratively putting them on a journey, whose onlyparticular destination is “the death of at least one of the protagonists, required in order topreclude any possibility that the relationship will be ’consummated’” (8). Limited physicalaffection and few emotional conversations further showcase the limits of negotiating crisesof masculine identity through the invalidation of home. By the 1980s buddy films haddisappeared, presumably suppressed by the “hard body” action hero as the exemplar of avictorious hegemonic masculinity, until the comedic bromance reconfigured the buddyfilm. Traditionally populated by sensitive, often socially awkward New Men, bromancesattest shifts in the predominant concept of masculinity and male/male intimacy. In contrastto the buddy films of the 1970s and other genres that center around intimate interaction between men, male protagonists in bromances “are not only permitted but required to talk about their intimacy” (12), occasionally addressing “men’s needs and desires for each other (on non-sexual basis)” (Jacey 2014: 239)10. As Jacey’s comment demonstrates, what remains pivotal to the bromance is the paradox of affirming homosocial intimacy and denying its homoerotic subtext between protagonists (DeAngelis 2014: 1; Fuchs 1996: 194f; Eberwein 2001: 8). Comparable to real life, male-male homosociality in film calls for a constant navigation between intimacy and homophobia that stake off KosofskySedgwick’s continuum of “male homosocial desire” (see 2.2.).

To take into account homosociality in groups and more serious milieus this paperwill not seek a structural analysis of Ayer’s films as belonging to the bromance, the buddyfilm or the “male melodrama”, but rather take the character constellations and emotionalcore of these genres as a trope, Fuchs calls the “buddy formula” (Fuchs 1996: 195; cf.Purse 2011: 134, Jacey 2014: 239). In order to untangle the ambivalence betweenmachismo and homosociality more effectively the following chapters will highlight howboth concepts relate to one another in the specific genres in which Ayer’s stories and filmssituate themselves.

2.4.1. The action-adventure genre

Even though, Steve Neale points out that “there is nothing inherent in the structureand the stereotypes of the adventure film to specify its central protagonists as either maleor female” (Neale 2001: 57), many agree that it is traditionally masculine (Faulstich 2002:39)11. Theorists like Purse even argue that the genre’s tradition as a stage for self-sufficientmen to achieve mythical, masculine heroism through amazing journeys or quests (Benshoff/Griffin 2009: 542, cf. Faulstich 2002: 40) identifies it as “traditionally masculinist, heavily invested in reinforcing dominant constructions of masculinity as active, physically strong, rational and powerful” (Purse 2011: 133). Traditionally, remasculiniation narratives are prominent. The genre’s preoccupation with the muscularbody, its powerful physicality and performance (Tasker 2003: 4, Purse 2011: 2f, Neale2001: 52) offers narrative opportunities to stage these heroic quests as “spectacles ofphysical mastery” and “fantasies of empowerment” (Purse 2011: 45). While such criticalobservations are especially applicable to the action genre of the 1980s, when such aninterplay of victimization and victory directly corresponded to the representation of “hardbody” masculinity “polarised between the spectacular assertion of phallic power and thecorresponding collapse” (97), the modern action genre has adapted its myth of masculineheroism after the 1990s (12). Not only has the action spectacle significantly shifted frombodily muscularity to masterful performances, but contemporary action cinema frequentlyinclude ironic, self-referential comments of its pulp tradition (7ff, Neale 2001: 56).

Next to this “individualist heroism” (Purse 2011: 4), there seems little place forhomosocial intimacy. If the male action hero bonds, he can be assured that his “fightingprowess operates as the guarantee that he is […] a normative, physically powerfulconstruction of heterosexual masculinity” (103), while the stereotypical iconography offacial hair, head artillery, motorized vehicles, combat-wear and gait continues to do so,once obvious hypermasculinity has unmasked the hard body as an anxious performance(140, King 2013: 72). Besides, the modern action genre is “a resolutely hybridform” (Purse 2011: 1) that “encompasse[s] an array of genres and sub-types” (Neale 2001:55; cf. Faulstich 2002: 40f, Kord/Krimmer 2011: 138). Action films that do focus on thehomosocial bonding of men, do not do so due to their association with the action genre —even though Tasker names “extended work-based families/communities” as centralparadigms (2004: 265) —, but with these sub-genres that are concerned with “a strongmale institutional bias” (Wyatt 2001: 52). Primarily, this refers to the police-film and thewar film.

2.4.2. The police-drama

Films that take place in the milieu of law enforcement — regularly called cop-films, police-dramas, or “policers” (Baumgarten 2008) — are a valid sub-category of boththe action-adventure genre and the criminal/detective genre. As such, they frequentlycombine spectacles of physical, masculine empowerment with traditions of the film noir, like the hard-boiled detective and a world rendered inherently corrupt and criminal (Neale2001: 72ff). David Ayer himself suggests that “America is fascinated with cop-movies inthe same way we are fascinated by cowboy movies. […] It’s people […] who exerciseviolence on our behalf” (Street Kings — bonus material, “L.A. Bête Noir”), a link held upby observations between the persona of the Lone Cowboy and the vigilante cop (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 15, King 2013: 68) and of the western’s replacement by the action genre as“Hollywood’s main arena for exhibiting masculine physicality” (Bruzzi 2013: 111, see 2.4.1.). Heroic cops symbolize ideal masculine virtues. Yet, “the modern detective is acompromised cop” (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 13, cf. King 2013: 80). Whereas corruption andviolence are easily utilized to express and hermetically seal hegemonic masculinity in copfilms (King 2013: 69) — often, cops who do not partake in masculine corruption areostracized from the community of police (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 14) —, their highlightedpresence as “manly taints” (King 2013: 72) implements a certain level of crisis into themasculine heroism of the modern police film. In contrast to conventional action films,“[c]op films and detective films find it much harder to reconcile normative masculinity and violence”12 (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 4).

At the same time, many theorists identify intimate bonding between men “at theheart of this genre” (King 1999: 155). As a traditionally homosocial and masculineinstitution, it is only natural that the films about law enforcement are some of the bestexamples of action films that “employ familial metaphors in their staging of intenserelationships between individuals and within groups” (Tasker 2004: 263). It verges oncommon knowledge that cops, the “Brothers in Blue”, form and express a deep communityof work that deserves to be considered an alternative family. As common is the even moreintimate buddy-construction between so called partners. Naturally, such a level of intimacyreintroduces the fear of betrayal and emasculating vulnerability of male/male friendships(see 2.2.) already underscoring these film’s importance of “loyalty and mutualprotection” (Tasker 2004: 263). To render any femininity and homoeroticism allusive,“contemporary cop-buddy movies emphatically heterosexualize their homosocialprotagonists” (Fuchs 1996: 196, cf. King 1999: 156f, 164ff). Comparable to the 1970sbuddy film the genre’s potential for subverting — possibly even queering (King 1999: 177)— masculinity in crisis only goes so far.

2.4.3. The war film

When Chopra-Gant argues that “[l]ife within an almost exclusively maleenvironment was a key feature of military experience“ (2006: 122), “male” arguably refersboth to an over-masculinized milieu and predominant homosocial contact between men.Logically, as another genre that takes place in a violent setting and foregrounds physicalcombat as much as homosocial relationships (Wyatt 2001: 52, Chopra-Gant 2006: 122,Eberwein 2001: 162) — in war, the “Brothers in Blue” become brothers-at-arms —, thewar genre shares many similarities with the police-drama, especially in regard to masculineheroism and homosociality. “The war movie […] quite consciously rehearses how to be theright kind of man under the hardships of battle” (Benshoff/Griffin 2009: 542), whichmeans exactly when to be violent, and when to cry over a fallen friend.

Classically, war films — Saving Private Ryan (1998) being a prime example — areinhabited with stereotypical characters like desk clerks, greenhorn leaders, toughSoutherners, and ideally masculine heroes (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 142, 145). What couldhint on the possibility of differentiating monolithic masculinity into many, is eradicated bythe genre’s self-awareness as an “arena of male maturation” (138). Especially combat films13, which patently feature combat scenes as central in the narrative, offer menopportunities for their physical spectacle of heroic empowerment and — since masculinityin war films is primarily signified by traditionally manly virtues (155) — tests of theircourageous, chivalrous and loyal masculinity (Neale 2001: 125f). Given that endurance ofviolence and ultimate, equally violent victory are naturally inscribed into the war narrative,war films are predestined to tell of remasculinization. However, in contrast to police-dramas, successful war films usually “depict masculinity as essentially intact”14. Here,“violence and masculinity can be reconciled, because aggression serves a nationalpurpose” (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 4). Interestingly, this integrity does not seem to besubverted by the acceptability of traditional men to show emotions in war films. “[M]alecharacters are regularly permitted to weep as a means of expressing their physical and emotional stress and hence their physical and emotional vulnerability” (Neale 2001: 132, cf. Eberwein 2007: 148). Naturally, back home, similar behavior would signify trauma or — in a patriarchal reading — an impaired masculinity.

Given that celebrating homosocial camaraderie and cooperative goals overindividualism are so essential to the war film that it marks those that omit it as atypical(Kord/Krimmer 2011: 151f, cf. Neale 2001: 133), soldier’s “fraternal intimacy mightacquire a homoerotic dimension within the military’s bounded, all-male setting” (Chopra-Gant 2006: 133). Yet, the framework of military culture, where such intimacy is „moreimmediately and comfortably familiar“ (Weinman 2014: 33), seemingly permits men to“behave towards each other in ways that would not be allowed elsewhere, caressing andholding each other, comforting and weeping together, admitting their love” (Easthopequoted in Eberwein 2001, 149)15. While some suggest that the violence of war offers thenecessary punishment and framework (Eberwein 2001: 149; Eberwein 2007, 42), the oftenportrayed difficulty of men to readjust to civilian life offers a reading alternative to traumaof homosociality in military culture as “too successful […] a substitute” for the nuclear,heterosexual family (Chopra-Gant 2006: 122).

2.5. A first look at the intertextual relay and an updated research premise

Being produced after 2000, Ayer’s films are historically of an era, in which anongoing crisis of hegemonic masculinity has sparked a new desire and mode of cinematicheroism (see 2.3.). At the same time, shifts in the social construction of masculinity haveliberated men to practice affectionate, social acceptable relationships with other men — onscreen and in private lives. Yet, the threat of homosexuality remains as much as the publicpressure to perform and enact an independent, powerful masculinity, which any sign ofvulnerability erodes. Hence, male friends and films that develop around the buddy formulaare stuck in the ambivalence this thesis has gone out to untangle, namely “between therepresentational poles of homoeroticism and homophobia, in love with their self-displaysand at odds with their implications” (Fuchs 1996: 195). So far, the machismo enactedespecially in masculine ersatz-families like police and military units (see 2.2.) and depicted in films about them seems the only concept under which both behaviors might be related. Itremains to be seen, if Ayer’s films help to construct this image, yet, it might be preciselywhat critics like Persall (2012) have observed in his film and labeled “machocamaraderie”.

Since all steps in film production affect the construction of masculinity (Hißnauer/Klein 2002: 36), a quick glance at the intertextual relay 16 of Ayer’s stories and films, forwhich the introduction did not offer enough space, should give the raison d ’ê tre of thisthesis further ground. On the level of written discourse, critics regularly assert Ayer“patented macho realism” (Abele 2014) preoccupied with male identity (Axmaker 2006)and “codes of masculine behavior” (Turan 2014, cf. Vishnevetsky 2014, Douglas 2016,Singer 2016, Ebiri 2012) as well as “a natural eye and ear for the ecosystem” of masculineinstitutions, especially its lingo (Singer 2014; Singer 2016; Warman 2014). Related arefrequent remarks of the combination of extreme violence and melodramatic sentimentality(O'Hehir 2014; Phillips 2014). That Ayer “[b]uilt a filmography of similar macho-fueled(and often team-oriented) action-dramas” (Schager 2016) becomes equally visible in themarketing posters: Out of the primary marketing posters (ill.1-7) of the films that thisthesis focusses on (see below) — all taken from the International Movie Database, short IMDb —, only one does not show at least two men (ill.2)17. It is also the only one that doesnot accentuate phallic weaponry, but instead emphasizes its protagonist’s muscles withdeliberate lighting. A look at Ayer’s past reveals similar results: As a former Navy Seal andteenager who grew up with his cousins in South Central Los Angeles (Stein 2006, Stevens2008)18. Ayer has experienced life in milieus alive with machismo and male camaraderie.

Due to the limited scope of this thesis, Ayer’s full filmography cannot be included.This thesis will focus on his debut screenplay Training Day (2001), the crime-drama HarshTimes (2006), the police-dramas Street Kings (2008), End of Watch (2012) and Sabotage (2014) and the war film Fury (2014)19. In need of a solid structure, this paper will split Ayer’s filmography and analyze his stories and films in two separate parts. The first part will solely examine stories and screenplays by writer Ayer, specifically characterization of individuals and groups, group behavior, developments and narrative patterns, before focussing on recurring aspects of masculinity, heroism, and homosociality. The second part will confront the results of the first with Ayer’s style as director in search of contradictions and support20. In theory, this will answer the question what a deliberate perspective on the buddy formula in his films reveals about their concepts of masculinity.

3. Homosocial, masculine relationships in stories by writer David Ayer

This part will analyze character constellations and narrative in stories written byDavid Ayer. On the level of their intertextual relay, the term “buddy” has been linked toAyer’s first three films, even though with different inclinations: Whereas Training Day isarguably a “buddy cop marriage gone wrong” (Mitchell 2001, cf. Klimek 2014) and HarshTimes a similarly depiction of a destructive male-male bond (Holden 2006), End of Watch is “a pious cop bromance” (Bradshaw 2012, cf. Ebert 2012, Morris 2012, O’Sullivan 2012,Lumenick 2012). In contrast, the groups Sabotage and Fury have been labeled as families,and “dysfunctional families” in particular (Rooney 2014, Crook 2014, Turan 2014)21.

Whereas such constellations alone often hint suggested readings and ideological underpinnings (Faulstich 2002: 96), an analysis of the narrative structure is essential: “Handlungsstrukturierung heißt Bedeutungsgenerierung” (82). This part will focus on, how concepts of homosociality embedded in character constellations and masculine heroism embedded in the action genre interact and relate on a narrative level.

3.1. Subordination in Training Day

The character constellation in Training Day is very formulaic in its “overtantithetical confrontation between a character representing good or innocence and acharacter representing evil” (Derry quoted in Neale 2001: 83), which translates directly tothe character’s masculinities. Detective Alonzo Harris not only represents evil but as a self-confident alpha-male also a traditional masculinity that believes itself superior. Visuallyestablished through his attire, jewelry22 and ride usually associated with hip-hop culture(Mitchell 2001), critics and director Fuqua have referred to him as a “gangsta cop” (Dargis2001, audio-commentary: 0:05:11), hinting on a masculinity that relies on iconography andposturing. Regularly, Alonzo uses his guns — in this case of conventionalized symbolism, two guns translates to an increased masculine potency — to intimidate rather than shoot(0:29:15). His self-characterization as a lone “wolf” (0:32:16) not only links to Mitchell's(2001) label of the “predator”, but more importantly to the cinematic archetype of themasculine Lone Hero (s. 2.2). This is Alonzo’s image of himself. That he “believes in hisown myth” (audio-commentary: 0:45:08) primarily refers to the myth of an invincible,omnipotent, superior masculinity. He neither locks his car, believing nobody will steal itfrom him (0:08:05), nor takes cover when engaging in a shoot-out with numerous gangmembers, but engages them furiously, believing not to be able to get hit (0:45:08). At thesame time, he expresses his role as powerful patriarch by subordinating any body else —be it women or other men, like Jake Hoyt, who Alonzo takes under his wing for the courseof the film. Whereas calling Jake “my nigga” or “my dawg” might ring with some sort ofaffection (audio-commentary: 0:09:50), the inclination of subordination is striking. Firstand foremost, Alonzo “thinks of himself as the master of all” (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 23). by occasionally wearing a similar chain (1:07:53), so are the film’s main villain Coates (1:20:26), played by hip-hop artist Common, and Deadshot in Suicide Squad (0:08:55).


1Hißnauer and Klein remark that Dorothee Bierhoff-Altmann published similar theses two years prior to Butler’s groundbreaking Gender Trouble. As early as 1989, Bierhoff-Altmann argues for a separation of gender and sex, with gender being a non-binary, social construction (Hißnauer/Klein 2002: 21).

2 own translation from “eine Kopie ohne Original”.

3 Hißnauer and Klein provide the most extensive list of gendered virtues (2002: 26). Additionally, it has to be stressed that these binaries are only valid from a Western standpoint. Notions of gender may strongly differ in time and culture and always change historically and culturally. Yet, Hißnauer and Klein also stress that stereotypical concepts of binary gender roles and behaviors stay considerably stable in intercultural and historical comparison (25).

4 This theory links to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic approach in On Narcissism. According to Freud, “homosociality reinforces manliness by providing manly role models as ego ideals” (Straayer 2001: 117). In detail, “young men mirror each other’s dress, speech, manner, and philosophy. Theirs is a masculine intimacy characterized by narcissistic mimicry” (Troyer/Marchiselli 2005: 266).

5 Based on this empirical observation, Paul H. Wright coined the term “side-by-side” relationships for male- male homosociality in opposition to “face-to-face” relationships between women (Stiehler 2009: 10; cf. Nardi 1992: 5, Seidler 1992: 17, Cohen 1992: 116).

6 In Hollywood film, to be a “real man” often equates looking like one — preferably tall and broad —, which signifies power, strength and virility (Kord/Krimmer 2011: 6, cf. Lehman 1993: 89).

7 With the emergence of gender studies, Mulvey’s text was mainly challenged for its uncontested assumption of one monolithic masculinity as the “structuring norm” (Neale 1996: 9, cf. Bruzzi 2013: 25). Among themost notable theoretical answers are Anne Kaplan’s “Is the Gaze Male?” (1983) and Steve Neale’s“Masculinity and Spectacle” (1993). While Kaplan contests that the gaze is not literally male, but “to ownand activate the gaze […] is to be in the ’masculine’ position” (Kaplan quoted in Bruzzi 2013: 7), SteveNeale’s essay asks how the masculine body on screen must be stylized in order to qualify as spectacle. Yet,while many works on masculinity in film might still be “almost exclusively indebted to Laura Mulvey” andher binary paradigm between gaze and spectacle (Bruzzi 2013: 6), this thesis has to sideline a more thoroughdiscussion of the male gaze for spatial reasons. It will, however, resurface in chapter 4.

8 Kord and Krimmer use the success of the Stallone-helmed The Expandables as an indicator for calls for the return of “violent àdventure’ movies such as the Rambo series” (2011: 227), that rings to Faludi’s observation of an emerging “John Wayne masculinity” after 9/11 (Faludi 2007: 4).

9 Many “critics have claimed that the buddy film represent[s] a backlash against feminism and the women’s liberation movement” (DeAngelis 2014: 8; cf. Wood 2003: 202; Eberwein 2007: 150f).

10 This increased emotionality leads to DeAngelis’ coinage of the alternative term “male melodrama”, as representative for films from several genres, that “have accommodated or relied upon the development of close internal relationships” between men (2014: 5).

11 The action film has taken up the role of a masculine arena, “especially after the demise and reconfiguration of the western” (Bruzzi 2013: 111). In contrast, melodramas are traditionally focussed on female, often passive character’s and are constituted by an emotionality usually associated with femininity (Faulstich 2002: 35). However, this binary opposition is very rigid, since the action genre relies likewise on the presentation of spectacle and heightened emotions in emotionally gripping situations (37).

12 Arguably, this is partly due to the public discussion of police violence sparked after the brutal assault of Rodney King in the early 1990s.

13 If war films necessarily need to depict war or just deal with with war — for example, its aftermath and trauma — is still an ongoing discussing, sparking several sub-genres like combat films, antiwar films or home front dramas (Neale 2001: 125f).

14 For war films that showcase World War I or World War II another given is the hero’s moral righteousness. For many who hence call them “good” wars — World War II being the last of them —, the male soldiers whofought in them necessarily had to be “good” men, which reaches further then their mere moral integrity.

15 Reviews of war films from the 1940s suggest that affection and sentimentality towards buddies can in fact be “manly” attributes (Eberwein 2007: 44).

16 Originally phrased by Gregory Luck and Steven Ricci Steve Neale conventionalized the term referring to the film industry’s discourse that “define[s] and circulate[s] narrative images for individual films, beginningthe immediate narrative process of expectation and anticipation” (Neale 1995: 162f, cf. Neale 2001: 39). Itconsists of advertising, interviews, posters, trailers, stills, reviews, press-conferences, film title, and castingchoices. Even though originally applied to establish the narrative image of films and genres, there is noreason, why it should not by applied to those artists that have showed a certain “knack” (see 1.).

17 An alternative poster, also taken from IMBb, features both male protagonists (ill.8).

18 Naturally, this thesis is neither concerned with Ayer’s intentions as writer or filmmaker, nor indulges in the adoration of his creative genius. Nevertheless, especially a writer’s “subjective value system” defines the writing of male characters, their masculinity and identity (Jacey 2014: 241). Therefore, Ayer’s biography is merely an important means to a more precise understanding of his films (Faulstich 2002: 184).

19 Besides, Ayer has collaborated on the screenplays of U-571 (2000), The Fast and the Furious (2001), Dark Blue (2002), and S.W.A.T. (2003), which are all sidelined, because the level of Ayer’s creative inputcannot be precisely determined. Suicide Squad (2016) is left out for similar reason. While Ayer wrote anddirected the film, critics have noted that “for reasons beyond Ayer’s control, he’s beholden to the corporatevision of other reddest DC adaptations” (Debruge 2016). Said creative and economic pressure of theproduction studio — especially for a potential franchise film — necessarily confines the construction ofmasculinity (Hißnauer/Klein 2002: 37f), arguably to the expected, genre typical limits of male superheroism.However, all of these films might be occasionally drawn on to support points assuming that similarities linkthem to masculine tendencies in Ayer’s other films, yet not to invalidate the argument.

20 Admittedly, it is very difficult to separate what was creatively conceived in a screenplay, what in a story and what in direction. Scripts of writer-directors especially might already be set-pieces with camera directions in mind, and as often they are only sketches that focus on dialogue (Faulstich 2002: 61). Besides, Ayer is known to only rely loosely on scripts, encourage improvisation and do last-minute write-ups. That is why part one is precisely concerned with Ayer’s stories in general, instead of his screenplays. The split between narrative level and aesthetic level seems the vaguest possible. Yet, it cannot be avoided that characterizations in the first part will include aspects like make-up, costumes and props. Anything else of the misé-en-scene, however, like lighting, camera and framing, will be left for part two.

21 Of Ayer’s other films, S.W.A.T., Suicide Squad, Street Kings and The Fast and the Furious could be included in this group of films. Even though the latest is rightfully attested a deep emotional core between the two main characters (LaSalle 2001), it presents a group of friends as family resolving around Vin Diesel’s character Dominic Toretto as their “paternal overlord” (Wloszczyna 2001). The same could be said about Forrest Whitaker’s character Wander in Street Kings, which partly is about, as Ayer says in the audio commentary, “breaking free from a dysfunctional, or abusive family” (0:11:05).

22 Jack Warner, Forrest Withaker’s patriarchal alpa-male character in Street Kings is similarly characterized

Excerpt out of 80 pages


Concepts of Masculine Camaraderie in Films and Screenplays by David Ayer
Male Families, Friendships and Brotherhood
University of Cologne  (Englisches Seminar)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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David Ayer, Film, Männlichkeit, Gender Studies, Homosexualität, Kriegsfilme
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Matthias Kreuter (Author), 2017, Concepts of Masculine Camaraderie in Films and Screenplays by David Ayer, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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