Considering Protected Masculinity


The caption posted attached to this photo reads “Tilden Hooper stops by the Monte Carlo to take yet another shower before he heads off to the rodeo!”.

The photo comes across as awkward and staged. Why? Because the guy is fully clothed. The image is obviously supposed to be a quick publicity photo to stick on Facebook, but why is this guy in the shower fully clothed, from hat to boots? I don’t expect to see him naked, as that violates certain cultural norms, but why is he so completely covered? Isn’t also the concept of showering while clothed a violation of cultural norms?

My personal assessment of the photo leads me to believe that he is remaining clothed as a hyper-masculine display. To appear unclothed would be to expose a vulnerability, or to appear less masculine in a public situation. I think back on some of the discourse I’ve experienced in Transnational Feminism this semester and realize that there are components of culture that are completely contrary to itself. Culturally we look upon people who are veiled as being a threat, they have something to hide or must somehow mean us harm, but yet this individual in the photograph is exposing about the equivalent amount of flesh (by the time you consider the sunglasses), but yet we are supposed to accept this photograph as entirely normal? Men cover themselves in Western culture more than women do. I suppose its opposite to some other cultures in the world, perhaps women being veiled is a threat to our standards for the visibility of women for their objectification, but in our culture we protect men from the same type of objectification?

This photograph would seem less awkward to me if he were standing outside the shower in a position ready to begin undressing, but by being in the shower area fully clothed the meaning of the photo changes. He is essentially veiled, showing a masculine modesty, which allows him to keep all of his masculine power or the illusion of power (belt buckle + hat + boots = status symbols).

Now, for my artistic critique. Bathrooms and showers are very awkward places for photographs. A subject is expected to be somewhat vulnerable, but it is up to the photographer to paint the frame in such a way that the suggestion of objectification is limited. If I were setting up this photograph I may have had the guy outside the shower, hunched down to remove his boot while looking at the camera (engagement of the eyes limits objectification), or I would have perhaps made the photo with him in the shower with his shirt off, with a towel around his neck. The lower half of the body would be covered, but there would be adequate vulnerability to cut the awkwardness of the frame and add a value of humor to the frame. Alternatively, use the frame as it is, minus the sunglasses, and add running water. It becomes a critique of cultural expectations, while also calling into question the defense of masculinity through being so veiled. Also that framing would be humorous in content, which tends to break the feeling of exposure during a private act.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much discourse of masculinity and thinking too much about Transnational Feminism, but this photo just popped out at me as being “wrong” (not morally, just artistically).

Posted from Bessemer City, North Carolina, United States.