“Feminine and Marvelous and Tough”

May 5, 2011

The above is a quote from a Frank O’Hara poem and feel free to pause here and go read some Frank O’Hara because he’s the American poet of the twentieth century, no argument, but anyway: I came across the phrase and it clicked with idle thinking about what I’ll call “Peacock Masculinity”.  Houdini is one example of this: the spectacle of the male body and what it can perform.  A more recent example, though, is the royal wedding, with dress military uniforms that are a throwback to the 19th century when part of masculine pride was showing off in a decorative way.  (I would argue that this “showing off” has shifted last century from adornment to the male body itself, e.g. a Guess ad or something where the guy is barely even wearing any clothes but is oiled up and has abs of steel etc.)

I’m kind of fond of peacock masculinity precisely because of the decorative nature of it, and the way it speaks less to the corporeal than to the social: stature and position.  Of course we still have this with men with designer suits and watches etc. but the deal with that is that there’s no real haute couture for men; a business suit is a business suit and it’s a matter of craftsmanship and label vs. exterior appearance.  Which is why the royal wedding, otherwise sort of a tacky exercise in excess, was great as a peacock display, because with Prince William and those little kids especially, you could spot those people a mile away, figuratively.  Which is the entire point.  From looking at pictures though you don’t get the idea that those uniforms are all that comfortable, a rare occasion where it’s mens’ turn to suffer for fashion.

What’s at root here is the link between power and display.  The bolder and more ornate the display, the greater the signifier of power (and wealth and social status).  Decoration equals masculine supremacy, which is not an equation you often get in 2011.  There was even a dustup in the UK over the uniform because it’s not from the branch Willsy serves in (it’s Army and he’s Air Force) though it’s his highest-ranking honorary title.  So this stuff still even means something to people with representation deflected back into the safe ground of the military where masculine is taken for granted and it’s only the expression of such that is up for grabs.

Anyway, don’t they look feminine and marvelous and tough?

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