From Wimps to Wild Men: Bipolar Masculinity and the Paradoxical Performances of Tom Cruise

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This article examines the performative and paradoxical relationship between masculine opposites—hard and soft, hypermasculinity and hypomasculinity—as presented through the figures of the Wild Man and Wimp. Rather than shifting from hard to soft at different historical moments, as has been argued by scholars such as Susan Jeffords, Fred Pfeil, as well as poet and activist Robert Bly, the article suggests that masculinity is bipolar, simultaneously exhibiting hard and soft modes. Tom Cruise offers a particularly indicative example, moving between hard and soft, Wild Man and Wimp, both on-screen and offscreen. In Magnolia, Cruise’s movement from Frank T.J. Mackey’s manic misogyny to Jack’s emotional hysteria at his father’s bedside presents masculinity as a performance, extending past the cinematic stage to his televisual performances to Oprah, Jay Leno, and Matt Lauer. Cruise offers a clear example where movement too far in either direction can undermine the male ‘‘norm,’’ yet underscores the bipolar nature of masculinity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-254
Number of pages23
JournalMen and Masculinities
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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