Monday, 2 September 2013

Marginalisation and Masculinity; colonial ordering of masculinity in Harold and Kumar go to white castle (2004) part V

Emasculation and deviance in Harold and Kumar Harold and Kumar (2004) can be classified as an ‘adventure comedy movie’. While going on a ‘quest’ to get to a restaurant Harold and Kumar land into different absurd and comical situations. The movie plays with masculinity stereotypes and exaggerates them, however, at the same time confirms them in subtle manners. The protagonists of the movie are Harold and Kumar, two ‘Asian’ (Korean and Indian) males. However the movie begins with two white and ‘successful’ males proclaiming their heterosexuality by explicit sexist ‘statements’. The beginning gives the intention that they are the protagonist of the story. The men are the personification of the male, white, highly educated middle-class and strong hegemonic domination. The two men delegate their work to Harold a colleague. Harold is portrait in a manner which confirms his subordination. Frame 1 illustrates the two man authority over Harold; by standing over him and giving him no room to negotiate. Harold is portrayed seated completely overwhelmed and suppressed by the men. Harold as an analyst in a big American firm is pictured as a nerd lacking a backbone, in comparison to the two assertive and apparently sociable males. The mere dominated force of the men makes Harold comply and agree to do the work of the males to ensure the ‘status’[1] position within the company (Leiner, 2004). image Frame 1: Encountering Hegemony (Leiner, 2004) “The one-dimensional model of masculinity” (2001, p. 25) is what Chan calls the exclusion of Asian-masculinities from the normative which denies Asian males access to creating an Asian masculine identity within the norm. The emasculation through desexualisation and effeminisation is a testament to the power the hegemonic masculinity ideal has in society. The dualism present in the movie keeps the emasculation of the marginal masculinities in place (Watson, 2009). Kumar on the other hand is portrayed in hypersexual, immature and deviant manner. The viewer is introduced to Kumar standing naked in front of a mirror in Harold’s room. The masculinity Kumar presents is emasculated through being portrait as sexual deviant, immature adolescent and hyper sexualized, because Kumar’s masculinity is portrayed and represented as immature Kumar is represented as subjugated to the maturity other two men. Desexualisation, Effeminisation & Homosexualisation in action In the movie Harold is portrayed as a man who finds it difficult to talk to women, he is very emotive and anxious. Harold’s favourite movie is Sixteen Candles (Hughes, 1984), a chick flick for which he is criticised and his manhood questioned. Harold becomes associated with a more effeminate marginalised masculinity, which is linked to his ethnicity by several scenes. image Frame 2: Encountering Hegemony (Leiner, 2004) First, when Harold and Kumar are harassed by some ‘extreme sportsmen’ (embodying the action oriented and braveness associated by the hegemonic masculine ideal) his sexuality and manliness is questioned at the same time. They address Harold and Kumar in derogative racial terms then continue to ask about homosexual practices. Picture 2 exhibits the gestures made which are derogative to lesbianism. So not only are they effeminized but also attributed lesbian qualities. The ‘extreme sport males’ in the scene are very aggressive and assertive. The muscular physique and size of the men is contrasted with Harold and Kumar. Whereas Harold and Kumar wear several layers of clothing, the ‘extreme sport men’ wear shirts displaying their muscles. Harold is seen wearing a very neat (and what is classified as nerdy) blouse and sports jacket with Kumar in a more juvenile outfit of that of a high schooler in a comical t-shirt and sneakers (see frame 2). The image enforces the stereotyped depictions in popular of Asian Masculinities. Second, when being halted by a policeman Kumar takes on the role of his defender, exclaiming outrage over the policeman trying to harass the weak, emotional Asian guy. The policeman again exemplifies ‘white’ masculine authority. The emasculation of ‘Asian’ stereotypes emphasises the lacking aspects of the males to ensure the superiority of hegemonic masculinity (Eng, 2001). When the policeman criticises Kumar’s name, Harold in an aim to please/gain acceptance emphasised his Anglophone name. The response of the policeman; “You should be proud of that name. As you were ladies” (Leiner, 2004). During their road trip Harold and Kumar end up in Princeton where the protagonists meet up with the Asian American community of the university, see picture three. The men Harold and Kumar meet have the same stereotypical portrayal of ‘Asian’ masculinity as Harold (Leiner, 2004). The group sees Harold as a role model, a person who has it ‘made’ in the corporate world. The nerdy-ness becomes equal to a physical and mental weakness. In Harold and Kumar (2004) the director gives us a glimpse behind the projected masculinity. However the drive of the ‘Asian’ men to conform to the stereotype fails to deconstruct the stereotype. image Frame 3: An Asian Masculinity Stereotype (Leiner, 2004) Harold in the movie has a love interest with whom he fails to pursue. To talk to ‘Maria’ is already very awkward and difficult for Harold. Harold in a way admires Maria from afar without even really being able to pursue her. In the end when he finally admits his interest to Maria she is on the way to the Airport going to Europe. Harold remarks that he will see her afterwards and wishes her a good trip. When Harold relays this to Kumar, he is horrified and exclaims “we cannot compete with these suave sophisticated guys, when she comes back she might not even be available” (Leiner, 2004), questioning their conception of competing with (what they see as) a hegemonic masculinity. Again the Asian male is not portrayed actually pursuing and getting his love interest. Harold is not only questioned about his masculinity. When Harold and Kumar meet the ‘extreme males’ again in a convenience store Kumar tries to stand up against the men but fails when he flinches at the men’s approach. Kumar in contrary to Harold is portrayed as a sexual deviant and immature (Leiner, 2004). His view on sexuality is very different from the norm and almost homosexual at times. Kumar the second protagonist in the movie is posed as a hypersexual and unable to control himself sexually but also in his everyday life he has no control. Kumar prefers his want above what he ‘should’ do to ‘become a real man’. In the movie Kumar finds himself the respondent of homosexual interest a few times. Harold and Kumar end up in the Hospital and the male nurse who is helping them makes very clear advances toward Kumar, who fetishizes Kumar’s sexuality when Kumar acts very capable and comes out of his ‘slacker’ role (Leiner, 2004), destroying the opportunity of Kumar to shed of the Asian masculine identity entrenched with colonial context. image Frame 4: Homoerotic fetish (Leiner, 2004) Kumar’s sexual deviance is highlighted another time when the two protagonists end up with a Southern couple. The wife is very interested in Harold and Kumar. The woman eroticises and mystifies the men. This idea of the married woman ‘seducing’ the oriental has been a traditional subject in fiction and orientalist literature for a long time (Said, 1979). Harold and Kumar go to White Castle (2004) reaffirms these stereotypical ideas. The relationship of Harold and Kumar is also very important to address. The way they act with each other can be described as homosocial or homoerotic. The co-dependence or homosocial relationship is based on a role division that simulates an ‘old married couple’. The line between homosocial and homosexual is crossed several times. When Kumar is standing naked in Harold room or waking up Harold by licking him awake, as displayed in the picture below. image Frame 5: Homosocial of Homosexual (Leiner, 2004) Harold and Kumar may be one of the few mainstream Hollywood movies that display two Asian males in the leading role. However this destroys any attempt in the movie for the men to access identity formation power and undermines their masculinity
[1] Status referred to the role Harold plays within the company to claim a piece of status in the company but also with other males as an aspiration of normativity.

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