Date of Award
Master of Arts
This thesis discusses the influence of consumption on masculinity beginning in the early modern period of the English Restoration through the twenty-first century. Specifically, this thesis investigates the male figures known as the gallant, the fop and the metrosexual, which are found in the Renaissance, Restoration and twenty-first century respectively. Each figure embodied his society's fears about the effect of consumerism on masculinity by openly wearing sumptuous clothing and practicing "effeminate" behavior. A product of the developing early consumer society, the gallant of the Renaissance was widely and harshly chastised for his dress and behavior. Because mass consumerism was so new in the early modern period, the gallant was able to utilize consumption to express social dissidence and to defy class and gender. Writers such as Thomas Dekker, Philip Stubbes and Barnabe Riche rejected the gallant, but their rejection only served to fuel his subversive behavior. The fop built upon the foundation laid by the gallant and found wider acceptance in the Restoration despite the fact he was still mocked by Restoration society. The fop embodied the specific changes in consumption in the Restoration such as a greater influx of international trade through an excessive adoption of French dress and behavior. I first define the fop through George Etherege's Man of Mode. Then, by comparing William Wycherley's The Country Wife to William Shakespeare's All's Well that End's Well, I distinguish the fop's reception in the Restoration from the gallant's in the Renaissance. The metrosexual was the culmination of the impact of five hundred years of consumerism upon masculinity, and as such did not face rejection by society. Instead, metrosexuality embodies the pervasiveness of consumer-mediated masculinity in the twenty-first century. While some members of contemporary society still struggle to recognize the performative nature of gender identity, instead choosing to cling to the notion that masculinity is in "crisis," the metrosexual openly embraces gender performativity by consuming different products in order to maintain his male gender identity. As a result of metrosexuality masculinity is subsumed under consumerism and all forms of male identity become products to be purchased at will. Chuck Palahniuk tries to envision a world wherein consumerism no longer has any influence over masculinity in Fight Club, but he is ultimately unable to break masculinity away from consumerism because of the powerful bond that had been formed over a half a millennia. Ultimately masculinity is found to be dependent upon consumption, and the days when the male identity could exist apart from consumerism have long since departed. The gallant, the fop and the metrosexual each faced individual challenges, but in the end demonstrate the unbreakable and subversive bond between consumerism and masculinity.
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