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Man-of-Action Heroes: The Pursuit of Heroic

Masculinity in Everyday Consumption

We develop a model describing how certain American men, those men who have
been described as emasculated by recent socioeconomic changes, construct them-
selves as masculine through their everyday consumption. We find that American
mass culture idealizes the man-of-action hero—an idealized model of manhood
that resolves the inherent weaknesses in two other prominent models (the bread-
winner and the rebel). The men we studied drew from this three-part dis-
course—what we call the ideology of heroic masculinity—to construct themselves
in dramatic fashion as man-of-action heroes. In addition, we show that these men
pursue heroic masculinity in very different ways, depending on their social class

A merican public opinion takes for granted that men
strive to prove their manhood through compensatory
consumption, using whatever symbolic props are available.
using commodities to act out their emancipatory fantasies,
men could symbolically rebel against identities tied to work
and to family.
No man riding a Harley, hunting wild game, or brandishing Elaborating on this view, leading men’s studies scholar
a body-by-Soloflex physique is above suspicion that he is Michael Kimmel (1996) contends that American ideologies
on a quest to compensate for insecurities about his mas- of masculinity throughout the twentieth century have been
culinity. When public intellectuals and gender theorists an- highly conflicted, leading many men to experience pervasive
alyze how men pursue masculine identities through con- anxieties over their manhood. Kimmel traces this conflict
sumption, their explanations often parallel these popular to a historical incompatibility between the American ideal
understandings. We refer to these arguments as the com- of the self-made man and the more dependent conditions of
pensatory consumption thesis. wage earning fostered by industrialization and bureaucra-
According to this thesis, major socioeconomic changes cies. In his version of compensatory consumption, Kimmel
have threatened the masculine identities of many men. Jobs highlights that the romanticization of the American West
in certain industry sectors have become more routinized and and the glorification of the American cowboy arose during
less secure, while, at the same time, women have gained the fin de siècle, in close conjunction with growing cultural
more independence as they have entered the work force. anxieties about a loss of vitality, independence, and virile
Men who have suffered pangs of emasculation in this new manliness among middle-class men.
environment have sought to symbolically reaffirm their Lee Mitchell (1996, p. 26) advances a similar argument
status as real men through compensatory consumption. In in his comprehensive history of the Western in literature
The Hearts of Men (1983), one of the most influential ex- and film: “a growing middle class veneration of efficiency,
amples of this line of argument, Barbara Ehrenreich charts bureaucracy, and professionalization could have only con-
the dominance of the ideology of the breadwinner in postwar tributed to the enthusiasm with which Wister’s The Virgi-
America and the contradictions that many men experienced nian and Potter’s The Great Train Robbery were received.
as participation in corporate bureaucracies reduced them to Frederick Taylor’s efficiency experts were introducing more
“mere earning mechanisms” (p. 6). According to Ehrenreich, elaborate techniques of working supervision just as the cow-
these men turned to consumption for relief from the pres- boy appeared to show that work need not be closely mon-
sured bureaucratic conformity of the breadwinner role. By
itored. In stark contrast to the situation most Americans
knew, the cowboy represented a throwback to the idea of
*Douglas B. Holt is L’Oreal Professor of Marketing at the University
of Oxford, Park End Street, Oxford OX1 1HP UK (doug.holt@sbs.ox precorporate capitalist structure.” Craig J. Thompson is Churchill Professor of Marketing at the From this perspective, the mythologized cowboy (along
University of Wisconsin—Madison, 975 University Ave, Madison, WI with other historically contemporaneous masculine icons
53706 ( The authors thank the two editors, the such as the adventurer and the big game hunter) exemplified
associate editor, and the reviewers for their constructive comments.
masculine ideals that appeared to be under threat as middle-

䉷 2004 by JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH, Inc. ● Vol. 31 ● September 2004
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engineering) are most susceptible. consumption of dime novels among American working class of the late On the other hand. offices. and 2 in the lower tier of professions that have increasingly come under market Our approach is informed by Michael Denning’s (1987) study of the pressures (law. men who work in professions for ing among a group of small-town women. By supporting their families and con- dependence now compensate for their resulting masculine forming to the bureaucratic mandates of a corporate econ- anxieties and unfulfilled yearnings through consumption and omy. who lived outside the confines of cities. in their study of the mountain man rendezvous.2 Masculine ideologies—tacit The compensatory consumption thesis suggests that men who work in nonexecutive positions in larger companies. domesticity. at work have shrunk. Men use the plasticity of consumer tory consumption is the implicit theory for why these men identity construction to forge atavistic masculine identities are such enthusiastic riders: “Liberation from what? The based upon an imagined life of self-reliant. . authority. Rather. rebel. projects. Accordingly. and work tion from confinement. upper-middle-class men in elite occupations who have nineteenth century. men of the consumption of romance among the American middle class. risk. In other words. 221). according to the authors). where they have more personal autonomy from the constraints of polite society degrees of freedom to shroud themselves in the symbolic akin to the idealized frontiersman of the West. men whose work lives as follows: America’s predominant masculine ideal is bread- are structured by conditions of hierarchy and organizational winner masculinity. As possibilities to achieve breadwinner masculinity the autonomy of the open road. medicine. of civilization. an adventurous spirit. . cloaks of autonomy. pp. As we interviewed men in their homes and studied the schedules. Sherry et al. role. is highly inant mythology” in these fantasy retreats “is that of rugged. and man-of-action hero—together kindred spirits” (Belk and Costa 1998. p. men earn respect in social hierarchies. men experience a sense of liberation and their identity work into consumption. accounting. we find that men use in these retreats are taking flight from the alienating cir- these two masculine ideals to produce pleasurable dramatic cumstances of their jobs (a four-letter word among the tensions. Schouten and McAlexander (1995. and most of all. Echoing these ideas. we find that the resolution of their internal group. The men we interviewed draw upon this ideology tury mountain men and its romanticized ideals of personal to continually craft themselves as American heroes on a autonomy. masculine individualism among a community of els—breadwinner. the researcher examines the mutually consti- forces. men reenact the life of nineteenth-cen. role and a fantasy of autonomy that is experienced through consumption. 1 We have developed this alternative account by analyzing While all of these theorists view the hypothesized emasculating pro- cesses as a powerful social force influencing the consumer lives of many masculine identity construction as it moves through two mo- American men. In these form what we call the American ideology of heroic mas- patriarchal pageants. like any social ments of cultural production—mass culture discourse and force. we their various working and family situations. the effects are partial and differentially distributed across society. displays of physical prowess. model portrays men as trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle 52). When riding these domi. everyday consumption practice. Further. (2001) contend that taking. between the emasculating constraints of the breadwinner Similarly. The flight so valuable” (Schouten and McAlexander 1995. personal freedom by Schouten and thesis. families. They report that “the dom- tensions. via the ideal of the man-of-action hero. McAlexander. role produces an identity crisis that men have tried to resolve The compensatory consumption thesis can be summarized through consumption. p. and men who tutive roles of the discursive construction of identities in mass culture texts work in small local businesses that are relatively free of global economic and the socially situated consumption practices in which people in partic- pressures are all less likely to feel pressured to compensate for lacking ular class positions interpret and use these discourses in their identity masculinity in their consumption.426 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH class men assumed the mantle of a more domesticated bread. lauded in American culture. corporate mode of masculinity—variously termed authentic sumption are consistent with the compensatory consumption masculinity by Kimmel. and freedom from the constraints scale that is attainable in everyday life. in the service industries. Breadwinner leisure (see also Rotundo 1993). a high ESPN Sport Zone (a themed restaurant and sports bar chain) degree of personal autonomy. men have invested more and more of neering machines. 52–55) de. . and the modern breadwinner winner: rugged individualism. policemen. and relationships) that may characterize representations of masculinity advanced in mass culture. and Eva Illouz’s (1997) account which heroism is a central value (military.1 masculinity superseded a presumably more satisfying pre- Consumer research studies that touch on masculine con. In each in skilled artisanal trades that have been sheltered from rationalizing market of these influential studies. men in high-level jobs in the creative professions. culinity. premodern men Harley-Davidson motorcycle/eagle/steed stands for libera. Kimmel (1996) appeals to men in large part because it creates a hedonic and Mitchell (1996) both hypothesize that the gap between playpen that allows men to escape from the serious respon- this atavistic ideal masculinity and the modern breadwinner sibilities of the breadwinner role. . For bikers the Harley is the antithesis bureaucracies. For the came to believe that the compensatory consumption thesis biker it is the reality of confinement that makes the myth fails to capture some of the most powerful masculine iden- of liberation so seductive and the temporary experience of tifications that men forge through their consumption. and firemen). of all the sources of confinement (including cars. Rather than an identity crisis driving a con- Belk and Costa (1998) suggest that the men who participate stant quest for autonomous rebellion. and rugged individualism by Belk and scribe how the burgeoning community of mainstream Harley Costa—that has retained plenty of currency in American riders construct themselves as rebellious men who live for culture. Compensa. none view these effects as universal. self-reliance. These three masculinity mod- raucous. Janice Radway’s (1984) study of romance novel read- much more autonomy and responsibility.

deter- the socioeconomic ladder to a position of status. can grab the golden ring if they work hard and demonstrate They could not bear the inhibitions of civilization (the East) initiative. While their riches stories first made famous by Horatio Alger’s dime actual lives varied considerably. and antipathy toward European bureaucratic organizations (Mills [1951] 2002. television. petty bureaucrats. and fiercely independent men who individuals from all backgrounds (particularly immigrants) survived through courage. makes a man successful. Our goal is really achieve manhood. home during television’s family viewing time than the Ci- neplex. As an ex-colony whose collective identity businessmen to a nation of corporations. and so on—circulate prom. anarchic. Rather. we hone in on one of the most central by the conformity and subservience in both organizational ideologies—the ideology of heroic masculinity—and care. playing by the construct their identities. embedded in mass culture discourses. and journalists’ coverage of that question whether men committed to this model can celebrities and business and political leaders. and cunning. films. self-sac- rifice. and domestic settings. or broken men. are understood pendable. untamed potency. and devoid of self-aggrandizing flamboyance.MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 427 understandings regarding how a man earns respect. free from the social barriers adventurer.. innovation-stifling bureaucrats had caused America’s de- The American ideology of heroic masculinity blends to. Breadwinner masculinity is grounded in the American Kit Carson. men work hard and are de- in films. and self. one becomes a man through the act became famous because they enacted a mythic masculinity of achieving—through the tenacious work required to climb in which men relied upon their individual cunning. whereby as uncivilized. The and used in different ways depending upon the social positions twin goals of earning social respect and earning money pro- of the consumer. the first wave myth of success (Cawelti 1989)—the idea that America is of American mass culture was born around the Western a land of boundless opportunity. books. and of an oppressive or corrupt power structure (e. a manhood ideal stipulating that men should be completely quirements of bureaucracy. Wall Street. They are as semiotic raw ingredients that consumers draw upon to willing to devote themselves to their careers. the stories of these men novels.” sell-outs. This blending of manhood ideals free. men who are part of the establishment are models—what we call breadwinner masculinity and rebel readily coded as “failed fathers. paternal solicitude. masculinity. and civic virtues. Through figures such as Daniel Boone. More at we present them sequentially. we describe how the dialectical tensions cowardly sycophants. American mass culture is loaded with rags-to. Married with Children. success (but stop short of greedy acquisitiveness). These stigmas came alive in the eight- fully trace its contours across a gamut of cultural products. These hunters and fur trappers were represented to individual mobility found in other countries. mass rules to climb within organizations and communities toward culture discourses are never determining. Masculine ideolo. physical skills. was forged by the flight from religious persecution. reliance. and so they lived on the cusp of wilderness. the other emphasizing rebellion. this model was grad. and brute strength not only to survive nature but As the country grew from a nation of farmers and small also to conquer it. between the two models are routinely resolved in a third model—the synthetic cultural ideal of the man-of-action The Rebel Model hero. James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking. news. in nature. material success and higher status. Whether represented gether two seemingly competing models: one emphasizing with pathos (Glengary Glenross). and the diligent pursuit of material Masculine ideologies are circulated in books. what it means to be a good father. Rebel masculinity harkens back to the settling of the The Breadwinner Model American West. While tremendously powerful. study socially situated consumption practices. or lampooned (e. Then. Deadwood Dick. mination. cline in economic power (Wills 2000). including fiction. In the following sections. vilified as the vanguard respectability. papers. and the rules of hierarchy. in addition to discourse. we must also vide this model’s motivating force. Americans know the bread- in their consumption. music.g. de- gies. The masculine figures championed In the breadwinner model. inently in mass culture. sports. defiance ually reconfigured to align with the requirements of large of a distant colonial power. and the news all act pendable collaborators in a corporate environment. Michael Landon. where it could peaceably coexist with an ethos of teamwork what qualities make a man heroic. and Bill Cosby. and music. In this model. While masculinity is mutually consti. But breadwinner masculinity harbors a number of stigmas current events. we develop these two The Simpsons). organized achievement. Jimmy Stewart. John Wesley Hardin. class hierarchies. unshackled from binding institutional au- . advertisements. ies as Americans resonated with Ronald Reagan’s claim that We provide illustrative examples of our analysis here. So. and Buffalo Bill. to allow for a clearer exposition. TV programs.g. Traube 1994).. They are reserved. how Breadwinning men are represented as paragons of family men variously interpret and act on the mass culture discourse values and community pillars. news. the United States provided a context where The competitive will to succeed meshed with the group re. what softened the combative edges of individual achievement. that is. community building. Mass culture is flooded with por- not to exhaustively catalogue all of America’s masculine traits of breadwinners as organization men who are alienated ideologies. the cultural pantheon of respectable men embody DISCOURSE ANALYSIS the social virtues of civility. winner through iconic good fathers played by the likes of tuted in these two moments. The X-Files).

himself as a modern-day gun fighter who stood up to gov- Because rebels are both magnetic and threatening. are lionized as the paragons of independence. which they channel into Today many versions of the rebel are not atavistic. exemplifies both the magnetic pull theon of lauded man-of-action presidents. In recent decades. gangsters. Characters such as shock jock Howard Stern. forging a historic shift in the electorate. and conquer distant hip hop gangsta. resolving the tensions between breadwin. This idea crystallized splintered into a variety of subtypes: fun-loving “bad boys. Ronald Reagan—the most recent in a pan- as Boyz in the Hood. the late Chris Farley. America’s historic roots as a wayward colony of band. and in society. and all the other iconic men doctrine of free will. are in abundant supply incided with the rise of the entrepreneur as America’s most in American mass culture (Ehrenreich 1983. stories is endless. they draw from the best build what would become Apple Computer. This synthesis eludes the neg- the rebel model celebrates all types of men who stand apart ative connotations that plague the models of breadwinner from powerful institutions. since has been the pursuit of self. A powerful current through American history ever musicians). cyberpunks. Oregon track coach Bill Bower poured various asphalt concoctions in his waffle iron until he and Phil Knight The Man-of-Action Hero Model formed Nike to outmaneuver German athletic shoe titan The most celebrated men of American culture are neither Adidas.g. American culture has an ambivalent in the never-ending quest toward perfection. in the face of conformist pressures. antiestablishment free spirits. which demanded that men should by who refuse to “fit in” (e. potent rhetoric melded the evangelical tradition (invoking ence becomes their undoing. as who practice creative destruction in order to create powerful required of breadwinners. These heroic men. Awakening. These Peter Pan figures. Renegade industrialists such as Mass culture manages the threat of the rebel by rendering Steve Jobs. riding their Harleys into the rural west as a a bastion of liberty. more seducer than hus. vention. Management gurus such as Tom Peters and . More warrior than father. and the radical freedom embodied in these two bike-riding free the Soviet Union. and Bill Gates were widely cele- him as a harmless adolescent prankster. potency. both to protect and to convert the world’s infidels to its path. the rebel poses diverse seekers of new lives combined with Puritan religious a direct threat to the litany of norms and obligations central beliefs to constitute the country’s obsession with progress. Reagan’s are often scripted as tragic figures whose fierce independ. men who refuse to grow up. to breadwinning. and American men’s appetite for them ning and rebellion in a utopian resolution. potent man-of-action hero. invent wildly creative contrap- moral threat to their communities. The mass media is packed with stories comedian Tom Green. and a can-do spirit portrayed as dangerously antisocial outlaws who pose a transform weak institutions. and John F.. his heroic vision. build fantastic new markets. They possess a rebellious spirit new companies. both Roosevelts. rebels and rebel masculinity. Instead. Noriega. Kennedy—presented toward its antisocial criminality. Rose 1992). 1998). they are often idea that individuals with vision. which include exerted by a manhood that knows no rules and the repulsion Lincoln. Rebels are also derided as immature boys who are not up now euphemistically known as the gender gap (Ehrenreich to the challenges of mature. responsible manhood (Savran 1994). The rebel figure of the tions. invent a new way of doing things. The ascendance of Reagan’s masculine world view co- taking flight from adult responsibility. that gives them the wherewithal to maintain their autonomy mendous resonance. such as found in the rap music of Tupac infidels. outlaw bikers. gross-out brated and imitated. Steve Jobs worked out of a garage in Palo Alto to breadwinners nor rebels. In a classic example in Easy John Winthrop’s invocation of America as the city on a hill Rider. bohemian artists. the Sandinistas. The film’s mel. subversive rock society. improbably conquer the establishment to found new indus- tries. ancholic message is that the United States cannot tolerate As Reagan went after Kadafi. Reagan presented the United States as conformity. At the root of relationship with rebel figures.and societal reinvention Like breadwinners. Rather. which American men should fight for metaphor for the wilderness of the frontier. guts. In American mass culture. Peter Fonda’s Wyatt (alias Captain America) and that the world should admire and emulate) with the frontier Dennis Hopper’s Billy escape the confines of middle-class myth (Wills 2000). The list of such of both models. and man-child nonpareil conventions. the politically incorrigible hosts of of supremely confident men who pay no mind to industry Comedy Central’s The Man Show. they ernment bureaucracies and the communist threat. risk-rak. Ted Turner. as both are slaughtered on the road. Shakur and Wu Tang Clan and popular feature films such For example. urban force of will work together to create the perfect (Christian) gangstas. struggle Adam Sandler all tell us that rebels serve no serious purpose tenaciously against seemingly insurmountable forces. socially beneficial projects.428 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH thority or the constrictures of social judgments found tre.” as a core of American ideology during the Second Great rugged individualists. Because rebels threaten the America’s man-of-action hero is the distinctively American status quo and challenge societal institutions. appears bottomless. gunslingers. American men of all classes rallied around spirits. when evangelical protestant sects derived the ing mavericks. more class clown than serious worker. the rebel model has both as individuals and as a nation. and At the core of the man-of-action hero is the idea of rein- adventure. of-action embody the rugged individualism of the rebel The business press celebrated man-of-action managers while maintaining their allegiance to collective interests.

This ideological contradiction calls for an winner manhood altogether. erarchies and requirements. felt had bowdlerized country music. the man-of-action resolves the stigmas of Amer- acter types and plot structure in westerns (Slotkin 1992). the defied). Successful respon- Man-of-action heroism is represented through highly dra. and it solidified his pany and Wired celebrated the revolutionary potential of the reputation as an uncompromising. Duke Ellington. In 1998. The compensatory consumption cultural scene with Wanted: The Outlaws (with Waylon Jen. but all have To engage the compensatory consumption thesis. proves his are marked as being all rebel. Larry Bird. and they always become of superhuman skill. and iconoclastic. He must be an unreconstructed risk taker. sible men. idealized figure who is rewarded for skills and talents with- ismatic. Nelson exemplifies man-of-action heroism. not bureaucrats (Frank 2000). restores the moral order. while also contributing to the success versus conformity. This work attested to his rebellion gained the most socioeconomic rewards from the bread- from the corporatized Nashville system that many purists winner model. He must be adventurous. These iconic men always script plays out time and again. America’s indigenous musical genres (jazz.” But in the end. while the successful rebel is equally contradictions. while at the same time fulfill the across competing masculine ideals keep viewers on the duties of a mature patriarch. they prove to be the only portance of their supporting cast. Together. Bob Dylan. behalf of others. working- Willie Nelson. regardless of their achievements. becoming an amoral. Compare the seemingly men who have the sufficient potency to vanquish whatever universal appeal of athletes who manage to effectively pre- villain is threatening the social order. call the American ideology of heroic masculinity. and rebellious autonomy enabled him to attain key the rules of the eastern establishment in the lawless Wild trappings of breadwinner masculinity on his own terms and. and Wayne Gretsky—to those who heroic superman vanquishes the diabolical foe. emotional sustenance to the possibility that such utopian be dangerous. if char. Johnny Cash. blues. influencing the mainstream of society. alyze the consumption practices of straight. Since they have the strongest historic iden- . and building practices. breadwinners. Bono. lacking the requisite ability manhood with panache. The most lauded athletes operate outside the official rules and constraints of the or. In the bellion. and untamed. Harry. He must be perpetually youthful. and adventure versus the stodgy greater social good. ex- citing. Indiana Jones. that parallel frontiersman breaking new territory. potent. claim. He must continually defy the edges of their seats. white. are celebrated for their individual accomplishments. fer another important domain in which the man-of-action gal. and then takes his well-deserved seat egocentric Carl Lewis. Will the hero be tamed or broken by the troubled by his inability to take responsibility and work on system? Will he lose his moral compass and abandon bread. the incessantly moody Barry Bonds. we explore how men creatively draw upon this of the rebel into respectable ends—revitalizing the music heroic masculinity discourse in their masculine consumption industry. and yet be utterly indispensable to the integ- synthesis might yet be achieved. Magic rality plays. to defer to the institutional prerequisites.MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 429 Gary Hamel and influential magazines such as Fast Com. his outstanding contribution to the arts by the Kennedy Cen- ness bureaucracies are spun with characters and plot lines ter. burst onto the mainstream class and middle-class men. Steven Sea. Dirty on country music. eraged this outlaw image (and prodigious song-writing tal- omy must be men-of-action. dy- constraints of responsibility. Nelson lev- new economy and demanded that the managers of this econ. selfish Randy Moss are ripe targets for fan and media scorn. tearing down and rebuilding ents) to garner much commercial success and critical ac- historic blueprints for success. this rebellious musician was recognized for These stories about managers ripping apart congealed busi. ades. His travails back and forth namic. West. In sum. literature argues that these are the men who have historically nings and Jessi Coulter). the impudent Kobe Bryant. we an- became revered as their music became widely influential. John Elway. Before the action-adventure. sent this heroic blend—Michael Jordan. and the various men-of-action Professional athletes and their sporting achievements of- characters played by the likes of Bruce Willis. his talent. rity and functioning of the social order. and rock ’n’ roll) are the cultural soundtracks of re. But the musicians who can channel the conviction next section. by most accounts. In these celluloid mo. these three masculinity models form what we try. Elvis. Nelson has exerted a revitalizing influence Likewise man-of-action characters are James Bond. displays ganizations that pay their salaries. out being compromised or constrained by institutional hi- dividual autonomy and duty to the organization or society. saves so. Neil Young. or the at the pinnacle of a patriarchal status hierarchy. the same happy ending is forever repeated: the Johnson. profitable businesses—are especially revered as folk heroes. Hip-hopping bad ciety (and the very institutional system whose rules he has boy Allen Iverson. outlaw? The hero precariously treads between in. for example. we find the same char. will always be haunted by the matic plots that hinge upon a tenuous resolution of powerful stigma of conformity. This man-of-action genre has been playing out for dec. bucking drive. while he enjoys a considerable degree of the two ideals to do good for society provides powerful status and respect. coun. and Arnold Schwartzenegger. Bruce Springsteen. and Sting all once were CONSUMPTION PRACTICE ANALYSIS treated as rebels scorned by mainstream society. heroic artist. gets the girl. Rambo. expounding the im- “by the rules. and inimitable personal style while at embroiled in conflicts with their superiors for not playing the same time acting as team players. ica’s two antithetic masculinity models. His success in miraculously melding social status quo.

ing. study format because it allows us to develop the complex Now I’m first. “make me one. Robert wanted to be the hero in a contest that the world Case 1: Robert’s Sporting Man-of-Action Hero considers a legitimate man-of-action pursuit. Class tennis. it’s not 10/10ths. he retired from the army with the rank like skiing and golf. You know it’s my mentality. out: ing part time as a receptionist in Robert’s dental office. Robert has adopted this com. So there’s the competitive aspect of it. But at least there’s a competitive aspect of it pretation. on the street. How normal dle-class backgrounds. and I’m racing with a bunch of other guys that are racing 9/10ths. more aggressive men and more affluent men who aged 9 and 13. test. Drivers are venerated as over-the-edge protagonists who place their bodies on the line with reckless abandon in the pursuit of excellence and achievement (Messner 1992. we conducted in-depth sport. too many people out there who have been playing it too long Interviews were conducted at each participant’s home. He was an army dentist before start. We recruited from a midwestern city am I? You know go out and drive around a racetrack at a of 250. ern interviews were gathered as the third stage of a long. they are the men most sus. “Well. So I interrelationships between the three models of masculinity do what’s necessary to improve and to work your way up. how hard can this be? I can drive on the street. Well. danger of his chosen avocation. You know. And we’ve got old cars.” After spending a couple of years at the very qualitative procedures. He tailors the competitive domain so of captain. You have to have a few screws lose to do that. then inary interpretations using these data. mean that’s very important to me to beat the guy. Robert lives in an upscale neighborhood on the that he can forge himself as a potent competitor and winner. interviews with 15 white men from both working. It is more natural to me than skiing. for me to pick up tennis or golf at this age because there are agerial careers). There are guys that are on the Contests. to provide richer there’s a whole lot more to it than just what you do driving and more varied data. while at the same time he ceptible to the identity crises it engenders. he has to man-of-action turf. Auto racing is quintessential me one. I was a goalie in lacrosse. I didn’t ski as a backgrounds varied in terms of upbringing (parents varied kid so picking up skiing at a fairly late age is a very unnatural from working class to upper-middle class). I couldn’t go out and play golf All were semi-structured. So they have the admits that his choice was quite strategic: strongest desires for compensatory consumption (Kimmel and Kaufman 1995. I’d have to beat the guy I’m playing with. and to challenge our emerging inter. time and financial investment to two avocations: auto racing with my car. long interviews lasting about 90 and have fun. as compared to elite sports ing his own practice. I know I’ve got a wife and kids and a to upper-middle-class life. His athletic skills earned him 21-year-old.430 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH tifications with breadwinning. Younger. to examine the gendering of lifestyle.000 and a small eastern city of 60. we added more interviews to achieve back of the pack and having guys laugh at me. 150 mph. Robert self-consciously sees auto racing as the past 17 years to build a successful practice in a Penn. education (from thing. third in the races that I race in. To present our findings. I min. second. at the time I thought term project on consumer lifestyles. I’m not out on the track with a totally fearless self as a political conservative. a hugely risky rebel act that has been call somebody and say. Robert slices and dices Thornton 1993). You know. The east. while I know now that it’s silly to say. the goal of which was racing’s not much different to driving on the road. All partici. So. yielding wide-ranging conversations. if I bend a part I call somebody and I say. my age range. You know. I found out redundancy in our interpretive categories. but in recent years she has been work.000. So it would be hard (from unskilled service to skilled crafts to professional-man. In the space of a few sentences. as they play out across a variety of consumption contexts. we have adopted a case where if you work hard enough you can work your way up. I mean I chose particularly Crafting Man-of-Action Hero Consumption an inexpensive car to drive. and I better be back to petitive orientation in his quest to acquire more professional the office on Monday.. These . an activity where his lack of middle-class upbringing will sylvania college town. Schwalbe 1995). bunch of patients that depend on me. it’s 9/10ths rac- success and affluence. not impede his ability to win. And also the type of racing that I’m doing is a lot of people Robert is a keenly competitive man and characterizes him. Robert devotes an extraordinary amount of track with sports cars that are worth $500. That pumps the adrenalin a lot more than golf and pants were married or presented themselves as straight.000. For most of their marriage. and he found Robert is a 47-year-old dentist who has worked hard for a way to do it. difference. “send and hockey card collecting. Robert takes pleasure in the on-the-edge his chosen hobby to suit his heroic self-conception. his wife was a can afford very expensive customized cars are bracketed stay-at-home mother.and mid.” If he bends his car and he needs a part.” There’s a big institutionalized over time into a respected competitive con. I assumed. it is an opportunity for a 47-year-old to do a participant Over a period of several years. outskirts of town with his wife of 21 years and two sons. and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to do high school through graduate degrees). because I couldn’t compete with a scholarship to a private college and provided a springboard somebody like that. to 2 hr. Following standard I can go race. and I’d never catch them. and occupation something unless I can do it really well. We began our prelim.

Driving with reck. It’s comfortable. emphasiz. I have all I’ve got a lot of buddies in town that just have more money the 1910s.000. as a way to support his son’s interest. the history of the sport and the stories that of the American ideology of heroic masculinity in ways that go with finding the card of somebody that played in 1925 construct his family’s home as a practical. It serves our purposes well. ever. real important to me I’d be like a lot of my friends and go but I would say I probably have one of the top 50 collections build a $600. son began collecting trading cards of his favorite players. you’re going to get a lot more cards out of it. If I had my choice. He formed this hobby into a competitive quest. it’s sort of the nostalgia. I would be up on mand. Robert reverses the terms olously spend huge sums of money for no practical reason. He recombines different aspects learning history. So it’s ball in that . really interested in getting this year’s cards and the players winners—as something simply irrelevant necessitates con. we’ll try to work backward to the year contemporary houses with big windows and huge freestand. Robert spends of his patients and family. I of the house. And of people who look at me and say. his interpretation of Hank is. Robert also does considerable symbolic work to exempt and Robert joined that activity as well. let’s get all of this year’s hockey cards and our house is real practical. . we started collecting ice hockey cards with the intent I would prefer a different house than what we have now.MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 431 facile rhetorical maneuvers work to minimize the symbolic housing competitors with the breadwinner’s stigmatized threat posed by more youthful and daring drivers who are connotations: they are status-seeking conformists who friv- racing “10/10ths. understand somebody. playing on a club team. By wearing the banner that he performs as race-car driver. You know. but it’s not important to me. Now I’ve become more obsessed with it than in the course of Robert’s reflection. building a seven-bedroom. jorative view of rebels: they are irrational and irresponsible. It really has become an it’s paid for and it’s fine. the rebel to construct himself as a man-of-action is partic- Having framed the most rebellious men as noncompetitors. of his prior identification with rebel masculinity and elevates Robert downplays the home as a sign of patriarchal success the importance of the breadwinner model. Your most expensive hockey card out there is maybe off to be up the valley away on the side of a mountain with $3. How. they do that. . And there are an awful lot have all of them. where his acquaintances have a perceived edge. functional space and finding out a little bit about that guy and how the sport that is not essential to his identity. you neighbors. he associates his and that aspect of it. this is a big house and a year or year and a half doing that.” In so doing. I like then when we do that. You’re not dealing with the side of the mountain in a contemporary home with no $50. Conversely.000 Honus Wagner or Mickey Mantle rookie cards. and all the teen cards. suit of a more heroic identity. . Robert then compares himself to other responsible men. There’s a period than sense and they do that. Or if you’re going to sink X number of dollars into it. And I’m working on the ’20s. but he’s expensive homes—a potent economic symbol for bread.000 house. The prices are a lot lower. I mean it must be important to of time from the World War I until about 1933 where I don’t them.000 house. Rather than invest in a of a responsible patriarch who must consider the well-being conventional symbol of patriarchal status. you know. We spent probably of vanilla house that we have. when their kids are ready to move out I have every hockey card made from 1935 until now. I don’t know this for a fact. lectors to the finish line: According to Robert. Robert’s complex intermingling of the breadwinner and wait until they grow up and they will see what it is like. Robert watched NHL matches with staking out the position of the man-of-action within this his son. initially. the 1911s. Robert explains: hockey at a very early age and so probably about 4 years ago. Over time. But. “Why does he spend his hockey is a little bit more favorable one to collect than base- money on cars like that?” Cars are important to me. that you were born to go back and get all the hockey cards ing fireplaces and things like that a lot better than this kind from 1979 forward and collect all of them. I don’t of hockey cards in the whole world now. that he can see. you know. But it has become a real obsession. But it no neighbors. I use him as an excuse for getting started. I’m doing it from the standpoint of just siderable ideological work. Robert anoints himself has changed over the years and looking at the equipment that with the venerated meanings of the breadwinner. But have all of them. His group of responsible men. by comparing it to his trump card—the man-of-action ideal less abandon is damned as immature. So that’s fine. ularly evident when he discusses his hockey card collection. makes it a little bit more affordable. Robert can subtly claim a superior inordinate sums on his rebellious racing hobby and the pur- position to his younger noncompetition by invoking the pe. $600. But it’s been something that we’ve really Although this symbolic discounting flows quite naturally done a lot. because it’s a smaller market and less de- different. I guess if it were addiction from that beginning. but of. But it’s not important enough to make the trade know. A collaborative prefers “manly” sports in the main because he can compete project intended to bolster his son’s enthusiasm for the sport more effectively than in the country club sports of golf and became Robert’s personal challenge to beat all other col- tennis. Robert got hooked on hockey when his younger son began among whom he can once again be a bit more rebellious. Robert himself from masculinity contests where he has an Achilles has taken over the card collecting from his son and trans- heel or feels threatened by more potent competitors. he cannot avoid one sign of breadwinner masculinity that confronts him every day—the palatial homes built by Robert: “Hank” [his younger son] got involved with ice his affluent neighbors. the guys had back then versus what they’re playing with now ing practicality and frugality. which still is a substantial amount of money.

” Robert frames his card collecting as an ex. assigning himself an all-consuming task to (and he is also branching out into old hockey equipment). And now I’ve extended it back to include all of history.000 pages of books. It’s completing a task. when we set the goal of his birthday forward. the further back you go. documents the accomplish. so hard. I read it because I ran out of books. We go to shows all over the place. Robert greeted the really becoming a problem. I have tears in my eyes just thinking of that book. in need of maternal care. I rationalize it by saying “this is illustrated in a story Robert tells about his revelatory en- an investment.432 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH history part of it that appeals to me so I get really excited to baseball card collectors. he constructs his perfor- it absolutely perfectly completed. he is vulnerable. hardly the should seek counseling on. and I took in the world. and creates himself as the lead protag. You know. this is an addiction. Robert has ieux’s or somebody that he can turn on the TV and watch. and I had read them all traordinarily important contest. which. you know. here’s one. and bare feet. accomplish—reading 3. Interviewer: What excites you about having all the different Robert thrives on consumption activities that he has cards? crafted to allow for man-of-action hero performances. And now it’s many different consumption contexts. In the history of mankind. Robert further insulates his identity from the negative connotations different hockey cards were made? Now let’s find every one of the breadwinner by enacting the persona of a swaggering of them. Thus Robert then there was a finite number of cards that were printed inserts himself as a man-of-action who uses his rebellious between that point. hero.” counter with a novel that is a woman’s favorite: I’d just as easily sell my children I think as. not incidentally. He Robert: It’s obsessiveness. And it carefully (though for the most part unconsciously) crafts his depends upon the scope of the task that you set out. Robert demonstrates the creative tenacity of his man-of- firmation of his position as a savvy and skilled competitor. we take a load of books. this kind of all-consuming devotion to an my nose and dry my eyes. But you might enjoy it. It was a short book. At the same time. Suggest ments of sports heroes. but I didn’t have a handkerchief with me. thing on the plane flight home. When [wife] and I go on vacation. The achievement of a world-class collection is a symbolic af. away. We’re more infantile version of the youngster. and I said. Robert also occasionally falls into a Robert: Oh. mance within the contest as a juvenile prankster. how many Incorporating the Juvenile as a Rebel Trope. the brash enthusiasm and devil-may-care attitude of a teen- Interviewer: Do you travel around looking at cards. His story invokes the sense of ex- excited if he gets a card of Wayne Gretzky’s or Mario Lem. to dry my tears. of them. there are many times I would gladly sell my children than the I read The Bridges of Madison County and that blew me hockey cards. the exuberant youth who thrives on his physical vitality across more zeros you add to the price tags of them. On the other hand.” She handed me The Bridges of reflexivity his commitment to his self-constructed heroic of Madison County.” She said. I’m value. Robert has made hockey card collecting into a life. more books to read. We went on a 2- By creating “one of the top 50 collections of hockey cards week vacation to the beach down in St. in fact. sure. That’s just my personality. and I wanted to have one of every one instincts to win contests that count. He describes all of his consumption activities with job done. thrilled about competing yet also naive about the do you collect them? adult rules that he is supposed to follow. a calling to a higher purpose. rebel who can still outgun the other contestants. really stupid stuff. The stewardess was giving me some paper napkins to blow lematic terms. I had no culine competition. So now. I had to keep stopping to wipe my tears. Robert has carefully bounded this contest so that he can successfully compete. or how age boy. ploring and conquering an uncharted frontier. Although Robert frames his obsession in somewhat prob. I started crying on the airplane affirming mission. able to convert even vacation time to By pursuing a less conventional kind of sports collection heroic contests. shorts. going to go nuts if I don’t have something to read. You know. and I usually have a handkerchief in my back bottom Robert revels in the competitive game of beating out other pocket. and I want winner model. I mean activities as contests laden with importance and risk. This style of sol- Robert affects a subtle rebellious independence compared ipsistic. over 3. Robert affirms with a surprising degree book. “I have a 3-hour plane flight. whose interests are more con- when I get one old card from 1911 and Hank gets really ventional and popular. they meet the requirements of achievement in the bread- If there’s a task out there. one worthy of serious mas. and I had collectors through his diligence and obsessive commitment. All these people are looking at important task is central to performing the man-of-action me. wardrobe one would expect of a dentist meeting up with a It really has become addictive because I’ve got to get this professor. I’m serious. really. In striking terms (“I’d just as easily a book. Really. by the time we got on the airplane to come home. It’s kind of a girl’s sell my children”). task-oriented immersion parallels Robert’s approach . and I read the whole activity. I want to get it done.000 pages of books with me. crafted a distinctive mode of collecting to serve as a personal metaphor for heroic adventure. Hence. demonstrating that up into Canada. That was the goal. it’s something I really interviewer in a T-shirt. and [Robert’s wife] has her romance onist. This is vividly absolutely irrational stuff. that’s just the way I’ve always been in school and everything. He is building an asset of monetary and historical books to read. Marten. If we need money we can sell these cards. action hero framing. “Well. As with his auto racing. a bad boy You know.

I enjoy that. Robert is not always proactively reconfiguring the these highly ritualized identifications with men-of-action man-of-action to suit his desires and abilities. Of twists. Robert now gets project. six times and enjoy it. you know. and Robert Ludlum. [He had previously discussed his en. than make conversation on the flight. Robert con. I tend to have to wait until space limitations preclude a detailed examination of how Rob- that they come out on videotape because it’s hard to drag ert pursues his masculine identity project at work. you though. five. somebody like Siskel and Ebert says it action hero. Donny is overweight and stutters. Robert techno-thriller novels. He even resorts to movie tastes probably parallel my food tastes. I can reading a “girl’s book. boom right is able to create heroic pleasure in his work life. John lenge his expertise when he is treating their children. While movies. as type of entertainment. Now I’ll rent Steven Segal again and watch it for the in his seemingly feminine emotional outpouring. auto racing. turning a scared kid around. They indulge daring risk-takers who conquer a seemingly endless array in these media forms as cultural staples. She tends to read the movie reviews and sees tification with the cultural synthesis offered by the man-of. some obscure title. in enjoy this. something that I’ve already seen three or four times ding to a fellow American male. sumption for heroic enactments. I take my kids to see kids Enacting the Man-of-Action Hero at Work. Even though he is a successful and respected was good. shouting and roes do much the same. Like. which they use to of obstacles and crises through their skill and cunning. Robert finds great pleasure in course. Boom. Robert forges an iden. at the same tinely takes the path of least resistance and indulges in the time. rather rent a video tape and watch the same movie three. Yet again. as a convenience store clerk. his In Robert’s case. Robert contrasts his independent tastes to his wife’s man-of-action texts that are marketed to him. I like adventure stuff. So. know. Robert: Lots of adventure. Eventually. Interviewer: Are there any actors.] Robert. four. It’s like you were on the edge of your seat. It’s real predictable. inform their more active consumption endeavors. drives her nuts. novelty. the never sufficient to satisfy their heroic longings. It will be 2 hours well spent. the same sort of bellious stance toward disliked aspects of job and embracing thing. That’s sort of portrays himself as a resolute and benevolent authority figure mindless entertainment. Lethal Weapons 1. and their methodical displays of heroism. fast-paced action. shoot em up. is that Robert proudly recounts this tale without prod. bureaucracies and know-it-all middle-class parents who chal- thusiasm for the technothrillers written by Tom Clancy. a Clint Eastwood thing. middle-aged. Donny also finds . fifth time and enjoy it just as much. from cultural authorities. He used takes up the position of the autonomous man heroically to attend football games in person. but he would become defying authoritative prescriptions by watching action he- so wrapped up that he would lose control. predictability and consistency in his vicarious consumption of man-of-action heroism. that creative and quite unexpected ways. 2. and as a nurse’s aid in a psychiatric their movies that pretty consistently I’m going to get the same ward. You know. What is interesting. Robert and Mel Gibson. Yet. I go to the video store. I’ll say.” Bridges of Madison County. the most rewarding part of his career is “taking a Interviewer: What do you enjoy about those kinds of movies? really. It’s probably parallel to who is making a principled stand against the tyranny of HMO my reading activities. he rebels against conformist conventions and remains a youngster at heart who cannot control his enthusiasms or The analogy to McDonald’s is telling. but they provide a different in an institutional kitchen. He has worked as a cook being critically acclaimed actors. I like those. He takes paradoxical pride before. skilled father figure in others. central to [wife] to a Steven Seagal movie or. For Grisham. In this mundane context. critic-dependent film preferences to signal his autonomy sumes man-of-action hero spectacles via team sports. My (which he invariably does by himself). and so she’ll bring it home. He also rou. mass-mediated dramas of man-of-action heroism are most of his symbolic sustenance from celluloid heroes. I’ll manded nurturing maternal figures for comfort. actresses that you go out and see because they’re in the movie? Case 2: Donny’s Caring Man-of-Action Hero Robert: Probably Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson. I don’t class man who earns his living through a series of transient think people would accuse Stallone or Schwarzenegger of semi-skilled service economy jobs. There was the role of the in-control. dentist. screaming and raising his blood pressure. Robert uses both work and con- the most. boom. as well as the cases of the others in this wife convinced him to stop attending. Robert seeks absolute his emotions. our analysis is the finding that Robert enacts the same sporting or a Sylvester Stallone. really scared kid and getting him through it and getting a hug at the end. And that’s the kind of stuff that entertains me a compensatory model. Rather than through that. Robert: We go to movies a lot. or suspense. working- would say Bruce Willis would fall into that category.MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 433 to his work. those sort of things make it fun everyday. and I Donny is a high school–educated. which de. and 3. Danny Glover man-of-action dynamics in his occupation as a dentist.” By taking a self-perceived re- Sort of like with the sports that I watch. Robert one thing going on after another. and action-adventure films. and I know when I go to see one of an ambulance driver. So. and so he finds thing from Steven Segal that I got from the last movie and most social situations to be uncomfortable. and even watching films at home that was okay. [Robert’s wife]. Rather than enjoy surprising plot Consuming Heroic Masculinity in Mass Culture. It’s like going to McDonald’s.

Rather. Donny glowingly details Holly’s performance . . Donny also fancies himself to be a self-taught and the moral way to prove one’s manhood. you know. Nonetheless. wins the adulation and re- to everything everyone says is going to hurt you. Rather than simply rejecting the dietary discipline and ex. in the breadwinner model. makes a positive difference in the too much cholesterol. and classi. He recounts how he diligently worked for and won man 1995). Donny’s consumption practices and leisure of semiskilled workers. I really like the movie To Sir with Love. race barrier. A Patch of Blue. contests the callous and brutal competition for achievement enged a workable machine from the garbage of college stu. Donny also enjoys vicariously consuming represen- bonding (bars. he . Donny loves Holly because face gusto. But Donny is cer- months to write code for a risqué computer game of his tainly not constructing himself as feminine. He scav. which he wears as a corporeal badge style and also because he was a social rebel. both of whom live with his former wife. for whom doing for others is the key to respectability chat rooms. the downtrodden. Got her into a blind school. Donny easily identifies with those who are castigated as social outcasts (the position Donny takes the working-class body aesthetic—where closest to Donny’s material conditions) but then aligns him- physical girth functions as a sign of power and rugged mas. predilec. watching television and pursuing a variety of entrepreneurial Donny constructs his life as a heroic project in which he hobbies. He picks her up and did Generally. he se- own invention. . lectively draws from various feminine sensibilities and ac- tivities conventionally coded as feminine as a rhetorical Refusing to Fit the Mold. and an embrace of consumer goods a prior marriage. Holly. tices to be steeped in the symbolic trappings of working- class machismo: hedonic rather than aesthetic interests. you know. Donny has also become a computer buff. as suggested by his prize computer game go there and survive the day and go home. Poitier plays an idealistic teacher dozen of eggs. Story at the nearby university. hobbies reveal an enigmatic blend of feminine identifica- ian streak. rabid Consuming Mass-Mediated Caring Heroism. You know. ardent participation in sanctuaries of man Robert. defies cynical admin- not allowed. and I figure if you listen student’s lives. he seems really so evidently hostile toward some of them. He embraces the role of a selfless dents and soon became an avid participant in a number of hero. nice and greasy. He tions toward public displays of aggressiveness. these practices of interpersonal care are associated how he worked furiously through the night for several with feminine identities (Gilligan 1982). tions. self with the hero who is able to turn around the lives of culinity—and melodramatically exaggerates it for effect. bowling alleys. Given Donny’s working. I’ll like it. breaking the of defiance. People will tell you that is too much grease and istrators and coworkers. She does all the work and thermore. the more bad for you. If it’s something you’re supposed to eat. For example. resource to create an alternative manhood that challenges class background. . one might expect his consumption prac. pattern that coheres around his distinctive version of heroic Between transient jobs. Donny’s heavy-set physique is a by-product of he rebelled against staid fifties pop to invent a totally new his dietary rebellion. you’re who bucks the bureaucratic system. is mesmerized by films and actors who present the caring cally masculine hobbies like hunting (see Morgan 1992). and my most favorites because he took a bunch of rejected kids he dismisses all forms of sports spectatorship as a waste of that no one cared about. Donny’s musical hero is Buddy ercise regimens of the middle class (Thompson and Hirsch. Like sports fandom. his dietary preferences are very much in the spirit takes care of the house and takes care of everybody else and of “real men don’t eat quiche”: never has anything done for her. In American software programmer. You know. I’d say the grease. Nonetheless. Strip Roulette. he proudly flaunts an overtly libidinous women- really cared and turned it around. an emphatic dislike toward stereotypically masculine Donny has recently remarried and has two children from consumption interests. Went through a pound of bacon and a In To Sir With Love. that affront the polite conventions of the breadwinner model. The hero is the one the better it is. Donny identifies with Poitier’s morality starve. who sees the untapped potential in marginal figures that the establishment has given up on. That’s what most of his as-sexual-objects viewpoint that runs against standards of movies seem to be about. He took it and innovation.434 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH it difficult to accept supervision as part of the managed class On the whole. you know. in the end. owing to his strong anti-authoritar. His favorite actor is Sidney Poitier: However. Reflecting this theme. the atomistic competitive world of the breadwinner. . and. sporting events). Donny spends much of his time masculinity. But I like it. man as hero. what the dieticians or whatever say is not good things for her. He describes with considerable pride culture. This morning we had fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. you could spect of everyone. That’s one of describes football as a violent game that disturbs him. He and his second wife live cheaply in a trailer they own. Donny has no interest in these activities and is I like Sidney Poitier because he’s so . Donny’s peculiar pastiche has a discernible paying $150 a month for their trailer park spot and utilities. and his ability to nourish the underdog. The whole idea was to time. tations of his preferred model of man-of-action heroism. I don’t want it at all. Fur- blind girl. she’s like a Cinderella. for you. Donny relishes his gluttonous performances in free tickets to see the theatrical version of The Buddy Holly which he gorges on large quantities of grease with in-your. the the propriety consecrated in the breadwinner model.

. women’s stuff. He won’t date. guns-blasting action heroes who populate the know. I guess. . and it out of the bag. sewing to flaunt himself as a renegade commercial artist. I’ll go down to the second- consumption by identifying with a female protagonist. and he needs a new wife. This guy [Tom Hanks]. Maybe 15 years ago I bought a suit for my brother’s go out and see anybody. . . He envisions himself Donny: Sleepless in Seattle. I haven’t even taken I help my dad?” And this girl [Meg Ryan] is a reporter. Just as Robert inflects Donny’s distinction between men’s and women’s clothing his rebellious performance with youthful brashness and ex. you know. “I could Here. it. It was a real good ending. . you know. I . ever. I can talk about recipes and cooking and sewing. She came back from story on this guy. But I just have . They you know. Donny uses I like chick movies you know. and she said. I can sit down with a group of In American mass culture. How- Everyone keeps referring to it as a chick movie and. also. you know. I couldn’t even get into it now. you are relatively rare. I have an awful time with it. Holly was a heroic social reformer who bucked unjust con. you know. Just as he can no longer physically fit into his 15-yr. One time for my ex-wife I got a skirt and shortened it up. . his wife has died. They don’t always work. you know. Donny accentuates his rebellious character with in this passage. to like a Dr. She is rendered as another kind of caring hero who wide back zipper and reworked the whole cut of it and rises to the challenge of turning around the life of someone hemmed to the waist and made like a big ring thing on it. New York to Seattle.” I said. I guess. . yourself? He says that he’s really worried about his Dad. but he won’t to think. it was a real good movie. you know . you know. “Oh. heroic images of caring men females and talk. the feminine associations of caring heroism act as an you know. In so hand store and get something. . He . As we will demonstrate be. this store over here and go across town and see something else and say. action-adventure films: notations of domesticated femininity. His Interviewer: But you’re not interested in doing that for young son calls in on a talk show. Not that I’m gay or anything. you know. and forth. but I got a acter. those two things will work together. Cineplex. . and I haven’t worn it since. constrain his autonomy. . you know. Did you ever watch Sleepless in have been a women’s designer or something because I have Seattle? a pretty good eye for. too. something kind of jumped out at me. suggesting that. you know. Donny: Women’s clothes I do pretty good. rather than join a woman’s sewing group. Everybody liked it. I don’t know where I saw it. like to experiment. and she decides to do a feature girl at work who was married last week. I’ve often suit. but generally. . and he calls himself Sleepless in Seattle shirt. I should of the story. particularly in comparison to the legion know. what appeals to ventions to improve society. well. It’s like “How can wedding. Rebel with a Sewing Machine. . Ruth type. I guess. There’s a she hears him on the radio. he downplays the romantic aspects of the film and. I really enjoy figuring out outfits for Donny: Kind of a tear-jerker where the chick is in the middle women.” I do that a lot. heightens the heroic quality of the Meg Ryan char. I can see something in Interviewer: I haven’t seen that one. somehow he gets ding. and remodel doing. but I watch them and think. His dad Donny: No. I heading down the wrong path. I’m not going to be there. . decided The fashions are pretty outlandish. the last suit I bought .” which Donny is well aware that sewing and cooking carry con- he adamantly prefers to violent. is central to understanding the ideological dynamics at work uberance. But he’s her honeymoon.-old I’m an impulsive kind of man sometimes. skirt. talking more easily with a group of women than men. Donny’s femininity. There’s They eventually get together. you of fists-flying. and they’re that. I’m trying doesn’t have anybody. “I didn’t see you at the wed- in Seattle. Donny forges a vast number of distinctions to defiant sartorial sensibility is a badge of rebellion: his mil- his conception of “typical men” through a self-conscious itant refusal to wear a suit is a strident rejection of the appropriation of stereotypic feminine interests and skills: breadwinner status game and its constraining formalities. she needed to help and would pursue it. . and the way I think. back and forth. . I got a tremendous amount of compliments on that distance himself from other kinds of men. They go through all this back Interviewer: But when it comes to women’s clothes . me.” because he’s tossing and turning at nights because of thinking of his dead wife. “Well. So Donny more often finds symbolic sustenance in the genre of relationship-oriented “chick movies. I’d probably have a fashion show that I try to make a point of watching. you know. like Poitier. you know. and he’s really not doing well with it at all. low. very. my emotions. I don’t know if you ever watch VH1.” Donny: You got to see it. Donny rebels against the cultural norms of masculine re-do it like that. I have gotten compliments on things that I have important symbolic resource for Donny. is more. So she tries to trace him down. and she’s in New York. I hate men’s. very expensive. .MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 435 at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. where I can’t talk to a group of guys. if I can’t wear my blue jeans and T- on the radio. and I’d seen . . . Much like his dietary preferences. instead. tend to be like the female reporter that. which he uses to done. and a program on. he will no longer try to fit into social mores that would said that I’d be a better female than I am a guy. on display in public for heroic effect: Interviewer: What’s a chick movie? Donny: You know.

each model also harbors a set of stigmatized meanings acts in creative ways throughout his life. as fathers . for a week each year. The breadwinner requires compliance to institutional norms. In one Our discourse and practice analyses demonstrate that rebel instance. outlier activ. as well as the nature of its influence on ryday consumption. autonomy on the other) while avoiding the stigmas (con- formity and immaturity). unwillingness to con- can be understood as rebelling against the constraints and form to the status quo. nor the rebel. American men continually tack back how men consume. and risk-taking propensities with the conformist pressures of modern life. less exotic. in popular films as well as in eve- masculine ideology. However. where he tion of these relationships (informed by Frederic Jameson’s screens films projected on the exterior of one of the trailers [1991] variant of the semiotic square). At the same pretation of the man-of-action hero discourse. which he en. Donny has constructed a singular inter. embodied in the narrative culine consumption is centered on an atavistic mode of rebel of the man-of-action hero. Sturgis. celebrated stories of men enacting rebellious ends and revitalize ailing institutions. whether at work or play. aspects of American men’s consumption in their everyday Like Robert. He also to rebellion. Donny uses his tastes for “woman’s ities that are constructed as rebellious acts. time. are they doing the remaining weeks? Moreover. Compensatory consumption seems Donny—the emphatically heterosexual man—takes great to be a theory built from the extraordinary resonance of pleasure in pushing the buttons of his working-class peers these marginal but spectacular events rather than an inves- with these associations that are so antithetical to their macho. feats. his entrepreneurial social reformer as hero at work. We find that. South Dakota. Donny uses his fas. The hero can flaunt institutional rules and the mythopoetic movement made famous by Robert Bly owing to his skill and potency. Most important. at the same time. and various other premodern fig. tention to a major contradiction that exists in the cultural It is this dialectical interplay between breadwinning and construction of masculine respect. Donny also enacts innovative renditions of lives. Figure 1 provides a sociosemiotic representa- casts himself in the same role at his trailer park. Most men most of the time pursue masculinity in associated with women and gay men. ways. our analysis of rebellion that motivates the narrative construction of both mass culture discourse and men’s everyday consumption mass culture texts as well as men’s everyday consumption leads us to conclude that the thesis misconstrues American practices. lives. Men model themselves after cowboys of the challenge and revitalize institutions through their rebellious wild west. As a result. ratives prescribing what it takes to be a man. mountain men. men- identities surely capture the imaginations of the lay public of-action heroes win patriarchal status games on their own and academics alike. tigation of the more quotidian but much more pervasive sports-oriented world. the most potent mas- The Man-of-Action Hero Dialectic culine model in American culture is neither the breadwinner The compensatory consumption model claims that mas. pursuing the desirable model extends and modifies the compensatory consumption attributions (respect and achievement on the one hand and model in two ways. If some men stuff” to construct himself as an unusual man-of-action fig. and he consistently over- (1991) to consumer research studies on mountain men and comes myriad dangers and poor odds to accomplish noble Harley riders. should note that no one in our sample participated in such signers are flamboyant aesthetic creators who inhabit a world events). Our participants. com- construct masculine identities because they focus on a very pelling men to find ways to act analogously in their everyday small subset of men’s consumption activities. As in other pursuits. These The compensatory consumption thesis provides a useful stigmas are revealed when one model is viewed from the point of entry to theorizing how masculinity structures con. we ask: what ative new designs from throwaways. Fashion de. models.436 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH Yet. America’s most venerated approach to masculinity ures who are imagined to live free of societal authority and blends the rebel’s individual initiative. While intriguing. other. these studies have terms. which raises the HEROIC MASCULINITY AND negative connotations of conformity. the rebel’s defiant in- CONSUMPTION dividualism is tainted by attributions of immaturity because he avoids society’s institutions and responsibilities. From popular press responsible breadwinner’s care for the commonweal and coverage of men’s pilgrimages like the Million Man March sense of responsibility. Specifically. and in another tural dialectic that is ultimately centered on man-of-action he worked to build solidarity among his fellow workers by heroism rather than the flight from the breadwinning role throwing huge spaghetti dinners that he cooked. that undermine these normative claims. acting as a compass of sorts. and they serve to destabilize both sumption in the contemporary United States by calling at. only a small cination with women’s clothing to forge a sharp distinction fraction of American men participate in such activities (we to men who buy into breadwinner masculinity. Donny organized fellow mental hospital workers masculinity is but one component of a more complex cul- to hold extra social activities for the patients. our heroic masculinity and forth between these two models. to bring his often atomistic and hostile neighbors together The breadwinner and rebel models offer competing nar- into a community. point-of-view of the other. The man-of-action hero is championed throughout limited use in understanding how consumption is used to American mass culture. attend a mountain man retreat or a biker’s pilgrimage to ure—an amateur fashion designer who cobbles together cre. Men-of-action are outsiders who masculinity. but their synthesis.

abilities. sports. we find that men unconsciously inflect heroic men-of-action in ways that pervade their lives as their masculine consumption with class-structured un- consumers and workers. and priorities that have accumu- Further. by definition. Studies of Harley riders and gender ideology gets differentially articulated through the mountain man rendezvous participants showcase mas. consumption is dominated by the pedestrian aspects of ological bricoleurs who draw upon the discourse of heroic everyday lifestyle: leisure and hobbies. autos. at home or on vacation. ing. the home. their Our analysis demonstrates that American men act as ide. For Practices most men (including all of the men we interviewed). seek to culine rituals ripe with communitas. bringing found in mass culture. prism of social class habitus in everyday consumer life. We demonstrate how a dominant on their social class milieu. and work. depending education. mass media view- masculinity as a naturalized toolkit to craft their identities. than a smoothing over of social differences around a focal we show that these men continually create themselves as masculine event.MAN-OF-ACTION HEROES 437 FIGURE 1 THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY OF HEROIC MASCULINITY or friends or husbands. and so on. But these liminal experiences are. a coun- Class as a Frame of Reference for Masculinity terpoint to men’s everyday consumption practices. peer interactions. clothing. together men of incredibly diverse backgrounds around a more or less common pursuit (Belk and Costa 1998). masculinity discourse in very different ways. Rather Rather than weekday breadwinning and weekend rebellions. we demonstrate that men deploy the heroic lated through many years of upbringing. . liminal get-togethers create themselves as men-of-action using the discursive tools in which social differences are smoothed over. derstandings.

and valleys. as they are to conventionally masculine thrill seeking. ex. This interests in sports and hunting for their macho values. his analysis pursues the call to explore the structuring role of upward mobility. draw class milieu. while rejecting the contests favored dimensionality of masculine ideology. Robert understands his working-class back. he envisions attaining success and respect on to all of our informants’ masculinity projects. He lacks the social and cultural resources needed to pursue upward mobility. and they are as often applied to mundane activities feminine values to rebel against working-class masculinity. which is eventually released aggressive behaviors. hardly mundane. By cashing in on his the dramatic structuring of everyday consumption is central creative talents. makes two additional theoretical contributions to literatures big homes. on dramatic consumption and the social structuring of In contrast.’s skydiving community). our Robert’s athletic skills made possible. and to date (see Deighton [1992] for a conceptualization along he always reinvents his job duties in the service of making these lines). We find that fashion designer or a software inventor. and gender in everyday consumption (Bristor and Fischer 1993) his achievements on the playing field opened many doors. either by experiential service pro- their dignity. critically acclaimed films). Robert feels that he has a decided advan. So he uses Costa 1998. consumption extends beyond these scripted. auto racing). It is a thrill-seeking activity. to visions of middle-class respectability and working-class re. from literary critic Kenneth Burke. pursue heroic masculinity. In these prior studies. and often idiosyncratically. Our mode of analysis illuminates agers and professionals: acquiring occupational stature. Merely categorizing Robert as middle class and Donny as Robert’s race car driving fits the mold of Celsi et al. experiences this model to decry that the pursuit of masculine respectability are intensified. The tensions and releases central to dramatic requires a dronelike obedience to institutional authority and structure (Stern 1994) create pleasurable experiential peaks a drab conformity to inhibiting middle-class mores. acquiring man constructs himself as a man-of-action hero. hero that positions him as betwixt and between his jaded However. Donny is just as stri- more 1999). So Donny rejects all the symbolic Drama in Everyday Consumption trappings of breadwinner masculinity. But rather than accept the This approach allows us to specify the influence of class on emasculating possibilities of competing on the terms set by masculine consumption without reducing these influences to his peers. are as much created by our informants as they are scripted Donny constructs himself as a caring hero who draws upon by others. anthropologist Victor Turner. leading to deep satisfactions (Arnould and Price Yet. we ad- sporting contests. and by demonstrating the multi- collecting. As detailed above. condemning them for their self-centered and ations that heighten anxiety. dramatic consumption dent in proclaiming his differences from his working-class requires protagonist consumers to be placed in risky situ- male peers. consumption. In this work that men creatively. With respect to the Journal of Consumer Research. playing the rebellious winner in competitive by weaving in a discursive level of analysis to the analysis contests where he has a decided advantage (hockey card of consumption practices. In both work and consumption. Schouten and McAlexander 1995) by considering his sports acumen as a symbolic resource to create a brash how everyday consumption differs from liminal consumption. Robert instead creatively turns his working-class traitlike patterns. by casting light on how cultural models of masculinity struc- including education at an elite private college. Donny imbues death-defying dramas documented by consumer researchers it with heroic meaning. In this study.438 JOURNAL OF CONSUMER RESEARCH Robert is an upwardly mobile middle-class man who the ways in which their class habituses influence how they frames breadwinner masculinity in the terms used by man. bellion.’s working class would gloss over considerable complexity in skydivers. man-of-action. company) or within the institutional structure of a consumer Instead. and demonstrating size that class habitus works as a malleable interpretive frame- competitive achievements in prized leisure contests. ground as a potential liability. He grew up as a competitive athlete. We empha- possessions that signify economic power. Donny does not build his identity upon a romanti- 1993. baggage into a masculine asset. see also Pine and Gil- cized view of working-class rebellion. risky con- Donny’s celebration of entrepreneurial independence is sumption domains to the more mundane and improvisational also expressed in his dream of striking it rich someday as a consumption domains found in everyday life. He picks up jobs when he wants. we examine whether dramatic the lives of his customers and fellow workers more humane. . using the stigmas of When consumption is structured as a drama. upon to pursue a wide variety of masculine identity projects. He abhors typical working-class male through daring actions in intense climactic moments. In addition. and Leigh 1993. These dramas his own maverick terms. in large part. Rose. Although his life as a perpetual temp worker of all social action and that it is often more subtle than the could be seen as a kind of economic failing. Donny research also suggests that dramatic consumption experi- also laments that working-class jobs force men to sacrifice ences must be scripted. theorists. the ways in which social class differentially inflects how each erting authority through professional expertise. Celsi. erence. to sociologist Erving Goffman. our model by his peers as boring bourgeois pursuits (golf and tennis. Donny maintains a working-class frame of ref. condemning them to a life as bottom feeders viders (in the case of Arnould and Price’s white water rafting in the labor market. vance theory on masculinity and consumption (Belk and tage over his otherwise intimidating male peers. He constructs himself as a heroic social-reforming have demonstrated that drama is a fundamental component entrepreneur. Donny crafts an unexpected kind of man-of-action subculture (as in Celsi et al. In aggressive ture men’s consumption practices.

Myth: A Contemporary Consuming Fantasy. 24–45. sources for personal identity projects and social interaction Bristor. and.” Jour- fortunate consequence of this argument is that it implies that nal of Consumer Research. a fitting character to play the rebellious roles in onstrated by the creative consumption literature. He does the same with (Allen 2002. “River Magic: Ex- The Social Structuring of Creative Consumption traordinary Experience and the Service Encounter. Rose. Eric J. 25 (December). society has no systematic influence on individual acts of con. Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and sumption. (1989). We munities of alienated working-class people at work and at demonstrate the social logic buried beneath the apparent his trailer park by organizing dinners and screening films. Ritson and Elliott 1999. and Eileen Fischer (1993). Belk. This approach usefully demonstrates University of Chicago Press. 218–40. “The Consumption of Performance. Leigh (1993). 1–23. men are able to cultivate a sense that important matters are stake and that the success Allen. Russell W. This postmodernist argument ends up reinforcing Working Class Culture. Holt 1997. Men who identify and Eric Arnould served as associate editor for this with the swaggering characters found in technothrillers. of individuality that today pervades consumer culture. race. Michael (1987). Schouten and Implications for Consumer Research. To be socialized into this ideology is to be conditioned [Dawn Iacobucci and David Glen Mick served as editors to create one’s life in dramatic terms. and gender do not always ing. Addison-Wesley. improvises with mundane activities to inject them with high However. article. we develop modeled after Sidney Poitier’s stirring role in To Sir With a mode of consumer analysis that illuminates social struc- Love. and Thomas W. Like-a-Glove (FLAG) Framework. at work. emphasizes consumer creativity. The Hearts of Men: American Dreams . 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