Why the ‘Enmeshed Male’?

In the secret script at USA Networks (aka the enmeshed male), Grant McCracken thinks he's found USA's hit formula for shows like Burn Notice:

A man riding high is brought low. He now survives by dint of his wits and only because he relies on people he never relied on before. This man is now thoroughly enmeshed in a small group of friends and relatives. Without them he is nothing.

But his question is, Why this?

Explain, please, why this new pattern is so much in evidence in these USA Network shows.

What is happening in American culture that might help explain this new vision of our masculinity? After all, American culture has long been home to a notion of the unconstrained, rogue male. Consider all those tradtional TV heroes and movie stars, men who answered to no one. Why a new pattern? Why an enmeshed male?

He's even running a contest for the best explanation.

My only guess is that the imposition of great adversity makes it OK for traditional male hero characters to be a bit vulnerable, even sensitive. Which makes for better plots, and also makes plots that will appeal to women as well as men. And we've now moved to a state where a tough guy being a little vulnerable — with good cause — is not disqualifying.

That said, I still think from what little I've seen of him that that guy in Burn Notice is pretty wooden.

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3 Responses to Why the ‘Enmeshed Male’?

  1. Chuck says:

    Same Plot for Robert Ludlum, Clive Cussler, Dan Brown, Catherine Hapka [National Treasure] etc… etc…
    Hero knows the truth and the danger to the world.
    Hero is framed by the ‘bad guys’, so he can’t go to the authorities and must work outside the law.
    Hero is chased by the ‘bad guys’, so he is under constant threat of capture from both sides.
    Hero need expertise on a specific topic, GeoPhysics, Economics, The Vatican, Biological Weapons, Undersea Earthquakes, whatever… and “Just Happens” to find a really good looking single Female to assist him in his quest.
    What’s not to love about that formula?
    Oh, and the Good Guy ( and Gal ) always win, too.

  2. Vic says:

    I think he’s getting too lost in the details. These shows are just slight variations on the standard American hero genre, not an entirely new one. I would say that this same theme is at the heart of:

    Shane
    The Searchers
    The Wild Bunch
    High Noon
    Ride the High Country
    Seven Samurai (I know, not American, but some of the Samurai movies are better westerns that we’ve made)
    etc. for about 1000 more films.

    These are some of the most iconic films ever made. The real theme of ANY of these is adherence to a code that puts one at odds with society at large. Sometimes alone, but more often with a small cadre of associates (because that’s how a movie has to be). usually fighting against both local seen problems, and distant unseen threats. Often the hero has an unseen past that may be quite morally bad. Many times the alienation includes, or is even centered around, the idea that times are changing and the protagonist’s days are numbered regardless (The Wild Bunch for a great example).

    The DIFFERENCE today is that living by some sort of code of honor beyond one’s self is considered a quaint thing of the past to a lot of people. Heros in modern movies tend to have no unwritten code of honor that they respect to their own detriment – mostly they just loudly fight animated robots and stuff. So the new variation just changes it slightly to be more Us vs. Them, to lessen the need to have the good guy stand up for anything in particular.

    These TV shows are the same as these old movies, they are just slightly altered to conincide with modern tastes that ignore anything in Black and White, or made before the current crop of movie stars.

    I don’t really care so much (other than having to much animation and trick wire work stunts in every modern action film – which is increasingly annoying). But I wish young people would pull out some of these great older films (any on the above list should be mandatory for anyone interested in film). The Searchers is one of the finest American films ever made – but I bet if you asked one of you classes, not one person would admit to having seen it. (or any of the others on that short-form list).

    Anyway, Grant McCracken is just not correct.

  3. Vic says:

    I see that two of us immediately had about the same response.

    I did a little digging on Grant McCracken and I think it’s possible that he just doesn’t have knowledge of what he’s talking about. He’s an anthropoligist and author of cultural studies books – which makes him a media darling when they need someone to comment on “culture,” but says nothing about whether he actually knows anything about film, the history of cinema, great American literature, American history, or any of that stuff, the knowing of which, makes his peice sound silly and ill-informed on this subject.

    Maybe he needs to stick to writing about blue jeans and stuff like that.

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