Affirmative Reaction

New Formations of White Masculinity

Affirmative Reaction

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 232 Illustrations: 12 illustrations Published: January 2011

American Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Sex and Sexuality, Media Studies > Film

Affirmative Reaction explores the cultural politics of heteronormative white masculine privilege in the United States. Through close readings of texts ranging from the popular television drama 24 to the Marvel Comics miniseries The Call of Duty, and from the reality show American Chopper to the movie Million Dollar Baby, Hamilton Carroll argues that the true privilege of white masculinity—and its defining strategy—is not to be unmarked, universal, or invisible, but to be mobile and mutable. He describes how, in response to the perceived erosions of privilege produced by post–civil rights era identity politics, white masculinity has come to rely on the very discourses of difference that unsettled its claims on the universal; it has redefined itself as a marginalized identity.

Throughout Affirmative Reaction, Carroll examines the kinds of difference white masculinity claims for itself as it attempts to hold onto or maintain majority privilege. Whether these are traditional sites of minority difference—such as Irishness, white trash, or domestic melodrama—or reworked sites of masculinist investment—including laboring bodies, public-sphere politics, and vigilantism—the outcome is the same: the foregrounding of white masculinity over and against women, people of color, and the non-heteronormative. By revealing the strategies through which white masculinity is produced as a formal difference, Carroll sheds new light on the ways that privilege is accrued and maintained.


Affirmative Reaction does a good job of critiquing privileged media archetypes. . . . This book will help forward an important dialogue about the contemporary status of white ethnicity, the masculinisation of class and nation, and the development of identity politics in the United States. . . .” — Timothy Laurie, Critical Race and Whiteness Studies

“Carroll’s text and the breadth of his analysis are impressive. With relative ease, he is able to illustrate how a theme in one of the chosen texts illustrates white masculinity’s efforts to reclaim its relatively privileged position.” — Andrew Irwin-Smiler,, Teachers College Record

“[An] eclectic and informative study. . . . Carroll’s book is a fascinating example of scholarly tangential thinking, which nonetheless carefully interweaves its themes and preoccupations to admirable effect.” — Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World

“Carroll offers a theoretically sophisticated account of some novel recent manoeuvres of white masculine identity, which provides a powerful framework for the critical interrogation of the texts he explores, and many others.” — James Zborowski, Journal of Gender Studies

“Carroll’s work makes a valuable contribution to literature on contemporary masculinity and its discontents. Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.” — D. E. Magill, Choice

“I found Carroll’s reading coherent, convincing and resonant in many respects with the ethnographies and qualitative interviewing projects on American whiteness with which I am more familiar. Addressing whiteness as contingent, heterogeneous and rooted in cultural, political and economic shifts is a project in which a number of scholars are already engaged, and Carroll’s text is a very welcome contribution to this field.” — Steve Garner, Ethnic and Racial Studies

“The incisive arguments put forth in Affirmative Reaction will be useful for scholars seeking ideological readings of media texts produced in our current “postracial” moment, particularly televisual texts that center on white male crisis in the post-Civil Rights era.” — Shelleen Green, Journal of Popular Culture

“Carroll’s close readings are compelling and insightful; Affirmative Reaction does offer useful interpretations of certain contemporary for¬mations of white masculinity, and I especially appreciate how Carroll critiques the discourse of white male injury in the context of the social and economic changes that have occurred over the last several decades in the United States.” — Fenn Stewart, Reviews in Cultural Theory

Affirmative Reaction is a remarkable transvaluation of the terms by which we currently understand post-Fordist white masculinist hegemony. Not an unmarked norm but a particularized, and particularly abject, new identity category, white maleness is here submitted to fresh, riveting, lucid, and eye-opening analysis. An exemplary account of recent U.S. mediascapes.” — Eric Lott, author of The Disappearing Liberal Intellectual

“In analyses that move deftly across economic, political, and affective registers, Hamilton Carroll draws out the dynamics of early-twenty-first-century backlash that have produced the popularity of texts as different as Brokeback Mountain and American Chopper, and draws our attention to the nuances to be found in unexpected places such as comic-book responses to 9/11. Affirmative Reaction can be read as a set of smart, related essays on a common theme, but it is also a tight, cohesive argument about recent developments in white U.S. masculinity. It will be welcomed by specialists in cultural studies, film studies, and gender studies, and it intervenes in the research conversation about the constitution of whiteness that continues in and across several fields and disciplines.” — Glenn Hendler, Director of the American Studies Program, Fordham University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Hamilton Carroll is a Lecturer in American Literature and Culture at the University of Leeds.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: White Masculinities and the Politics of Representation 1

Part I. 9-11/24-7
Affective Time and the War on Terror

1. Jack Bauer's Extraordinary Rendition: Neoliberal Melodrama and the Ethics of Torture 27

2. Future Perfect: "Everyday Heroes" and the New Exceptionalism 49

Part II. Embodying Difference
Whiteness, Class, and the Postindustrial Subject

3. Men's Soaps: Automotive Television Programming and Contemporary Working-Class Masculinities 77

4. "My Skin Is It Startin' to Work in My Benefit Now?": Eminem's White Trash Aesthetic 101

Part III. Daddy's Home
Family Melodrama and the Fictions of State

5. The Fighting Irish: Ethnic Whiteness and Million Dollar Baby 131

6. Romancing the Nation: Family Melodrama and the Sentimental Logics of Neoliberalism 157

Notes 181

Bibliography 201

Index 213
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4948-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4929-7
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