Friday, July 16, 2010

What does it mean to be a man in Philadelphia?

            The FX original show, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, tells a story where two best friends are faced with a tough decision.  This episode, entitled “Mac and Dennis Break Up,” is the episode where two of the regulars of the show decide to take a break from one other to explore different events and activities that occur when they are not in constant collaboration.  Dennis’ sister, Dee Reynolds, tells the two men that by “spending every waking moment with each other,” they seem like an “old, married couple” (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”).  Dennis Reynolds and Mac, however, try to maintain themselves as the “bad-ass” male stereotype as best as they can, especially Mac, but when faced with having to live without the company of the other, Mac’s strength and masculinity is questioned.
            The first scene of the episode starts when Dennis and Mac are heading over to Dee’s apartment to borrow a bowl for making popcorn.  Immediately, they show signs of masculinity when they incessantly demand that Dee open the door.  Mac shows signs of authority by yelling “Hey!,” angrily,  through the door (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”).  Clearly, this is projecting a hegemonic situation. Hegemony, according to James Lull, is "the power or dominance that one social group holds over others” (61), in that the two male friends feel that they are higher in society than Dee because they are male, and Dee must respond firmly and on-command.  Stereotypically, however, two straight men would not be having a movie night, nor be as excited for a movie night, as Dennis and Mac are in this episode, unless they were either having many people over to watch the movie, or they were in deeper relationships other than friendship, or having a double date.  This is where Dee states that the friends are an “old, married couple,” and they try to save their masculinity in question by stating they are instead, “a dynamic duo” (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”). 
            Dee’s statement makes the men think, and Dennis and Mac decide to grow apart. This is an emotional rollercoaster for both of them.  Dennis comes to the realization that they have been spending too much time together while Mac reacts very vulnerably and takes the role of the enemy in the situation by saying that he will go to stay at a friend’s house.  Mac does so very tenderly and sorrowfully.  This vulnerability, tenderness and care are characteristics of femininity according to Allen Johnson, author of “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.”  This is the first point in which Mac’s masculinity has changed as he has gone from equal strength, as compared to his buddy Dennis, to a weaker, lesser person than Dennis.  In reaction to Mac’s change in personality, Dennis, too, becomes sensitive about the matter, and cares too much about Mac to let him leave, but then decides he is a more authoritative person than Mac, in front of Mac’s face, and shows him off, reinforcing Mac’s femininity.
            Mac goes to live with Charley and Dennis’ father.  The first scene, with the three men in Charley’s apartment, shows how Mac has gone from “one of the guys” to taking the role of the “housewife.”  He is seen picking up trash, demanding of the two men on the couch to be more responsible people and becomes a nurturing maternal figure when Dennis’ father cuts his toe.  The evidence of his femininity is then confirmed by Dennis’ father when he tells Charley that “[they] could use a little structure [meaning someone to watch over them] and he [Mac] is cleaning up the trash” (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”), which is the stereotypical role of a feminine character in a given relationship. 
The phone then rings.  Charley picks up the phone and Mac immediately wants to know if it is Dennis, because he cares so much about him and his well being, which is once again a representation of the stereotypical sensitive female character.  Mac repeatedly asks if Dennis, on the other line, is talking to Charley about him, which shows that he is caring towards those who are close to him.  The way that Mac cares for Dennis is not masculine, and according to David Newman, masculinity “usually means things like being assertive, not overtly displaying certain emotions, and not nurturing others, especially other adults” (54).  Charley reinforces Mac’s femininity by displaying how annoyed he is at Mac’s constant nagging about leaving Dennis, stating that he cannot stand Mac “bossing him around,”  and having to change the way the he and Dennis’ father have been living.  At the end of the phone conversation, Dennis offered that Charley come over to watch the movie, and his response was, “Oh my G-d dude, I’ll be right over” (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”).
The ending scene that involves the friendship between Dennis and Mac is a set-up by Dee for a dinner for two.  Dennis and Mac were both told that they would be going to dinner to “meet a woman with giant breasts” (“Mac and Dennis Break Up”).  After Dee explained that it was ok for two grown men to be needing each other, as friends, as much as Dennis and Mac had, while being completely frustrated at how annoying each of them have been since they were apart, Mac decides to show his masculine side by aggressively throwing water across the table at Dennis and then a fight breaks out with the throwing of other table items.  After Dennis makes a joke about Dee once Dee left, Mac decided to begin conversation and resolve the issue of their separation showing mental strength and resolution skills.   This turnaround of gender roles from masculinity, to femininity and back to masculinity directly proves that “Genders are fluid. They can overlap…” (Newman 55).
In various situations, characters, in real life and in fiction, can switch their masculine traits to feminine traits and vice versa, sometimes not even realizing it.  From the time they realized that Dee may have been right about saying that they are inseparable, to the time when they made up, emotions that they experienced were not part of their everyday masculine emotions and actions that are viewed in other episodes.  Mac is normally someone who is the brain of the group when it comes to winning women over, being competitive, or taking risks for the group.  Newman states how it is not uncommon for men [such as Mac] in prime-time comedies to be depicted as rude, crude, sex-crazed, childish, egotistical, and stupid” (94), but at anytime, and in any situation the personality and role can change very quickly into that of the opposite.  Both Dennis and Mac are great characters when it comes to expressing gender roles, and when it comes down to friendship, even the strongest, most masculine man can be the most nurturing feminine friend.

Works Cited
"Dennis and Mac Break Up”. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. By Rob McElhenney. Perf. Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Rob McElhenney, and Danny DeVito. FX.  November 12, 2009. 
Johnson, Allan G. “Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy. Temple University Press, 1997.
Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Text-reader. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003.
Newman, David M. "Manufacturing Difference: The Social Construction of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality." Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.  
Newman, David M. Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.


  1. Hey Jon! I really enjoyed your paper! The episode you chose, which presented a situation that placed the characters out of their comfort zone in order to convey their weaknesses, was ideal for this assignment and a great choice. You also backed-up your point well with great examples from the show, like when the two men were blatantly displaying their masculinity and when Mac assumed the role of a housewife. Your use of quotes was incorporated well into your analysis. However, while reading I was a little unsure about what your thesis was until I reached the end. Maybe it would have been clearer if you had included a more concise thesis in your intro, because at first I thought it was only about the men overtly showing masculinity in order to protect their heterosexuality. The only other advice I have is that I felt like you directly quoted and summarized the episode a bit too often, which kind of interrupted the flow and analysis of the paper. But other than that you did a great job and now I might start actually watching this show!

  2. I agree with the comments that Sara made, Jon.
    I would add that the paragraph structure needs to be a bit more conducive to your analysis. It's also necessary to address the clarity of the thesis first, in order to facilitate the logically structured paragraphs for your analysis to progress.
    Make your thesis as specific as possible and don't leave anything unclear or without the definition you plan to argue.
    Be careful with your quote usage; therefore, remember to use quotes selectively to back up specific points. When you jump from a paragraph with a point from one author, directly to another paragraph that quotes a different author, the points the author makes should be backing up the same point you've made in the paragraph preceding the first paragraph with quoted work.
    The following outline can be used as a reference point (the numbers indicate the paragraph sequence) to structure and order a basic, written analysis:
    1. Intro Paragraph (with thesis at the last sentence)

    2. Point A (your first point/assertion that supports your thesis)

    3. Point A with quote from "expert witness" (author cited through the use of a direct quote to back up your point/assertion made in paragraph 2)

    4. Point B (your point/assertion that supports your thesis that can be directly linked with point A, so that your transition from point A to B is logical and adds depth to your analysis)

    5. Point B with quote from "expert witness" (author cited through the use of a direct quote to back up your point/assertion made in paragraph 4)

    .... repeat the steps above until your points have been made and you've adequately proven your thesis.

    #. Conclusion (after all points have been made)

    The last point I wanted to ask you about was in relation to this episode of It's Always Sunny...:
    Would the two characters be compelled to "spend time apart" if they were female characters? Would they be threatened by the notion that they spent too much time together and are seen as "an old married couple"? It seems like that's the last piece of the puzzle here...the show itself is sending a very clear message about what it means to be a man when these two characters spend an entire episode justifying their masculinity due to their refusal to be associated with feminine behaviors.