MASCULINITY EMBODIED (AND THOSE MANLY VOICES!)
Today I need to say something about men’s voices.
A few years ago I got contacted by an American man with a warm, husky voice, Dave Muldoon, who asked me to help him develop a PhD dissertation on men’s voices –he is himself the voice of Tom Waits in an Italian tribute band (here’s Dave singing live, enjoy!!: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6ySDaqmAjM ). I said no to him, worried that the topic was too abstract for the conceptual and theoretical tools we use in Masculinities Studies. I still think this is the case, with much regret.
We agreed instead to work on a dissertation about the representation of masculinity in a series of biopics about iconic pop and rock male singers. He’s hard at work on it and, funnily, we’ve come full circle as it might well be that the final element he needs to tie up all the diverse films is the fundamental presence of the male singer’s voice. Since the chosen ones are Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Ian Curtis and Johnny Cash there is surely a case to be made about how Dave is, after all, dealing primarily with how male voices articulate a certain image of manliness (I don’t know what to make of the fifth one, Bob Dylan, not a voice I listen to with pleasure).
I have already mentioned here Joy Division’s suicidal lead singer, Ian Curtis, as a key figure for those of us who were young and wanted to be alternative in the early 1980s. What I didn’t mention is that the contrast between his baby face and his deep, baritone voice was what got all fans hooked. Since he died I have been looking for a replacement (found him!: Paul Banks from Interpol), and paying attention to men’s voices and how they signify masculinity. I’ll acknowledge that I’m rethinking all these matters not only because of Dave’s dissertation but also, oh my!, because of chef Jordi Cruz’s of MasterChef fame. There is another angelic, babyish face with an unexpectedly manly, velvety voice.
Logically, when it comes to male voices I tend to pay attention to performers, whether actors or singers. In Spain we have recently lost Constantino Romero, the most important dubbing actor of recent years. Romero, the kind of chubby, moustachioed man you’d call sweet, dubbed most famously Clint Eastwood, Schwarzenegger’s Terminator, Blade Runner’s replicant Roy and Darth Vader. For us ‘Luke, yo soy tu padre’ comes in his voice –it seems young people used to stop Romero in the street and begged him to say that. Ramón Langa is also dubbing male icons like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis, which of course is annoying because this means that in Spanish most Americans actors you’d identify with action movies and a certain kind of ultra-manly manliness share their voices. I hate dubbing!!
So, belive me, the reason why I want to see Fast and Furious 6 in the original version is Vin Diesel’s beautifully manly voice (see the animated film The Iron Giant in which he dubs the robot). If you want another example of attractive manly voices, and this one is unusual, believe me, see any episode of the BBC’s Sherlock and see what odd-looking Bennedict Cumberbatch brings to the role with what I can only call a voice that makes intelligence sound sexy. More examples? Yes, the perfect father of To Kill a Mockinbird (the amazing 1960 classic film) has Gregory Peck’s lovely, serene voice. You want scary? Um, Ralph Fiennes both as Heathcliff and as Voldemort. A feast for your ears… By the way, Clooney’s appealing voice is the reason why the Nespresso adds are not dubbed.
Recent scholarship in Masculinities Studies by big names such as Jeff Hearn and Victor Seidler insists that we need to understand how masculinity is embodied (as you can see, I myself am more interested in how ‘manliness’ is embodied –see my essay on Zack Snider’s Spartan film 300 in my web, section articles in books). Actually, Cultural Studies have been taking a close look at men’s bodies for quite a long time now in books as diverse as Richard Dyer’s White or Susan Bordo’s obvious The Male Body. The voice is missing, though, possibly because it is very difficult indeed to find the adequate vocabulary for description and analysis (um, as you can see here).
Long time ago I was at a Tindersticks concert and I heard a girl say ‘I don’t care if he doesn’t sing, I’d give anything for Stuart [Staples] to whisper sexy words to my ear’. Maybe we need a new definition of oral sex (or sexiness?), I don’t know… Now, seriously, ehem, listen to men and tell me what you hear (and Dave, thanks!!)
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