Jon Uriarte, "Santi & Sabela," (2013)

Jon Uriarte, “Santi & Sabela,” (2013) (all images via FeatureShoot.com)

We turn our gazes toward men and masculinity, and suddenly everyone feels safe again.

Consider The New Inquiry’s Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child, a response to the ongoing conversations around the French journal Tiqqun’Preliminary Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl, which uses the body of the young-girl (not necessarily a cisgender young girl) as the central unit of late capitalism. The young woman, or the young-girl remains the focus of attention economies. However, the young-girl is both scapegoat and victim, embodiment of late capitalism and that which disrupts it. In their essay “Further Materials Toward a Theory of the Man-Child,” writers Moira Weigel and Mal Ahern dismantle Tiqqun‘s text, calling out the boyish critic as the actual enigma of our age — not the young-girl and her selfie-obsession. This man-child is the real cause of perpetuating bad behavior, both within the sphere of commodity culture and within the supposed radical left and bourgeois-left spheres of cultural production alike.

The writers note, however, that this man-child isn’t necessarily male-bodied. A possible convergence of the young-girl and the man-child might take place in the space of GIRLS:

“Lena Dunham may be living proof that the Man-Child is now equal opportunity. That is, the character she plays on Girls is. A real man-child would never get it together to get an HBO show. As we watch Hannah Horvath pull a splinter out of her ass, we wonder: Is this second-wave feminism? Or fourth? It is no accident that Judd Apatow wrote the scene. The mesh tank Dunham wears over bare tits is isomorphic with the dick joke.”

Dunham’s character may certainly embody a man-child, but she appears as a man-child in feminine attire, which could also be read as drag. And more importantly, is it possible to move beyond both the young-girl and the man-child through the embodiment of a certain effeminate masculinity?

Jon Uriarte, "Javi & Gabi" (2013)

Jon Uriarte, “Javi & Gabi” (2013)

Portraits of men wearing their girlfriends’ clothes by Spanish photographer Jon Uriarte come close. He suggests not a convergence of both the young-girl and man-child concepts as propagated by The New Inquiry and the original Tiqqun text, instead moving beyond into something that could actually equate to an adult-man. The men he photographs take a moment to pose for a male photographer (male gaze) while wearing their girlfriend’s clothes. In doing so, they willingly jeopardize their own masculinity. In this way, they “grow up,” becoming the adult-man who isn’t afraid to reveal his “feminine” side, albeit one lent to him by his girlfriend, in front of a male gaze. This type of work moves beyond an examination of masculine vulnerability as seen through the work of photographer Amy Elkins, whose gaze is still accepted as female-on-male.

Jon Uriarte. "Marcos & Lucia," (2013).

Jon Uriarte, “Marcos & Lucia,” (2013)

Unfortunately, in Uriarte’s work the male subjects are also performing a type of temporal drag — these photographs are meant only for the moment, and their dressing up is, like a young-girl or man-child trying on a parent’s clothing when they’re away at work, something that only happens for a period of time, in a controlled, domestic environment. If these men left their homes and walked about in the world, they would most likely be berated for appearing as drag queens.

Jon Uriarte, "Matias & Sarah" (2013) via FeatureShoot.com

Jon Uriarte, “Matias & Sarah” (2013)

What makes Uriarte’s photographs work, however, is this moment of male vulnerability, which suggests that these men, too, are sensitive and able to access their feminine sides, both literally and metaphorically. The men he captures appear awkward, fragile, confused in clothes that probably fit tighter than what they’re used to. They must pose in ways that demand them to look pretty, beautiful, even doll-like. They become the young-girl, leaving their man-childishness behind; is this what makes an adult-man or at least the beginnings of one?

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Alicia Eler

Alicia Eler is a cultural critic and arts reporter. She is the author of the book The Selfie Generation (Skyhorse Publishing), which has been reviewed in the New York Times, WIRED...

9 replies on “Now Accepting Materials Toward a Theory of the Adult-Man”

  1. I realize that the piece is largely a bit of fun, but to the extent that the question it asks is serious, the answer is no. No, having your picture taken in drag does not make/mark male adulthood, because a progressive pose is still just that — a pose, and poses are the very opposite of what makes someone an adult. Yes, being unafraid to show your feminine side (or whatever you want to call it; I’m not crazy about that term, but whatever) is arguably a sine qua non of male maturity… But there is a difference between **being unafraid to show** something and **seeking opportunities to show off that you are unafraid to show** something. I am far from an expert on adulthood, but I have learned enough about it to be 99% sure that it has nothing to do with how I dress or what I do or don’t get photographed doing. It is entirely non-visual. Or, to put it another way: I would have had no problem getting photographed in women’s clothing way back in high school, because I was into Bowie. Does that mean I was an “adult” in high school? Almost certainly not.

    1. Hey there, sex man, I think you are taking this in a very literal fashion, which is odd to me because this is about a critique of gendered aesthetics. Art is certainly a reflection of our cultural attitudes, and these images provide a snapshot. I don’t think art is made in a vacuum. Maybe you could talk more about the non-visual cues you notice, as someone who is an adult-man? Of course, I am now accepting materials toward a theory of the adult-man. This is a work in progress!

      1. Maybe a more succinct way of putting my point is: There’s nothing wrong with men getting photographed in women’s clothes, but on the other hand, it doesn’t prove anything either. Just because a man is willing to go “Look at mm; I am not embarrassed to be photographed in women’s clothes,” that doesn’t mean he is “more of a man (i.e., adult who happens to be male)” in any sense that counts (responsibility, work ethic, even how he thinks of women for that matter). I just think we should be careful about evaluating “maturity” based on superficial things.

  2. “Dunham’s character may certainly embody a man-child, but she appears as a man-child in feminine attire, which could also be read as drag.”

    No, she’s just clueless and slovenly yet very much so a woman and certainly presenting herself as such.

    I don’t see the connection between what is a flawed but at least admirable feat of critical theory, the following (brilliant) scathing review and expansion of those ideas and what is essentially a one-note series contingent upon a single visual gag.

    1. Did you not read the title? I am now accepting materials . . . these are but further materials, and are not meant as a one-note series contingent on a single visual gag. Do you have further materials you could provide so that we can all continue working toward a sound theory? Cheerio.

  3. check your reference of “temporal drag” — I do not think it means what you think it means.

    so sick of people inappropriately name-dropping theoretical concepts, just cuz they sound fitting. maybe, like, read the actual texts your referencing instead of linking to an article that references them.

    1. Hmm, I will continue working on how to incorporate “temporal drag” into the theory toward an adult-man. Maybe it is not part of the conversation? Can you explain to me how you read “temporal drag,” Margaret? Or please direct me to a few texts that can further my understanding as a writer? It would be cool to talk more with you about these ideas.

  4. Caleb Cole. Period. Check him out. This is either a significant coincidence, or practically ripped off. Maybe they know one another, and it is meant as a dialogue?

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