Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hyper-Masculinity within Diary of a Wimpy Kid

I never quite know what to make of satire. I know the purpose is to point out flaws, but, in some cases, I wonder if the audience is able to pick up on such subtlety. Parts of Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid bothered me, but I brushed it off, thinking that Kinney’s purpose was to call into question certain aspects of Middle School and pre-teen culture. Then Chelsea said during class that in her experience with sixth graders, she didn’t think that they would understand the satire, but would understand and sympathize with Greg and all of the situations he finds himself in. Chelsea’s comment really made me rethink how I felt about the book and maybe revert back to my gut reaction, which was one of annoyance or even anger.

Being the gender-sensitive person I am, I immediately noticed while reading Kinney’s work that gender roles and stereotypes were not only narrated, but possibly encouraged. As much as I realize and appreciate Greg’s humanity, I wonder if by narrating Greg’s diary in this way perpetuates a culture of hyper-masculinity and even homophobia. For example, when Greg faces a wrestling unit in P.E. class, he writes, “I spent my seventh period getting WAY more familiar with Fregley than I ever wanted to be” (83). Greg rejects the wrestling unit, not because he is “wimpy,” but because he is touched by another male and may be perceived as “more familiar with Fregley than [he] ever wanted to be.” He doesn’t want to be called “gay” because that would call into question his masculinity (and therefore value) among other pre-teen boys. If the eleven-year-old boys reading this don’t understand that this association is problematic, as I suspect they don’t, isn’t Kinney encouraging homophobia among Middle School boys?

Furthermore, Greg rejects femininity. Defending his Christmas wish for a “Barbie Dream House,” Greg fervently transforms anything that could be associated with femininity into hyper-masculinity. He writes,

When I was seven, the only thing I really wanted for Christmas was a Barbie Dream House. And NOT because I like girls’ toys, like Rodrick said. I just thought it would be a really awesome fort for my toy soldiers. When Mom and Dad saw my wish list that year, they got in a big fight over it. Dad said there was no way he was getting me a dollhouse, but Mom said it was healthy for me to ‘experiment’ with whatever kind of toys I wanted to play with (117).

He immediate rejects, not the Barbie Dream House, but the desire for “girls’ toys,” or in other words, femininity. Then Greg turns a “dollhouse” into a “fort for toy soldiers,” demanding his masculinity by referencing the ultimate “boys’ toy,” soldiers, little, plastic, unnaturally muscular men who kill each other for no reason—how cute. Kinney then narrates a fight between Greg’s parents, in which the parents, too, fill their gendered stereotypes perfectly. Dad wants his son to be a little man, and Mom wants to accept him as he is—I say again, how cute. We, as readers, can call this satire all day long, but looking through the eyes of the target audience makes me rethink our assumptions. Is Kinney planting moral seeds by means of satire or is he perpetuating gendered stereotypes that encourage homophobia as the way to express one’s masculinity?

The most important thing I learned this semester was the universal aspect of humor. Whether or not our senses of humor align, humor is something that we all experience. We’ve all had uncontrollable fits of laughter, we’ve all bonded with someone over an inside joke and we’ve all healed by means of humor and time. Our authenticity as individuals define humor for each of us, but within each person’s “ness” lies a universal propensity for laughter.

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