The Road Warrior’s villainous homosexual lovers Lord Humungus and Wez in a violent embrace.

Courtney arrives to soothe Woodrow’s physical and emotional wounds while a VHS copy of The Road Warrior plays nearby at the edge of the screen.

Bellflower’s sickly yellow hues, deserted streets, and desolate highways already recall a post-apocalyptic milieu

“Most of the week, we were Ozzie and Harriet”: Fight Club’s homoerotic couple goes to work.

Power tools and hands-on ingenuity for masculinist mischief: parking lot spikes screwed on backwards to puncture luxury car tires in Fight Club.

Inexpensive IKEA bookshelves “hacked” and repurposed to become a stowable home bar

Woodrow and Milly ironically slumming it at the downscale Texas diner. Nearby is a “going out of business” sign, signaling a lack of capital. The restaurant’s exterior is only ever seen, suggesting the superficiality of its déclassé designation as “cheap, nasty, and scary” by hip consumers.

Woodrow and Milly leave a pretentious French restaurant in a fit of mock anger, retiring to a nearby park for a more bohemian evening.

The contemporary hipster’s ironic commingling of androgynous, outdated, or downscale gender signifiers signals an alternative masculinity rooted more in subcultural capital than “mainstream” masculine norms.

Aiden excitedly tests the Medusa car’s flame-spewing exhaust pipes. However geeky they may seem, his hobbies also connote an investment in masculine dominance.

Woodrow may have lost the fistfight with the rural working-class man, but hopes his swollen eye at least “looks cool” as compensation.


The manly fantasies of The Road Warrior
and Fight Club

To better understand Bellflower as an emotional wasteland only inhabitable by the male dyad, it is worth exploring the physical wasteland so central to the protagonists’ idealized cinematic inspiration. As a sequel, The Road Warrior differs from the first Mad Max (1979) by not taking place during the breakdown of society. Rather, it occurs after a cataclysm spurred by a global war over dwindling petroleum supplies. The trilogy’s first film depicts Max (Mel Gibson) as a police officer, a representative of social institutions that remain functional amid a societal collapse spawning a new kind of Wild West along the Australian highways. The Road Warrior, however, virtually dispenses with images of civilization altogether. Max is now a man who has lost everything, wandering across the Outback in search of fuel. He becomes a reluctant savior to a band of settlers attempting to leave their besieged outpost in a remote refinery. They desire escape to the distant coastal cities which have become little more than a dimly remembered myth, idyllically pictured in a surviving tourist brochure.

As critics have noted, the film’s wasteland setting evokes the lack of reproductive potential figured in its primal, homosexual denizens like Lord Humungus, Wez, and their gang.[20][open endnotes in new window] It is a male-dominated landscape where queerness becomes linked to male bonding and primitive tribalism. Homosexual desire often becomes channeled into violence and casual misogyny. Those few women who appear are eventually victimized and killed, leaving Max with no potential love interests. Heterosexual reproduction is instead associated with the distant coastal paradise where, as one character puts it, there is “nothing to do but breed.”[21] In this respect, it is noteworthy that Woodrow and Aiden do not idolize Max or the settlement leader Pappagallo (Michael Preston). Rather, they identify with the gang of villains who would prevent the heterosexual settlers from seeking out more “fertile” territory. (This territory is eventually reached in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome [1985], in which Max leads a pack of children to the ruins of Sydney.)

The Road Warrior thus unfolds in a liminal fantasy space literally distanced from the depictions of coastal civilization that bookend the trilogy. Yet, Max is not the only character haunted by what he has lost. As Christopher Sharrett observes, even Lord Humungus seems to be a member of an old order. His “wooden case containing his revolver, military decorations, and old photographs,” all serve as nostalgic traces of a prelapsarian past that he cannot completely forget.[22] These nostalgic traces are not unlike the VHS copy of The Road Warrior has itself become for Woodrow and Aiden. We see Woodrow watching The Road Warrior while recuperating from his breakup and injury, for example, suggesting that it mnemonically renews him. Woodrow, Aiden, and their Road Warrior analogues are thus not only animated by nihilistic ambitions, but also by cherished remembrances of what they have lost.

Adrian Martin notes that The Road Warrior has less moral ambiguity between “good guys” and “bad guys” than its trilogic predecessor. Yet, he argues that The Road Warrior’s bad guys are far more interesting than the good guys. The settlers are in search of the idealized, “mainstream” vision of Australia illustrated in a brochure originally made for national-cultural outsiders. Alternately, there seems something defiantly more “authentic” about the villainous gang’s nomadic and marginal existence.[23] Perhaps it should be little surprise, then, that the Humungus/Wez and Woodrow/Aiden dyads share a masculinist fantasy of forcibly mastering those wild and “authentic” desert frontiers lurking just beyond their respective coastal metropolises.

Woodrow and Aiden live amid a bohemian urban milieu that offers a shallow sense of rootedness, instead of lasting ties to one location. We see living arrangements in constant flux throughout the film as characters move in and out of friends’ rented houses. Consequently, it makes sense that the two young men’s post-apocalyptic fantasies lean toward the self-destructive. Both characters’ recurring desire to pull up stakes and abruptly vanish metaphorically recalls the fate of their Road Warrior counterparts: “driv[ing] straight into the fucking tanker” and perishing together in a spectacular crash.[24]

Indeed, on a formal level, Glodell visually depicts the titular area along Bellflower Avenue as already somewhat resembling a post-apocalyptic cinematic landscape. It is littered with dilapidated buildings, depopulated streets, and a sickly yellowish-green tint exacerbated by his extensive use of selective focus and grainy artifacting upon the camera lens. Glodell’s vision of Los Angeles, the quintessential cinematic city, thus expresses the filmmaker-as-star’s own aestheticization of a downscale milieu seemingly bereft of modern high technology. Consequently, his stylization allows the Bellflower area to feel primed for the mix of primal masculinity and hands-on technological mastery that his protagonists remember from The Road Warrior as a source of “authentic,” action-oriented male power.

This fantasized association between violent masculinity and cultural authenticity recalls Bellflower’s frequent critical comparisons to Fight Club, another film explicitly discussed as a bromance about self-destructive masculinity.[25] Rather than set in a post-apocalyptic milieu, Fight Club depicts its unnamed Narrator (Edward Norton) as a downtrodden company man living in a late-1990s, urban, consumerist culture that will soon be demolished through the efforts of his bromantic partner, Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). Durden teaches the Narrator to replace his “feminizing” dependence on mass-culture commodity fetishism with a primal masculinity rediscovered during illicit bare-knuckle fights with other men. The anarchistic Durden, however, is actually the Narrator’s violent, hypermasculine split personality, erupting from his own undiagnosed mental illness. For the Narrator, the confirmation of his long-buried emotions (including homoeroticism) through bonding with other men is central to recovering an “authentic” sense of masculine selfhood. Nevertheless, Tyler’s recruitment of a “private army” ultimately leads, like Lord Humungus’s gang, to a fascistic tribalism where nihilistically violent men are masculinized but perhaps no longer clearly individuated.

As I have noted above, Aiden narrates his post-apocalyptic fantasy at the beginning and end of Bellflower, featuring the two-man gang rolling into desert towns in the Medusa car and immediately asserting dominance with their flamethrowers (à la Lord Humungus). This recalls Tyler’s post-apocalyptic dream of “stalking elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center” and “laying strips of venison on the empty car pool lane of some abandoned superhighway.” Thus, these characters share a common nostalgia for a mythical time of greater material authenticity, when “men could be men.” A recurrent cultural fantasy of manly rebellion resonates across the past, present, and not-too-distant futures of The Road Warrior, Fight Club, and Bellflower alike. Masculine individualism may not be wholly guaranteed in each of these films, given the forms of tribalism that arise in them. Yet, the intimacy of the homosocial/homoerotic dyad seemingly becomes all that is needed in a one-sex fantasy world cleansed of femininity.

As I have said, Bellflower may offer a critique of just how insular and futile its protagonists’ masculinist fantasies ultimately are—albeit a critique too ambivalent for some critics. One major political limitation of this critique, however, is a corollary denunciation of the implicit queerness within the dyad. On one hand, unreconstructed sexism and imagined visions of violence temper the homoeroticism lurking in Woodrow and Aiden’s relationship. On the other hand, Bellflower’s ostensibly criticizes the inescapability of their intimate bond, and thus posits inter-male love as a nightmarish and undesirable conclusion. This implication likewise appears in the latter half of Fight Club, in which the Narrator tries to prevent Tyler from triggering an anti-corporate apocalypse. These efforts conclude with the Narrator symbolically “killing” his homoerotically desired split personality, and immediately afterward reuniting with an unlikely heterosexual love interest.

To its credit, Bellflower does not go as far as Fight Club in associating homoeroticism with mental illness. As we see, the Woodrow-Aiden bromance clearly predates Woodrow’s head trauma and does not narratively end with the formation of heterosexual couples. Still, the film’s attempted critique of their naïve, post-apocalyptic gang fantasies still represents a normalizing call for men to accept heterosexual manhood as a more realistic option for living in a future with women. Although some fans came away with a very different interpretation, Bellflower arguably rejects a perpetual retreat into adolescent fantasies and sexual ambiguity as a viable design for living. In this respect, Bellflower’s denouement may attempt to critique a defiant masculinity that sublimates homoeroticism into violence. In doing so, however, the film’s critique is not so far removed from the tenets of retrograde gender traditionalism (e.g., masculine aggression and the subordination of femininity) that the film wants to otherwise challenge. As I will now explain, we can also see this ideological contradiction in the film’s approach to the interrelated gendering of niche taste cultures and low-tech/analog materiality.

Material hacking and the hipness of lo-fi nostalgia

Figures like Tyler Durden and Lord Humungus pose a gendered opposition to the sort of slick, mass-produced cultural detritus represented by the settlers’ commodified vision of Australia in The Road Warrior. Meanwhile, Woodrow and Aiden’s lo-fi, handmade projects evince the related gendering of a subcultural ethos privileging the hip cultural distinctiveness of do-it-yourself (DIY) creative ventures and material hacking. Localized forms of DIY cultural production have a long tradition in indie culture, including independently produced zines, crafts, music, and films. Woodrow and Aiden’s pastime also clearly plays into longstanding links between male hobbyists, custom-car cultures, and men’s hands-on repurposing of machinic technologies—but with a specifically “indie” subcultural twist. Their hobby also shares certain similarities with the DIY culture-jamming mayhem perpetrated in Fight Club (e.g., billboard banditry, vandalism of corporate monuments) and The Road Warrior’s heavily modified vehicles, decked out with metal armor, gun turrets, and supercharged engines. Apocalyptic fantasies about the collapse of capitalist society, after all, speak to a desire for an overwhelming sense of scarcity. This scarcity would re-enchant everyday or outmoded consumer goods with “authentic” value and a need for careful attention.[26] Indeed, I argue that this desired scarcity also inspires the allure of lo-fi aesthetics/technology within the indie/hipster habitus. This is because the desire for hipness springs from the scarcity of subcultural capital—a form of capital potentially accrued by those select users who still manipulate such aesthetics/technologies. Subcultural capital would lose its allure if such knowledges and dispositions were widespread and easily accessible, hence its investment in niche preferences for the culturally residual and antiquated.

In a more general sense, Woodrow and Aiden’s hobby falls beneath the banner of hacking, especially in its older, pre-computing connotations of any ingenious, unauthorized manipulation of technological artifacts. As Paul Taylor observes, hacking has long carried particular gender connotations. Male hackers are often seen as attempting to master and impose their will upon another’s system. Female hackers (a disproportionate minority within hacking subcultures), however, are viewed as engaging in a more interactive, dialogic process of trial-and-error. Cyberspace has been discursively constructed as a sort of Wild West frontier where hackers are alternately figured in masculine terms as “cowboys” or “outlaws.” Still, the time and energy poured into hacking has also tended to figure male hackers as asexual or perverse outcasts sublimating their erotic drives into their largely homosocial subcultures. Furthermore, the homosociality of hacking subcultures is often policed through displays of misogyny (e.g., the use of sexually degrading language, the insulting or neglecting of female participants).

We can see the material hacking depicted in Bellflower as similarly channeling (homo)social desire into projects supporting a misogynistic frontier mentality. Yet, the physicality of hacking analog materials avoids some of the challenges to one’s masculinity raised by popular images of nerdy, asocial computer hackers obsessed with the more disembodied, abstract minutiae of digital worlds. That is, the computer hacker is more open to charges of feminization via the “openness” and “soft manipulations” of the digital. The material hacker, however, retains greater ties to a sense of masculinity rooted in the tactility of analog objects. As Daniela Rosner and Jonathan Bean note in discussing DIY hackers of mass-produced furniture, material hacking is more invested in taking advantage of an existing (analog) design’s strengths. The (digital) code hacking associated with computers, on the other hand, is about exploiting unplanned weaknesses. Unsurprisingly, then, material hacking has been shown to attract far more men than women. These hackers see their creativity ultimately serving instrumental goals by building usable objects. In fact, they may even fear their designs will be copied by others or co-opted by corporations for mass production.[28] The (male) material hacker’s ingenious reworking of mass-produced goods can thereby become a highly valued source of non-mainstream identity. Their hobbies build a sense of cachet implicitly linked to a physical, hands-on mastery of strengths. Traditional associations between masculinity and physicality can thus remain a privileged node in the social values circulating within DIY cultures.

At the same time, though, the contemporary indie/hipster habitus is quite invested in digital consumer technologies and networked socialities. It is little surprise, then, that many members of indie subcultures espouse a generalized nostalgia for “vintage” analog media and low-tech devices. Critics like P. J. Rey have described this nostalgia as offering

“the illusion of agency; it provides affirmation for the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative to be an individual, to be unique.”

In other words, fetishizing the low-tech or outdated offers an imagined fantasy of escape from the high-tech world. Yet, this fantasy paradoxically plays into the post-Fordist economic values of innovation and uniqueness, which marked a shift away from the “conformity” of mass production. Whereas Fordist economics banked on the sameness of assembly line labor and products, post-Fordism favors more flexible, individuated workers and means of production. As such, “the hipster aesthetic reflects an ideology of hyper-individualism, though this individualism is itself paradoxical because it is socially mandated” by both subcultures and neoliberal economic systems.[29]

Embodying a DIY aesthetic and faux-vintage visual style (as further elaborated below) consequently allowed Bellflower to effectively stand out and achieve a valuable distribution deal within the overpopulated world of indie film. Yet, those same aesthetic choices also opened the filmmakers to charges of hipster inauthenticity. As one representative review complained, for example,

“The movie swims in hipster clichés, from the second-generation mumblecore mumbles to the romantic hem[ming] and hawing over relationships that are as flat as vinyl. The whole thing feels like it was shot on a Polaroid camera, and ultimately finding itself with little to say about its characters or their world, it continually falls back on style and cult references for content.”[30]

Likewise, the “mumblecore” comparison appeared in a number of other reviews, referring to the emerging corpus of low-budget, digitally filmed feature films made by young, white, urban filmmakers about that privileged demographic’s struggles to find lasting personal relationships.

Aymar Jean Christian notes that mumblecore films are often nostalgic for an unattainable sense of “real” experience, prior to the heavy mediation of daily experience in the digital age. Despite their characters’ striving for both love and the real, these goals are invariably doomed. Yet, even if “[t]he search for the real is lonely and desperate,” this struggle is “in itself satisfying.”[31] For Aiden and Woodrow, the Mother Medusa gang may represent a search for the pre-digital “authentic” in their own lives. Still, it remains a fantasy whose inevitable failure to come to full fruition results in personal identity struggles. They ultimately express these struggles in masculinist terms, nostalgically harkening back to that mythical past when “men could be men.” But, as noted earlier, their hipster credentials require that that past cannot be wholly celebrated without at least some measure of ironic self-consciousness.

As Michael Z. Newman notes, indie culture may espouse progressive values in opposing whatever it constructs as the corporate “mainstream.” Yet, the ability to draw such distinctions is often based upon the same unacknowledged class privilege that, for example, provides the appeal of cultural slumming.[32] Furthermore, I would add that gender privilege is an overlapping and often unacknowledged ideological contradiction within an indie culture that simultaneously permits a measure of ironic play with gender norms (e.g., Woodrow’s ironic mock-macho challenge to Milly in the cricket-eating contest). Whereas the demands of hegemonic masculinity mandate men’s role as wage earners, Woodrow and Aiden’s masculinity within the diegetic indie habitus is linked to their acquisition of subcultural capital instead of economic capital. In particular, the low-tech distinctiveness of their DIY material-hacking projects serves as a valuably hip marker of (masculine) identity.

This masculinizing pursuit of coolness is repeatedly driven home in Bellflower’s final scene, in which Aiden recalls that he and Woodrow had originally moved to California because they thought it would be “cool like in the movies.” For Aiden, roving the U.S. deserts in the Medusa car would

“look so fucking cool. We would go places and park the car where we know we’d look cool, hang out smoking cigarettes, leaning against the car looking cool, and let people look at us.”

(An actual apocalypse would no doubt dismantle the structural bearings of subcultural capital, thereby rendering “coolness” moot as one-time subcultures vanish in the ensuing struggle for survival. We can therefore see Aiden’s use of “cool” as a euphemism for “threatening” or “powerful.”) Milly and Woodrow’s visit to the “cheapest, nastiest, scariest” Texas diner also smacks of ironic cultural slumming below their level of (sub)cultural capital. Likewise, a later scene shows them ironically delving above their class-inflected milieu by ordering (with deliberately horrendous pronunciation) the cheapest bottle of wine at a snooty French restaurant. They then leave in an exaggerated fit of mock indignation when they receive poor service, retiring to a public park with boxes of take-out and a pornographic novel. The fact that these scenes centrally involve very different restaurants attests to the film’s indie/hipster preoccupation with taste.

Bellflower may attribute part of its male characters’ misogyny to their ambitions of bringing Road Warrior-style elements into their own lives. Yet, their fannish desire to merge fantasy and reality is paradoxically premised upon the hipster’s desired separation of “inauthenticity” from “authenticity” as a means of building status within his/her habitus. In other words, Woodrow and Aiden’s fantasy of entering a nostalgically remembered cinematic past may be more valuable to their dyadic identity as friends than to the local Bellflower social scene they are willing to leave behind at the film’s conclusion. Regardless, this fantasy’s emphasis on low-tech DIY materiality still remains inseparable from their habitus’ gendered connotations of subcultural authenticity as (masculine) resistance against the “feminizing” mainstream.

While fueling fantasies about embodying a post-apocalyptic coolness, their post-ironic nostalgia for The Road Warrior also plays into the homosocial “boys’ zone” of cult film fandom. However, this sense of subcultural distinction is simultaneously premised upon their beloved cinematic visions of action-movie hypermasculinity. Such hypermasculine representations would likely be out of place within an indie/hipster milieu that associates gender traditionalism with mainstream conformity. Stereotypically “mainstream” gender performances are often viewed with some skepticism within indie cultures valuing distinctive personal styles. Yet, instances of hegemonic gender attitudes might be excused if performed with a large grain of hipster irony. This strategy allows Woodrow and Aiden to superficially downplay the misogynistic implications of their sincere Lord Humungus appreciation. As Christy Wampole notes, the hipster’s predilection for irony is a “self-defensive mode” of living. It allows the past to be self-consciously cited, but largely so long as irony “allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise.”[33] When Woodrow first tells Milly about the Mother Medusa gang, for example, his impromptu elucidation quickly falls apart into self-conscious joking about his failure to explain it in a “cool” way. He thus downplays the fantasy’s more violent and sexist implications by reframing them as film-historically anachronistic quirks.

In this sense, a hip sense of knowing irony can provide a defensive cover for Woodrow and Aiden’s politically regressive fandom. (He jokingly notes that he and Aiden’s “minds got warped” after watching the film so many times as kids.) Irony thus allows the gendering of cultural distinctions to (however uneasily) coexist with a hypermasculinity that the protagonists can earnestly reclaim or ironically disavow, depending on whether interacting within or beyond their dyad.[34] These men may try to escape into an “authentic,” analog past associated with The Road Warrior. Nonetheless, their adherence to fantasies of hypermasculinity is complicated by their habitus’ imperative to uphold the subculturally “authentic” while simultaneously rejecting regressively traditional gender performances as inauthentically “mainstream.”

Nevertheless, the DIY aesthetics associated with hipster/indie cultures can still evoke certain complications for notions of hegemonic masculinity. In his “gendered genealogy of the hipster,” James Penner notes that the cultural figure known as the hipster has been considered a masculine “frontiersman” into subterranean cultural realms as far back as Norman Mailer’s famous 1957 essay “The White Negro.” Yet, the hipster has also been seen as a cultural frontiersman whose masculinity is more fluid than the heteronormative ideal. He may engage in bisexual or homosexual passions taking what Mailer deems a non-effeminate form (such as the carousing Kerouac/Cassady characters in On the Road). The hipster’s rejection of the cultural “mainstream” can thus extend even to hegemonic gender/sexual norms, permitting a measure of ambiguity. This predilection has descended to the more contemporary inheritors of the term, who are less often associated today with the Beats and jazz culture than an anti-corporate and anti-mainstream ethos of indie cultural production.

Alongside indie/hipster tastes in the lo-fi, downscale, and outdated, we can therefore find an ironic approach to performing gender and sexuality as well. This may include more “effeminate” forms than seen in Mailer’s day, as some hipsters “devour gay style” through androgynous attire and behavior (e.g., tight, women’s-cut jeans worn by men). Moving in the opposite direction from androgyny, however, we can also see the ironic embodiment of lo-fi masculine “authenticity” in retro styles of mustaches and beards. These are rather different signifiers than associated with the contemporaneous figure of the so-called “metrosexual” (i.e., the ostensibly heterosexual man who affects an upscale, cosmopolitan attention to personal style and grooming traditionally associated with effeminacy). While the male hipster may share some of the metrosexual’s openness to gender fluidity, his careful attention to subcultural style is more often characterized by a down-market bohemian look. Unlike the trendiness of the wealthy, fashionable metrosexual, the hipster ironically embraces far more déclassé or outdated gender signifiers, such as vintage clothing over couture boutique attire.[37] Indeed, we might think of the ironically worn handlebar mustache as the quintessential hipster signifier turned faddish pop-cultural kitsch. Perhaps it is little surprise, then, that Woodrow hates mustaches, but ends up with an ersatz one tattooed onto his face as revenge. A stereotypical hipster signifier of ironically performed masculinity becomes part of him and literally cannot be erased. This would seem especially egregious now that the ironic mustache’s one-time hipness within indie cultures has since been appropriated by mainstream commodification (e.g., the present ubiquity of mustache-themed merchandise in gift shops) in a way that would undesirably evoke a sapping of subcultural capital.

Tony Coles discusses the need to situate multiple masculinities in relation to a Bourdieuian discussion of habitus. He argues that marked differences often exist between hegemonic masculinity as an impossible ideal socially upheld to some degree by the majority of men in a patriarchal culture, and the different types of dominant masculinities that are valued in a given habitus. “It is possible to be subordinated by hegemonic masculinity” on the basis of race, class, appearance, etc., “yet still draw on dominant masculinities and assume a dominant position in relation to other men” in a particular milieu. “Physical capital” (i.e., the body’s size, strength, and utility) may be privileged in some milieus, for example, but these factors are less applicable to the dominant masculinities at play in others.[38]

In my estimation, then, the indie/hipster habitus offers different dominant masculinities than the hegemonic masculine ideal. The value of masculinity instead becomes reinforced through the “coolness” that subcultural capital bestows upon men like Woodrow and Aiden in the eyes of the relevant beholder. They may not fit the hegemonic ideal in terms of their physical capital or their ability to acquire economic capital. However, the subcultural capital linked to their hobbies, disposition, and objects of fannish fantasy still harkens back to certain elements of hegemonic masculinity, and thus allows them to perform a dominant masculinity within their peer group. There may be something seemingly “immature” or “geeky” about their continuing devotion to a childhood text. However, like Milly’s initial reaction of charmed amusement at the cinematic inspiration for Woodrow’s hobbies, hip indie film audiences were likely to be similarly tickled by the spectacular, flame-spewing fruits of the filmmakers’ own efforts. As I will elaborate below, for example, Bellflower’s filmmakers used the actual Medusa car as a key component of promoting their masculine DIY prowess on the festival circuit.

To again quote Coles,

“The struggle for legitimacy that exists in the field of masculinity between dominant and subordinated masculinities is validated by habitus and the belief that one’s own masculinity is ‘natural’ and ‘true.’ Thus, even those men in subordinated positions in the field of masculinity may not see their masculinity as subordinated or marginalized, particularly if they operate in social fields and domains in which the actions and dispositions of other men are similar to their own.”[39]

In this sense, the indie/hipster impetus to gain subcultural capital by fetishizing the “authentic” resonates with a belief in the “authenticity” of one’s own non-hegemonic form of masculinity. This remains true even if exercising dominant masculinities in the indie habitus also involves a hip irony toward hegemonic gender norms. In other words, a hip, ironic stance toward hegemonic masculinity’s traditional norms may be displaced by the performances of more “authentic,” nonhegemonic gender norms within the indie/hipster habitus. At the same time, however, this very emphasis on the subcultural value of outsider “authenticity” paradoxically allows the cultural roots of masculine dominance to sneak back in to the indie/hipster habitus under the cloak of irony. 

Woodrow and Milly’s visit to the Texas diner, for example, begins with Woodrow ironically mocking its grungy menu options. He then angrily confronts a white, rural, working-class man who has just slapped Milly’s ass. He has, however, entered a working-class milieu where dominant forms of masculinity are rooted more in demonstrations of physical than subcultural capital. Consequently, Woodrow is promptly punched out, although he later tells Milly that he at least hopes his swollen eye “looks cool.” A desire for coolness would thus seem to compensate for the fact that his sudden, smirking shift into paternalistically “defending her honor” had obviously fallen flat. As this scene illustrates, the expectations of hegemonic masculinity (e.g., chivalry) lurk beneath Woodrow’s “sensitive,” politically reconstructed masculinity. They reveal themselves when a shift in the social field unsettles the dominant masculinity he is used to performing among his indie/hipster friends. Likewise, his later, post-breakup fantasy about the possible repercussions of destroying Milly’s Shit depicts the threat of violence as another signifier of hegemonic masculinity that can reemerge from beneath alternative masculinities thrown into crisis. As I will now explain, this underlying masculinism is reflected in the film’s own hypermasculine promotional strategies, belying the text’s implied rebuke of violent male psychology.

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