JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Lenore gets Ray to trade his "crap" suit for a "real" suit.

Lenore picks out a plain white-collared shirt for Ray.

Lenore asks Ray if he knows the difference between Christian Louboutin and any other pair of shoes.

Ray sports a white collar shirt for the first time.

Lenore explains to Ray the value associated with designer clothing through a comparison of shoes, arguing that Ray should be raising his prices for sex in a down economy, not lowering them.

Ray voices his frustration with this new attire as he says, “So, there I was at a fancy hotel bar, wearing a suit that I hated even more than the last one.”

Ronny, the dermatologist, barbecues with an apron and oven mitt.

Ray's neighbor, Koontz, sports a sweater-vest.

Ray sits in a chair wearing a Detroit Red Wings sweatshirt and jogging pants, athletic clothing. His clothes signify the paradox of gender performance, simultaneously pointing to his masculine status as a coach and his failure as a pro-athlete.

A shot of Ray's belt, which he discards during the opening credits.

Ray makes his way through the suburbs, stripping his clothing. The "For Sale" sign is marked "Reduced," communicating the aftermath of the mortgage crisis.

Ray takes off his boxers at the end of his dock and jumps in the lake. Ray is able to strip each piece of white-collar clothing from his body to reveal his blue-collar masculinity. His nakedness and the show’s title draw attention to his large penis, which the show always associates with blue-collar masculinity.

A shot of the Tiger Stadium being torn down.

A shot of a scrap yard during the pilot episode, a not so subtle metaphor for the collapsed car industry in Detroit.

A shot of the abandoned Motor City Industrial Park during the pilot episode.

Tanya convinces Ray to go into business with her.

Jessica, Ray's ex-wife, is unsatisfied with her new white-collar partner, Ronnie, a dermatologist.

 

Ray’s working class performance is what Pamela Church Gibson would call a “rough” male aesthetic. In “Brad Pitt and George Clooney, The Rough and the Smooth,” Gibson explores the difference between what she calls “rough” and “smooth” masculine aesthetics in Hollywood cinema. Her main discussion focuses on the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy, claiming that it is “a seminal text and perfect model of current codes of costuming in contemporary Hollywood.”[32] [open endnotes in new window] Using Brad Pitt and George Clooney as examples, Gibson argues that there are two main types of male costuming in films, which she distinguishes as “rough” and “smooth.” Here, she briefly describes the rugged and scantily clad style of the “rough” male:

“The ‘rough’ image, personified by Pitt and currently so fashionable – for the bodies of the Calvin Klein models are now offset by designer stubble and tousled hair – renders the male body available, as opposed to the protection provided by the concealing, sheathing suit. Jeans hug the buttocks, T-shirts reveal the biceps and pectoral muscles, the chest may be bared or visible underneath an unbuttoned shirt, and tousled hair hints at body hair beneath. The ‘rough star’ constantly disrobes – while the suited man, personified by Clooney, is usually kept from view, the hints of physical strength shown through shots of arms, hands and the occasional topless moment, always an integral part of the plot and invariably fleeting. Lastly, of course, the ‘rough’ look suggests not only the man of action but more importantly the blue-collar worker and proletarian roots.”[33]

With his jeans, plaid shirts, tousled hair, and stubble, Ray easily fits the “rough” male style that Gibson identifies. For example, throughout the first episode, Ray often wears jeans, blue golf shirts, and blue button-up shirts with blue-collars, emphasizing a masculine working class aesthetic. Although jeans have more recently come to be worn by many social classes for both work and leisure, Diana Crane writes that they remain associated with “physical labour and ruggedness….[and] the American West.”[34] Ray also wears a variety of long sleeved plaid shirts when he works on his house, tearing down walls and repairing fire damages. Blue and red plaid mackinaw shirts are often associated with the attire of lumberjacks,[35] adding credence to Ray’s working class masculinity. By contrast, Gibson sees George Clooney’s “smooth” male style of dress as the direct opposite of Brad Pitt’s rugged aesthetic:

“Clooney is invariably seen on screen fully clothed; he is the suited hero, the antithesis of the rugged, bare-chested man so ready for action. The suited hero, of course, harks back to an earlier ear in the history of Hollywood. He may indeed possess the ‘pumped-up pecs’ needed to meet today’s exacting standards of male beauty – but his body is in the main outline of his clothes, sheathed rather than stripped. Unlike the body of Pitt, that of Clooney is not presented to us as festishistic spectacle. It is, rather, hinted at – tantalising glimpses may be provided and the contours be clear at moments, but the effect of conventional ‘smart’ menswear – sports jacket and slacks as well as the suit – is to shroud and sheath.”[36]

While Gibson’s “rough” and “smooth” archetypes are useful distinctions, it seems that Hung complicates this dichotomy. For Gibson, “rough” and “smooth” costumes are two different styles of male dress that share the common purpose of sexualizing the male body and reinforcing hyper-masculine personas. Brad Pitt and George Clooney may dress differently, but their costumes serve the same end in marketing their masculinity and sex appeal.

Hung, however, complicates this dichotomy between “rough” and “smooth” as the show constructs and reinforces a dichotomy between blue-collar masculinity and white-collar effeminacy throughout the first season. Hung relies on “rough” blue-collar fashion in order to authenticate Ray’s working class status, but the show does not construct “smooth” male styles of dress as suave, sexy, or masculine in the way Gibson describes. Hung does, however, assign financial value to white-collar clothing. For example, Ray slowly learns that he must upgrade his wardrobe in order to assign value to his sexual services, an upgrade that simultaneously troubles Ray’s masculinity.

One example of this appears near the end of the “Pilot” episode after Ray has put an advertisement in the local newspaper for his sexual services and has secured a date with a woman at a luxury hotel: the Motor City Casino-Hotel in Detroit. He arrives at the door of his client’s room and knocks only to find a note on the floor that says, “Sorry, I’ve changed my mind.”[37] In this scene, Ray wears a light brown jacket over a long sleeved blue-collared shirt. Ray’s beige sports coat appears as an attempt to hide his blue-collar status, signified by the shirt underneath. Looking at Ray through the door’s peephole, the woman is disappointed by his appearance and sends him away. Later, Tanya tells Ray that he has to “sell [himself] better,”[38] market himself better towards affluent women. In order to do this properly, Tanya recommends that Ray wear a suit and tie. When Ray puts on a suit and arrives at Tanya’s so she can inspect him, he explicitly voices discomfort with wearing clothing that exists outside of his blue-collar performance:

RAY. I hate suits!
TANYA. It looks good.
RAY. I don’t wear this shit. I feel like a friggin mortgage broker.[39]

Crane writes,

“the rising cost of the suit and changes toward the expression of social class distinctions have restricted its use to a narrow range of upper-middle-class occupations.”[40]

It makes sense then that Ray would associate the suit with a white-collar worker, a mortgage broker. Crane also writes,

“Being interested in fashion and clothing behaviour tends to be interpreted as effeminate. A man who is considered masculine does not need to care about his appearance, because his masculinity is not considered to be a function of appearance.”[41]

Of course, Ray’s blue-collar work clothes, his blue jeans, the plaid jackets he wears when working on his house are also part of a performance, but Hung associates these clothes with masculinity. David F. Greenberg writes, that often “white-collar work [is] not physically demanding and thus [does] not confer masculinity.”[42] Ray’s objection to wearing the suit lies in his fear of feeling like a mortgage broker, his fear of feeling or appearing effeminate through wearing white-collar clothing.

Hung continually reinforces this dichotomy between white-collar effeminacy and blue-collar masculinity most often through sartorial signifiers. The two main affluent white-collar characters in Hung are Jessica’s new dermatologist husband, Ronnie, and Ray’s attorney neighbour, Koontz. Lehman and Hunt briefly describe Hung’s affluent male characters in terms of their masculine status in the show’s “Pilot” episode:

“[T]he wealthy men in the show…are exceedingly unappealing. The rich guys even look similar. Both are short with a soft appearance and no signs of athletic prowess. Ray on the other hand is a tall ex-jock and classically handsome. Before we see Ronnie, Ray refers to him as an ‘overcompensating little fucker,’ a label confirmed in stereotypical ways the second we see the short man tending meat on his grill at a…backyard party. Everything about [Ronnie] suggests that he is far from well-hung. Ray’s arrogant neighbour, Koontz, lives in a McMansion complete with Grecian statues and acts in an overly aggressive boastful manner, another cliché about men overcompensating for small penises.”[43]

Hung also supports these claims through sartorial signifiers. In the “Pilot” episode, for example, Ronnie and Koontz often wear white-collared shirts under other articles of clothing, signifying their effeminate status as non-manual labourers. Ronnie’s masculine performance of barbequing steaks for his guests is undermined by the long, feminizing apron and large oven mitt that he wears while tending the grill.[44] These sartorial items are more representative of domestic chores than they are of masculinity.

The “smooth” white-collar style of George Clooney is entirely absent from Hung’s first season. The show does not portray the men who conform to white-collar dress codes as suave or sexy in the way Gibson describes, rather they appear as unattractive and inadequate. For example, both Ronnie and Koontz are also unable to please their wives sexually. Koontz’s wife, Yael, begins having sex with Ray as a trade to keep her husband from filing complaints with the city concerning Ray’s zoning violations. Yael phrases this by saying, “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine.”[45] (“The Rita Flower or The Indelible Stench”), insinuating her white-collar husband’s sexual inadequacy. Ray’s ex-wife, Jessica is also unsatisfied by her new husband, Ronnie. Ronnie is unable to “charge her batteries.”[46] Hung feminizes white-collar men, representing them as unable to satisfy their wives due to their inadequate physical endowments. Ultimately then, the show constructs and reinforces a dichotomy between blue-collar men who are “hung” and white-collar men who are not.

The fourth episode of Hung also reinforces this point through matters of clothing. In this episode, Molly, a woman who is wealthy by extension of her white-collar husband, seeks Ray’s sexual services. Tanya arranges a date between Ray and Molly at an expensive hotel. When Ray meets Molly, he is dressed in a black suit and just before they begin to have sex, Molly sits down on the bed and appears frustrated:

RAY. What’s wrong?
MOLLY. My husband Richard…He wants to have sex with me every morning at 6 a.m…That’s the way he wants to start his day…he says if we don’t have sex, he can’t start his work day and he’ll end up cheating on me. But he’s terrible at sex. He has no talent for it. No equipment for it…I’m sorry. I can’t go through with this.
RAY. You mean, you don’t want to do anything?
MOLLY. Every time I think of intercourse, I see his face. I think you should go.[47]

Ray is only able to convince Molly to have sex with him when he removes his suit. While taking off his shirt, Ray says, “It’s my job to make you forget about your husband.”[48] Molly can only forget about her white-collar husband’s inability to please her when Ray removes his white-collar clothing. As Ray pulls down his pants, Molly looks at Ray’s penis and says, “I’ve changed my mind, you’re nothing like my husband, are you?”[49] Ray replies “I doubt we have much in common”[50] and he embraces Molly as they proceed to have sex. This scene fully articulates the dichotomy between white-collar and blue-collar workers and the significance that Hung places on clothing differences. Molly can only see Ray as different from her husband when he removes his white-collar clothing and appears naked. Molly associates Ray’s suit with her husband’s lack of “equipment” as the suit appears to be the only thing that prevents Molly from forgetting her husband in order to embrace Ray. In this way, Hung equates white-collar dress with effeminacy, small penises, and strong financial health, conversely equating blue-collar dress with masculinity, large penises, and poor financial health. Essentially, Hung signifies Ray’s large penis as an attribute of the working class.

At the end of Hung’s first season, Ray and Tanya’s business begins to fail. Clients begin to pay them less and less money for Ray’s sexual services. In the second episode, Tanya arranges a date with one of her business associates, Lenore. Lenore is a personal shopper for the wives of white-collar men and is therefore concerned with fashion and appearances. When Ray arrives at Lenore’s house and she sees Ray in his suit, her comments foreshadow Ray and Tanya’s loss of higher paying customers:

RAY. Hi there.
LENORE. [Looks at Ray] Not bad. Where’d you get that suit, though?
RAY. Uh, somebody bought it for me.
LENORE. Well, let’s see. [She feels the fabric of the suit] JT Warehouse, going-out-of-business sale, 75% off.
RAY. [Shrugs] I’m not sure.
LENORE. I am.[51]

Lenore immediately recognizes Ray’s suit as cheap and reveals Ray’s white-collar performance as inauthentic. Ray’s suit is not valuable and by extension, Ray’s services are devalued. Finally, when Lenore hears that Ray and Tanya’s business is suffering, she offers to become a partner. Lenore helps Ray better market himself towards affluent women, bringing him to a clothing store after hours to try on a designer suit and teach him about fashion:

RAY. I’ve already got a suit.
LENORE. Yeah. That’s a crap suit, Ray. [Holds up the designer suit] Try this on…Go ahead…[Ray puts on the designer suit] Hey, Ray how much do you think these shoes are worth? [Holds up a pair of stilettos]
RAY. I don’t know.
LENORE. Seventy-nine, ninety-nine. How about these? [Holds up a different pair of shoes]
RAY. No idea.
LENORE. One thousand two hundred and fifty dollars. Do you know why? Branding. These shoes are Christian Louboutin. [Holding up the designer shoes] These shoes are shit. [Referring to the cheaper pair] Women buy Louboutin because they are buying quality, but more importantly, they are buying what the Louboutin represent: the best.
RAY. Sounds to me like they’re getting a bad deal.
LENORE. They don’t care. That’s the crucial thing you need to remember. Paying more doesn’t bother them; it gives them piece of mind. If they wear something of value, that means that they intern have value. You shouldn’t be lowering your price in this economy; you should be raising it.[52]

This scene marks the first time Ray puts on a plain white-collared shirt throughout the series. As Ray tries on this suit, he sheds his working class performance and performs as a white-collar male instead. Ray must wear the designer suit to assign value to his sexual services in order to maintain and increase his fees. So long as Ray wears “the best” designer suit, his clients will more highly value his services. Regardless of the new suit’s value, Ray voices his frustration with his new attire as he says,

“So, there I was at a fancy hotel bar, wearing a suit that I hated even more than the last one.”[53]

Presumably, Ray hates wearing the suit even more than his original black suit because it makes him feel like more of a “mortgage broker.” In other words, the suit makes him feel more effeminate due to its designer qualities along with the white-collared shirt underneath that signals white-collar effeminacy within Hung’s constructions of gender. Although Ray’s new suit attributes value to his sexual services, Hung continues to represent white-collar clothing as less than masculine. Ray is privileged over the white-collar men in the show, as he is able to mediate between white-collar clothing that assigns value to his services, surviving the economic downturn, while also dressing in blue-collar clothing to repeat and (re)signify a masculine performance.

Finally, the introduction to Hung that precedes each episode is significant to a discussion of Ray’s masculine blue-collar status. Ray walks from Detroit’s financial district past various city landmarks, wearing a suit. He strips articles of clothing from his body, throwing his tie and belt on the ground, his suit jacket in a public garbage can. Eventually, Ray arrives at his fire-damaged house in the country, down to his boxers. He takes off his boxers at the end of his dock and jumps in the lake. Ray is able to strip each piece of white-collar clothing from his body to reveal his blue-collar masculinity. His nakedness and the show’s title draw attention to his large penis, which the show always associates with blue-collar masculinity. Ray’s nakedness naturalizes his “rough” blue-collar status, whereas his “smooth” white-collar aesthetic is degraded, left on the ground and in the garbage. Ray effectively becomes a “naturally” masculine blue-collar ideal in a time of economic instability. The show communicates that if the working class cannot attain wealth through hard work, at least this they can maintain a masculine status over white-collar workers who might remain relatively stable despite the financial downturn (exemplified by the wealthy but effeminate doctors and lawyers in the show). Ray’s final words at the end of the season affirm this ideal:

“I used to have a family, I used to have a wife, kids, a house, a job. And now? Well, now I have my dick – a dick and a dream – if that’s not the American way, what is?”[54]

Ray sits in a chair wearing a Detroit Red Wings sweatshirt and jogging pants, athletic clothing. His clothes signify the paradox of gender performance, simultaneously pointing to his masculine status as a coach and his failure as a pro-athlete. Ray’s words confirm that although he may not have the white-collar affluence to support his wife and kids or to rebuild his house, he is able to maintain his blue-collar masculinity through a “dick and a dream.” Ultimately, Ray becomes a blue-collar fantasy through his ability to commodify his penis. This fantasy functions in two main ways. First, it is a revenge fantasy as Ray is able to figuratively fuck white-collar men by literally fucking their wives. But this fantasy also functions to reconstruct the need for blue-collar men in a financial climate where many men are rendered unemployed and feel useless. In her Atlantic Monthly article, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosen summarizes the recession’s affect on male notions of identity:

“[W]hat if the economics of the new era are better suited to women? Once you open your eyes to this possibility, the evidence is all around you. It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance….[F]or the first time in history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who no hold the majority of jobs. The working class, which has long define our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions….The post-industrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today – social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus – are, at a minimum, not predominantly male.”[55]

Hung points to the fear that men will lose their ability to distinguish themselves from women through male dominated labour. Ray’s ability to assign financial value to his penis, his masculinity and maleness through clothing, selling his blue-collar male qualities to white-collar women dramatizes the fantasy that women will always need blue-collar men for sexual satisfaction. Hung’s first season indicates that while a designer suit might assign value to the person wearing it, blue-collar performativity is more valuable in terms of legitimizing one’s male identity to others than any amount of white-collar financial wealth.

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