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Representation of Masculinity in Billy Elliot Paper

Words: 2139, Paragraphs: 22, Pages: 8

Paper type: Essay, Subject: News

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Jacky is doing his best as a lone parent, but is pre-occupied with the ongoing strike, so Billy is left tending to himself and his Grandma (Jean Haywood). At all times Jacky rules his house with a stern hand and has the same prejudices towards ballet as every other typical man in the country. So, when he finds out that Billy has been skipping his Boxing lessons and going to Ballet instead he is furious. Jacky reasons that Ballet is for “poofs” and that boys should be doing boys stuff like “football and wrestling.

” One critic wrote that ‘the movie is a catalyst for shifting attitudes and prejudices in the western world where male dancers are considered effeminate or queer. Ballet is a threat and blow to one’s masculinity in people’s minds. Billy Elliot breaks through that prejudice and claims ballet to be an art that transcends gender. ‘ Jacky is under immense pressure, he can no longer support his family and his masculinity is compromised and he cannot fulfil the role of breadwinner. This is further emphasised when he breaks down in tears in the scene on Christmas day, which shows Jacky, Billy and His Grandmother in the picture.

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The mantelpiece is centre screen and this highlights the family feel, it is lightly decorated with tinsel this indicates there financial dire straits. On the whole, the audience gets the impression that Billy’s father has been overwhelmed by life in general. Jacky has had to cope with the loss of his wife and deal with the burden of the financial consequences as a result of the strike. Times are so bad that in order to stay warm, Jacky is forced to chop up his wife’s piano for firewood. On the night of Christmas, Billy and his friend Michael sneak into the Gym.

Billy’s friend Michael is close to adolescence and is becoming aware of his sexuality, this is implied by his secret pastime of wearing his sisters clothes and his mild attraction to Billy. Billy Elliot plays on the stereotype of homosexual men being very feminine; this is further accentuated by his need to wear a tutu in the Gym. It seems that his main purpose in the film is to establish Billy’s heterosexuality. In the centre of the boxing ring, a confined area usually reserved for two combatants to do battle becomes an arena for ballet. Billy begins to dance and show what he is really capable of by dancing to the music in freestyle.

Whilst Billy is dancing he is stopped for a brief moment by his father Jacky whose face expresses a deep disapproval. However, in defiance, Billy carries on dancing is further fuelled by his frustration at his father for his tyrannical attitudes towards ballet. The camera is always on Billy who is cast in the spotlight whilst the background is faded away in black. This scene shows Billy to be the true star and protagonist. Jacky is emotionally moved after witnessing Billy’s performance and runs away with a silent pride and incentive to support his son and his new found love.

In the context of the film, there is a great hatred towards the “scabs”. The mineworkers, who have decided not to strike and carry on working down in the mines, are regarded as the lowest of the low. So, it is one of the key moments of the film when Jack decides to go back down the “pits” in order to fund Billy’s ticket to London. Just as he is about to sign on, his son Tony (Jamie Draven) and his own sense of disgrace stop Jacky from committing this unforgivable act of duplicity. Billy’s brother, who is older by some number of years, also works in the mines.

The first impression that the viewer gets of Tony is that of a stereotypical big brother, who would give his younger sibling a slap round the head just for listening to his record collection. However, there is a lot more to Tony then just the big brother slant. Tony, who like his father, is on strike against the closure of the mines. He is young and hot headed, and prepared to go to the extremes in order to achieve his purposes. This is evident when he tries to arm himself against the riot police who are an imposing and faceless opposition, were deployed to stifle the protests made by the striking workers.

Tony who is somewhat of a working class rebel, he has been hardened from working in the mines and can be very aggressive, this is evident in the scene where Tony and his father meet a non-striking mineworker in the supermarket. An action totally justified by the cause of the striking miners. Tony, like his father, has found himself in a position where he has had to cope with the possibility of losing his entire future. He is emotionally unequipped with the ability to express himself properly so he does so by using the strike and picket lines as a medium to release his locked away emotions.

Tony shares the same attitudes towards ballet that everyone else in the community has and he is deeply displeased to find that his younger brother has taken it up as his main pastime. I think that Tony sees this as just another problem, and this affects the relationship between he and Billy. Only when Billy gains acceptance and support from his family does Tony finally rebuild his bond with Billy. After Billy gains support from his family, it seems that the entire community is feels the repercussions and all of their anti-artistic, anti-intellectual not to mention anti-gay prejudices disappear with Billy’s elation.

However unrealistic this seems, I feel it is a dramatic device to emphasise the acceptance and the broadening horizons of the Billy’s family. Some of the characterisations tend to be overly simple and stereotypical. For example, Billy’ friend Michael who is coming to terms with his homosexuality leans far to much towards the old stereotype of gay men wearing women’s clothes and being ‘a right sissy’. Billy Elliot director Stephen Daldry has woven into the cloth that is his debut piece a recurring Swan Lake theme. In one scene, where Billy is visiting Mrs Wilkinson’s house he is upstairs with her daughter Debbie.

The walls of her room are adorned with wallpaper that is covered with swans. Later Billy and Debbie’s talk is followed with a pillow fight, which results in several of the pillows ripping and feathers filling the room like some sort of mystical snow storm. The Middlesborough transporter bridge is featured symbolising the industrial might of the North, which is falling into rapid decline, this is juxtaposed with the musical score of Tchaikovsky written for Swan Lake. All of these references give the audience ammunition to make the connection with the old allegory of the ugly duckling that turned into the beautiful swan.

The director also added various other images that denote the situation that mining communities were faced with. For example, Daldry pictures a large billboard advertising a state-of-the-art washing machine. The mise-en-scene shows a very satisfied handsome young man on the advert. The caption on the board reads, “Your every faithful washday slave”. In the poor and gritty community of Billy’s town, a luxury of a washing machine is almost unheard of and the idea of a man doing it is even more rare. The advert is not at all representational of the people in Billy’s town.

The price of the machine alone is enough to make it an unattainable item, but also the ‘new man’ pictured within it is pure fantasy to the people of Everington. When Billy and his family find out the good news that he has gotten into the Royal School of Ballet, Jacky rushes down to the local Workingman’s club, only to find that the Union had finally given up. Jacky and Tony later follow this scene in their overalls and safety gear going back down into the “pits” via an elevator. This is perhaps symbolic of their situation, no secure job and literally going down the lift toward social depression and financial hardship.

In the context of the film, the plight of the miners strike is just a background detail that aids the narrative. However, it is worth reading into as it gives the audience a means to understand their situation. In 1979 the Thatcher government was elected into power. This was on the basis of an anti-collectivist program of economic reform and social discipline that was to bring devastation to the north of England over the whole of the 1980s. In England, the North became seen as an ‘enemy within’, a phrase actually used to describe the NUM (National Union of Mineworkers).

Billy Elliot has a very one sided point-of-view of the miners strike of 1984-1985. Thatcherism had an adverse effect on the north of England, the policy by which the free market approach to politics and economics rewarded the individual over the wider community, basically increasing the gap in between the rich and the poor. However, if Thatcher had given in to the Unions, England might not be in the state of prosperity that it currently is. The economic rebirth that England now enjoys is owed to Thatcher’s long-term strategy and ruthlessness she showed in carrying out her job.

This waning industrial background that Billy Elliot is set against could be compared with that of The Full Monty. In The Full Monty, an example of postmodern bricolege combing Ealing humour with social realism is a story about male unemployment in a depressed industrial city. The men in the film are struggling to come to terms there ever-changing masculinity or for some it seems lack of it. The two main characters are Gaz (Robert Carlyle) and Dave (Mark Addy). In the film, after finding out about the Chippendales are performing in the Men’s working bar Gaz is greeted with a poster depicting several muscular semi-naked men covered in oil.

Obviously threatened by this show of physical masculinity he immediately attacks the most important aspect of any man’s manhood, his penis. Gaz makes a comment on what sort of women would attend such a spectacle only to find that his best mate’s wife is in the club watching the strippers. Gaz immediately remarks that Dave should put his foot down a forbid his wife from going to such a thing, he adds ‘I saw you hovering and I let it go’, implying that Dave’s masculinity is undermined by carrying out conventional house-wife pursuits.

The Full Monty in terms of masculinity addresses a slightly different aspect in comparison to Billy Elliot. Both of the films share a specific style of communities; the stories of each revolve around communities and proceedings that are of direct consequence of the socio-economic realities of the places they are set. The communities represented have both experienced redundancy on a large scale as a result of Thatcherite reform. In The Full Monty the characters are striving to re-establish their own masculinity, this is achieved by being able to overcome the bigotries from within the community and to fulfil the role of the provider.

An intrinsic principle of manhood and masculinity in the film is to have your dignity and respect of your family and peers. Billy Elliot on the other hand, copes with a very different part of the masculine make-up. It deals with establishing your own identity and treading your own path through life. Billy Elliot is structured around the motif of escape; this involves rejecting the aggressive attributes of masculinity as portrayed by Tony, and replacing it with the desire to escape the constrictions of what is seen as violent, masculine culture of the working class.

It is Billy’s escape into dance which he describes as “a feeling of fire, of electricity in the body, everything else is forgotten” that allows him to define his masculinity in a way that you would hardly ever find in a male dominant community such as Everington. This masculinity seems more manly than ever at the end of the film, in which Jacky and Tony go to the opening night of Billy’s rendition of Swan Lake.

The audience watches in anticipation as the entire screen is taken up by a huge and muscular back of a ballet dancer, the areas that surround the adult Billy (played by professional ballet dancer Adam Cooper) are mainly dark, stressing the importance of his role. Then finally as the opening of the performance has just begun, Billy makes a climatic leap into the air. This is juxtaposed with his father’s tears of pride. The end of the film ultimately underlines that masculinity has many forms and features, and is thus defined by the person’s attributes and actions rather then the environment they inhabit.

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