Beached White Male: Imperiled Masculinity in the Great Recession

Michael Goebel

Advisor: Roger N Lancaster, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Timothy Gibson, Alison Landsberg

Enterprise Hall, #318
February 22, 2016, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM


As the US economy collapsed under the weight of toxic mortgage-backed speculative financial products and unemployment rose to new heights between 2008-2013, narratives about the effect of the Great Recession infiltrated popular news sources, as well popular culture-at-large. During this period a variety of narratives competed for dominance; however, the narrative constructed through conservative media that stipulated the primary burden of the recession fell squarely on the shoulders of 35-64 year old, white-collar, white men resonated louder than the rest. Even though this group had formidable résumés, extensive networks of business contacts, and diversified assets to help them weather the economic downturn, conservative pundits drew national attention to the plight of white-collar white men using rhetoric that inextricably connected their decline to the larger decline of the United States. Using a cultural and media studies framework, and gender and masculinity theory, I examine how cultural producers harnessed and shaped anxiety stemming from the threat of declining white masculinity by strategically deploying images of, or references to, imperiled white men. Tracing white-collar white male crisis through magazines, newspapers, discussion forums, talk radio, popular films, and paid-labor reality television programs, I show how this panic narrative was used to propel neoconservative ideology stipulating the need for a resurgence of white patriarchal authority to “save” white men and return the United States to social, moral, and economic supremacy. It is my contention that directing national attention on a traditionally stable and socio-economically dominant group resulted in the elicitation of broad cultural anxiety that was directed toward specific ends. What followed was a shift in social and economic policies that ultimately insulated upper class white male centers of power, and disenfranchised those groups that traditionally threatened the structural dominance of white men: women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, minorities, and the working poor.