I N   S E A R C H   O F   M A S C U L I N I T Y
P a g e   T w o :   H u d   and   C a p i t a l i s m
" Y o u   g o t   m y   c a l l u s e s ,   f o r   w h a t ? "   s a y s   H u d   t o   H o m e r .
A R T I C L E   B Y   A N N   B A R R O W

In Hud, the title character (played by Paul Newman) believes not in the moral code of the farmsteader, or rancher, but in the valorization of capitalism: "[If] you don't look out for yourself, the only hand you'll ever get is when they lower the box," he says. America's belief in the supremacy of the white male over all "others" reaches a breaking point in Hud Bannon, who embodies the ideology and mythology of the Western genre. Hud epitomizes the new man in America who throws off the values of his elders in revolt against oppressive systems that would impinge upon him exercising full autonomy. He becomes a monster, self-absorbed, ruthless, sexist, cynical, crude, hard-drinking, and heartless. As such he is intolerable to those around him, for in the words of his father, Homer (Melvyn Douglas):

"You don't give a damn.… You don't care about people, Hud! You don't give a damn about 'em… Oh, you got all that charm going for you, and it makes the youngsters want to be like you. That's the shame of it, 'cause you don't value nothin', you don't respect nothing, you keep no check on your appetites at all. You live just for yourself—and that makes you not fit to live with…"
Homer (Melvyn Douglas) tells Hud (Paul Newman), "You don't give a damn."
[click photo for multiple photos from this scene]

The story of Hud takes place on a ranch in Texas. It is a story of a man, who is really still a boy, in revolt against his father and all that he represents. It is not a coming of age story for Hud but for his nephew Lonnie. (We will examine Lonnie's story shortly.) Above all, it is the story of a man who believes that his performance is authentic because he conflates his literal manifestations of masculinity with the figurative, ideological gender construct. The results are deadly.

Hud, in pursuit of individualistic gain, manipulates the law (as he does everyone around him) and succeeds in taking control of his father's property for having allowed it to become unproductive. The reverence accorded private property in Howard Hawks' Red River (1948), as well as the films of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah, unravels in Martin Ritt's film because Hud does not regard private property as the epitome of the new America within an open, yet, now closed frontier. For Hud this once sacred holding, traditionally portrayed in the Western as befitting a righteous man by offering him ties to the land and to his community, becomes mere earth that offers material gain without the pride of ownership. In this regard he is the continuation of Matt Garth (Montgomery Clift's character in Red River) gone mad. Hud views his father as redundant and expendable. He justifies his actions for ridding the land of his father's way of life and for stealing the land from his father in order to capitalize on the oil that lies beneath its soil. In doing so, Hud changes from a cowboy to a capitalist.

In both Hud and Midnight Cowboy, the literal landscape of capitalistic America meets the myth of the open frontier, of autonomous individuals, and of equal opportunity. The mixture of ideology and reality come to life in a carnivalistic free-for-all. The carnival is not only the literal landscape of capitalistic America, but also the ideological landscape of gender constructs. For America's gender constructs are inflated, conflated, and deflated in both Hud and Midnight Cowboy. As men searching for masculinity, the anti-heroes become Baudrillard's idea of the "hyperreal," in which John Fiske states: "the binary concepts of reality and representation" are imploded into "a single concept."NOTE 2 The single concept of the independent male becomes the greedy, mysogonistic, indifferent male in Hud. Fortunately for Joe Buck in Midnight Cowboy, however, his transformation from living within the hyperreal to living within a limited subjectivity emerges from his connection with another person, his sidekick Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman).

Schlesinger's film reflects self-consciously on masculinity as an act that exists only in performance; whereas Ritt's film invites the spectator to form their own conclusions about which view of masculinity is accurate, that of Homer or Hud. For Schlesinger, more so than for Ritt, American male identity is a fiction; it is a narrative that limits, codifies, and dehumanizes men and women. The American male becomes the hyperreal, the embodiment of the rugged frontiersman, in the new and improved Garden of Eden. Yet, in Hud, the Garden of Eden has dried up and become irrelevant—except for the oil beneath its surface—and in Midnight Cowboy, the Garden of Eden has turned into New York City's famously decadent 42nd Street (or Cowboy Lane). The land of promise for both Hud and Joe is the land of capitalistic gain.
Hud (Paul Newman) against the barren landscape of the Bannon ranch.
[click photo for larger version]
Joe Buck wanders the crowded streets of New York in Midnight Cowboy.
[click photo for larger version]

Throughout most of Midnight Cowboy, all that Joe is equipped with is the chief signifier of masculinity, his (mis)performing phallus; the prime difference between Hud and Joe is that Hud fails to realize his persona is just that, a façade of rugged individualism, whereas Joe awakens from the persona of the iconic cowboy to embrace a truer sense of what it means to be a man.

The leap from an anti-hero like Hud to an anti-hero like Joe comes six years after Ritt's film. Schlesinger gives us a portrayal of a modern cowboy who no longer bridges the gap between the old West "with its code of honor" and the new West filled with "greed and indifference,"NOTE 3 as did Hud, but who lives within the literal geographical landscape of the new West, capitalistic America, and the figurative, ideological landscape where myths are subverted by ideological constraints.

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