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Jackie Gardner, "A Grotesque Display of Testosterone: The Man Show"

Jackie Gardner

A Grotesque Display of Testosterone: The Man Show

According to Bakhtin, "Wherever men laugh and curse, particularly in a familiar environment, their speech is filled with bodily images" (319). He cites Rabelais as an example of people reveling in all things related to the body: elimination of wastes, eating, laughing, dancing, etc. However, Bakhtin relates that starting in the sixteenth century, the idea of the body being a thing to celebrate became less and less tolerable (320). Eventually, even the mention of bodily functions became as taboo as the actual function. A "bodily canon" came to govern what was acceptable for individuals to do with the body in the company of others. Rules of etiquette determined that anything relating to the body was to be kept private and was not to be mentioned in polite society. People who did not follow the rules of etiquette were considered vulgar, savage, rustic, low class (Greenblatt 61). The body and its functions became grotesque, and those who still reveled in the body were grotesque.

These ideas have solidified and remain in effect today. It is considered impolite to openly perform any bodily function in public today. Try belching loudly in a restaurant; doing so will cause indignant glares from other restaurant patrons. A sneeze brings a polite "God bless you" as if the act were a result of a curse from Satan himself. Heaven forbid that anyone should need to pass gas. This act brings looks of disgust from anyone who may hear. However, as grotesque as some of these acts may be considered, almost everyone finds them somewhat funny. Who can help but snicker upon hearing the sound of snoring in church, and how many of us would not giggle if someone suddenly farted in a quiet classroom filled with students? (Incidentally, "fart" is a word that is considered "offensive" even by my spell checker.) No matter how much polite society tells us that these actions are vulgar or wrong, Rabelais’ idea of the body being something to celebrate has not been totally forgotten. It seems that the more off-limits an act or subject is, the more intriguing it becomes and the more we want to do it or talk about it.

Even though anything that takes place below the waistline is impolite to mention, we are obsessed with it whether it be to revel in it or to censor those who do. Broadcast television has done a good job of avoiding the mention of impolite topics. No one will hear a belch or a fart on any of the major broadcast networks. However, cable television has chosen to satisfy viewers’ needs for some vulgarity and coarseness in the form of The Man Show. Just as the people in Rabelais’ world enjoyed the body with all its functions and parts, so do the hosts and viewers of The Man Show. The show treats functions of the body such as farting, belching, and masturbation as natural needs that people should not be embarrassed about.

Rabelais entertained his audience with descriptions of the best items with which to wipe one’s backside after defecating. While The Man Show does not go quite that far, the hosts will talk about subjects such as whether it is better for men to wear boxers or briefs (they prefer briefs) and the need for men’s underwear to be brown instead of white–you can guess why. They even go so far as to take to the streets asking people to show off their underwear. Surprisingly, many people are willing to show the nation their most unmentionable of garments–even though polite society would never condone such an action. People seem to be much less inhibited as the writers of the etiquette manuals would like for them to be.

Bakhtin mentions that besides the bodily functions that take place in the lower extremities, "eating and drinking are one of the most significant manifestations of the grotesque body" (281). Banquets are an integral part of the carnivalesque so frequent in Rabelais’ work. Banquets provided the opportunity for people to eat and drink together without formalities and to enjoy free conversation and laughter. According to Bakhtin, Rabelais believed that when people ate and drank together, they were freer to be merry (284-85). The Man Show, likewise, places great value on food and drink, especially drink. Members of the audience are served beer, and the hosts are seen on television enjoying beer throughout the show. With beers in hand, the audience and the hosts cheer and jeer and enjoy singing raucous drinking songs. The mood of the set is very festive, much like that of the banquets in Rabelais’ work. 

The hosts brag that they enjoy food even more than sex. In one man-on-the-street segment, one of the hosts, Jimmy Kimmel, spends the day walking up to people who are eating and asks them unashamedly if he can have a bite of what they are eating. It seems that most people enjoy eating as much as Kimmel because most of them are very reluctant to give up even one bite of their meal. The bodily canon would prescribe food as merely a fuel for the body, not something to be savored and enjoyed. To indulge the body with food would be sinful and grotesque.

The bodily canon determines that anything that issues forth from the body or that allows for indulging the body is grotesque. Today our society would call such things "politically incorrect." The Man Show is not embarrassed about being politically incorrect. In fact, one of the main topics of the show is one of the most politically incorrect ideas in our society: the fact that men and women are different. The Man Show has no problem with expressing the idea that men appreciate good looking women; in fact, the more scantily clad a woman is and the larger her breasts, the better she looks. The show features several bikini-clad young women, referred to as the "Juggies," who entertain the audience and the host by dancing provocatively. Another feature of the show is "girls jumping on trampolines." These young women wear revealing swimsuits and sundresses as they bounce up and down. However, the show does not just appreciate women for their looks. It also appreciates the things that a woman can do for a man such as give him sex, cook for him, and clean his house. Feminists would definitely not appreciate the humor of The Man Show.

The Man Show is a modern-day version of Rabelais’ carnival made especially for men. It is a chance for men to celebrate manhood and to exaggerate the stereotypes that exist about both men and women. The show celebrates all that is crass about the male body and all that is beautiful about the female body. The Man Show acknowledges that men and women are, indeed, very different, and it allows men the chance to relieve tension by laughing about something that it is politically incorrect to laugh about. 

Society tells us that we must follow certain rules that limit what we can say or do in public, and the strict adherence to these rules can cause people to lose the ability to laugh at themselves. Because we cannot say and do as we wish and risk violating the bodily canon or being politically incorrect, our society is becoming increasingly tense and filled with anxiety; we are afraid that the next thing we say or do will offend someone. We should take a lesson from Rabelais and learn to laugh and talk openly about what makes us human.

Works Cited 

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1984.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. Learning to Curse: Essays in Early Modern Culture. New York: Routledge, 1990.