Letterkenny: Clever, Modern Masculinity
By Miles Peter Hurley
One of the things that society is coming to terms with recently is how to square our conception of masculinity with a more open, tolerant, and accepting society. The idea of the stoic individual, who braces all emotion for the sake of those around him, is rightfully being called into question for being not only detrimental to those who lose the ability to open up, but also for leading in a direction of toxic masculinity, where that lack of emotional honesty leads to negative behavior towards others. The reality is, the more communicative you are, the more understanding you tend to be, and those men who fall into that traditional world of being unable to express emotions tend to lash when those emotions do come. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it.
Media, as always, reflects the world we live in. Some media, like Man Enough, as laid out by Soph Hill last week, is about opening up. And that open, frank discussion is valuable. But in order to fully square the circle of the modern man, we need to redefine what the traditional man can be. Because masculinity takes an infinite number of forms, and is viewed in an infinite number of ways, and some people really are stoic, silent, and rugged. But that doesn’t have to make them bad.
I discovered Letterkenny a few weeks ago. It’s a pretty simple show, all things considered- dick jokes, wordplay, and Canadian accents, what’s not to love. But the show’s most interesting element is the way it treats men and masculinity, namely in the form of Wayne, the main character. In a town of Hicks, Skids and Hockey Players, Wayne rests firmly in the Hick camp- he loves to do his chores, drink his beer, take care of his dogs, and getting in scraps with degens. He’s remarked by all to be the toughest guy in town and acts it. He’s rarely vulnerable, and if he is, it isn’t for long. But there’s a quiet openness in Wayne, and that his closed off tendencies can be as harmful to himself as anything. His overprotectiveness of his sister is played for laughs but is also used as an opportunity to show flaws in his “good ol boy” attitude. When he gets down over a break-up, he doesn’t talk to anyone about it and is miserable as a result, and only comes out of it through being communicative. He is irrational and the show embraces that- Wayne is not always right because he is a good ol’ boy.
Wayne provides a compelling starting point for the small town of Letterkenny to explode into a serial deconstruction of masculine tropes. Reilly and Jonesy, the two lead hockey players, start out as unrepentant assholes, before getting their egos kicked in and learning how to live a more respectful life, and even begin coaching a Women’s hockey team. Stewart, the edgy leader of the skids, starts out as someone whose insecurities force him to lord over those around him, but loses his friends as a result, and beats addiction and toxicity to return to where he was before. Even Squirelly Dan, the show’s designated ‘weird old redneck’ is shown as being incredibly willing to learn, attending a women’s’ studies course where he becomes the voice of progressivism as early as the third season. That forward social thinking is constant in the show, namely with the way it handles representation in the rural world, showing sexual and ethnic minorities in a positive, respectful light both in the eyes of the creators and the characters.
To me though, looking at how this show views its men, you can see this interesting dichotomy between tired stereotypes and real humans. If the goal of Letterkenny is to humanize rural communities through humor, it does the same through subtle, but earnest portrayals of good men. It’s inclusive, showing that happy lifestyles are possible no matter what sort of masculinity you live, but also proscriptive, showing that toxicity in the world of masculinity isn’t acceptable. And for me, someone who has never considered himself traditionally masculine, and has always sort of looked down on traditional stoicism because of that toxicity, a show like Letterkenny gives us an example of how all masculinities can and should be acceptable, so long as they foster and foment good and respectful treatment of others.
All images from Letterkenny, sourced from Google Images