Mo Bros: Masculinity, Irony and the Rise of Movember
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Movember, the annual month-long charitable event in which men grow moustaches to raise funds and awareness for various “men’s health” causes, originated in 2003 as a challenge between a group of Australian friends to “bring back the moustache” as a fashionable grooming practice. Since its humble beginnings, Movember has grown as a charitable initiative, boasting over 4.5 million participants and raising $677 million. With participants coming from as many as 21 countries worldwide, Movember is a global phenomenon closely articulated with contemporary fashion and popular culture trends. By examining the 2012 and 2013 campaigns, I consider what social and historical forces have contributed to the popularity of Movember and the resurgence of the moustache as a trendy grooming practice for men. I investigate how the movement’s fun-loving approach to charity shapes, and is shaped by, dominant ideas about masculinity and gender more broadly. I conceive of Movember as a global brand and explore how the campaign is situated within consumer culture and how it influences contemporary philanthropic practices. Informed by the theoretical perspectives of Michel Foucault, I conduct extensive discourse analyses of online resources related to Movember including the campaign website, blogs and social media. I also examine media coverage about the movement, moustache-related popular culture, and promotional materials distributed by the campaign and its sponsors. My findings reveal how Movember is constructed as a post-political movement. The campaign’s use of irony as a discursive strategy and promotion of universal values concerning health and social progress actively depoliticizes conversations about “men’s health.” Throughout my dissertation, I develop two ideas – brand(ed) activism and ironic masculinity – to conceptualize how Movember enables problematic understandings of gender and philanthropy while constraining the space for politicized discussions about health and masculinity. Through these concepts, I explore the relationship of Movember to broader cultural trends including shaving and grooming rituals, hipster culture, kitsch and retro commodities, the politics of selfies, and hockey’s playoff beard. I argue that Movember’s mission to “change the face of men’s health” is limited because it preserves normative definitions of gender and activism within the confines of neoliberalism and commercialized popular culture.