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Don Cherry's Performance of Masculinity

Around the same time that Don Cherry was making a mockery of democracy during Rob Ford’s investiture at Toronto’s City Hall, I read this great piece by Matthew Cheney at Strange Horizons called the “Failure of Masculinity”. Then, the day after Don Cherry’s infamous appearance in Toronto’s City Hall, I came across this photo of Don Cherry, “Looking like a lady’s handbag”, which prompted the following thoughts. Before continuing on, I strongly recommend that you take the time to read Cheney’s piece.

In “Failure of Masculinity” Cheney discusses suicides of gay men after being regularly subjected to homophobia. He argues that homophobia is a “weapon of sexism”, quoting C.J. Pascoe’s point that: “Achieving a masculine identity…entails the repeated repudiation of the specter of failed masculinity”.

It is instructive to read Don Cherry’s performance on Hockey Night in Canada’s Coach’s Corner as just such a repudiation of failed masculinity. For example, his incoherent right wing rants, his constant “feminisation” of European hockey players vs. their “tougher” North American counterparts and his valorization of fighting all underscore the “power fantasy” of “the ideal masculinity”, that Cheney discusses, wherein “‘real men’ are strong, dominant, and heterosexual.” Cherry’s incoherent right wing rants are “masculine” in this sense, not only because they are couched in “tough guy” language, but also because they are contrasted against McLean’s more “effeminately” eloquent and fair-minded views. Indeed, although the right has always appropriated the language of masculine toughness, it has more recently embraced (starting with Bush Jr.?) inarticulacy as somehow more genuine or authentic then the more considered and better-articulated views of the educated “elites” with their moral relativism and their Priuses. Obviously, you can’t just read this in terms of gender; the enemy of this new right is any manifestation of the Other as demonstrated by the recent “controversy” over Obama’s heritage. But gender plays a big role, especially in Cherry’s case. On the surface you could read his “Lady’s Handbag” suits as a failure of masculinity, but they’re nothing if not loud, brash and tasteless (taste being equated with a kind of visual articulacy). The suits draw the focus away from McLean, placing it squarely on Cherry. They are a perfect visual accompaniment to Cherry’s loud, inarticulate rants. At the same time, he can flirt with this failure of masculinity because his masculinity never comes into question. On the other hand, by the rules of Cherry’s universe, McLean could never dress that way without failing as a man.

During his Toronto City Hall performance a few days ago, Cherry described his suit in aggressive terms as an attack against the effeminate left: “I’m being ripped to shreds by the left-wing pinko newspapers out there–it’s unbelievable. One guy called me a jerk in a pink suit so I thought I’d wear that for him too today.” Wearing a pink suit to spite the pinkos? No ambiguity there.

When people discuss Don Cherry’s performances, they discuss them as if they were harmless antics. But his behaviour is anything but harmless. He performs for a national audience on Coach’s Corner and many of those watching are young boys who are in the process of developing their own ideas about masculinity. It’s possible that Cherry does not understand the ramifications of his public persona, but sexism and homophobia, whether conscious or not, are still harmful. Earlier this week, Cherry stepped into a more overtly political arena. Perhaps this is a none-to-subtle message that his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, should reexamine the harmful ideology it perpetuates every Saturday night during hockey season.