A struggle between narcissistic and masochistic modes of manhood defined Hollywood masculinity in the period between the presidencies of George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush. David Greven's contention is that a profound shift in representation occurred during the early 1990s when Hollywood was transformed by an explosion of films that foregrounded non-normative gendered identity and sexualities. In the years that have followed, popular cinema has either emulated or evaded the representational strategies of this era, especially in terms of gender and sexuality.
One major focus of this study is that, in a great deal of the criticism in both the fields of film theory and queer theory, masochism has been positively cast as a form of male sexuality that resists the structures of normative power, while narcissism has been negatively cast as either a regressive sexuality or the bastion of white male privilege. Greven argues that narcissism is a potentially radical mode of male sexuality that can defy normative codes and categories of gender, whereas masochism, far from being radical, has emerged as the default mode of a traditional normative masculinity. This study combines approaches from a variety of disciplines—psychoanalysis, queer theory, American studies, men's studies, and film theory—as it offers fresh readings of several important films of the past twenty years, including Casualties of War, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, The Passion of the Christ, Auto Focus, and Brokeback Mountain.