The pamphlet he hands me is a good old-fashioned evangelical tract, with a graphic narrative of a mean-looking, balding, hairy-shouldered, wife-beater-clad, cigarillo-smoking trucker, who, while strolling through the parking lot of his favorite truck stop, comments on the "gutless idiot' with a "Jesus Saves" sticker. Well of course, a handsome, masculine man swings down from the rig, looking not unlike Johnny Cash on 'roids, and says "I heard what you said about Jesus being a sissy!" goes on to convert the two wayward truckers to the path of Muscular Christianity.
I have so many thought on this, I can hardly tell where to begin, but:
- Too old for comic books? How old do I look, exactly?
- When I was a kid, and in high school, these tracts occasionally circulated through my hands, Jesus-camper that I was. Even then I doubted their effectiveness as rhetorical tools, but Chick Publications of California still keeps pumping these things out. Do these things ever actually work to effect conversion? As conversion narratives, how do they fit historically (Erin Kelly, are you reading?)?
- The cultural work being done here is fascinating, particularly (and obviously) around constructions of masculinity, something I've been thinking about a lot since moving here to the mountains.
- A) The "It's a man's world" mentality of Duke, the hairy-shouldered trucker, is one of bravado and machismo, but is trumped by another version of masculinity, one that is decidedly clean-cut, understated, but buff as all get-out.
- B) The superior version is not obviously classed, as the clean-shaven, vitalis-coiffed trucker, but Duke, the Hairy-shouldered one, (and his scrawny sidekick Billy Joe) are clearly classed.
- C) When the Evangelist swoops down from his rig, he calls Duke, "Little fella" even though that character is heretofore depicted as a brawny man, so while more understated in his masculinity, the Evangelist is clearly establishing Christianity as a superior masculinity to other more ostentatiously brutalist masculinities.
- D) The notion that Christianity needs to be defended against charges of effeminacy at all strikes me as being a particularly curious move. I get that historical discourse around Christ's body often participates in reading that body as feminised, but the "sissy" moniker strikes me as raising a spectre of homoeroticism that would likely strike the tract's distributors in deeply uncomfortable ways. It is all elided so quickly, and established in the title, THE SISSY?, by picturing Duke, our hairy trucker, next to that question.
- In the end, as much as my own past is implicated here, I found the whole thing to be almost amusing in its hubris. I wonder if someone like me, someone not afraid of being a sissy, for example, can ever be an audience vulnerable to this sort of rhetoric. Clearly, the student who handed me this thought I would be.