The Gendered Motorcycle: Representation in Society, Media and Popular Culture

Book Review By David Walton

The Gendered Motorcycle: Representation in Society, Media and Popular Culture
By Esperanza Myake
I.B. Tauris, London & New York, 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1-78831-354-4

During the last few years I have had the good fortune of reading (and, in some cases, reviewing) some excellent books on a range of motorcycle cultures. We have seen Randy McBee’s excellent Born to be Wild: The Rise of the American Motorcyclist (2017) which chronicles the subject matter with marvelous scholarly acumen in such a way that it will, I am sure, become a classic in the genre. I reviewed Michael Grogan’s book, You Gotta Be Dirty: The Outlaws Motorcycle Club In & Around Wisconsin (2016) and remarked on how the book offers an alternative to the many books which focuses exclusively on the 1%er MCs by exploring how the Wisconsin Outlaws Motorcycle Club broke, evaded and, to some extent, succumbed to (the often weak arm of) the law. My next review was dedicated to a book which I am convinced will make a massive contribution to motorcycle studies: Steven Alford and Suzanne Ferriss’ An Alternative History of Bicycles and Motorcycles: Two-Wheeled Transportation and Material Culture (2016) which has set the bar very high in terms of studies which show how the motorcycle is infused with cultural meanings. This is a hard book to follow. Yet, miraculously, this has been done.

Esperanza Miyake’s recent book, The Gendered Motorcycle: Representation in Society, Media and Popular Culture (2018) is another soaring triumph which demonstrates that motorcycle studies is going from strength to strength. Miyake’s book has very clear aims, which are to explore the various ways motorcycles are represented in film, advertising, and television and anime/manga. Miyake looks at multiple popular culture meanings of motorcycles including, but also moving beyond, subcultural modes of visual signification. These objectives very effectively structure all the different sections of the book in exemplary fashion. The book starts out with some considerations of a mobile technology of gender before going on to develop this basic idea in film, riding pillion and heterosexuality, the motorcycle in advertising and TV, the techno-metrosexual, the ‘dystopian imagery of gendered bodies’ (6), and Bosozoku culture and subcultural masculinity. The upshot of the idea of the motorcycle as a mobile technology of gender enables a profound critique that focuses on how meanings based in and around the motorcycle generate identities, relations and practices in often problematic ways that go on to reinforce, reproduce and re-establish dominant, normative ideologies, all of which are shown to have material and political implications.

The book is very balanced in the way it combines theoretical awareness with some very articulate and gifted close reading, providing a rich tapestry and a set of profound reflections on an impressive and broad range of cultures, practices and phenomena (including gender, class, race, sexuality, mass media, advertisements, consumerism, identity formation, film, luxury, geographies of consumption etc.) with motorcycles always serving as a central reference point. Another strength of the book is in how it goes beyond motorcycles to map them with relation to multiple cultural contexts and spatial and ideological configurations while pointing out the multiple contradictions within contemporary capitalism. The examples are always well chosen and fully illustrated.

The book should also be recognized for its originality: its probing of mobile technologies of gender with relation to things like ‘gastro-motorcyclism’, techno-metrosexualism, anime and manga. The innovative and suggestive readings of Akira and Bad Boys with relation to Japanese history and culture would justify the publication of this book on their own (without downgrading the importance of the earlier chapters). Some of the twists and turns of the arguments are delightfully ingenious but, at the same time, illustrate the writer’s knowledge of motorcycle cultures and the kinds of theories available to analyse, critique and interpret them (often in surprising, intriguing and thought-provoking ways).

This piece of research is exceptionally well written. It is very clear early on that the author is a gifted writer, expressing ideas with admirable clarity, constantly exploring, questioning, arguing, interpreting and suggesting in ways that draw readers into the chapters. The arguments are very clearly articulated and there is some playful language and some witty passages that make the book more attractive. There are also autobiographical interludes that very effectively introduce ideas and create short personal anecdotes which add to the books argumentative and stylistic effectiveness.

The conclusion (the ‘final rev’) is a very successful summary of the book, which actually keeps some of the arguments spinning so it is never entirely descriptive. It manages to explain to readers why it is necessary to move beyond subcultural masculinities (without forgetting their importance) so that more focus can be put not only on how women might be configured within popular narratives concerned with motorcycles but how masculinity might be pluralised, while suggesting how critical analyses can offer new and challenging ways to (re)conceptualise the relations between gender and technologies. Given its originality, erudition, profundity and its gifted readings and dazzling use of theory, my opinion is that this book is destined to become a classic within motorcycle studies and will be of considerable use to readers interested in cultural studies, film studies, gender studies and celebrity and consumer cultures.

David Walton is Senior Lecturer and coordinator of cultural studies at the University of Murcia and has taught courses on popular cultures, postmodern cultures, the history of thought, and literary and cultural theory. He currently teaches courses on cultural theory and cultural practice at undergraduate level, and comparative postmodern literatures and cultures at master’s level. He is a founding member, and currently President, of the Iberian Association of Cultural Studies (IBACS), which is dedicated to the promotion of the area on the Iberian Peninsular. He has organized a number of conferences and published widely in cultural theory, cultural studies and visual cultures. Recent books include Introducing Cultural Studies: Learning Through Practice (SAGE, 2008) and Doing Cultural Theory (SAGE, 2012), and his latest publication (with Juan Antonio Suárez) is Culture, Space and Power: Blurred Lines (Lexington, 2015). Recently, he has also published chapters and articles on new sexualities, the satire of Chris Morris, graffiti culture, the interfaces between philosophy and cultural studies and road racing on the Isle of Man TT.

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