From Publishers Weekly
Based on more the 20 years of research and observation at a troop's summer encampment as well as extensive interviews with generations of scouts, this study investigates the effects of the complex, lived realities of scouting on boys as they struggle to define themselves. Mechling, professor of American studies at the University of California at Davis, argues that the founding of the U.S. Scouting movement in 1910 was a response to social concerns over masculinity that were remarkably similar to "the boy problem" of today. This historic frame gives the study broader dimensions, although for the most part Mechling concerns himself with analyzing the specifics and myriad meanings of camp songs, rituals, play and language. Not surprisingly, since one of the main purposes of Scouting is the production of "normal" (i.e., heterosexual) boys, homophobic language and slurs are "a central theme at [the] camp." Mechling does a great job at detailing how, ironically, forms of homoeroticism (including transvestism) are promoted to reinforce a heterosexual identity as well as alleviate sexual and identity-based tension. Using a wide range of critical and cultural works, plus a detailed examination of how Scouting manuals have changed over the years (especially regarding volatile issues like masturbation), Mechling weaves his observations into an evaluation of how Scouting's self-image and purpose has changed in response to social transformations, and finally into a critique of the national Scouting policy forbidding homosexuals, atheists and girls to join. Measured in its criticism, and ultimately supportive of Scouting (while acknowledging the pain experienced by gay scouts), this is a smart book that combines fascinating research with a critique of contemporary politics. (Nov.)Forecast: The Scouting ban on homosexuals continues to be a contentious issue, from funding to membership. This book will be brandished by the left and thundered against by the right in short, it should be well reviewed and is a possible pundits' sleeper. Prominent display in gay and lesbian sections or stores should result in steady browser sales, and campus sales are also assured.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Mechling (American studies, Univ. of California, Davis) condenses 20 years of research on Boy Scout Troop 49 into an account of one two-week encampment in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. He examines the Scouts' recent problems with the "three Gs" God (should atheists be admitted to the Scouts?), girls (should young women be admitted?), and gays (should openly gay Scouts and Scoutmasters be admitted?) and delves into how the Scouts attempt to mold boys into heterosexual men. Some readers will find his highly psychoanalytic interpretations hard trekking seeing cans of Coca-Cola as symbols for feces seems to be pushing the envelope a bit. Others might react negatively to his observation that in order to create the heterosexual male the Scouts instill unhealthy doses of misogyny and homophobia. And still others will blanch upon hearing that the Scout camp emulates a huge, outdoor, boys' locker room, complete with raw language, bawdy jokes and songs, and fixations on flatulence and females. Mechling feels that there is much good to be said about the Boy Scouts, but after reading this study readers might have their doubts. Recommended for large public and academic libraries. Jim Burns, Ottumwa P.L., IA
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.