The antics of the Shelby crime family on Birmingham-set drama Peaky Blinders have thrilled BBC audiences for years, but a new academic paper suggests the show promotes and glorifies “toxic masculinity” through violence.
British-born Dr George S. Larke-Walsh of the University of North Texas has argued that the show uses the trauma of its postwar setting to excuse the actions of its characters.
Peaky Blinders, which stars Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, was created by Steven Knight in 2013 and tells the story of the titular gang’s antics in Birmingham following the First World War.
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The gang is loosely based on the real ‘Peaky Blinders’, whose name is speculated to have derived from their propensity for sowing razor blades into the peaks of their flat caps.
Seen by The Times, Dr Larke-Walsh’s paper – entitled ‘The King’s shilling: How Peaky Blinders uses the experience of war to justify and celebrate toxic masculinity’ – argues that the show “utilises nostalgia for nationalism” and promotes “regressive masculine ideals”.
She writes: “In the current sociopolitical environment, and associated concerns about the prevalence of toxic masculinity, such presentations no longer feel safely confined to fantasy.”
Dr Larke-Walsh, who said she is a fan of the show, also argues the series sexualises Murphy’s protagonist to “elicit homosexual desire” in viewers, only to assert heterosexuality through violence.
She writes: “It is a feature of regressive masculinity that homosexuality must be denied.”
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The producers behind Peaky Blinders said in response that their show “invites viewers to consider the effect of violence on men, and the terrible and long-lasting consequences on both men and women of gang violence, poverty and, most of all, armed conflict”.
The fifth series of Peaky Blinders is due to air on the BBC later this year.