Susan Jeffords makes a compelling argument in her article about the transformation of white masculinity from the 80s to 90s, linking the sensibilities of heroes in actions films in these two decades with the politics of Reagan and Bush. The example of the Terminator's change from the first film (1984) to the second film (1992) provides an insightful case study of how the hard body of the 80s gave way to the fatherly (also motherly), humanized and self-sacrificial model in the 90s. Specifically, the discussion on the "increasingly emotional displays masculinities, traumas, and burdens" in the conclusion of Terminator 2 is worth noting because it presents the irony of having the machine, The Terminator, to perform the human act of self-sacrificing (Jeffords 172).
The humanization of The Terminator in Terminator 2 can be read as a symbol for the new sensibility of white masculinity of the 90s; but even though he self-sacrifices in the end to save the human race, he remains emotionless throughout the film. During the film, The Terminator learns to interact with human beings with the help of John Connor, who teaches him to use slangs and high five each other. The Terminator explains, "the more contact I have with humans, the more I learn." It is also clear that the film capitalizes the development of Terminator's relationship with John, especially in the scene where Sarah considers it as a better father of than any other man. However, the film also makes it clear that it stays emotionless until he terminates himself. As it says goodbye to John, it looks at John's tears and tells him: "I know now why you cry, but it's something I can never do," as if reminding the audience that although it can build relationships with humans, it will never feel emotions. More importantly, his being a machine is the very reason why he had to be terminated. This means that despite the changes on the surface, the Terminator can never change internally or emotionally, which is the change in white masculinity that Jeffords speaks of.
However, the fact that it had to be a machine who practically saves the human race by self-sacrificing glorifies the emotionless, hard-body sensibilities of the 80s action heroes. In other words, the film is contradictory when it comes to dealing with glorifying the emotionless machine and human sensibility that is mostly expressed by John. In the end, one saves the human race, one represents the only way of the future; so, which one is more important? The hard-body sensibility of the 80s enables masculinity to be formidable and fearless; the more vulnerable and sensitive sensibility of the 90s allows masculinity to feel, connect, and nurture the future generations. It seems like the movie argues that both are essential components of white masculinity.
We also cannot ignore that the effect of its sacrifice has to do with 'terminating' the 'old model' of white masculinity and passing the torch of the new sensibility to John, who is sensitive and fully capable of feeling and expressing emotions, good ones as well as bad ones. In order for humanity to move on, the old has to make way for the new. This realization is also embodied by Sarah, who starts from obsessively adopting the hard-body masculinity in the beginning of the movie, only focusing on using violence to fend off her enemies and is devoid of emotions; to learning that her human emotions are more important and are the only things that could heal her wound. It seems that this interpretation of the ending is how the film smoothes over the contradiction between two models of masculinity that it presents.