Are We Living in the Golden Age of Male Objectification? — Vulture
Photo: photo-illustration: Mary-Louise Price; Photos: Marvel Studios (Captain America), Warner Bros. (Gosling), HBO (Skarsgard)
Maybe it's all the True Blood we've marinated in this summer, but between Eric and Alcide frolicking half-naked on the small screen, superhero after superhero displaying their superwaxed superchests, and the increasingly lascivious casting announcements for Steven Soderbergh's male-stripper movie Magic Mike, it's time to notice that we may be entering a new Golden Age in American entertainment: the Golden Age of Male Objectification.
For decades, while film and television have gotten progressively racier, the objects of the camera's increasingly lurid gaze had largely been women. The reasons for this are so unofficially official they're like unwritten laws, habits that have been codified into "common sense" even if they don't make much sense: Hollywood's a boys' club and male audiences want sex and violence, while women want hearts and flowers. So women are lusted after by the cameras, while audiences looking for a little bit of dude to ogle had to be content with tame rom-coms, subtext, and the dreaded Comedy Penis (see: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Observe and Report, Bruno etc.).
But no more! The Summer of 2011 officially became the summer that the male gaze was reflected back at itself — and with enthusiasm! In the summer's superhero movies, a supremely buff body became part of what made these heroes so super. The Captain America trailer had Dominic Cooper doing the old look-over-the-top-of-my-sunglasses move to get a load of the newly pumped up Chris Evans. In Thor, Kat Dennings's audience-surrogate character spends half the movie talking about how nutso everything is and the other half pointing out that this blond god from the heavens is massively pumped. Fourteen years ago, America lost it when Batman's costume included rubber nipples. Now we've got a Spider-Man whose costume lifts and separates.
And consider the "yowza! yowza!" ad campaign for Crazy Stupid Love that centered around Ryan "You Look Photoshopped" Gosling's gleaming torso. Friends With Benefits saw the upset of the year when Justin Timberlake ended up more exploited than Mila Kunis. Whole sections of plot in The Devil's Double centered around staring at Dominic Cooper while he took a shower. During the 2011 Summer of Dude, what was previously subtext became text. This wasn't just, "Oh, Paul Newman had a legitimate reason to take his shirt off in this scene" stuff. Emma Stone stopped Crazy Stupid Love in its tracks so we can all get a long, lingering look at at the physical perfection of her male counterpart, and Ryan Gosling just stood there and let us watch.
The trend doesn't seem to be going anywhere, at least not if Steven Soderbergh has anything to say about it. Once again, male sexuality is getting put on front street, with Channing Tatum playing a stripper, joined by an ever-expanding cast of exploitable males, who have already been served up for prurient public consumption: Alex Pettyfer, whose Beastly was almost entirely about the loss and reclamation of his Abercrombie good looks; Joe Manganiello, his True Blood werewolf as naked as he is boring; and Matthew McConaughey, who turned being photographed working out into a cottage industry. Matthew Bomer counts as the demure one, and that's only because White Collar features him gratuitously shirtless once every other episode.
This fall offers quite a few more opportunities for trend-spotting. The bro-fighting drama Warrior might not have Tom Hardy doing anything quite so titillating as working out in sweatpants, but time was you couldn't show two sexy men sweating all over each other without at least six tossed-in scenes of topless women to counterbalance it, the cinematic equivalent of bros sitting with a buffer seat between them. Will the upcoming gods-and-togas saga Immortals take the winking beefcakes of 300 even further into the realm of dudesploitation? And then there's the sure to be NC-17 Shame, which stars Michael Fassbender as a sex addict; both he and Carey Mulligan go full frontal in this film, but thus far, he's the only one getting attention for it.
As revolutions go, the movie industry learning to exploit their male movie stars is more a matter of fairness than real upheaval. It's not like women are suddenly not being objectified; now it's just objectification for all. But if the upshot is a slight widening of the traditional Hollywood gaze, a recognition that all sorts of audiences are looking for tawdry thrills at the movies — not to mention, more movies about male strippers with hearts, and asses, of gold — how is that not progress?
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