When I watched the first episode of Game of Thrones, years ago, I couldn’t believe that I had just seen a penis on my telly. In a sex scene of all places! I pointed at the screen. At the penis. On my telly. Extraordinary. It got me thinking about male nudity in tv and film. I ran my eyes through my film collection and realised that I didn’t own a single title with a visible penis in it, and all the more pertinently I knew this for a fact because I would most certainly remember if I did. But, with the lightening quick speed of cold treacle, my brain also made the association with female nudity. Yes there is more female nudity than male nudity in tv and film. Duh. But the imbalance is staggering. My film collection is full to the brim with boobs. Subtle boob, gratuitous boob, gritty boob, realism boob, exploitation boob, partial boob, demon boob, multiple lots of boob, lady with triple boob; these are just some examples from a small book case of DVDs. One might say that is a great thing that the boob has been so expressive in cinema and TV. Forlone Masculinists may well look at their crotch and despair that cultural depicications of the penis on screen are either for hilarity or a signpost that things have gotten seriously serious (SHAAAAAAAAME, 2011): Poor masculinists. However, the omnipresience of boob in anything rated 15 or above is not about a celebration of the expressive boob, but something more lazy and lame.
No industry has a better understanding of the spectrum of taboo than cinema and tv. It’s not just an understanding of what must be avoided to appease censors, but what what the fringes of a taboo are, how far they can be pushed, and what associations a taboo may carry; these understandings are just as important in the construction of a good narrative, in which controversy is just one part.
TV and filmakers have such a good understanding of the taboo of nudity that they categorise its use with a Victorian precision. The human anatomy is broken down into a list of acceptability and is displayed strategically to prevoke particular reactions from the audience. TV and film makers place the boob on the spectrum of cinematic taboo between the bum and genitalia. Is this why there is more boob than penis on my telly? Could it be that the male anatomy lacks this middle ground in the taboo spectrum and therefore the boob is used as a convenient shorthand for titilation? In visual culture the man bum is, in theory, on equal pegging as the lady bum; the man chest has nipples, but lacks the oomph of the lady boob; and the penis has nuclear properties that are equally – if not more – controversial than the vagina. If it is the filmaker’s desire to get a reaction from an audience the bum simply doesn’t carry the impact desired for a nude scene and the penis is just too much in the other direction. But if this were true there should be way more man arse than there is lady boob on my telly.
It’s almost as though the industry has sleepwalked into a paradoxical comfort zone when it comes to nudity; a predominantly male industry that has fought censorship from the Hays code onward to show what it wants to see (mostly boobs). And now the censors have become more lenient the industry is left with a bulldozed and protected form of nudity in the boob, and lacks the will to fight the cause for other less marketable forms of nudity. But this denies a certain responsibility on the part of the industry. The industry isn’t ignorant to the impact of the boob; an actress’s contract can pivot on nudity clauses. Every boob we have seen on telly and in cinemas has a small history of a very considered approach from the film maker. As gratuitous as some of the displays of boobs may seem, in terms of a nude scene the boob has to have some context, even if it is to be gratuitous. Every boob that is seen is meant to be seen, and at every level of the film making process – from the script, to set, to editing suite – the boob has been considered and given the green light. No boob has ever found its way onto the screen by mistake. It is this evident awareness that makes the imbalance of the boob:willy ratio so weird, and frankly a bit creepy on an industrial level.
There is a new trend in particular that bothers me. When the boob isn’t being used to display a medieval subjugation of women (GoT) or background distraction for scenes of prolonged dialogue (I’m looking at you The Sopranos), the most recent and oft repeated use of the boob is to display it in a bedroom as a projection of ‘disarming honesty’ between a man and a woman in a private context. Gone are the days when everyone on TV shared beds fully clothed (Friends), and we now move on to a new dawn when a wee flash of a boob is shorthand for cajj romance. I call bullshit. I desire – nay DEMAND-to see more penises within the context of the bedroom on TV and film to level this imbalance. I’m not denying the use of taboo to tell stories, and I have to acknowledge that – by design or no – the penis is more confrontational than the boob. Also, I am aware that when it comes to finding solutions to any gender issue it is rarely a case of flipping gender expectations because constructions of gender are less dichotomous and more complex than they may seem. But fuck it, this skew is too much, and I’m nowhere mature enough to find an adult solution. So I reckon… I dunno… 3:1?