After I fell in love with Game of Thrones, I knew that my parents would enjoy it, but I sold it to them in very different ways. To my mother, it was all ‘amazing fantasy series mixed with political thriller’, while to my father it was a different story: ‘Boobs!’ It doesn’t take much to please boys – no matter what age they are.
Game of Thrones, along with numerous other television series (particularly on HBO and Showtime) and films have come under fire recently for the excessive amounts of gratuitous nudity they feature (with Game of Thrones extensive use of nudity coining a new phrase, ‘sexposition’ – look it up). But is nudity in general terms really the issue? It seems that most people aren’t against nudity per se, but would just like a little bit of equality in their nudity. We don’t just want boobs and clams, we want some dick too!
While Game of Thrones’ constantly nude actress Emilia Clarke, has said ‘no more’ to the nudity, hottie Kit Harington has spoken to GQ magazine saying that he, too, thinks that nudity in the show should be more (gender) equal. Well, those of us who were already panting and hot under our collars for a bit of Mr. Harington are going to be really happy if we get to see more of Kit’s kit. He is still shy about it (bless him) and thinks that all nudity in the series should only be used if it makes sense for the character (and I agree completely), but at least we know he’s up for it (and his contract obliges him to – if the writers say ‘jump’, he must say ‘how high?’).
From prude to rude: A brief history of onscreen nudity
Back in 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman made a splash when she wore a form-fitting swimsuit that showed her arms, legs, and neck. She later included a collar, arms, and legs but stayed with the figure-hugging material. For her outrageous and indecent behavior, she was arrested. Kellerman even had a bathing suit style named after her – and it was considered the most offensive style of all. Meanwhile, the first bikinis didn’t appear until after World War II. I think this is important to keep in perspective – little over 100 years ago, women were being arrested in the US, Australia, and the UK for wearing figure-hugging clothing.
Flash-forward a little to 1963, when Jayne Mansfield starred in Promises! Promises! – nude. She shocked the audiences and raked in the cash. As the sixties wore on, there were more and more breasts shown on screen. In 1968, the MPAA brought in a new film rating system (which, although has changed since then, is essentially what we still have in place today). In the 1970s, nudity further found its footing in mainstream films such as Last Tango in Paris and A Clockwork Orange. And since then? Well… Disney doesn’t show breasts (but it does show women in fairly revealing clothing…), but everyone else does!
In TV land, things have moved a little slower. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the first TV stations dared to air anything with naked breasts – and even then, they were fairly tame choices (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Walkabout). But before long they received too many complaints, and breasts were once again relegated to the documentaries on indigenous populations. It wasn’t until cable television that breasts were something you could easily watch while eating your evening meal. I think it is great that we have overcome our prudish backgrounds (to an extent), but I do hate that it is all just a little bit too one-sided.
The Crying Game already broke the barrier, giving us a nice, long, clear shot of full-frontal bushy penis to shock the audience into realizing just how few they had ever seen on screen. So why haven’t we come any further since 1992?
Pornography and burlesque the pop culture way
While it has taken a while for nudity in popular culture to catch on, it didn’t take the adult industry very long to catch on to the cash cow that is using popular culture within their products. The obvious one is porn films with titles that play on popular film titles, and sometimes even parody the film’s plot as well. Pirates XXX (2005) was born out of Pirates of the Caribbean and itself has launched a lucrative series. Others include such classics as Raiders of the Lost Arse, American Booty, Whore of the Rings, Titty Titty Gang Bang, Forrest Hump, Pulp Friction, Rebel Without a Condom, Honey I Blew Everyone, The Sex Files, Sexbusters, this could go on forever…
In the less hard-core world, burlesque troops have started incorporating popular culture in their routines as well. I recently attended the Suicide Girls Blackheart Burlesque tour when I was in Perth, Western Australia. During the show, they perform routines to music from video games (Legend of Zelda), Michael Jackson (dressed in the infamous red pleather jacket – and little else), and other hit songs. While they also dress up as female twists on classic male superheroes (before quickly undressing again) and perform an obligatory nod to Star Wars (with stormtroopers and Boba Fett). They aren’t the only ones. The completely Star Wars inspired burlesque show, The Empire Strips Back, is touring globally (and making a killing).
The Nanny State’s stance on nudity
Much like swearing, violence, drug taking, etc, governments tend to think that their constituents are delicate flowers, unable to cope with such explicit content. Apologies for perhaps a semi-childish response to this (borrowed from Malcolm in the Middle) – ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ I can watch what I want to. If there’s a warning and I make the conscious choice to consume that content, what’s the harm? Of course, it isn’t so easy when it comes to commercial TV channels who rely on advertising revenue (and apparently most companies who advertise their content on TV are still 20th-century prudes).
It seems to me that with all new things, it takes a long time for society to change. Haven’t we learned from the mistakes of the past? Let’s get over our shyness and aversion to (some) nudity, and embrace all naked forms of the human species (ok, we should still draw the line at underage nudity, I’m not saying anything that radical). If we are going to acknowledge in popular culture that people/characters do get naked on occasion (or, like, all the time), why not acknowledge that nudity happens to men too?!