Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Boob Remains The Same

Takes one to know one...

It's been one week since the 85th Annual Academy Awards and the fallout over the We Saw Your Boobs opening number (no pun intended) continues to gather steam.  Since Oscar host/Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane sang what I like to think was an Ode to Mr. Skin, various actresses have piled on denouncing his little ditty over little...

We've heard from Jane Fonda, Jamie Lee Curtis, Lena Dunham, and now Geena Davis (so far), all of whom are furious at MacFarlane for ridiculing actresses who've gone topless on screen (and in the case of Scarlett Johansson, when private photos meant for her then-husband Ryan Reynolds were published without her consent or knowledge).

Now let's put some things in context.  First, I don't seek out films where women go topless and am highly disturbed when it is done gratuitously.  For example, I don't see why Kate Winslet (an actress held up for particular mockery in the song) had to bare all in both Titanic and The Reader (it doesn't help that I didn't care for either film).  However, if the godless MacFarlane had any guts he would have also gone after 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, who at one point in Amour does indeed 'show us her boobs'.

Again, things in context: Riva's character, suffering from a severe stroke, was shown being showered by a nurse, so naturally one is nude in a shower (unless you are on Arrested Development, but that's another matter).  Same goes for another name dropped in this song: Helen Hunt played a sex surrogate in The Sessions and her nude scenes weren't done for jollies but because when one has sex one tends to be nude.

As the number went on and on, I kept imagining that this was a Family Guy bit where Peter ended up hosting the Oscars.  We Saw Your Boobs would be what Peter would sing to the audience, with reaction shots of the stunned and horrified (and humiliated) actresses.   It might have been funny as a Family Guy bit, since A.) Peter is an idiot, and B.) he doesn't function in reality.  A Family Guy episode would have included the reaction shots, but somewhere along the line MacFarlane forgot something...

...this is real life, and this is the Academy Awards.  A song about women going topless might be amusing in animation.  However, singing it to a worldwide audience just was foolish  primarily because it wasn't funny, at least to those of us who don't have the minds of 14-year-old boys.  There is something to be said about a 40-year-old man (OK, 39, but why split hairs?) who still giggles at women going topless in films.  To my mind it speaks volumes about MacFarlane's worldview, that a middle-aged man still finds boobs so funny.  MacFarlane enjoys thinking of himself as a great intellectual, but how can I take a guy who sings an homage to breasts as this 'comedic genius'?  We Saw Your Boobs wasn't funny and worse, it just stretched the show...making it a double-punishment for audiences. 
 

The Cheapest Shot...
Then there is what exactly those actresses held up to ridicule actually thought of being so publicly exposed (no pun intended).  Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts, and Jennifer Lawrence (aka J-Law) have no reason to complain.  They were in on the joke (Lawrence especially being thrilled at being able to metaphorically laugh at other actresses' expense).  Sharp-eyed viewers would have seen the dresses they wore during the number weren't the ones they wore at the actual ceremony.  For those who didn't note the difference, well, one can wonder at what was going through their heads when they're watching women mocked.

For myself, the lowest blow came at Scarlett Johansson's expense.  She didn't expose herself for the camera, she did it for her husband.  Those were private pictures brought to light under extremely vulgar circumstances, but for MacFarlane, it's all the same.  She went topless, so she's fair game.

I think Johansson has grown as an actress.  I once dismissed her as just a pretty young thing, but now she has become a competent actress whom I'm admiring more for her acting than just her beauty.  One can critize her performances all one wants, and one can even call her to task should she bare her breasts for the camera (I can't recall if she has).  However, to laugh at her private pictures being shown to the whole world when she was a victim of hacking and held up to leering men-children was to me just low, and cheap, and ugly, and disgusting. 

There really was no point in bringing up Johansson's nude photo scandal except to pour salt in the wound.  Of all the things regarding We Saw Your Boobs, that to me was the most despicable.  There is nothing MacFarlane can say to justify including Johansson in his 'dishonor' list.

Having said all that, the women who were mentioned in the song don't have much to stand on if the exposure was not relevant to the role.  Jodie Foster went topless after her character was raped in The Accused. This isn't Halle Berry getting paid extra to bare her breasts in Swordfish.  Again, back to context.  If it was relevant for an actress to appear without her top on then it is important to remember that, not just focus on the fact that there is a nearly-naked woman in front of you.  Those who have bared their breasts repeatedly (like Winslet) are easy prey and don't convince me that there couldn't be another way to do things without having to resort to being topless.  They could ask not to do topless scenes (some actresses, I understand, have a 'no-nudity' clause in their contracts...good for them) or insist that the films be reedited to where we get the illusion of exposure without actually seeing anything.


Never saw hers...
I do hope however that We Saw Your Boobs may have a positive effect.  I doubt Seth MacFarlane is deep enough to think this turgid number would be a clarion call to actresses working today, but if not, then I'd like to take a stab at it. 

Today, women are almost expected to show us their boobs on screen.  There has been some exposing of the penis by actors such as Ewan McGregor and most famously Michael Fassbender in Shame (and I'd say we really could have done without that too).  However, too many actresses are either willing or not assertive enough to complain.  In our esteemed group Dunham is the LAST person to complain about We Saw Your Boobs given that she does so frequently on Girls.  It smacks of hypocracy for someone who almost delights in nudity (ex. her Emmy skit) to turn around and say it's not right when a man merely sings a bad song about female nudity on film. 


...or hers...

Actresses today are only a reflection of what is expected in society.  Despite strong women varying from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Margaret Thatcher and today such figures as Angela Merkel, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, in Hollywood women appear to be limited in what they are asked to do.  They have to say, 'is this for the part or for jollies?'  They have to ask, 'can this be re-edited to give suggest nudity'?  More importantly, they have to be able to tell their own stories while keeping it covered. 

One thing that is also important is that audiences, myself included, have to insist on films that don't tittilate (no pun intended).  We got along quite well with women managing to keep their clothes on.  Don't remember any nude or topless scenes with Greta Garbo or Myrna Loy or Katherine Hepburn or Greer Garson or Bette Davis or Joan Crawford or Ginger Rogers or Lana Turner or Doris Day or Loretta Young, do you?  Yet they tend to be thought of as great beauties or great actresses or both. 

Funny that.


...or hers...
In short, we need to rethink on how we see women in film.  They aren't there to show us their stuff.  We can go to a strip bar if we want to see women topless or nude.  Actresses need to ask more from the parts being offered (the victim, the moll, the sex object) and if they need to take things in their own hands, then more power to them. 

Audiences need to ask for more from their films, not just in nudity but in plot.  Big explosions and nude scenes do not a great movie make. 

Let's think on that when we think about boobs...of the female and dimwit variety.

...or hers.

3 comments:

  1. Naturally Audrey, Elizabeth and Vivien never showed their boobs. Vivien was an actress in 1940s, and the the other - in the fifties. Back then, NOBODY showed their boobs in movies AT ALL, ever! Ever heard of "The Code"? It prohibited even showing a married couple sleeping on the same bed, even if they were FULLY CLOTHED. Oh, tempora amores.

    Personally, I find actresses who refuse to appear naked even when the scene STRONGLY calls for it (like bedroom scenes, or the female lead taking a shower, changing clothes) quite annoying. Actresses should consider it a necessary part of their job. What's the acting profession all about? Right, portraying real people. Which means occasionally portraying them in the nude. If an actress wants only modest, highfalutin parts without any of that "nastiness," that "vulgar, crass nudity," they should simply join a Shakespearean troupe and perform those moldy texts in parks for a glorious salary of 93 bucks a month.

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    2. I figure the "ever head of The Code" was meant as sarcasm, as I think reviewers/film historians (even amateur ones) know of the Hays Code. It was at times excessive, but it did force films to suggest things rather than be overt (such as when it suggests but wouldn't dare show a bedroom scene between Bogart & Bergman in "Casablanca").

      My point is clear: Hepburn, Taylor, or Leigh did not have to bare their breasts or appear nude to be considered erotic (and neither did Hayworth, Kelly, or Loren). If you look at a love scene in a Bond film, for example, you don't see nudity, only the suggestion of it.

      It's all in context (and this goes for the few men who bare all too, like McGregor or Fassbender).

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