Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What do 'Dr. Manhattan' and Paul Rudd have in common?

I saw the new feature film Watchmen the other night. Not being too familiar with the original graphic novel, I went in with an open mind and was mildly entertained (although the running time was about a half hour too long.) Overall, it was decent, but not as entertaining as The Dark Knight last year.

I'll admit that media reports about the character Dr. Manhattan (pictured above) intrigued me, particularly mentions of his frequent full frontal nudity. (The character was played in close-up by actor Billy Crudup, but his full-body shots were essentially computer-generated.) Coming from the same director, Zack Snyder, who gave us the highly homoerotic (some would say homophobic) 300 a couple years ago, I began to connect the dots.

Hollywood superhero movies traditionally objectify women, either in tight leather outfits or sometimes clothes-free (and there was some female nudity in Watchmen for sure). But for a film like Watchmen, opening on thousands of screens across North America, to show so much male frontal imagery, albeit computer generated, is got to be a cultural breakthrough. Deliberate or not, director Snyder has managed to inject an incredible amount of male beauty/homoeroticism into mainstream culture with his last two efforts. Click here to read more.

I've often thought that the dearth of male nudity in mainstream films helped to bolster a culture in North America where most straight men are generally uncomfortable with their own bodies, and definitely uncomfortable with other men's. On the other hand, the bountiful female nudity on display in mainstream culture has had a positive effect on most straight women. We've had to listen to such crud as, "the female form is simply more pleasing to the eye than the male" and "even objective commentators will agree that there is nothing beautiful about the male penis." All were arguments to maintain the sexist status quo in mainstream culture, in which women were frequently objectified and men had all the power.

Such times may indeed be over if Zack Snyder or Paul Rudd (pictured below) have anything to do about it.

Rudd's new film I Love You, Man is the latest in new comedies in which straight male characters get to explore their sweeter, more "gay" sides with possible "bromances." I definitely like this trend. Paul Rudd has been making a habit lately of exploring homoeroticism through comedy. In truth, he's probably just going for the laugh, but he's done it in a way that isn't insulting to gays (at least not in my opinion.)

Rudd recently told Entertainment Weekly: "I always thought I'd be a really good gay guy. I love American Idol. I watch Antiques Roadshow like crazy. Guys like Oscar Wilde, Stephen Fry, Elton John - they're all very bright, with a razor-sharp wit. David Sedaris - who's funnier than David Sedaris? The Saturday Night Live that I hosted was such a gay-heavy show. But it didn't even cross my mind until after. The family that kept kissing each other - I didn't even think of that as being gay... I remember doing interviews for The Object of My Affection, and people would say, 'What was it like to kiss a guy?' Like it was such a shocking thing. I said, How many times does anyone ask, 'You had to shoot somebody. Was that weird?' I love gay guys. I feel pretty gay. I'm certainly not the most macho guy in the room."

For more on Paul Rudd's flirtation with homosexuality, check this out.

The cultural significance of all this is obvious to me: these stories and images are contributing to the dismantling of long-standing sexism and homophobia in the mainstream culture by giving straight guys permission to look at a completely nude Adonis of a man and not feel uncomfortable about it. These filmmakers/artists are liberalizing what it means to be a straight man today. Maybe I'm optimistic, but compared to where we've come from, I do consider this progress.

1 comment:

Mark from Slap said...

I just saw Watchmen last night (Cheap Tuesdays!), and there was a group of young guys across from us who would snicker whenever Dr. Manhattan's revealed his large stimulus package.

That always happens, even though I don't think I've ever heard snickering when some Hollywood temptress disrobes and jiggles her boobs across the screen for as many consecutive minutes allowable for an R-rating.