As a shirt is tugged off, revealing the pale, naked skin beneath, what’s shocking isn’t the nudity. Hey, it’s HBO – we’re used to that. No: as the camera pans over normal – dare I say, “real”? – flesh, what’s so refreshing is to see soft undefined nipples that most men could identify with.
Girls star Adam Driver is part of a new wave of actors fighting against the tyranny of perfect male musculature that has, for too long, been part of the cultural norm.
Sex and the City (still helps with Google hits even after the shit films)
Since Girls is inarguably and definitely a post-millennial update on Sex and the City – you can LITERALLY count the number of main characters in each show and come to THE SAME TOTAL! Also, New York - Driver’s body has clearly been developed as a riposte to the beefy, all-man template of SATC‘s Mr Big, who is literally called Mr Big. Mr Big. Mr Big. Mr Big. And Driver’s character is called Adam, and his actor name is called Adam, and Adam was the first man. Think about that contrast for a moment, and what it might mean (I don’t have time to).
“Yeah, I had a nipplectomy for the role,” you can imagine the actor saying, though he didn’t (say that. Or have a nipplectomy). “It’s important to know I was cast for body type and not talent. I deliberately didn’t get a spray tan either, I just went with my skin, you know?” Some critics (me, just now) call this approach “the nu-Dogme”.
The inevitable backlash?
Yet already there’s controversy. With hundreds of articles each week about Adam’s shirtlessness – this article is actually about the media response to the shirtlessness, not the shirtlessness itself, but in case you’ve missed all those articles, please see the several photographs of Adam’s shirtlessness so you can get the point – could we be reinforcing something about something [subs please fill, I lost my thesaurus three paragraphs ago)?
(We as a society, not just the media - you clicked on this and watched the show, you're culpable too.) Who knows, but HuffPo asked me to write 800 words for free to boost my journalistic profile so one day I could write for free for other online outlets, so let's unwrap this hot potato and dig into some fluffy yet political carbs.
Girls isn't alone in revelling in real men's bodies. Where once advertisers appealed to their chosen demographic with six-packed demigods oiled and buffed to perfection, prancing about topless under showers of cologne or inviting us, the audience, to become voyeurs as we watched them grapple with seven-blade razors, now international brands are catching on to the appeal of the real man, and cashing in them. Rarely an ad break goes by these days without a man being in it, advertising something. It's so real.
Thank god for physical ideals we can all achieve, yo
Then there's Mad Men, a show that has had more than its fair share of media coverage for its promotion of - finally, guys! - an attainable body type. The pale, diminutive Vincent Kartheiser was cast for no other reason than to ride the zeitgeist with this newly popular archetype. Indeed, his character once mentioned Tarzan, I discovered when I googled "Pete Campbell quotes". Honestly I was hoping for something a little more pointed to reinforce my argument, but that's what came up, so let's examine it as particularly telling: who could be more typical of the physical ideal to which men have been forced to live up to than Tarzan?
Yet in interviews, Kartheiser shies away from being the poster-boy for a new type of masculine ideal, preferring to talk about his work. "I'm so bored with the question about my so-called 'body'," said the actor in a compilation quote taken from dozens of different interviews.
Meanwhile, Mad Men's alpha male star Jon Hamm has been asked by show's bosses to pin down his peen with underwear - with real men to gaze at, the producers must have argued, such throwbacks to physical perfection seem old-fashioned and as dusty as an Arnie film on VHS tape in the Blockbusters closing down sale.
The big picture, or 'I ran out of ideas before reaching my wordcount'
Statistically, male membership of gyms is down [to-do list: google "gym statistics"] and Gillette or a similar brand released a razor with just one blade, or I saw some cheap ‘basics’ razors in Poundland, factual evidence which not only supports this hypothesis but is also quoted in the television executive’s memo to show producers, “cast more skinny white dudes”.
Actor-musician Justin Timberlake definitely got the memo too – all of this isn’t just some stuff that’s randomly happened independently of each other, it’s a considered movement – Wikipedia reveals he has part-ownership in Destino restaurant, which serves an $11 cheesecake. Relevant? No, but would Brad Pitt’s smokin’-hot bod in 1991 film Thelma and Louise have come from eating fat- and sugar-rich puddings? I think you see my point.
The internet and its ways
Other cultural zeitgeist touchstones include rising “social media networks” such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, where young men are known to illustrate their accounts with avatars of their own faces. Is such confidence perhaps inspired by television’s celebration of real men? I’ve no idea, but by asking the question I can connect two quite disparate themes!
“You see someone like Daniel Radcliffe, who’s quite short, save the world from a typical ‘hot guy’ like Ralph Fiennes, and you think ‘That’s cool and shocking’,” said Dave Daveman,* editor of popular men’s blog Testemony. “It’s definitely made me more comfortable trying on party shirts in the Topman changing rooms. I don’t even think about how many Vietnamese soft rolls to order and how that affects my physique. I just go for it.”
Isn’t it shocking that it’s shocking, though? But by the very fact we’re shocked and use the word shocking, we’re shockingly doing something quite revolutionary in a way, which is in itself shockingly shocking.
Picture Twilight‘s werewolf, Jacob, with his rippling six-pack and glistening pecs. Seems so old-fashioned, doesn’t it, compared with R-Pattz’s pallid, clammy torso, its muscles painted on (with deliberately poor skill as an homage to fan-art Photoshops)? No wonder Jake doesn’t get the girl – in the current cultural milue, there’s no room for the gym-honed.
Indeed, to step out with bulging arms or admit to gym membership – even if you claim it’s to “feel good” or you exercise “only for yourself” – is a bold political statement; the only statement as newsworthy is to not develop muscles or hone your body through exercise – refusing to partake in the media’s canonisation and demonisation of the masculine physique is fundamentally impossible.
Other famous celebrities
Skinny, gawky stars like Andrew Garfield will sometimes work out loads and claim it’s to serve the role, but does superhero Spider-Man who uses physical strength to swing through the city being a badass really need to have muscles?
Similarly, some might argue that international super-duper famous film star Leonardo DiCaprio who once starred in like the biggest blockbuster of all time, was cast in The Great Gatsby because he’s a big-name star and a tip-top actor. But let’s not forget that between films he sometimes gets puffy faced and looks like a cat.
Finally, remember that time Eminem got kind of fat?
Harriet’s self-published ebook “Pop Goes the Culture: Spurious Connections Between Telly and Other Stuff” is COINCIDENTALLY available now for 99p but she wrote this article from the heart and not for shameless SEO
*Name has been changed by request. “I’m trying to get fit and exercise, actually, but that’s such a statement in itself I don’t wanna, like, betray the brotherhood by being quoted,” said Dave. “I’m so fucking bored with this shit.”