Shade Grown Hollywood: Are Americans Really So Afraid of Nudity?

ColumnWhere celebrity goes conscious.

We are one nation, under God (for some), indivisible (but don’t mention politics), with liberty and justice for all (we hope). But there’s one issue that seems to send Americans into a united clutching of pearls and shaking of heads – and that’s nudity in the media. On film. On cell phones. On the airwaves. A slip of a nipple on live television has the FCC scrambling. A late-night interview where a guest mentions an expletive has parents crying for blood. A congressional representative’s nether regions call for resignation. It seems that Americans are deathly afraid of nudity in film and television – and in life. But are we really?

The answer depends on who is speaking. Talk to some, and we’re Puritanical prudes afraid of our own sexual shadows. Case in point? How we handle our political scandals. Take Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, famous for his Bunga Bunga parties and sexual exploits. Berlusconi, though certainly the receiver of disapproving eyebrows everywhere, is still in office. In fact, he recently received a vote of confidence from Italy’s lower house of Parliament. All this, despite the fact that the Prime Minister was rumored to have slept with 33 women in two months, some of whom he paid. But Berlusconi, 74, has brushed this off, admitting to making payments to the women, but pointing out they were altruistic gifts, not payments for sex. As The Daily Mail reports, “Do you really think I am going to pay for sex with bank transfers? I am like a charity. I pay for surgery, dentist bills, university fees and anything else needed. Some of those bank transfers were to pay the mortgages of the parents of one of the girls. They were in dire straits.”

Now take the exploits of Prime Minister Berlusconi and place them in the hallowed halls of our own government. Let’s look at our political scandal du jour, Representative Anthony Weiner’s downfall via sexting. The married congressional representative admitted to sending sexually-charged pictures and texts to several women. Weiner has now resigned and is seeking mental health treatment – of course, after a three-week scandal that had united both Democrats and Republicans in a united frenzy of disapproval. While his behavior was undeniably questionable, it’s worth noting that Rep. Weiner didn’t break any laws but yet still felt compelled to resign since he’d become a “distraction” from the issues.

Tweet by Former Rep. Anthony Weiner

Now if you were to raise a Berlusconi to a Weiner, you’d notice a definite “European versus American” handling of sexuality, deviances and all. This isn’t an earth-shattering revelation. As Msnbc.com reports, “In the south of France, sunbathing grandmothers have no tan lines. In Norway, young children play naked in fountains. On summer days, accountants in Munich head to the park on their lunch break to grin and bare it, trading corporate suits for birthday suits.” But what happens here in America? In life, naked people are attacked. In politics, a government official resigns.

And in entertainment, all bets are off. A film trailer, such as the latest for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, gets re-cut to show less nudity. Janet Jackson flashes a nipple during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show and the controversy spends years (and tax dollars) traveling the court of appeals debating fines. Blue Valentine, a film depicting explicit consensual sex between a married couple, receives an NC-17 rating because of an oral sex scene. To which star Ryan Gosling replied, “The MPAA is ok supporting scenes that portray women in scenarios of sexual torture and violence for entertainment purposes, but they are trying to force us to look away from a scene that shows a woman in a sexual scenario, which is both complicit and complex – it’s misogynistic in nature to try and control a woman’s sexual presentation of self.” (We’ve also already addressed violence against women on film. We agree with you, Ryan. It is stupid.)

However, nary a conversation can be had about sex in the media in the United States without the screams of the public drowning out any relevant discourse. It would seem that Americans are hopelessly out of tune with their own sexuality, unable to bear the sight of an uncovered genital or worse, a simulated sexual act. Right?

The truth is a bit more ambiguous. Alexander Martin, PhD, is a therapist in Los Angeles. I asked him to weigh in on how Americans perceive sexuality. “We’re not nearly as Puritanical as some might think,” he told me. “It’s really the government, as the FCC, who likes to pretend to be the watch dogs of morality. The Puritanical streak we’re talking about comes from the FCC and certain interest groups who live in a dream world. Think about it, there’s sex all over premium cable. Trust me, Californication [on Showtime] is a hit for a reason.”

Research supports this. Americans are getting their sexual groove on by having a lot of sex and in many different combinations. Experts at Indiana University recently conducted one of the most significant surveys of American sex ever compiled. Logan Levkoff is a sexologist at New York University. As he spoke of the study to The Guardian, anal and oral sex are more popular than ever. Further, “There is enormous variability in the sexual repertoires of US adults, with more than 40 combinations of sexual activity described at adults’ most recent sexual event.”

So really, who are these Americans that are so up in arms about sex in both politics and film, and why is it that the two seem so intertwined? Is it the proverbial squeaky wheel/interest groups creating all the fuss? Or is it that our government simply likes to pretend we’re much more prudish than we really are? Ultimately, Americans seem to be okay with sexuality. The real question might be, why doesn’t anyone have a problem with vulgarity on television? (See: Reality television.)

Image: cordon.alejandro

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