“Full-Frontal TV: Male Nudity and Sex in Cable Television Drama” (Panel at SCMS, March 25-29, 2015 in Montreal, Canada)

We just got the exciting news that our panel for the next SCMS conference was accepted. So I’m going to be on a panel on male nudity in cable TV with a bunch of awesome people:

Full-Frontal TV: Male Nudity and Sex in Cable Television Drama
Chair: Maria San Filippo
Respondent: Peter Lehman

Looking for the Penis: Representing Gay Male Sex and Nudity in HBO’s ‘Looking’/Maria San Filippo

“Do You Really Want to be Normal?”: Male Nudity as Queer Critique on ‘Penny Dreadful’/Andrew Owens

“Jupiter’s Cock!”: Male Nudity, Violence, and the Disruption of Voyeuristic Pleasure in Starz’ ‘Spartacus’/Hannah Mueller

For the abstract of my paper (and a glimpse of the show), see after the cut [BEWARE NUDITY]

The gladiator TV drama Spartacus (Starz, 2010-2013) shares with acclaimed dramas like Boardwalk Empire or True Detective not just the airtime on premium cable, but also the setting in a hyper-masculine community and the generous use of swearwords, violence and nudity. Yet due to its consciously trashy aesthetic, complete with exaggerated slow-mo sequences, dramatic lighting, and a visual feast of gore and blood, Spartacus is rarely thought to fall into the category of “quality TV drama.”

Visually, Spartacus is more indebted to B-movies and genre television than the HBO dramas with their references to fine arts and art cinema. But whereas aesthetically polished shows like True Detective recently have been criticized for their exploitative use of female nudity, their visual objectification and on-screen violation of female bodies, this paper aims to show how Spartacus‘ trash aesthetics has facilitated the development of a complex representation of nudity and sexuality that oscillates between the eroticization of the naked (male) body and the brutal disruption of the spectator’s voyeuristic gaze.

The naked body in Spartacus is a highly sexualized one, and often idealized in its gendered physicality. The camera, however, does not favor female over male bodies, nor does it shy away from male full frontal nudity. In particular the hyper-masculine body of the gladiator is often eroticized as the object of the voyeuristic gaze, and the normalization and explicit representation of male/male sex destabilizes the fine line between homosocial and homoerotic masculinity that usually protects the monopole of heteronormative patriarchy.

At the same time, the frequent entanglement of nudity and violence spells out power imbalances that are negotiated along class rather than gender lines: Roman women are depicted as voyeurs and sexual predators just as much as Roman men, and slaves of any gender are subjected to their gaze. But Spartacus does not simply offer a reversal of the male gaze: instead, by radically exposing the connection between voyeurism and violence, the show frequently interrupts the spectator’s voyeuristic gaze whenever he, or she, becomes too comfortable.

One response to ““Full-Frontal TV: Male Nudity and Sex in Cable Television Drama” (Panel at SCMS, March 25-29, 2015 in Montreal, Canada)

  1. Full Frontal with an exposed penis can be shown on cable TV and in R-rated film; up close, for an extended period, well lit, semi erect and now the green light has been given to an erect penis in some situations. Now, let’s switch over to Full Frontal Female Genitals. They are shown…ahhhhh, hmmmm…oh yeah …NEVER. Strictly off limits since the invention of film (unless you count the 1/2 second of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct or the few seconds of Rosario Dawson in Trance.) If an actress is clean shaven the industry insists that she cover up the vulva cleft with a merkin. Huge reverse Double Standard. The male gaze refers to a women showing only the body parts of that we all have. So, it’s now become the female gaze. Anyone have any idea why that is?

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