Modesty? That’s what body doubles are for!

This is the post that was meant to go up at Pandagon, although obviously Amanda didn’t get my revision in time so the crappy first draft went up instead. Fuckfuckittyfuck.

There’s been a moderate amount of eyerolling ennui in the feminist blogosphere over yet another magazine cover with supposedly edgy cheesecake shots of nude starlets. Annie Leibowitz took some shots supposedly inspired by Hollywood glamour for Vanity Fair as directed by the designer Tom Ford, and surprise, surprise the shots of the nude teenagers got the cover (Dakota Fanning inside the mag is thankfully reported as fully clothed in her homage to Chanel’s Hollywood).

In purely business terms I applaud Vanity Fair’s marketing savvy, I just wish those downplaying the cynical pandering to the male gaze could distinguish weary disgust from genuine outrage, let alone actual feminist concerns.

Lance Mannion is I suppose what we in the British Commonwealth would call a luvvie i.e. a film/theatre wonk, who generally blogs on the nuts/bolts/foibles of showbiz with his own take on progressive politics sprinkled lightly throughout. Generally one of my favourite reads, he had a long post in response to a post on the new Salon bloggy feature Broadsheet where they dissed the VF cover for yet again pushing young actresses into gratuitous nudity. Lance muses on wherefore the feminist “outrage”, where it seems he just doesn’t get it (‘cos actors have much harder challenges to face in their profession than nudity, like playing murderers, what’s the big deal?).

Lance even defends the charge that female actors are so much more imposed upon than men with the argument that now that the use of curvaceous body doubles is so widespread due to actual talented actors being skin-and-bones, that female actors are no longer imposed on so much regarding film nudity now. (!)

While Lance acknowledges the pernicious pressure regarding Hollywood thinness, he presents the servant class of body doubles as if it is a genuine solution for to the film nudity pressures for women but much less so for men. I posted a brief primer/reminder on radfem sex class theory regarding the gender imbalance in marketed skin and why it’s disturbing, but due to length limits never even got around to addressing the idea that body doubles for bashful underweight actresses aren’t a solution, they’re an egregious exacerbation of the problem.

Lance mailed me back with a response that he attempted a reply in the comments thread, but found it getting too long and involved so intended to work an answer up into a full post, which I was looking forward to as he is a genuinely thoughtful writer. It started promisingly:

“I believe that most female nudity in the movies is gratuitous.
The question of how much pressure actresses feel to get naked on camera is separate from the question, “Why should they?”

And then I hit this:

“I think it’s also separate from the issue of the double standard.”

The rest of the post is about nudity qua nudity and “why should they?”: when it’s justified in a film/theatre show or not, how some actors have coped with nudity pressure, all with some excellent points and examples from the POV of career choices. Lance does come back to the double standard a few times, notably with reference to the career of serial creep Jack Nicholson, but is more interested in the film-making/theatre questions as an industry insider rather than examining the cultural clues in the stories being told and the images chosen to tell them.

He does at least note that I disagree with him and that I sent him a link to what he agrees is the funniest blogging on the VF kerfuffle. The man does have taste, and his POV is not all bad, merely insufficiently feminist. Lance has a preference for the light rapier touch in his skewerings, his focus is to be entertaining while elucidating which he does extraordinarily well.

Due to my own sad lack of his Inigo-de-Montoya-ish dexterity I am limited to a blunt and rusty sabre as my tool for the radical examination of society’s underbelly, but my envy is of a genial kind, so I’m not inclined to ponderously wave my sabre at Lance’s jugular for turning his point of focus away from the double standard, even though he’s wrong-wrongitty-wrong about it being a separate issue from why should young actresses think hard about getting naked on camera.

At least we who know what patriarchy lurks in the heart of Man can bitch about the double standard to our hearts content here at Pandagon.

Dan at Lance’s place made a good point about male nudity on film:

The double standard, at least in the minds of male actors and audiences, grows out of the fact that our culture has such an immature attitude about penises, specifically penis size. A small-breasted actress can go topless without provoking gales of laughter. When this becomes true of an actor showing a small penis, the double standard can be laid to rest.

This is unfortunately truer than I would like, although surely Lance’s argument about body doubles on film could be extended across the gender divide and some stallions could pick up a few extra bucks convincing the audience that the stars are as well hung as they are tall.

I’ve done my time on the fringes of showbiz. In personal email Lance argued that body-doubles are well paid and seem to enjoy the work, so where’s the harm? I certainly have no objection to a few more women screwing some bucks out of the scrimp-on-the-small-stuff producers (body doubles need audition showreels too after all) but still: when all the filming’s done there’s still more female nudes up on screen and stage than there are male nudes, which is the initial premise of the feminist argument about the double standard, and what he’s written, entertaining and fascinating though it is, still doesn’t address that.

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism

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