She takes different positions, like a historian and a critic in order to define the many ways people may look at the enticing male ads in which she explains. As a historian, she studies how male dress has changed over the centuries. Both sexes dressed as gorgeous as possible with jewelry and fancy clothing in order to appear powerful to others. Men wore lace, silk, wigs and even powder, just like women.
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Putting classical art to the side for the moment, the naked and the nearly naked female body became an object of mainstream consumption first in Playboy and its imitators, then in movies, and only then in fashion photographs. With the male body, the trajectory has been different. Fashion has taken the lead, the movies have followed.
Hollywood may have been a chest-fest in the fifties, but it was male clothing designers who went south and violated the really powerful taboos --not just against the explicit depiction of penises and male bottoms but against the admission of all sorts of forbidden "feminine" qualities in to mainstream conceptions of manliness. It was the spring of , and I was sipping my first cup of morning coffee, not yet fully awake, flipping through The New York Times Magazine, when I had my first real taste of what it's like to inhabit this visual culture as a man.
It was both thrilling and disconcerting. It was the first time in my experience that I had encountered a commercial representation of a male body that seemed to deliberately invited me to linger over it. Let me make that stronger --that seemed to reach out to me, interrupting my mundane but peaceful Sunday morning, and provoke me into erotic consciousness, whether or not I wanted it. Women --both straight and gay-- have always gazed covertly, of course, squeezing out illicit little titillations out of representations designed for --or pretending to-- other purposes than to turn us on.
It caused me to knock over my coffee cup, ruining the more cerebral pleasures of the Book Review. Later, when I had regained by equilibrium, I made a screen-saver out of him, so I could gaze at my leisure. Some psychologists say that the circuit from eyes to brain to genitals is a quicker trip for men than for women. But who is the electrician here? Mother Nature? Or Hugh Hefner? Practice makes perfect. And women have had little practice. The Calvin Klein ad made me feel like an adolescent again, brought me back to that day when I saw Barry Resnick on the basketball court I brought the ad to classes and lectures, asking women what they thought of him.
The model --a young Jackson Browne look-alike-- stands there in his form-fitting and ripspeckled Calvin Klein briefs, head lowered, dark hair loosely falling over his eyes. His body projects strength, solidity; he's no male waif. But his finely muscled chest is not so overdeveloped as to suggest a sexuality immobilized by the thick matter of the body.
Gay theorist Ron Long, describing gay sexual aesthetics --lean, taut, sinuous muscles rather than Schwarzenegger bulk-- points to a "dynamic tension" that the incredible hulks lack.
Stiff, engorged Schwarzenegger bodies, he says, seem to be surrogate penises-- with nowhere to go and nothing to do but stand there looking massive --whereas muscles like this young man's seem designed for movement, for sex. His body isn't a stand-in phallus; rather he has a penis --the real thing, not a symbol, and a fairly breathtaking one, clearly outlined through the soft jersey fabric of the briefs.
It seems slightly erect, or perhaps that's his non-erect size; either way, there's a substantial presence there that's palpable it looks so touchable, you want to cup your hand over it and very, very male. At the same time, however, my gaze is invited by something "feminized" about the young man. His underwear may be ripped, but ever so slightly, subtly; unlike the original ripped-underwear poster boy Kowalski, he's hardly a thug. He doesn't stare at the viewer challenging, belligerently, as do so many models in other ads for male underwear, facing off like a street tough passing a member of the rival gang on the street "Yeah, this is an underwear ad and I'm half naked.
But I'm still the one in charge here. Who's gonna look away first? He offers himself nonagressively to the gaze of the another. Hip cocked in the snaky S-curve usually reserved for depictions of women's bodies, eyes downcast but not closed, he gives off a sultry, moody, subtle but undeniably seductive consciousness of his erotic allure. Feast on me, I'm here to be looked at, my body is for your eyes. Oh my. Such an attitude of male sexual supplication, although it has as we'll see classical antecedents, is very new to contemporary mainstream representations.
Homophobia is at work in this taboo, but so are attitudes about gender that cut across sexual orientation. As we'll see, such notions about manliness are embedded in Greek culture, in contemporary visual representation, and even in disguised form in existentialist philosophy. It's feminine to be on display.
Men are thus taught --as my uncle Leon used to say-- to be a moving target In the film, a group of unemployed metalworkers in Sheffield, England, watch a Chippendale's show and hatch the money-making scheme of presenting their own male strip show in which they will go right down to the "full Monty. Yet even they have been sheltered by they guyhood, as they learn while putting the show together. One gets a penis pump. Another borrows his wife's face cream.
They run, they wrap their bellies in plastic, they do jumping jacks, they get artificial tans. The most overweight one among them temporarily pulls out of the show.
Before, these guys hadn't lived their lives under physical scrutiny, but in male action mode, in which men are judged by their accomplishments. Now, anticipating being on display to a roomful of spectators, they suddenly realize how it feels to be judged as women routinely are, sized up by another pair of eyes. They get past their discomfort, in the end, and their show is greeted with wild enthusiasm by the audience.
The movie leaves us with this feel-good ending, not raising the question obvious to every woman watching the film: would a troupe of out-of-shape women be received as warmly, as affectionately? I share the author's concern about our body-obsessed culture.
But, pardon me, he's just noticing this now??? Actresses have been baring their breasts, their butts, even their bushes, for some time, and ordinary women have been tromping off to the gym in pursuit of comparably perfect bodies. What's got the author suddenly crying "overkill," it turns out, is Sly Stallone's "surreally fat-free" appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair, and Rupert Everett's "dimpled behind" in a Karl Lagerfeld fashion spread.
Now that men are taking off their clothes, the culture is suddenly going too far. Could it be that the author doesn't even "read" all those naked female bodies as "overexposed"? As for dimpled behinds, my second choice for male pinup of the decade is the Gucci series of two ads in which a beautiful young man, shot from the rear, puts on a pair of briefs. In the first ad, he's holding them in his hands, contemplating them. Is he checking out the correct washing-machine temp?
It's odd, surely, to stand there looking at your underwear, but never mind. The point is: his underwear is in his hands, not on his butt. In the second ad, he's put the underwear on, and is adjusting it to fit. Luckily for us, he hasn't succeeded yet, so his buns are peeking out the bottom of the underwear, looking biteable. For the Times writer, those buns may be an indecent exposure of parts that should be kept private for --and for thousands of gay men across the country-- this was a moment of political magnitude, and a delicious one.
The body parts that we love to squeeze those plastic breasts, they're the real yawn for me had come out of the closet and into mainstream culture, where we can enjoy them without a trip to a specialty shop Despite their bisexual appeal, the cultural genealogy of the ads I've been discussing and others like them is to be traced largely through gay male aesthetics, rather than a sudden blossoming of appreciation for the fact that women might enjoy looking at sexy, well-hung young men who don't appear to be about to rape them.
Feminists might like to imagine that Madison Avenue heard our pleas for sexual equality and finally gave us "men as sex objects. Throughout this century, gay photographers have created a rich, sensuous, and dramatic tradition which is unabashed in eroticizing the male body, male sensuousness, and male potency, including penises.
But until recently, such representations have been kept largely in the closet. Mainstream responses to several important exhibits which opened in the seventies --featuring the groundbreaking early works of Wilhelm von Gloeden, George Dureau, and George Platt Lynes as well as then-contemporary artists such as Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, and Arthur Tress-- would today probably embarrass the critics who wrote about them when they opened. John Ashbery, in New York magazine, dismissed the entire genre of male nude photography with the same sexist tautology that covertly underlies that Times piece on cultural "overexposure": "Nude women seem to be in their natural state; men, for some reason, merely look undressed When is a nude not a nude?
When it is male. For other reviewers, the naked male, far from seeming "merely undressed," was unnervingly sexual. New York Times critic Gene Thompson wrote that "there is something disconcerting about the sight of a man's naked body being presented as a sexual object"; he went on to describe the world of homoerotic photography as one "closed to most of us, fortunately.
Goldberg needed a course in art history. It's true that in classical art, the naked human body was often presented as a messenger of spiritual themes, and received as such. But the male bodies sculpted by the Greeks and Michelangelo were not exactly nonerotic. It might be more accurate to say that in modernity, with the spiritual interpretation of the nude body no longer a convention, the contemporary homophobic psyche is not screened from the sexual charge of the nude male body.
Goldberg was dead wrong about something else too. Whatever its historical lineage, the frankly sexual representation of the male body was to find, in the next twenty years, a far from private "niche to call its home": consumer culture discovered its commercial potency. Calvin Klein had his epiphany, according to one biography, one night in in New York's gay Flamingo bar:. Klein's genius was that of a cultural Geiger counter; his own bisexuality enabled him to see that the phallic body, as much as any female figure, is an enduring sex object within Western culture.
In America in , however, that ideal was still largely closeted. Only gay culture unashamedly sexualized the lean, fit body that virtually everyone, gay and straight, now aspires to. Sex, as Calvin Klein knew, sells. He also knew that gay sex wouldn't sell to straight men. But the rock-hard, athletic gay male bodies that Klein admired at the Flamingo did not advertise their sexual preference through the feminine codes --limp wrists, raised pinkie finger, swishy walk-- which the straight world then identified with homosexuality.
Klein knew just the kind of clothing to show that body off in too Klein transformed jeans from utilitarian garments to erotic second skins. Next, Klein went for underwear. He wasn't the first, but he was the most daring. The Hintinauss ad, unlike the Palmer ad, did not employ any of the usual fictional rationales for a man's being in his underwear --for example, the pretense that the man is in the process of getting dressed-- but blatantly put Hintinauss's body on display, sunbathing on a rooftop, his skin glistening.
The line of shorts "flew off the shelves" at Bloomingdale's and when Klein papered bus shelters in Manhattan with poster versions of the ad they were all stolen overnight. That's precisely what Calvin Klein was the first to recognize and exploit --the possibility and profitability of what is known in the trade as a "dual marketing" approach.
It required a Calvin Klein to give the new vision cultural form. But the fact is that if we've entered a brave, new world of male bodies it is largely because of a more "material" kind of epiphany --a dawning recognition among advertisers of the buying power of gay men. For a long time prejudice had triumphed voer the profit motive, blinding marketers to just how sizable --and well-heeled-- a consumer group gay men represent It took a survey conducted by The Advocate to jolt corporate America awake about gay consumers.
Beauty Rediscovers the Male Body by Susan Bordo
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Essay on Susan Bordo's Beauty(Re)Discovers the Male Body
This is a chapter from her book The Male Body. This chapter explains her thoughts on the use of the male body in advertising. She also goes into how over time the use of male bodies has changed in our culture. Changing Perspective of Male Body Nowadays, we live in the world which treats male and female equally. In contrast with the past, which was a male-dominated society, todays our society emphasizes the sexual equality. Even though we live in a changed world, there is an unchangeable controversial topic. It is our perspective about the male and female body.
Research Fundamentals: Susan Bordo - Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body
She talks about men showing themselves naked in pictures as a taboo. Moreover, these arguments come into union to show what society plants into our minds acts itself out when viewing pictures. Both Susan Bordo and John Berger shows that based on assumptions this is what causes us to perceive an image in a certain way. Learning assumption plays into our everyday lives and both authors bring them into reality. Art and beauty attract the attention of the mind through the eye. John Berger, an English art critic, novelist, painter, and poet tried to explain the way human beings view things and how this is affected by our knowledge, beliefs and what they assume to be right. He explains that what we see has been recreated or reproduced.