The Conversation

Cable television and the skin game

Ed Morrissey of Hot Air wrote a column for The Week in which he quite literally "harrumphs" at the excessive nudity on pay cable television:

Nudity in film and its effects on society have been debated since film began, and certainly since it prompted the Hays Code in Hollywood following the occasionally libertine silent-film era. And at this point, those who oppose nudity in film and television have lost.

These days, the question has evolved into how much of this nudity is art, and how much crosses over into something else entirely. The issue arose (again) last week when BuzzFeed's Kate Aurthur interviewed Nic Pizzolatto, the creator of HBO's excellent True Detective, the first season of which ended on Sunday. Aurthur mainly focused on the storylines within the series and the themes evoked — religious, ethical, and relational — but also noted the "HBO-y" nudity that appeared in several of the eight episodes in Season 1. Pizzolatto defensively noted that "there's not a great deal of nudity in the series at all," but that "a clear mandate in pay-cable for a certain level of nudity" exists.

As with so much of what the entertainment industry does wrong, I find the excessive visual titillation offered by these shows to be lazy.  Filming an erotic scene without nudity is challenging.  Earning consideration as a "mature" or "sophisticated" show by throwing in a couple of nude scenes is tawdry.  The idea that pay-cable executives basically require a certain amount of skin in every series is depressing, but not surprising.

Also, while feminist critiques of gender-oriented power struggles and exploitation can grow tedious, they'd have solid ground to stand upon if they went after cable nudity.  As Ed observes, almost all of it comes from attractive young female actresses - it's rather obviously fan service for male viewers.  And once an actress develops a certain degree of clout, she gets to put her clothes back on.

Ed's article is illustrated by a picture of the lovely Emilia Clarke of "Game of Thrones," a show he noodles for its ridiculously clumsy efforts to fill the screen with naked breasts.  (Viewers of GOT coined the phrase "sexposition" to describe its tendency to gratuitously place nude women in the background while expository dialogue is dumped on the viewer; the showrunners seem to have cut back on this a bit after getting mocked for it.)  Clarke is actually a perfect example of how the younger, more uncertain actresses tend to get drafted into nude scenes.  Once she drew sufficient fan attention and critical acclaim for her performance - she is, by general acclamation, one of the highlights of a remarkable cast - she famously put her foot down and declared she was no longer willing to be paraded around in the buff.  

Some critics think "Game of Thrones" has generally outgrown the need for constant gratuitous nudity.  Isn't that a concession that the T&A was immature to begin with?  Why not start treating every actress, no matter how thin her resume, like a Khaleesi?


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