Representation on television—with the obvious caveat of still having a ways to go—is getting better and better. We have more types of sexualities and relationships being portrayed onscreen than ever before. Perhaps one of the most elusive enigmas in terms of sexuality on screen is asexuals. From a institution point of view they have nothing that Hollywood so values in onscreen relationships—namely sex scenes and accompanying narrative/humor. But as we get broader representation we are starting to see some characters declare themselves as such; like on Sirens or (possibly) the latest season of Bojack Horseman.
Which brings us to Liz Lemon. 30 Rock bridged a weird time in comedy; straddling the sort of subtly nasty humor so prevalent in 80s and 90s sitcoms with the more politically aware comedies of now.
Liz’s sexuality arguably falls in the cracks of the former here, with jokes about her not just discomfort with sex and sexuality but her active distaste for it rarely getting serious treatment.
But it seems to me like Liz is a poster child for asexuality. On numerous occasions she expresses desire for a romantic relationship that is free from sex, bemoaning the seemingly contractural obligations she has as a girlfriend. She longs for a relationship where you just watch TV and no one tries any “funny business.”
Had the show been on now I’m not sure much would’ve changed; Tina Fey has proven time and time again that she’s not very interested in analyzing the comedy she puts out in the world, and I’m betting that Liz’s sex negativity would be just another hilarious gags that the SJWs expect her to apologize for rather than a nuanced look at sexuality. Even still, her time on TV possibly marks one of the last characters whose disinclination towards sex could skate with a slap on the knee instead of discussion. Here’s to many more asexuals gracing our screens in years to come.
As an article for Paste Magazine delved into yesterday, “What’s it like to film a sex scene?” is perhaps one of the easiest staples of an entertainment journalist’s toolkit. And often it results in a familiar rote back-and-forth where actors namecheck the same awkwardness. The better question, however, is why.
I’m not of the mind that sex scenes have to be unnecessary. They are, often, unfortunately. And even some of the best ones can be gratuitous. But sometimes they can be used to communicate depth about the characters, the same way a camera pan or a lighting effect might. There are the obvious ones to check here: 50 Shades of Grey, Shame, or any rom-com where two people start with casual sex and discover real feelings.
But let’s look at Blue Valentine. When we first meet Cindy she’s with a boyfriend, Bobby. She’s got a life outside of that—one that soon intersects with Dean—but we’re given no reason to think that Bobby is a bad guy, really (again, at first; opinions may change as he develops). But we do see them have sex: Him, behind her, both seeming to enjoy themselves. They move fluidly, and seem to be on the same page until Bobby ejaculates without protection.
That got the movie a lot of press, similar to the infamous sex scene(s) in Blue is the Warmest Color. And for once it was because of the question of why: Why was the MPAA so appalled by the act? Why was the scene important enough to the film to go to the bat for?
These sex scenes don’t have to do with power, or money, or fame, as so many “important” sex scenes in Hollywood do. Instead they illustrate the difference in two partners one woman has; the carelessness of one and the consideration of the other. They’re worth risking the NC-17 rating because they’re a quick character study.
Because like technology law, sex touches on a lot of different parts of our life. And how that’s presented on screen is important. Why do we only see heterosexual, white, able-bodied, orgasm-having, conventionally attractive folk on screen? Why is it so shocking when sex is confronted head on, or at least realistically?
And perhaps most tellingly: Why do people still think that a kiss and a pan away means that the characters themselves won’t have talked about sex since the last time we’ve seen them?
(Content warning: rape, sexual violence, comments on violence)
Anyone who’s been near pop culture in the last four years is no stranger to the provocative nature of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.” Between unsparing battle scenes and frank sexuality, it’s not your Grandmother’s fantasy realm. Or maybe it is, but it’s certainly not your six-year-old cousin’s.
And while I’ll fight anyone who argues that women’s nudity can only be a tool for “shock value” to pull in viewers and demean women, “Game of Thrones” gives me a peculiar sense of vexation when it comes to nakedness.
1. The Sexposition
A pioneer in “sexposition,” or the strategy of men speaking their inner monologues or plans out loud while women drape themselves around them, flaunting their bare naughty bits, “Game of Thrones” frequently uses naked women to…well, pull in viewers. Or at least treat them as objects while men talk about their important plans.
All in all, I’m generally pretty neutral about sexposition as a plot device. Though it’s worth noting that for a show that’s just trying to knock down the puritanical hangups around sexual relations with a more natural and open portrayal, it’s strange that basically all women share the same beauty standards across the board. There must be one helluva profiting waxer in Westeros.
What I do have a problem with, is the fantasy trope that is a strong danger for these sort of expositions: you run the risk of your female characters being sex-centric. Again, not something I can say I’m wholeheartedly against, but it’s a common element of fantasy novels to have women few and far between. Those women who are featured are often stuck using sex as their only tool or weapon. “Game of Thrones,” does display a pretty hefty roster of strong, complex women, has featured a whopping number of sex scenes, wherein (according to a Buzzfeed breakdown of the first two seasons) had an imbalance between how the characters were portrayed. Leading me to the second point:
2. Where have all the nude men gone?
Now I could break down for you what the scale of each of those squares means (or you could click through to the Buzzfeed page itself), but realistically, there’s no way this breaks down well. So while I’ll rage against the machine or anyone else who says that these women are inherently cheapened because they feel comfortable showing their body, there is an imbalance here that can’t be ignored.
The fact of the matter is that though “Game of Thrones” has had its share of coitus, the display has been almost consistently women going bare. By no means would I argue that these women reduced to just a pair of boobs (at least, not by any intelligent viewer). Women on “Game of Thrones” are each powerful and nuanced in their own way (though their power is still, often, filtered through their role, which is intrinsically linked to their gender). But when there’s such a disproportionate difference between men’s nudity and women’s nudity, something’s off.
Though the quality in writing has changed, a long-time selling point for premium cable has been that it was uncensored. But when your show is more comfortable with showing a man busting out of his skull rather than busting out of his pants, you’ve got some messed up priorities. There’s a way to have women be in the buff and not have them be just straight photography, but one-sided nudity is a quick route to over-sexualizing your female characters.
When the show first started, it seemed tapped into the (largely) feminist-friendly (ish) vibe of its source material. And yet, over the years the show’s sexual nature has featured a growing rate of violence in Westeros.
In most fantasy novels, TV shows, and movies, “medieval misogyny” is believed to be par for the course, making it common to parade of sexual violence–most often against women. Similar to casting choices in Thor, while Westeros is a land of magic and dragons, it’d just be too unbelievable and just plain illogical if the women of Westeros weren’t subjected to some sort of sexual threat. Four seasons in, many of the main female characters, and a number of background women, have been raped. And a man has, at one point or another, threatened any women who haven’t yet been sexually assaulted.
And to screw up the narrative even more, several sex scenes from the book—which were at worst questionably consensual—were added to the show with a uncomfortable dynamics. In fact the character Ros, a street-smart prostitute who was invented just for the show, existed pretty much entirely to be hurt at the hands of men. Although it could be argued that at one point she served as if not a player in Westeros than at least an intelligent pawn, very little came of her plotline beyond her own pain, and eventual gruesome death.
It seems the model for Westeros is that if you want to hurt a man (like Oberyn Martell) you hurt a woman. And if you want to hurt a woman (like Ros, Cersei, or basically any other female character) you hurt a woman again.
At the end of the day, those who engage with “Game of Thrones” will have to decide for themselves how they feel about the show’s sexual politics. The creators certainly don’t seem open to the discussion. But maybe it’s time we recognize that just because women in Westeros are afforded certain power, privileges, and freedom from FCC regulations, doesn’t mean they’re not also being used to satisfy and perpetuate the same tired problematic relationship to women’s bodies.
Schadenfreude. A German word for taking pleasure in the pain of others (a rough, literal English translation is “harm-joy”) it’s a concept at the crux of many a wacky romp, including, perhaps, the upcoming flick “Sex Tape.”
Starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz as a couple who seeks to put a little spice in their relationship by filming a sex tape that accidentally gets uploaded to the cloud, it’s one of the first movies that really focuses entirely on the dangers of the Internet’s “no tackbacksies” policy. Outside of how to avoid trolls and Youtube comments, talks about Internet etiquette seems to be so 20 years ago for media we consume.
Yet here we are, with two Hollywood A-listers attempting to do the impossible: erase a video from the Internet.
But is this scenario really the best representation of the dangers of homemade-risque material breaching the perimeter of web permanence? For years stories have permeated the Web news cycle, about women and men whose emails were hacked, nude pictures stolen, and lives were ruined.
Often people have sites like Is Anyone Up?, a site run by Hunter Moore, (self-proclaimed “ruiner of lives”) that puts up stolen pictures from people across the globe next to personal information about the subject. A chunk of them come from angry exes or screengrabs from social media sites. Some changed their names and switched jobs to avoid the embarrassment, some have taken a more permanent route.
It’s common advice for young people these days, right up with advice on what to wear when you walk home late at night: don’t post things to the Internet you might regret. Be careful who you share yourself with. Be careful who you trust.
So is a (what appears to be) well-off middle aged couple who accidentally posted a sex tape to the vast porn pools of the Internet really the best representation of the dangers of the Internet? Or is it just another way of taking real pain of others and profiting from it?