Alexander Wolcott at Vanity Fair ponders the not quite as rare as it used to be phenomenon of male nudity in U.S. movies, and sees farce and weakness and busted bravado. He goes on to describe these scenes as…
…caution flags, symbolic indicators of a national power drop that encompasses politics, economics, education—the works. Now that we’re no longer king of the world, American self-confidence is undergoing its own shrinkage; no one believes in the Top Gun jockstrap bravado anymore, and the joshing attitude and shrugging posture our movies have adopted reflect a country and a culture that have lost their spunk and don’t feel like keeping up the pretense of swagger anymore.
As my half-namesake Kenneth Clark might say, more lucidly than I, there are many ways to see a naked man.
The typical Hollywood way is best exemplified in the (phallus-free) Porky’s films: Female nudity is drama; male nudity is comedy. Every sex (or almost-sex) scene turns from enticing to ridiculous the instant the guys drop trou.
And thus you get the premise of Seth Rogan’s entire career.
Anna North at Jezebel.com doesn’t like that male parts only appear on screen to be laughed at:
This stereotype is a bummer for men, many of whom enjoy the chance to be admired. But it’s also sad for heterosexual women, reinforcing the notion that they don’t really desire men, that they’re only interested in guys’ fame or money or desire to get married, and not in, say, their butts.
As for the nation-in-decline part of Wolcott’s premise, there are historical examples to the contrary.
Imperial Greece had plenty of statues and paintings of nude men (or rather, of men with boy-size privates).
Victorian England had a mini-renaissance of nude studies (albeit carefully coded in mythological narrative, at least at first).
And stern-faced nude dudes were prominent in Nazi kitsch art.
Of course, nude paintings, statues, and even posed still photos tend to depict what Kenneth Clark called “the Ideal Form.”
Which isn’t something the makers of the Hangover movies care much about.