Friday, 18 April 2014

Female Gaze: Zac Efron's Best Shirtless Award

Awful sub-editing (ie headline). Is Fogg's point fair?
Are we seeing a rise in the objectification of male performers, a negative equalising with that so typically applied to female performers rather than a retreat of the approach overall? Guardian columnist (therefore seen by some as belonging to the politically correct/PC brigade) Ally Fogg certainly thinks so.
As a teacher I've spoken before to students about screensavers on iPads and Mac desktops using topless males, asking what the response might be if we did a commutation test and replaced these with female equivalents (even scantily clad if not topless).
To argue whether a topless male should be considered a sexual image is one thing, but it is clearly well established that many do perceive it in this light.
Excerpt from Fogg's article:
I would suggest you look at footage from the MTV Awards on Sunday, where Zac Efron was handed an award (and I'm not making this up) for "best shirtless performance". He began a thank-you speech against a chorus of lusting adolescent screams demanding he strip off. He had barely said two words before Rita Ora obliged the mob, sneaking up behind him and ripping open his shirt. With a resigned shake of the head, Efron finished the job, stripping topless to trigger 10,000 adoring screams and a million shares on Tumblr.
Unsurprisingly perhaps, the incident sparked a minor debate about the acceptable limits of objectification. It should be noted that Efron had teased his fans beforehand about collecting the award topless and appeared to have turned up in a denim stripper shirt with spring-loaded pop-fasteners instead of buttons. It is by no means far-fetched to imagine that Ora's role may have been planned. Nonetheless, I would argue that the performance was unhealthy.
Ora's actions bypassed Efron's consent and he was no longer in control of his body, and how it was used for the entertainment or titillation of others. If the actor wishes to strip to the waist and bare his (admittedly rather glorious) physique to the world, then I offer him my blessing and my gratitude. The problem here was not with the overt display of flesh, but the overt display of exploitation. I have no problem with any man off for the entertainment of others but that must be his choice and, more importantly, seen to be his choice.
In many ways the incident was reminiscent of the deeply discomfiting and cringeworthy scene at the recent American Music Awards where Justin Bieber was publicly pawed and practically eaten alive by a woman. In both cases, a young man's sexuality was considered fair game, his consent thought irrelevant. It is my view that the word "objectification" is thrown around too easily, and with too little thought to its meaning. Not this time. The feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum once set out seven features of sexual objectification, including denying the subject autonomy, agency and boundary integrity. I'm pretty sure both Bieber and Efron were violated on every score.

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