When it comes to sexualization of the male body, something very strange is happening.
It’s a little hard to believe now in our current era of omnipresent abs, but the whole idea of a man as a “sex symbol” is a relatively new one, not being this prevalent at least since the days of Ancient Greece or the Italian Renaissance. The idea of a male sex symbol was certainly novel in the early 70s when quarterback Joe Namath shocked many when he was promoted as one.
Beefcake is a relatively "new" invention too. In the 1980s, Calvin Klein’s underwear ads and the famous Soloflex home gym infomercial made such a big splash precisely because that kind of thing was so rare in mainstream circles.
Sure, filmmakers like Pedro Almodóvar were pushing men as sex objects in their movies – but that’s why their projects tended to remain firmly marginalized as “arthouse” projects. 1986′s Top Gun was the exception, not the rule.
Until now, most of the folks who have sexualized the male form in media were usually gay or bisexual men themselves, and they were mostly doing it in movies or advertising campaigns aimed at other gay men and heterosexual women.
But lately, we’ve entered a Strange New World where men and male bodies are eroticized even in projects aimed squarely at heterosexual men, even in projects created by heterosexual men.
Blue Mountain State‘s eye-opening pilot
- Blue Mountain State, a new show on Spike TV (a network for “manly men” if ever there was one), regularly features barely-clothed men, often in sexually charged situations.
- Video games such as Heavy Rain and Dragon Age: Origins include scenes of open male erotica. Heavy Rain includes a scene where one of the male POV characters takes a pretty explicit shower, and while the gay male sex scenes in Dragon Age are “optional,” even the straight sex scenes include male beefcake.
- And then there’s Spartacus: Blood and Sand, the new Starz retelling of the legend of the rebel slave that openly fetishizes the male body. A whole article could be written on this show alone.
These projects are all break-out hits, zeitgeist-y watercooler fodder, aimed at precisely the demographic that you’d think would be turned off by all the jockstraps and bulging loincloths: young heterosexual men.
Two weeks ago, for example, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a smash for Starz since its January premiere, took a hit in the ratings. The downtick was attributed to the Winter Olympics, but some wondered if it was all the Olympic games – if maybe its viewership, which is two-thirds male according to the network, wasn’t growing impatient with all the homoeroticism.
After all, this is definitely not a show that gives equally when it comes to nudity; sure, there’s been some female nudity, but – let’s face it – this is mostly a show about thigh muscles and biceps.
But viewers did return the following week, en masse, in an episode that featured not just more full frontal male nudity, but a nude wrestling scene between Spartacus and Crixus that had to be seen to be believed. Women in Love, eat your heart out.
Spartacus and Crixus "wrestle"
Next Page! Is it all just about adult films?