Kristen Iversen: Where Are All the Penises?: Why the Lack of Male Nudity on Game of Thrones Is a Problem


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

54 Responses

  1. Avatar Morat20 says:

    I’m guessing…ratings issues and historical inertia.

    The ratings agencies (film, TV, etc) have long given a broader pass with women, which means most everyone working — from scriptwriters to directors to the actors and actresses — are used to that situation. Many (not all, but many) actresses have already appeared topless or naked in one work or another, but few actors have. Scriptwriters and directors likewise have experience writing and shooting the former and not the latter, and are mentally trained to work within the R and MA ratings system, which generally says “No dong shots, please”.

    Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur to them, and it doesn’t mean the whole setup boils down to legacy sexism and a lot of inertia (coupled with, I’m sure, the usual executive skewed look at what sells and desires of the 14-39 year old male demographic to see boobs and not dick, and which is pretty much is THE gold ring in terms of audiences. That’s the market share everyone wants, and anything that doesn’t appeal to them is considered ‘niche’).

    So it’s not done because it hasn’t been done, and it hasn’t been done because those boundaries haven’t been pushed, and those boundaries haven’t been pushed because that’s not where Hollywood feels the money is.

    They’re wrong, but they’re often wrong. It’s a more conservative wrong (in the sense of “how much money is left on the table”) than the endless parade of massive flops that cost a hundred million to make and left theaters inside of two weeks..Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Ratings agencies aren’t a first-order effect on HBO since they don’t worry about such things, but it could have a second-order effect. Ratings Agencies are for one reason or another more hostile towards male nudity* and therefore help establish norms that even HBO doesn’t want to buck for fear of men (who are not used to such things) freaking out and not wanting to watch the show.

      * – Spitballing, I’d actually guess it goes more like this: One nude person is okay. Two nude people is pornography. So you get one nude person. (And guess which person the networks decide to make nude?)Report

      • Avatar InMD says:

        I think it’s the target audience that has more to do with it than the ratings piece (not that Morat’s points aren’t also accurate). Fantasy/sci-fi seems to have taken off more with women lately (or maybe women just feel more comfortable openly being interested in it than they used to) but dudes are still the prime demographic the producers want.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        I was thinking the second order effects — that is, staff (writers/directors/talent) that is biased towards female nudity and away from male via ratings limits from their own experience.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe says:

      Morat20: which generally says “No dong shots, please

      This is also where the globalized marketplace plays a role. In Vietnam, for instance, those are known as ‘money shots’.Report

  2. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Be it heretoforwardly decreed: THAT whether it makes sense or not; THAT whether the audience wants it or not, GoT will, hereby and henceforth, expose equal numbers of males and females to full frontal in equally proportionate values of beauty or ugliness as the producers see fit; and THAT complaints about aesthetic disparities between the presentation of the two sexes in sexy-scenes, or those based on any other ismbased critique, be placed in a manilla envelope addressed and mailed to Brooklyn Magazine.Report

    • Avatar InMD says:

      Seems about right. Sometimes I wonder if the people who write these types of critiques understand that if they got their way everything would start to resemble a sort of Soviet kitsch.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        Sometimes I wonder if the people who write these types of critiques understand…
        The answer is “no.”

        In Ms. Iverson’s defense, her job is not to understand. Her job is to produce #content for the interwebs.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I mentioned to Maribou that we’re talking about flaccid penises and then what’s the friggin’ point and she told me that I was thinking about it the wrong way.

    So there’s that.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      *nods* What’s the flip side to TITS OR GTFO? Balls touching or GTFO.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      Ron White was here already:
      Listen to me when I tell you this: we’re all gay; it’s just to what extent are you gay.
      He goes, ‘That’s bullsh*t. I ain’t gay at all.’
      I’m like, ‘Yeah you are, and I’ll prove it to you.’
      He goes, ‘Fine. Prove it.’
      I’m like, ‘Alright. Do you like porn?’
      He goes, ‘Yeah, I love porn. You know that.’
      I’m like, ‘Do you only watch scenes with two women together?’
      ‘No, I’ll watch a man and a woman making love.’
      ‘Do you like the guy to have a tiny, half-flaccid penis?’
      He goes, ‘No, I like big, hard, throbbing c**ks. … [pause] … I did not know that about myself.’Report

  4. Avatar j r says:

    These things are getting boring. I want some articles about things that aren’t “a problem.”Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Dear Ms. Iverson.
    I read your article with interest.
    Do you have Instagram?

    A. Wiener

  6. Avatar Van_Owen says:

    Oz had a lot of dongs, though rarely sexualized. Only program I can think of where male nudity was more prominent than female.

    Spartacus also had a lot of male nudity, though that was only barely a premium cable program.Report

    • Avatar Guy says:

      What about Rome? I know for a fact I’m forgetting some (I have vague memories of thinking things like, “yes, HBO, that is a naked woman, I understand”), but the only nude scene I can remember is the random male slave who one of the noble women gives to another one as a gift for reasons I cannot recall.Report

  7. Avatar Will Truman says:

    For my part, I don’t consider who GoT chooses to show nude as itself a problem. That strikes me as probably market forces at work, at the end of the day. The female body attracts a lot of men, some women, and repels nobody. The male body repels more women than it attracts. Why? What does that say, if true? Is it a problem or not?

    My gut tells me that it says something not good. It doesn’t seem to be universal, though, if nude male statues are any indication.

    My main complaint with the article is that it goes straight for the #Problematic with little interest in the broader context. But I thought it brought up an interesting subject.

    (Also, I can’t believe I don’t remember the scene referred to where they showed the penis of the guy who had to walk himself to death. Which does bring the question of how stuff like that doesn’t seem to the creative directors to be as offputting as the penis.)Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Women can admire other women without being seen as potentially lesbian for the most part. Even if they might be seen as potentially lesbian or bi, that doesn’t quite carry the same stigma as a straight guy being targeted as gay. Currently, any man who shows admiration for the looks of another man well be targeted as gay. This used to not be the case. During antiquity and the Renaissance, admiring the male physique was not a bad thing. This changed and men aren’t allowed to take pride in the male form without being seen as suspect.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      I’m dead certain that the female body repels certain people. Fewer? perhaps. Dunno.Report

      • Avatar El Muneco says:

        c.f. Stephen Fry’s visceral reaction to Emma Thompson bringing up the memory of past incidents such as her descending a staircase in the nude. Irregardless of one’s sexuality I would think that that particular image would be considered aesthetically pleasing by most, if there were not something else at work.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          Nude humans in general are reasonably aesthetically pleasing, no?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          El Muneco: c.f. Stephen Fry’s visceral reaction to Emma Thompson bringing up the memory of past incidents such as her descending a staircase in the nude.

          To be fair, she was all angular and broken up, and there were like three of her. I’d be a bit shaken up myself.Report

  8. Avatar Damon says:

    I’ve not seen GoT.

    But, my taste for nudity generally leans to a preference to eyeball women. I don’t find watching some dude swing his johnson appealing, but I do find the curve of a woman’s rear end very appealing. I’d imagine that a very large number of males and to a lesser extend females, have similar preferences. Women are, by far, the more attractive sex to both men and women.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      I don’t think studies bear this out.
      I think that humans, being social creatures, quite enjoy watching people having sex.
      (It rings certain chords that tend to lead to the watcher having sex too — this is down on the level of reptilian brains and instincts).Report

      • Avatar Damon says:

        Yeah, but there a differnce between

        Male nudity
        Female nudity
        2 people having sex or “sex”.

        I was only talking about the first two.Report

        • Avatar J_A says:

          Is “sex” better than sex? Should we want more “sex” in our sex filled lives?

          Do give us the scoop, please, @damonReport

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Sex-doing it.
            “Sex” on screen sex that’s not pornReport

            • Avatar J_A says:

              Then I’ll stick to sex, at least for myself.

              Last time I saw air-quoted “sex” was in the SSM debate years, when some people argued that gay people could not have sex, because sex meant putting a Tab A into a Slot B (this is a family blog, after all) and anything else was just masturbation, solipsism and exploiting your partner for your selfish pleasure (as opposed to joyfully unitive Tab A into Slot B stuff, making two complementary fleshes into one flesh, yadayada)Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          The interesting parts that one can see during sex influence the interesting parts that one wishes to see depicted in “not sex.”
          You would not believe the amount of research TV Execs put into “how do we have non-nude porn on the air”?Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s something vaguely tawdry about this.

    So I’m putting the next part behind a trigger warning because it talks about sexual violence. (Note, haven’t watched the show.)

    Isn’t a fairly disproportionate amount of the sex in this show non-consensual?
    So, like, we’re talking about seeing the penes of the guys who, a few scenes or a few shows ago, raped one of the other characters?
    I mean, sure, I’d love to see The Mountain swinging around as much as anybody. But wasn’t the Viper pissed off at him for a *VERY* specific set of reasons?
    Or are we not talking about seeing *THOSE* penes. We want to see nice penes. Like Peter Dinklage’s! But, at that point, we’re… like… saying “hey, actor. Drop them, please.”
    Which strikes me as something that would be worthy of censure.
    (I mean, I understand that many shows sit down with people beforehand and say something like “by the way, there’s a scene that will involve you putting your naughty bits on the glass and swirling them around in such a way that makes the glass squeak” and that way the actor/actress can say “you know what, thanks but no thanks”. If we didn’t say to Peter Dinklage at the start of Season One, oh, by the way, we’re going to want you to slap the camera a couple of times, it’s kind of bad to say that that should be a requirement *NOW*.)
    Of course, if all we’re talking about is the need for extras in the background to be doing the wiggly dance like Sylvester Stallone in The Italian Stallion, then, of course, we need more of that. Bring it on!

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      I’m rather under the impression that sex in the show follows more of the Roman template: Those who are In Power may Have the Sex with Whomever They Please. (aka, it’s not just guys forcing themselves on ladies).

      [Having The Mountain’s wang swinging around would be good for most men’s self esteem, methinks].Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Kimmi, you are the only female offering a female point of view to this sensitive topic, thus far. (Erm, as far as I can tell, anyway… I don’t mean to misgender anyone!)

        With that in mind, I’m going to ask: Would prosthetics be considered an acceptable workaround?Report

        • Avatar Kimmi says:

          This assumes that I’m really all that focused on dicks (or, perhaps, balls). Would guys be okay with fake titties? How about merkins?

          No prosthetic nipples please, you’ll give me flashbacks to Batman and Robin.

          It would be wrong to bully and browbeat someone into “showing off” — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t done. Hell, there’s a loooooong list of young boys who fucked their way into (and shortly afterwards, out of) show business. [Coming Soon: Hollywood Pedo Sex Rings Exposed].Report

    • Your premise is false. The isolated instances in which it’s been the case have been very controversial.Report

  10. Avatar b-psycho says:

    I recall a similar sentiment expressed about some pay cable show that revolved around a group of gay men. I forget the title of the show, but a piece somewhere about it was like “it’s a Gay show, where’s the Dicks?”.Report

  11. I’ve not read the whole article, just the excerpt Will provided (and I’ve never watched Game of Thrones), but here’s a wrench (of sorts) into the discussion:

    What about topless nudity? Guys can be shown topless and it’s not a big deal and they’re probably shown topless much more than women are. In entertainment, the topless woman is an “event” while the topless man is just a dude without a shirt on. I don’t know if this is a problem or not (it’s probably not). And I won’t pretend to be shocked/surprised by the cultural mores that govern this practice. Just pointing out something that doesn’t seem addressed in the excerpt.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      On basic cable, men can be shown topless and women cannot, because we live in a culture that fears female sexuality and thus desires to keep it under control. On HBO, women can be shown fully nude and men cannot, because we live in a culture that caters to the male gaze.

      Am I critical theorying right?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Am I critical theorying right?

        I don’t think so. What you wrote made sense.Report

      • You probably are, and ditto Stillwater’s point, even though I probably failed to read your tone. What you wrote could be plausibly read as satirical or serious or both.

        Taking it as serious: There’s probably some truth to that, though counterbalanced by other things. One of them is the “female gaze.” That gaze is not as pernicious, but it’s not non-pernicious in some of its effects.

        Taking it as satire: Yeah, we sometimes make too much out of these things.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco says:

          Since he apparently doesn’t believe that either of those things are real, he thinks he’s being satirical. To people who do believe those things are real, he’s being obvious. Thus the disconnect.Report

      • Avatar Guy says:

        You missed “Why are we so obsessed with the boob? Nobody else seems to care that much.”Report

  12. Avatar Kazzy says:


    It’s possible both norms are related to the male gaze.

    “If boobs are on TV left and right, men will walk off the job and stare at the literal boob tube all day. But we need a place where men can look at boobs and puss with no threat of dongs.”Report

  13. I think we’ve seen Theon’s penis several times. Ramsey Bolton keeps it in a jar.Report