Sex

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Nipples, or, Why American Cinema Is Going Downhill

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Film critic extraordinaire (and frequent Hit & Run commenter) Alan Vanneman investigates the gradual disappearance of Kirsten Dunst's breasts in the Spider-man series and concludes that it's "a symptom in a larger trend: the de-sexualization of American film!" (emphasis in original).

There was a time, after all, when the movies were the sexiest thing in America. As late as the eighties, if you wanted to get it on-by yourself at least-you went to the flicks. But today, the supply of both soft-core and hard-core sex via cable, the Internet, and DVDs has made it impossible for Hollywood to keep up. So why try?

Even R-rated stoner flicks like the infamous Grandma's Boy are much tamer than those of twenty years ago. The 1984 classic Revenge of the Nerds featured more beaver than a Walt Disney True-Life Adventure. Look for beaver in the multiplex today, and you won't find it on the screen. Americans are happy to watch some dude eating another dude's brain, but as for erect nipples, nuh-uh. It's the end of an era, mon ami, the likes of which we shall not see again. And you read it here first.

More here.

Vanneman's collected criticism here.

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  1. [insert “keeping abreast,” “tit for tat,” etc. joke here]

  2. But today, the supply of both soft-core and hard-core sex via cable, the Internet, and DVDs has made it impossible for Hollywood to keep up.

    Isn’t market segmentization a good thing?

  3. And yet the howls about Hollywood exposing children to sex are louder than than ever.

  4. Isn’t the obsession anorexic actors contributed to the loss of boobs in movies? I was watching Dangerous Liaisons the other night. I hadn’t seen it in years. In it a 19 year old Uma Thurman shows a rack to end all racks. I had forgotten what a fabulous body she had. If you compare her then to what she looks like in the Kill Bill movies, she goes from being a tall, beautiful, healthy looking 19 year old with amazing breasts in Dangerous Liaisons, to being about 15 pounds under weight in Kill Bill and at least five of those lost pounds came off her boobs. You can see the same progression with Dunst. In the first Spider Man movie or before that in Bring It On, she was skinny and athletic looking but she had a figure. By Spiderman three she is underweight and the boobs are not what they once were.

  5. On the other hand, how many R rated films do not include the practically obligatory rutting scene regardless of how little it contributes to the storyline?

    My guess is that the better explanation as far as the Spider-Man franchise goes is that the filmmakers had no idea how young the potential audience for the films went and tweaked the sequels to fit the demographics. (There is, after all, PG-13 closer to PG and PG-13 closer to R.)

    Still, it’s an interesting thesis.

  6. Showing visible nipples in a Hollywood production will compete with her grainy sex video coming out in the fall.

  7. If Hollywood films are becoming increasingly decent, will that be enough to persuade libertarians that market failures are possible and real?

    🙂

  8. True dat. I recently watched Animal House and Stripes, and it seemed there were tits in every other scene.

    David – Not to defend the howlers, but even though actual nudity is less frequent, I’d say sexual content is still quite high. American Pie, The Forty Year Old Virgin, etc.

  9. John, I am so with you on this.

    Also let’s note how screwed up American sensibilities are on the sex vs. violence thing.

    Go rent “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” if you haven’t already.

  10. Movies may be becoming more “decent ” because of Hollywood’s greater emphasis in the overseas market. It is easier to photoshop out the nips than worry about every decency standard from Brazil to Korea.

  11. Warren,

    I don’t get the violence thing either, especially the graphic violence. Movies today are much more violent, graphic and disturbing than they used to be. Go watch a movie like “The Wild Bunch” Bonnie and Clyde, two movies that were considered groundbreakingly violent in their day. They seem really tame now. All and all, I would rather my 11 year old see Kristen Dunst tits than some guy mowing down 30 people with a machine gun.

  12. David – Not to defend the howlers, but even though actual nudity is less frequent, I’d say sexual content is still quite high. American Pie, The Forty Year Old Virgin, etc.

    Maybe, but both of those featured less nudity than the 80’s “trying to get laid” comedy equivalents like Porky’s or Meatballs.

  13. “Movies may be becoming more “decent ” because of Hollywood’s greater emphasis in the overseas market. It is easier to photoshop out the nips than worry about every decency standard from Brazil to Korea.”

    I would imagine there is some truth to that. It is the same reason why dialog is so bad in many movies today. It is hard to translate really quick, smart dialog into subtitles or voice overs. Much easier to blow a lot of stuff up and have people speak in simple sentences. Dialog driven movies just don’t sell in non-English speaking markets.

  14. Maybe, but both of those featured less nudity than the 80’s “trying to get laid” comedy equivalents like Porky’s or Meatballs.

    Meatballs? What the hell? It’s been a few years, but IIRC there was only one vaguely sexual scene (on the consolers’ overnight) and no nudity at all. But then again, IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER

  15. Whenever people talk about sex and violence in the media compared with how it was in the past, I always think of Lady Macbeth:

    I have given suck, and know
    How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
    I would, while it was smiling in my face,
    Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
    And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
    Have done to this.

    –Act 1, scene 7.

    Or this one:

    MACDUFF: What three things does drink especially provoke?

    Porter: Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
    urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
    it provokes the desire, but it takes
    away the performance: therefore, much drink
    may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
    it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
    him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
    and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
    not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him
    in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

    –Act 2, scene 3

    The better actors use all sorts of interesting hand gestures when delivering the porter’s speech.

  16. I would imagine there is some truth to that. It is the same reason why dialog is so bad in many movies today. It is hard to translate really quick, smart dialog into subtitles or voice overs. Much easier to blow a lot of stuff up and have people speak in simple sentences. Dialog driven movies just don’t sell in non-English speaking markets.

    Just an anecdote: I was in France when I saw Master and Commander. It was in English with French subtitles because I saw it at a theater that typically shows films in “version originale.” There was the joke about when being given the choice, taking the lesser of two weevils. I was the only one in the theater that got the joke (I was the only one who laughed, or made a sound), apparently, because the translation was nowhere near as clever. Something about eating the smaller of two bugs… I can see why that’s not so funny.

  17. John,
    Of course I’m not saying there should be greater restrictions on violence. But personally I’d rather see boobies (bouncing) than brains (splattered) any time. And I think our societal norms are pretty effed up when filmmakers are more willing to show a woman being penetrated if it’s against her will.

    thoreau,
    For your consideration, compare and contrast with “This one time at band camp, I stuck a flute up my pussy”

  18. Thoreau,

    It is not that there hasn’t been sex and violence in entertainment. Of course there has. The issue is how crude and graphic it is. I think movies have sacrificed artistic content for actual graphic depictions of sex and violence that people are loosing their ability to appreciate subtly. Thanks to special effects, we are becoming like the Romans who were so literal minded that they would actually kill slaves or prisoners during productions of Greek tragedies.

  19. I don’t know if it is so much the end of an era as a relatively conservative culture – an Apollonian shift after the Dionysian Nineties, the climax of which, and impulse for the shift, being the “Wardrobe Malfunction” Janet Jackson had at the Super Bowl. Or perhaps in an era of screen grabs mainstream actresses don’t want to seem like they are porn actresses by showing their breasts. I would think there are many varied reasons, but I think it is premature to say we will never be blessed again with mainstream cinematic breasts. Looking back over the past 80 years, women were presented as quite boyish in the Twenties and early Thirties, gradually increasing in buxomness until Twiggy entered the scene in the late 60s, then back again. Sooner or later some breathtakingly beautiful zaftig actress will come along and this starvation fad will fade again.

  20. OK, I’ll grant that the portrayals these days may be a bit less subtle. But the basic content has always been there, it’s just a question of how blatantly they’ve expressed it.

    What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
    Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
    Belonging to a man.

    When spoken with the proper tone and smirk, it’s pretty obvious what’s on Juliet’s mind.

    The bottom line is that if you want to get the crowd going you have to deliver blood and guts, with a generous helping of T&A. That’s always been the case, it’s just a question of whether they make it blatant or subtle. Either way, the audience demands it.

  21. Sex scenes in movies always seem so contrived. They take up film without adding anything notable to the story. Porn does a much better job of catering to any whim regarding sexual titilation than Hollywood ever could. I’m not sure that seeing more of Kirsten Dunst would solve anybody’s problems with movies.

  22. I contribute a lot of the deboobification to good old fashioned feminism. The “not an object, a person” style. I watched a lot of edited-for-TV comedy movies as a teen and was frankly shocked at seeing them later, unedited. Since I was used to the cuts that took out the nudity, it seemed gratuitous and out of place. Language unedited was a different story (my favorite dub of all time – Mel Gibson in one of the Lethal Weapons saying “I’m miffed, Roger, really MIFFED!”). But a lot of these 70’s and 80’s comedies had only male characters and any women were there mostly to respond to the guys or as prizes or scenery. More recent comedy movies have women being funny and as real characters – yet haven’t toned down on the sexuality, just changed it, in my opinion. The 40-year Old Virgin, which was already mentioned, is a great example of this.

    Or maybe the movie makers realized that they could sell these comedies to BOTH men and women, still pandering just enough to men, that more profit was worth sacrificing their artistic vision of boobs just sitting there.

  23. Dammit, if you’re going to show Kirsten Dunst all wet and chilly, don’t crop out the best bits.

  24. Face it erect nipples are dangerous as they could put out a childs eye. Thus all one can conclude is that hollywood is taking the glass cutting nipples out of the films “for the children.”

  25. It’s pretty obvious. It used to be that you had to rely on film (both legitimate and x rated) for pornographic material in your life. In the 70s you’d have to go to porno theaters and watch movies with strangers in order to get that titilation. Nowadays you can enjoy porn in the privacy or your own home on your own personal entertainment viewer (tv/dvd/internet). So the market has become specialized and you don’t need to count on mass media to be all things to all people at all times.

    Since most of the movie going public is children and the more people you can get to see your mass media enterprises the better it will do, why throw in sexual content that will alienate when the public has already found other sources as a sexual outlet?

  26. Just an anecdote: I was in France when I saw Master and Commander. It was in English with French subtitles because I saw it at a theater that typically shows films in “version originale.” There was the joke about when being given the choice, taking the lesser of two weevils. I was the only one in the theater that got the joke (I was the only one who laughed, or made a sound), apparently, because the translation was nowhere near as clever. Something about eating the smaller of two bugs… I can see why that’s not so funny”

    I had a similiar experience in Germany. My German friends who were really versed in English refused to watch the German voice overs of American movies because the translations were so bad.

  27. megs,
    The best edit in Die Hard: Yippie-kai-aye, Mr. Falcon!

  28. How about..

    SHUT THE barn door!!

    (from some otherwise unmemorable thing I happened to surf past recently.)

    Though few beat the horribly mangled dubs that are common in tv commercials these days. The dialogue is usually the same, but the voice ‘acting’ is astonishingly dreadful. One has to wonder how bad were the voices of the prettymodels that feature in the visual parts of the ad that such lame dubs were needed. One particular ad turned up with at least 3 redubs- each worse than the one before. I think they finally just gave up and said ‘whatever, that’ll do’.

  29. Look for beaver in the multiplex today, and you won’t find it on the screen.

    There was that somewhat disturbing bit near the end of Waiting…

  30. Oh, and for dubbing over obscenities, I don’t think anything beats what I heard on Jackie Brown two weekends ago, where Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) demanded that Jackie Brown (Pam Grier) return his “mutual-fundin’ money.”

  31. RC Dean: ya gotta click on the picture for the joy ride.

  32. In the case of Star Wars Episode III, the Chinese translation apparently added obscenities (for instance, consistently translating “do” as “fuck” to hilarious effect):

    here it is

  33. Crimethink: you just made my day. That is incredibly bizarre.

  34. I’m not sure that seeing more of Kirsten Dunst would solve anybody’s problems with movies.

    No, but it certainly couldn’t hurt, could it?

  35. If Hollywood films are becoming increasingly decent, will that be enough to persuade libertarians that market failures are possible and real?

    Why, if the Spider Man movies are becoming increasingly decent, and they succeed, it’s a market success. If the Spider Man movies are becoming increasingly decent, and they fail, it’s a market success. Really, it’s a win-win for the market.

  36. “I’m not sure that seeing more of Kirsten Dunst would solve anybody’s problems with movies.

    No, but it certainly couldn’t hurt, could it?”

    Sometimes love don’t feel like it should….

  37. Requiem for a dream had some muff, iirc.

    NeonCat93 wrote:
    [i]Sooner or later some breathtakingly beautiful zaftig actress will come along and this starvation fad will fade again.[/i]

    You mean like salma hayek? *drool*

  38. Shakespeare is consistently lewd, hence the term “Bowdlerize” from Bowdler’s (in)famous “Family Shakespeare” in 1818. As for T&A, well, the all male casts of Elizabethan theater made exposed nipples worth seeing a bit of a problem.

  39. I hate when subtitle translators think they’re being creative in cases where the obvious, literal translation preserves the humor. There was that one a few years ago about the Marxist dying guy in Quebec who asked his son how well he did his work, and he answered, “Assez bien”, which was subtitled, “Pretty well”, instead of “Well enough” which was the obvious joke as well as the literal xlation. Some years ago I saw one on TV where the subtitlist obviously just didn’t get the fact that one character told another she’d seen a movie “with” Laurel & Hardy, and the other character repeated, “Avec Laurel et Hardy?” and the subtitles said, “A Laurel and Hardy movie”.

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