Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lehman on the "Melodramatic" Penis in 90s Movies

Professor Peter Lehman has written about what he coined the "melodramatic" penis in movies and theater of the 1990s. This is from my interview with him:

"I have traced the history in my book Running Scared- of male frontal nudity—I think what has happened it has maybe come more caught up, more related with the cultural preoccupation with the penis and its presumed importance with definining male sexuality and defining male sexual performance. We live in a more intense body culture than we did then. There is more discourse about the penis and male sexuality [now] than then-bringing this to a different level of prominence and attention—it means something different-different types of bodies—different patterns of nudity. The context in which nudity is shown is different: Starting in 1993 with the Bobbitt case there were a couple of films [featuring] what I called the melodramatic penis, showing the penis became common not just in movies but in other artworks in relation to highly melodramatic situations. The Crying Game shows a penis in the context of an extremely melodramatic moment where the male character finds out woman he is abbut to sleep with is a man. M. Butterfly—[the play] is around the same time. In the theater—there is full frontal male nudity for the audience-a shockingly melodramatic moment-. . . .[Lehman also mentioned the revelation of the penis in Boogie Nights as "melodramatic."]

"These [works] cluster around the same time in the 90s. What is going on in this moment of time is that we are now fascinated with showing the penis to intensive melodrama. I argue there had been a polarity in place before the early 90s-either the penis was the butt of jokes as in [what I described to him in the movie] Harold and Kumar where small penises are made fun of but seldom saw or a presentation of the penis as a large impressive spectacle of which porn was the leading component—this idea of an impressive display that was supposed to mark masculinity—and what I wanted to argue was that films were an attempt to break away from that binary," says Lehman.

Basically, the "melodramatic" penis was when these films in the 90s only showed penises in the most "extraordinary situations", says Lehman.

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