Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Op-Ed on Judge Prohibiting Publication of Book Featuring an Aged Holden Caulfield

I just published an opinion piece on Findlaw.com arguing that the district court judge should have found that a Swedish writer's novel was a fair use of Catcher in the Rye.
I ordered the book from Amazon UK last week. Seems a writer on Slate had the same idea. It does the beg the question of how much power the courts really have when one can so easily order a book through the Internet, which, in effect, overrides the judge's enjoining of the book in the U.S. I wonder if there are other examples of how the Internet, by breaking down traditional commerce borders between nations, has minimized courts' control over the enforcement of their rulings.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New TV show "Hung" and "the Body Guy"

I saw the first episode of "Hung" last night, and it reminded me of a conversation I had with Professor Peter Lehman, co-author with Susan Hunt of The Body Guy in the Movies.

Lehman's book describes the emergence of a new genre of films in the 90s that feature a character they term "the body guy". As he explains, "In these films, the body guy is frequently pitted against a mind guy, someone associated with the work of the mind, as opposed to the body, someone typically upper class or educated or a professional person, and the body guy is usually associated with the land or in an urban setting with blue collar work, and in this new genre of work there is an intensification of the sexuality of the body guy, who has a kind of sexual magic that is so powerful that he has the ability to awaken sexuality, and it is always a beautiful woman who is always married to or engaged to a mind guy who is inadequate to engage her, and she discovers this sexual magic the body guy who can fulfill her in a way her successful mind guy cannot."

The series "Hung" well-embodies this archetype. The lead is a school teacher whose wife has left him for a more successful dermatologist. His house (which is dwarfed by a snotty male lawyer's new McMansion next door) suffers significant damages in a fire and he is reduced to asking his ex-wife for a loan, but is turned down, so he has to live in a tent. He resorts to deciding that his skill or his gift is his large penis, and proceeds to try to figure out how to market himself.

Why are we seeing a rise in the "body guy"? As Lehman says, "What we see happening is a kind of something that’s very complicated now because we are living in a world where more and more power and real success for men lies for them in learning to develop their mind and to succeed with their mind and yet these films seem to send out an opposite kind of image that nothing is more powerful or enticing than the body and specifically the penis and this notion of male sexuality as defined by this kind of magical sexual performance that the 'body guy' can deliver, as if there is a belief out there that somehow if you become educated, if you are smart, if you are successful, that that takes you away form your sexuality in a way."

It's an attempt to assuage rising male anxieties about achieving financial success in today's economy.

Penis Imagery Rears its Head again in Recent Movies/TV

Last May I wrote on my blog and in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune about how images of penises were making their way into mainstream movies, mainly in ones by Judd Apatow, and how underlying this were a rise in male anxieties, hence the projection writ large of their penises on the big screen. I argued that we were seeing a transition from the "melodramatic" penis imagery of the 1990s, as coined by Professor Peter Lehman in his book "Running Scared," think of revelatory moments of penis imagery in "Boogie Nights" or "Madame Butterfly" to the casual revelation for laughs of the penis in movies like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and "Harold and Kumar".

I'd argue that a rise in male anxieties due to the recession are at the heart of this increase in "casual" penis imagery in film and TV. Compare the frank relevation of bits of the actor's penis in the ending shots of "The Hangover" with the playful opening "peekaboo" montage shots of the opening credits of The Austin Powers movie, when obstructions keep getting in the way of the audience seeing Austin's penis.

I haven't seen any press on "The Hangover" mention the closing scenes, which are actually images saved on a digital camera of the leads' forgotten bachelor night in Las Vegas that we, the audience, are "allowed" to see before the characters delete them. Thrown in the midst of those largely benign images are a few jarring shots of Zach Galifianakis, playing Alan, getting a blow job from an older woman, with the head of his penis visible in some.

This is a movie about a bachelor night that is, of course, solely told from a male point of view, so the assumption is that the movie is intended for "the male gaze," for a quasi-adolescent male audience ready to laugh at male hijinks. But the fact is that many women make up the audience of this film. So to have these images forced on you at the end felt, to me, like a bit like an act of aggression: I didn't really want to see this actor's penis!

It's interesting that nude imagery of women in films, especially comedic ones like this film, are always of beautiful women, whose bodies flaunt a high level of perfection, while in contrast, here we see the genitalia of a not highly attractive actor, an average-looking guy. These images actually felt aggressive, as if it's the male psyche asserting itself, forcing the audience (the females in the audience?) to take a look at this ordinary guy's penis, (as opposed to say, the privates of Brad Pitt.

There was another moment in the movie when a penis is played for laughs, without any aggression, when the actor of Asian descent hops out from the trunk of a car without clothes on and we see a mess of pubic hair, no penis at all.

More later--thoughts on the new HBO show "Hung."