Observe and Report (review)

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Sacrificing Art on the Altar of Commerce?

“I thought this was gonna be funny,” says a character at one vital point in Observe and Report, “but it’s actually kinda sad.” Bingo! I thought at that moment, for that is almost exactly my reaction to the film itself. Not that I thought that I would find it funny — because how this is being marketed makes it look like yer standard grossout idiocy, of which I am most definitely not a fan — but I didn’t think I would find what is clearly intended to be comedic to actually be sad in itself, as opposed to merely finding myself depressed by it as yet another example of the sorry state of mainstream entertainment at the moment.

There may be other reasons to be depressed, though.
Observe and Report is Paul Blart: Mall Cop in a minor key. A very minor key. It’s shocking, actually, how similar in some specifics of plot and character the two films are, particularly when it seems unlikely that one could have influenced the other. But the tone of Observe could not be more different from that of Blart — this is a dark, grim film only infrequently punctuated by moments of outright humor, and even its few touches of gentleness are bittersweet at best. The thing is, though, that if writer-director Jody Hill was gonna go as far as he goes with this disturbing tale — and with some aspects he goes very far indeed — then he needed to go even further. What we get is somewhere in a mushy middle that is not entirely satisfying.

Seth Rogen’s Ronnie Barnhardt is tactless, reflexively aggressive, bigoted, bipolar, and possibly borderline retarded. The tiny amount of authority he wields as head of security at Forest Ridge Mall has gone straight to his head, and he lacks any sense of self-awareness regarding anything at all about himself. A dim appreciation for the condition of his alcoholic mother (Celia Weston [The Invasion, No Reservations], a treasure as always) is the only thing that penetrates Ronnie’s shell of self-involvement, and she’s the only person Ronnie appears to recognize as an individual in her own right, not merely as someone who can do something for him.

It’s a startling portrait of knee-jerk ignorance, obliviousness, and mean-spiritedness, and unlike many movies of this ilk, Observe does not approve of its protagonist, even as Rogen’s wholehearted devotion to the character imbues him with a solid reality, if a miserable one. Rogen (Monsters vs. Aliens, Zack and Miri Make a Porno) has likened Ronnie to Travis Bickle, and that’s not a bad comparison, in fact. But Observe doesn’t have the balls that it would take to push the comparison all the way: this is no Taxi Driver, not even a comic spin on Taxi Driver, and I have a nagging suspicion that it ain’t a Taxi Driver out of fear — on the part of Hill or Warner Bros. — that a more forcefully satirical version Observe and Report simply wouldn’t have been a movie marketable to mainstream audiences.

It bothers me deeply that I can’t help but suspect that Hill held back from making what could have been a brilliant, sour work of acidic genius in favor of a movie that was focus-group approved and preascertained by studio accountants to earn a certain acceptable number of millions.

It’s deeply frustrating to see Observe keep running right up to a point at which, it seems, the real satire would kick in… and then always holding back. The actions and motivations (or appreciable lack thereof) of individual characters — such as Ronnie’s instant escalation to violence in almost any situation, no matter how uncalled for — get prodded comedically, and in an ever-escalating manner, but Hill never takes that metaphoric step back that would cast a weather eye on it all. Of course there’s a heightened sense of reality here — this isn’t a documentary — but there’s also, hovering over the whole endeavor, a feeling that Hill wants to consider why so many people are so willfully ignorant, oblivious, clueless, and selfish as Ronnie (and many of the other characters). Yet Hill never gives us a path to that.

Ronnie and his mall-cop underling Dennis (Michael Peña: Lions for Lambs, Million Dollar Baby), for instance, in one bit use a taser on someone for a parking offense, and then the movie literally and figuratively walks away from the moment just as it seems a menacing, cutting, provocative punchline of some sort was in the offing (perhaps something about how we, as a society, seem to have willingly allowed our peace officers to become stormtroopers of late). The movie doesn’t necessarily approve of Ronnie’s behavior, but it stops right at the moment at which it has evoked its shocked laughter from the audience, as if it dare not invite them to think beyond that (as if, perhaps, asking mainstream audiences to think about anything were anathema). Observe is willing to sacrifice our potential good will toward characters like Dennis and Brandi (Anna Faris: The House Bunny, Smiley Face), the pretty shop clerk Ronnie pursues, by showing them to be so shockingly self-destructive that you come to be disgusted by them, but it’s not willing to go far enough to give us pause about why they may be the way they are. It’s almost as if the movie doesn’t realize that it keeps verging on the darkest kind of satire rather than merely deploying apparent stupidity for its own outrageous sake.

The nub around which the plot turns is a flasher, the “pervert,” as Ronnie calls him, who exposes himself to unsuspecting women in the mall parking lot. In even a comedy of heightened realism like this one, you might expect, at some moment, at least one woman to laugh at the guy — what, she’s supposed to be scared of that thing? — or at least one woman to get mad at the guy and maybe even turn the tables and attack him. Instead, to a one, all the women run and scream and act like frightened babies, which allows Hill to take the resolution of this part of the plot to a place so astonishing that I challenge anyone to say you saw it coming.

But the way Hill handles that, with perhaps the film’s only stamp of approval on Ronnie, and with no indication that the consequences such an act would invariably invite are on their way, wraps up what should have been ironic and challenging all along into something that feels just bleakly nihilistic. Not that there’s anything wrong with nihilism, per se, if it’s handled right, just that all indications seem to be that Hill doesn’t mean his movie to be quite so harsh in quite this way. And it’s all especially frustrating because what I see in Observe and Report makes me want to see Rogen do what he does here in a movie by someone who’s willing to go where a story needs to be taken for art’s sake, not for business’s sake — I’m thinking the Coen Brothers, or Spike Jonze. And I want to see Hill give himself permission to do the same… even if it means mainstream audiences won’t embrace him.

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Ferox
Ferox
Fri, Apr 10, 2009 11:23pm

I was actually surprised you didn’t make the comparison, so I feel I should ask: how does this movie compare with Bad Santa? It seems like it’s shooting for a lot of the same material, even if it’s afraid to do it fully.

Mathias
Mathias
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 1:35am

No way, Bad Santa had a lot more balls than this tame flick. There’s nothing too dark here except if you’re the type to groan at vomit kissing and prolonged full frontal male nudity.

I’m surprised that MaryAnn didn’t give this a negative review. I’d say that i’m a fan of Seth Rogan’s flicks but this is definitely his weakest film even though he’s now playing an actual character, rather than himself.

It definitely felt like a lot more “edgy” stuff was cut out which might explain this film’s scattershot editing. Maybe the unrated director’s cut will improve it.

craigmac
craigmac
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 11:09am

I haven’t seen the movie (and I never will) but I heard there’s a date-rape scene.

Mary Ann, based on what you’ve written about other gross-out comedies of late, I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about it or trash the movie harder for it.

grinder
grinder
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 2:28pm

I have been hearing pretty mixed things on how the date rape scene played out. I too would like to hear MaryAnn’s comments on it.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 2:45pm

Context, context, context, guys!

The “date rape” scene is, arguably, not date rape. It is indisputably an uncomfortable depiction of drunken sex between two people who are unself-aware, self-destructive, and burdened with an abundance of personal issues that will almost inevitably be their downfalls — most importantly, as it relates to this scene, a pathological willingness to do *anything* for human contact.

But even if you do see the scene as inarguably depicting date rape, that doesn’t automatically make it something worth complaining about the way that some people are complaining about it. Hollywood is *clearly* misogynist and tone deaf when it comes to feminist issues, but this is not a good example of that.

This is a movie about people who are unlikable and psychologically unhealthy. People like that do awful things. Depicting those awful things is not necessarily approving of them. (It can be, but it isn’t in this case.)

Mathias is right that *Bad Santa* has more balls than this flick. But there is a *lot* of dark stuff here, and it ain’t “vomit kissing and prolonged full frontal male nudity.” That’s just, in the first case, disgusting (and also very sad, that someone could be so desperate for human contact that he’d kiss a girl with vomit in her mouth), and in the second case, gross only if you are 12 years old and still think penises are automatically funny. The “date rape” scene is unquestionably dark.

This is not a “gross-out” comedy.

Dan Coyle
Dan Coyle
Sat, Apr 11, 2009 6:14pm

I just got back from the film and I agree with most of the review, but I think the ending, and the reaction to Ronnie’s climactic actions, is more of Hill sneering at the audience and blaming them for the Ronnie Barnhardts of the world. East Bound and Down’s arc ended in a similar way, only Kenny Powers got a much needed reality check in the final moments.

He’s accusing us of being enablers of the Ronnie Barnhardts of the world, because he’ll get the job done when we need him. Even Scorsese and Hill himself haven’t been that hard hearted and nihilistic.

Rykker
Rykker
Sun, Apr 12, 2009 3:59am

When I first saw the trailer a couple of months ago, I decided it might have been the first Rogen film in which I’d be interested enough to watch — I could sense the possibility of it going where, based on the reviews I’ve read, it ended-up not going.
That’s too bad…

Tim1974
Tim1974
Tue, Apr 14, 2009 1:49pm

It appears it is yet another double standard piece of crap. How redundant and disgusting that yet another movie has decided to exploit men and show just male frontal nudity. I am shocked that heterosexual males have not yet had enough of this inequality.

MaSch
MaSch
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 3:53am

Tim, you’ve got the wrong scales: You must compare the screentime naked willies get in mainstream movies to the exposition the female breast gets (in different degrees of exposure). Didn’t you read the discussion about The Blue Guy’s Weener?

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 12:36pm

I think Tim1974 was being sarcastic.

At least, I hope he was.

TheGaucho
TheGaucho
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 1:29pm

What is it with you American people and full frontal nudity m/fm, or indeed, any nudity whatsoever? Shooting 50 people in one movie, point blank, or torturing/dismemberment shown at close range? Not a problem. One nipple and the whole country is crying “Outrage!”

Sheesh, loosen up, people! Sex = fun!!! To paraphrase Larry Flint: “If the human body is offensive, blame the designer.”

And I am sure that Tim1974 was being sarcastic, weren’t you Tim1974? Please?

Accounting Ninja
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 4:09pm

One nipple and the whole country is crying “Outrage!”

I remember being at work when that whole “catastrophe” hit. My coworker had a five year old son at the time, and she actually said, “How am I going to explain (Janet Jackson’s breast) to him?!?” He had seen the whole thing, the poor moppet.
I was floored. Seriously? They’re BREASTS, mommy has them! My husband sarcastically remarked that no one had a problem up until then with their kids watching and listening to what were VERY suggestive song lyrics, but once that nipple popped out, oh noes!!

Here’s one American that does not share Puritanical views on nudity, male or female. Our priorities are fucked up.

Drave
Drave
Wed, Apr 15, 2009 11:47pm

Just saw this today. Your review is spot-on. I wanted to like it a lot more than I did. One thing I will give this movie, though. It is consistently unpredictable, and that in itself is pretty impressive these days.

Nathan
Nathan
Thu, Apr 16, 2009 5:24pm

I think “a brilliant, sour work of acidic genius” is exactly what this movie is and I don’t understand why you think marketing affected the filmmaker’s decisions. If this were outright satire then it would be marketable as such and would let the audience off the hook, or if this film held our hands and gave us cathartic life lessons or explained exactly why all of this is so bad, how would that be subversive or dark?

What we have is a movie meant to be taken at face value but also a film that dredges up a lot of the ugliness and suffering that goes unseen or ignored in similar enterprises. The line “I thought this was going to be funny, but it’s actually kinda sad” is no accident. It seems to me that Hill is intentionally exposing the underbelly some current trends in American entertainment in a way that outright satire or drama could never do.

I think you wanting the film to supposedly go farther would actually produce a weaker, more comfortable, and less effective film.

wiggles
wiggles
Sun, Apr 19, 2009 2:12am

The “date rape” scene is, arguably, not date rape.

Um… she’s unconscious. Brandi’s arbitrary “who told you to stop” line was Hill pulling his punches to “make it all okay,” just as he does with the movie as a whole.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Tue, Apr 21, 2009 11:01pm

But was she unconscious before he started fucking her? Did she say, “Fuck me, stud!” and that’s why he started in the first place? We just don’t see how the situation began, so we can’t make a truly informed analysis of it.

I’m not sure that her “who told you to stop” line *is* just a way to “make it okay.” She doesn’t come round and start screaming, which might be the expected reaction if she didn’t want him to do what he was doing.

That’s what makes the scene so pathetic: that they’re *both* so desperate for human contact that they’re not really thinking about what they’re doing. Maybe she got as bombed as she did so she would be able to tolerate this kind of contact from him.

Does inebriation automatically mean that a woman is utterly unable to give consent to sex? Doesn’t that infantilize women in a way that we don’t concede to men? (Imagine the uproar if we excused a man from an accusation of date rape because *he* was drunk or stoned.) Doesn’t her decision to get drunk and high — especially in combination with her complete lack of concern when she awakens to find him atop her — mean she has some responsibility for what’s happening?

There are a *lot* of complicated power and gender issues at play when it comes to an issue like date rape. I just don’t think many of them apply to this particular example of drunken sex, unless we want to remove all responsibility from women and treat them like children.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Wed, Apr 22, 2009 8:17pm

Nooooooo, I am in no way being sarcastic. You can in no way compare showing breasts to showing male genitals. It is long past the time to start showing as much female frontal nudity as male frontal nudity. And yes, it has become a double standard against males. There has been an adundance of male exposure compared to female frontal exposure. And I believe the time is coming, as the poor showing of this film is presenting, that heterosexual males have had enough of this double standard treatment. I can only imagine the outrage if these films were constantly showing only female frontal nudity and no male nudity or just a guy’s bare behind. In fact, look at the comments about not thinking there is a double standard because women have shown only their breasts. To me that is ridiculous. There is no shock value in showing male genitals. It is exploitation of males. What would be shocking is to show the vulva. But even the thought of that gets females to cringe. I can only hope that future films of this inequality show poorly. It is disgusting and redundant. I guess females are truly only interested in equality when it benefits themselves.

Paul
Paul
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 12:05am

I used to be the fall guy for a self defense instructor, literally, and when he told women (they were all women groups he taught at various colleges) that all the knowledge and skill in the world goes out the window when someone gets drunk, so it was a waste of time to get a black belt and then get wasted and expect to defend oneself, several of the girls looked at each other uncomfortably. I don’t think they wanted to hear a self-defense expert say the first step to self-defense was to stay sober, when alcohol and so on plays such a big part of college life.

And if Tim1974 thinks male nudity is overexposed in America, he should watch some German films. I remember a Fessbender movie that had more penises than I had ever seen in my life, considering that in locker rooms it is a little rude to stare. I wish I could remember the title, but it was about a poor gay man who wins a lottery, and then another gay man seduces and cons him out of the money, leaving him broke again. The bathhouse scene in particular was overkill.

MaSch
MaSch
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 4:28am

See, MaryAnn, I told you he was being serious! *g*

And for those who are comparing the numbers of movies having penis shots and movies having vulva shots, I recently saw a nice little Greek movie where I realized (somewhat annoyed) that while there had been a vulva shot, the camera was careful not to show a penis (there would have been an occasion for the latter).

For those who compare the numbers of movies which show female breasts and movies which show penises, that movie should, of course, cancel out two movie with naked male penises on screen, i.e. “Watchmen” and this one here.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 8:11am

Showing breasts DOES NOT cancel out showing the penis. As I have said to even think it does is ridiculous. And for those people who bring that argument are those who continue to be afraid of real equality. Why are American films afraid to show as much female frontal nudity as male frontal nudity ? Within the last year, in American mainstream movies, there were 3 films with both male and female frontal nudity. There was only 1 with only female frontal nudity but 9 with only male frontal nudity. That is a blatant double standard. And, that doesn’t even take into consideration the amount of male genitals exposed in many new HBO series and in plays. So please, don’t bother with telling that there were films that showed breasts and they cancel each other out. It shows how frightened you really are with true equality.

MaSch
MaSch
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 9:19am

Tim, you will not convince anybody here with your writing style and your statistics. There are some here who believe that the male emotional reaction to a (large) penis on-screen is about equal to the female emotional reaction to a pair of (large) boobs on-screen: Self-doubt, intimidation, a feeling of inadequacy. (Of course, this only applies to insecure men and women; note that MA for example is not an insecure woman, but arguing on behalf of those women whose self-esteem has been severely damaged by patriarchy.)

Can you disprove that claim? Probably not (if you don’t have a good study upon male and female reactions to the portrayal of primary and secondary sexual characteristics in mainstream movies). Can they disprove your claim that the male penis is as intimate as the female vulva and should be treated equally with regards to presentation in movies? I guess not, either.

So, what can you do? Nothing much, really. My own view is that these issues are too important to be treated seriously, so I’m just making some digs at those attitudes now and then.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 1:19pm

My point has nothing to do with how people react to what is on screen. I would prefer that no one feels discriminated against or uncomfortable in regards to what is being shown. My point is to make people aware of this blatant double standard of exposing male genitals but not female genitals. It is wrong and needs to be put to an end. I encourage all heterosexual males to speak out and voice their concern for this injustice. I wonder how females would feel using your logic and reversed it and said it is ok to show the vulva and it is equalled out by showing a man’s bare behind. My feelings are that would not settle well with females and the way it is now does not settle well with many males. And trashy films like this one does nothing more than to exploit males in reference to frontal nudity. As for my writing style, I have no idea what you even mean. As for the stats, they are accurate. And I am not sure what you mean that these issues are too important to be treated seriously. My opinion is if you have a point of view and your feelings are strong about your conviction, then why wouldn’t you voice your concern ? We obviously disagree but at least we have presented our thoughts. And as the saying goes, even though I don’t support your ideas, I at least defend your right to present them. And, I encourage you to continue doing so because I know I will. So……..until next time…………take care.

Nathan
Nathan
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 1:39pm

This is a conversation? Really?

Tim, you are either a very subtle troll — in which case, well done — or you need a hobby besides counting penes and vulvae.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 2:35pm

Showing breasts DOES NOT cancel out showing the penis.

I think Tim1974’s outrage — whether it is genuine or not — is an excellent demonstration of the attitude that continues to allow female nudity to be treated casually while male nudity inspires anger: Many people think men are more entitled to their dignity than women are.

If Tim1974 — or anyone else — truly believes that bare female breasts are no big deal, then he should ask himself why female barechestedness is considered indecent and can earn the woman in question a police summons or even arrest (and that images of breastfeeding, which could not be less sexual, also cause indignation and outrage), while the same is not true of men who go shirtless.

MaSch
MaSch
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 4:51pm

Well, MaryAnn, let me just switch my argumental point of view and ask, if we take the consequences of exposing X publicly as measure, wouldn’t the showing of a naked penis get a man into more trouble than a woman showing her bare breasts? And would this not mean that a naked penis is a “bigger deal” than bare female breasts?

And how large is the probability for you to state that you are not interested in taking this discussion any further, which I could really understand?

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 6:36pm

I don’t get what you’re after, MaSch. Does male public exposure of his genital area bring more hassle from the police than female breast exposure does?

It would seem not, at least as far as New York State (where I live) is concerned. A few examples:

§ 245.01 Exposure of a person.

A person is guilty of exposure if he appears in a public place in such a manner that the private or intimate parts of his body are unclothed or exposed. For purposes of this section, the private or intimate parts of a female person shall include that portion of the breast which is below the top of the areola. This section shall not apply to the breastfeeding of infants or to any person entertaining or performing in a play, exhibition, show or entertainment.

No specific mention of male nipples or genitalia is made.

§ 245.10 Public display of offensive sexual material; definitions of terms

The following definitions are applicable to section 245.11:
1. “Nudity” means the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area or buttocks with less than a full opaque covering, or the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple, or the depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state.

If you want to examine the statues of other states, there are links here.

But it does appear that, at least in New York (which, again, I chose because that’s where I live), the exposure of the female breast is the equivalent to the exposore of either male or female genitalia.

I don’t necessarily agree that this is a good thing. But our culture at large does not agree with me.

I’m completely fascinated by this debate, and would love to continue it. I don’t know why you’d think I wouldn’t.

JoshB
JoshB
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 7:03pm

That’s how the legal code views it. But even that is open to a judge’s interpretation.

Let’s view the question from the perspective of the greater social consensus (please don’t take this as my point of view, but rather as my estimation of what society thinks):

A woman who exposes her breasts in public is a slut.
A woman who exposes her vagina in public is a bigger slut.
A man who exposes his penis in public is a predatory sex fiend who needs to be put in jail.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 7:12pm

I don’t think that’s the case. A woman who exposes her breasts is a wild animal to be encouraged. A man who exposes his penis is a mentally ill weirdo to be ignored.

That’s my experience of the difference.

But yes, this is the legal code, and it mirrors our culture’s acceptance — or lack thereof — of certain things. If female shirtlessness were as casual and normal in the larger culture as male shirtlessness, it would not be depicted with such salacious glee in the movies.

Accounting Ninja
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 8:33pm

Yeah, but she IS still a slut. Make no mistake about that. Also, she’s assumed sexually available to anyone who wants her, and if raped, was “asking for it.”

This whole male nudity thing…what do you make of this:

Even in nudity men and women aren’t equal. Men are allowed to be more faceted in their nudity. It might be sexual, or funny, or to illustrate a pertinent character trait (Dr. Manhattan), or to convey poignant vulnerability.

But females must always be sexual, and for the titillation of male hetero watchers. Their bodies are put under scrutiny and any woman not deemed “nude-worthy” is harshly slammed.

The breast is not functionally analogous to the penis (I think that would be the clitoris), but the way our society treats it is just as sexual.

Seems to me Tim’s saying that it’s ridiculous that lumps of chest flesh are being equated with genitalia. But would that breasts were only considered lumps of chest flesh with no slut stigmas or hypersexualizations attached in our society.

Mark
Mark
Thu, Apr 23, 2009 9:03pm

Within the last year, in American mainstream movies, there were 3 films with both male and female frontal nudity. There was only 1 with only female frontal nudity but 9 with only male frontal nudity.

I don’t believe this for a minute. What’s your source for this? What movies are these?

Looking at various entries in http://www.screenit.com/search_movies.html, it looks like there have been at least six mainstream films released in the last three months with explicit female nudity but no male nudity (Specifically: Crank: High Voltage, Crossing Over, The Last House On The Left, Friday the 13th, Notorious, My Bloody Valentine 3-D)

So I’m not at all sure where your numbers are coming from.

MaSch
MaSch
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 2:54am

MaryAnn: Oh, the differences in culture and law!

Here in Germany, only men can be (legally) guilty of exhibitionism, women only if the act of exhibitionism includes sexual abuse of children.

I’ve also heard that a man urinating in public can or until recently could be convicted as a sex offender i; was this also true of women?

But yeah, the New York laws really makes the same assumptions you claim society has about that issue.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 7:24am

First Mark let me define “frontal nudity” since that is what my point is in reference to. “Frontal nudity” means genital exposure. Of the films that you listed only 1 contains frontal nudity. The others show breasts and that is another discussion since I can also show that males are exposing their bare behinds equally with the females who expose breasts. My point is in reference to frontal nudity only. The films that I list, which is actually over the last year and about a half, may also contain breasts or bare behinds but a disparity in frontal nudity. So the 3 films that had both male and female genital exposure are : “Harold and Kumar Go To GB,” “Zack and Miri,” and “Blindness.” The only film in almost 2 years to feature only female frontal nudity and no male nudity is “My Bloody Valentine.” The 9 films that have only male genital exposure and no female genital exposure are : “Strange Wilderness,” “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Sex and the City,” “Step Brohers,” “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” “Sex Drive,” “The Reader,” “Watchmen,” and “Observe and Report.” I can also go back further than that to show you that this disparity and double standard has been going on for some time. It also exist in new HBO series and in plays.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 8:41am

But yeah, the New York laws really makes the same assumptions you claim society has about that issue.

I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic, MaSch. But also please note that Germany is not the United States. The cultures are not the same. Similar, perhaps, but not the same.

I’ve also heard that a man urinating in public can or until recently could be convicted as a sex offender i; was this also true of women?

Where are you wondering whether this was true or not? New York? Germany? I have no idea in either case.

But still: how often do you see women urinating in public? I don’t know if it makes sense to prosecute public urinators as sex offenders, but *clearly* male public urination is an actual problem — the same is not at all true of women.

The others show breasts and that is another discussion since I can also show that males are exposing their bare behinds equally with the females who expose breasts.

Tim1974, we get it: You want to see vaginas on film. We understand. But you’re not going to get us to agree that bare female breasts are no big deal, not the way that our culture and Hollywood in particular treat the matter. And you’re also not going to get us to agree that women need to be MORE naked on film, because the guys are getting, er, shafted in this regard. This simply is not happening.

Perhaps you’ve just become so inured to the naked female breast, since they’re in our faces so damn often.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 8:56am

Tim1974 wrote this:

I wonder how females would feel using your logic and reversed it and said it is ok to show the vulva and it is equalled out by showing a man’s bare behind.

Tim, I’m not sure you understand — at all — the issues at stake. Because what you’re suggesting here is as preposterous as if you’d suggested that, say, depictions of a white person being hanged by an angry mob would have the same connotations as that of a black person being hanged by an angry mob. No one with any understanding of American racism and the particular ways that it has played out would agree with this.

Likewise, there are cultural and historical contexts to matters of male nudity, female nudity, and how our culture reactions to and interprets such that are absolutely vital to understanding why no one here is going to agree with you. You say, “My point has nothing to do with how people react to what is on screen,” but that is ENTIRELY the point. You can go on and on about genitals all you want, but the fact is that our culture HAS created a sort of equivalence between female breasts and male penises. It might be nice if we didn’t live in this culture — if female nudity wasn’t automatically sexual, and if people didn’t freak out like four-year-olds at the sight of a penis — but we do.

I urge you, Tim, to acquaint yourself with some feminist critiques of our culture, because you’re not doing a very good job of convincing us that you live in the same world we do.

MaSch
MaSch
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 9:59am

But yeah, the New York laws really makes the same assumptions you claim society has about that issue.

I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic, MaSch. But also please note that Germany is not the United States. The cultures are not the same. Similar, perhaps, but not the same.

I was not being sarcastic. I just didn’t find the right word: The laws you cite support the credibility of your argument.

‘ve also heard that a man urinating in public can or until recently could be convicted as a sex offender i; was this also true of women?

Where are you wondering whether this was true or not? New York? Germany? I have no idea in either case.

Rumours have it that this was the case in some not really specified States of the USA. Damn wikipedia, not reliable at all, unfortunately.

But still: how often do you see women urinating in public?

I did once. Guess that doesn’t really make an argument, especially since …

I don’t know if it makes sense to prosecute public urinators as sex offenders, but *clearly* male public urination is an actual problem — the same is not at all true of women.

… I (largely) agree with that (make it another offence and prosecute them for that, but the stigma as “sex offender” for *that*? This is over-exaggerated)

You can go on and on about genitals all you want, but the fact is that our culture HAS created a sort of equivalence between female breasts and male penises. It might be nice if we didn’t live in this culture — if female nudity wasn’t automatically sexual, and if people didn’t freak out like four-year-olds at the sight of a penis — but we do.

Somehow the second sentence seems to contradict the first one: If there was some kind of equivalence between female breasts and male penises (why has no one yet asked what other kinds of penises there are?) , then people would freak out like four-year-olds at the sight of …

Just remembered Nipplegate, you are right-on.

However, Tim’s point *is* that there exists in your culture this equivalence, but that this is not okay and a double standard where men get the shorter end of the stick (no pun intended). Tim is advocating (I guess) for an equal sensitivity concerning the depiction of penises as there is concerning the depiction of vulvae.

As Frank T.J. Mackey would most definitely *not* say: “Respect the cock! As much as the cunt!”

Tim1974
Tim1974
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 11:55am

Mary Ann I can’t agree with you even in the slighest. It is a feminist view point put forth by females to prevent equality when it comes to frontal nudity. Just your reaction to the reverse situation of showing a vulva and only showing a man’s bare behind certainly upsets you. That shows me you are bias. No matter what female logic you choose to use the bottom line is simple. To have true equality, if you are goinjg to show the penis then show the vulva. No ifs, ands, or butts( no pun intended). As far as people agreeing with me here…..well that doesn’t matter. I don’t adhere to your feminist views and I am able to stand up for myself and true equality. And you should notice, I never said to do away with male frontal nudity but to start adding equal amounts of female frontal nudity. And talk abpout freaking out…well if they showed the vulva as often, and in the positions they have shown the penis, females would be feeling the same.

JoshB
JoshB
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 12:03pm

Hmmm…I’m thinking way too much about this =P

I think you’re wrong MaryAnn. If I was to assign a numerical value between one and ten for various body parts’ sexual titillation value in our culture it would go as follows:

male/female arms and legs: 1
male chest: 2
male/female butt: 5
female chest: 6-7
male/female genitals: 10

There really isn’t a male equivalent for the female breasts. Trust me, us guys like some boobies, but they’re not equal to vaginas (vaginae? the spellchecker seems to think so…).

Also, I think in the past it was more common to see vaginas on film, and less common to see penises (I wonder if Tim’s encyclopedic knowledge might confirm that?). I imagine that’s the result of feminism rather than equality between breasts and penises.

P.S. Since I’m more or less arguing on the side of Tim1974 it might seem that I’m deeply offended by this horrible inequality. Which, no. For me this conversation is an amusing academic exercise, not a crusade.

Accounting Ninja
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 12:10pm

No matter what female logic you choose to use the bottom line is simple.

*sigh* Translation: you are a woman, and that invalidates your arguments.

I smell someone who distrusts “feminism” and probably equates them with “nazi-ball-busting”. True feminism IS about equality. There is no gynocentric agenda.

Male nudity is treated with a whole lot more respect (gross-out comedies notwithstanding. But it is even more respectful here: they are allowed to be “funny” with no suggestion of audiences leering at them and judging their worth as sexual objects. Women are not afforded this courtesy.)

Imagine for a moment a female Dr. Manhattan, nothing about the character changed except gender. Would her nudity have been treated as matter-of-fact as the male’s? Or would the camera have traveled her flesh, inviting the male audience? My gut tells me it would. All female nudity is sexual; it isn’t allowed to be anything else. I haven’t seen all those movies you listed, but I’m willing to bet that all instances of female nudity were sexual and directed at the male audience. The males’ were no doubt more varied. I don’t care if they weren’t “tit-for-tat” (no pun intended). It is the presentation and attitudes behind the nudity that is important.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 1:17pm

I completely disagree with your “it is the attitudes and the presentations that is important.” Sounds to me just like another reason for females not to be exposed as much as males. I think by now that I have heard every excuse/reason for not showing female frontal nudity as often as male frontal nudity except one that states show the vulva as much as the penis. That would be equality and as females we are interested in equality. Feminist = equlaity ????? It certainly doesn’t sound like it. By the way, in “My Bloody Valentine” it was not sexual. The nude woman was running. The perception of genital nudity should have absolutely no determination on showing frontal nudity and equality. As I stated it should black and white. You show the penis then you show the vulva. Why oh why does that frighten many females ??????

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 2:42pm

Tim1974, we wimmez with our faulty female logic are not “frightened” at the thought of vulvas on film. We’re trying to explain to you, as you call for women to be more exposed on film, that women are already more exposed on film than men are.

I repeat: I think you are so inured to naked female breasts *because we see them all the damn time* on film that you simply don’t realize how prevalent this female exposure is.

If I was to assign a numerical value between one and ten for various body parts’ sexual titillation value in our culture it would go as follows:

male/female arms and legs: 1
male chest: 2
male/female butt: 5
female chest: 6-7
male/female genitals: 10

Sez you, JoshB, with your (I’m presuming here) male heterosexual perspective, seeing our culture through the same lens. If a female heterosexual perspective were the dominant one in our culture — the one so dominant that everyone considered it simply the normal and unbiased one, which of course it wouldn’t be any more than the straight-male perspective is — then perhaps movies might treat the naked male chest as highly sexual.

There really isn’t a male equivalent for the female breasts.

There is the most obvious outward sign of gender for each of the genders: For men it is the penis. For women it is the breasts. You know: Which bits flop around when someone naked is running? To correct Tim1974’s misapprehension, a naked chick running in a horror movie is naked (from the POV of the director, who made this decision) because her breasts can bounce around while she’s fleeing in terror. (It *is* sexual, Tim1974 — not from the girl-character’s perspective, but from the intent of the director. The director is trying to titillate the audience with naked bouncing breasts [as well as the terror of a sexy girl, but that’s another issue].)

Tim1974 wants to see vulvas on film. I wonder what he means by this. Does he mean he wants to see bushes — because, you know, for adult women, the vulva is mostly hidden by hair unless a camera gets *real* close. If Tim1974 wants extreme closeups, close enough to see the vulva in the bush, then wouldn’t he have to equate that with extreme closeups on penises… which we simply don’t see on film. (Except pornos, of course. Maybe Tim1974 just needs to watch some more porn.) Or does Tim1974 want to see shaved pussies so he can *see* vulva?

There’s no precise equivalency, but the closest thing *is* male penis/female breast.

SPOILER FOLLOWS!

Think about this. If that last bit in *O&R* were gender swapped, and a naked woman were running around the mall terrorizing people, what would we have seen instead? Of course, there’s no precise equivalent here, either, because women don’t generally do the flasher thing. But still, what would the director have done to make it “funny”? He has an overweight, not terribly attractive man running around the mall, his penis flopping around for all to see. Swap the genders, and we’d have an overweight, not terribly attractive woman running around… with her breasts flopping around for all to see. (Of course, they would not be the “right kind” of breasts — they’d be droopy and saggy, not pert and firm.) She’d probably be totally nude under her coat, like the man in the film was, but her nakedness below the waist would not be the focus of attention like it was for the guy.

MaryAnn
MaryAnn
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 2:47pm

If a female heterosexual perspective were the dominant one in our culture — the one so dominant that everyone considered it simply the normal and unbiased one, which of course it wouldn’t be any more than the straight-male perspective is — then perhaps movies might treat the naked male chest as highly sexual.

And it just occurred to me that if you watch gay porn, or anything mean to be homoerotic, the male chest is *highly* sexualized. In fact, that’s considered a primary marker for something to be taken as homoerotic: the naked male chest is presented in a way meant to be arousing and erotic.

JoshB
JoshB
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 3:50pm

If a female heterosexual perspective were the dominant one in our culture — the one so dominant that everyone considered it simply the normal and unbiased one, which of course it wouldn’t be any more than the straight-male perspective is — then perhaps movies might treat the naked male chest as highly sexual.

Ah, but this is where we have a disconnect. You spend so much time thinking about what the culture wants that you neglect to think about what you want. It’s very glass-is-half-empty. If you as a heterosexual female loves you some man chest then you should be happy. Film, and real life for that matter, is awash in naked male chest. And to extend that reasoning, you should feel pity for us straight dudes that we don’t see nearly as many breasts!

She’d probably be totally nude under her coat, like the man in the film was, but her nakedness below the waist would not be the focus of attention like it was for the guy.

Says you. My attention disagrees.

Tim1974
Tim1974
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 3:51pm

I will end by once again puting out the call for all heterosexual males to stop viewing these type of films which exploit male genitalia and continue to promote the double standard bias of showing males but not females. I encourage males to speak up and make their voices heard to put an end to this injustice. Males also need to realize that for he most part most females want nothing to do with true equality. Beware of the abundance of excuses that they use to promote inequality and continue the exposure of male genitals but no female genitals. It may take time but when these writers/directors/producers start to realize they are not making the money they had hoped it will change. This film is an example of one that has been doing poorly. Hopefully it is only a start. Also, beware that there are also males who are unable to stand up for themselves and defend what is just. They find it more comfortable to agree with the female perspective and not risk voicing their displeasure and demand equal treatment. The bottom lne to this is simple. If you show male genitals then you should also expose female genitals. I am not demanding any special treatment for males only that both genders are treated equally. This is the 21st century and why not ??? Equality is long overdo. In addition to the genital exposure issue it goes to having both genders with strong characters, equal amounts of attractive and average looking people, stop the visual rape scenes, stop showing physical and emotional abuse. I know ther are other issues as well but it is something that needs to be addressed. It is a shame that this nudity issue has divided the genders because I believe working side by side such improvements could be made by presenting a solid, united platform of reform. And MaryAnn, even though I do not agree with you in the slightest, I appreciate having the opportunity to express my opinion in your forum. Thank you Until we meet again………………..

Mark
Mark
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 3:57pm

“Frontal nudity” means genital exposure.

Ah, see, I was confused because the last time I looked at a nude woman her breasts were definitely frontal.

That shows me you are bias.

Everyone knows that MaryAnn is biast, Tim1974.

But, seriously …

To have true equality, if you are goinjg to show the penis then show the vulva.

I don’t adhere to your feminist views and I am able to stand up for myself and true equality. And you should notice, I never said to do away with male frontal nudity but to start adding equal amounts of female frontal nudity.

Sounds to me just like another reason for females not to be exposed as much as males. I think by now that I have heard every excuse/reason for not showing female frontal nudity as often as male frontal nudity except one that states show the vulva as much as the penis.

OK, Tim1974, I really can’t wrap my head around what you’re looking for here. Do you want the MPAA do have a mandatory vulva-penis equivalency rule? Or do you just want us to concede — “yes, yes, so many penises, so few vulvae, it’s horrible and wrong” — regardless of any assessment of the context in which the nudity occurs in the film?

And I’m confused about the physiology of your argument. Common sense would dictate that if what you’re concerned about is genital nudity, then a frontal view of a male with uncovered genitals — with the penis plainly visible is equivalent to a frontal view of a female similarly uncovered — which, as MaryAnn points out, will amount to a wedge of curly hair in most realistic cases. So I’m not clear on why you keep mentioning ‘vulva’ — a specific part of female genital anatomy which is not, in the normal course of things, as prominent as a penis. That’s got nothing to do with filmmakers’ peccadillos; that’s just anatomy. So are you arguing that we ought to “add” shots of unusually exposed female genitals to compensate for basic physiological differences?

It seems that the basic disconnect here is that you aren’t prepared to concede that, in general, women’s experience of nudity on film (not just seeing nudity — both male and female — but living in a culture that portrays women on film the way our does) is different that yours. Now that’s biast.

Mark
Mark
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 4:48pm

I will end by once again puting out the call for all heterosexual males to stop viewing these type of films which exploit male genitalia and continue to promote the double standard bias of showing males but not females. I encourage males to speak up and make their voices heard to put an end to this injustice

What, gay and bisexual men can’t join your cause, too?

In any case, I still don’t understand what you’re upset about. And I don’t feel that male genitalia is being exploited, or that there is a “double standard bias” in what naked bits show up in movies nowadays. So I will respectfully decline your call to action.

Also, beware that there are also males who are unable to stand up for themselves and defend what is just. They find it more comfortable to agree with the female perspective and not risk voicing their displeasure and demand equal treatment.

Be aware that there are also males who don’t agree with you in the slightest, regardless of the female perspective.

Equality is long overdo. In addition to the genital exposure issue it goes to having both genders with strong characters, equal amounts of attractive and average looking people, stop the visual rape scenes, stop showing physical and emotional abuse

It’s not enough to tally up these things and declare them equal. What matters is how these things are portrayed. Just like nudity, scenes of rape and abuse can be entirely different depending on how the filmmakers intend them — some directors will film horrific scenes with the intent that they titillate, others will make them appropriately horrific. Just as with nudity — it can be portrayed in a way that is erotic, sensual, intimate, dehumanizing, matter-of-fact, gratuitous, or a dozen other things. Nuance and intent matter; you can’t just play at counting genitals and determine if a film is exploitative or not.

It is a shame that this nudity issue has divided the genders because I believe working side by side such improvements could be made by presenting a solid, united platform of reform.

Except it hasn’t “divided the genders”. Not all men agree with you; in fact, I don’t think anyone here agreed with you.

Accounting Ninja
Fri, Apr 24, 2009 7:16pm

Tim, anyone who uses the phrase “female logic” loses all points with me. It’s called logic, and it’s not dependent on our plumbing. I’m convinced that you are a misogynist who doesn’t realize he is one.

If you think for a moment the movie industry is “exploiting” males and is run from anything other than a straight, white, male perspective (notice how ratings cater to the M 18-40 crowd) then you are seriously mistaken and I might just laugh in your face.

Also, you never answered any of my points. You’re so stuck on For Every Penis a Vulva that you are in a tunnel. You insult the women here by calling them deluded feminists who want to oppress men. You insult the men here by insinuating that they are cowards unable to “stand up” to the big bad wimmenz.

For the record, I HATE it when certain feminists take this tack: ALL men are out to oppress women, and any woman who disagrees in simply a brainwashed simpleton unable to stand up for herself.

Kindly crawl back under your bridge.

Victor Plenty
Victor Plenty
Sat, Apr 25, 2009 3:18pm

I’ve seen a lot of trolls in my decades online, and after reading through this entire exchange, I don’t think Tim1974 falls into that category. An odd duck he certainly is, and most likely an unaware misogynist to boot, but probably not a troll.

That being said, I’m not persuaded in the slightest by any of his arguments. His stated overall goal of “true equality” is admirable enough, and even seems to be sincere. Sadly, the way he’s pursuing it is nothing less than bizarre.

It’s nice of him to choose comparatively mild words when insulting everyone who doesn’t share his narrowly focused obsession. That doesn’t make his claims persuasive.

MaSch
MaSch
Sat, Apr 25, 2009 5:46pm

JoshB: A bit late, but I just wanted to say that to me this issue is an amusing academic crusade.

Just wearily looked over the last few postts (yeah, I tired earlier than i predicted MaryAnn would), but some statements seem a little like conundrums (new word I just looked up in a dictionary; who said commenting on FlickFilosopher isn’t edicashonal?):

Why is a penis like a pair of boobs? – Both are flopping around when the owner runs naked.

Why is a penis like a vulva? – Both are promary genitals.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

And depending on what one considers the *essential* quality of the penis, one comes to different conclusions.

By the way, as I already hinted at on the Manhattan’s dong thread: For many guys, the bits that flop around when running around *shirtless* is the belly, while for women it is the breasts, so we get a breast-belly-equivalence.

Since we already established a breast-penis-equivalence and a penis-vulva equivalence, we come to the conclusion that the male belly is equivalent to the female vulva.

To which I am saying: This line of reasoning could be very efficient to spread sexual abstinence in males.

Tyler
Tyler
Sun, Apr 26, 2009 5:01am

MaryAnn, you said:

“Tim, I’m not sure you understand — at all — the issues at stake. Because what you’re suggesting here is as preposterous as if you’d suggested that, say, depictions of a white person being hanged by an angry mob would have the same connotations as that of a black person being hanged by an angry mob. No one with any understanding of American racism and the particular ways that it has played out would agree with this.”

As someone who was raised in a time and place where, at least, outward suburban racism is not rampant, I have to say I’d have the same reaction a hanging (in real life or in a film) regardless of who is being hung.

It seems to create a double standard. Your statement (likely unintentionally) implies that we shouldn’t show a black person being hung in a movie without referencing or making some note of the racial connotation, but why? If we’ve really moved on as a society and destroying taboos, that would include avoiding topics that are negatively sensitive.

This may not have total relevance to the discussion but it’s what I thought reading some of these comments.

MichelleW
MichelleW
Sun, Apr 26, 2009 9:29am

I agree with Tim. It’s double standards. And for anyone saying that the female breasts exposed are the same as male genitals exposed….you really are deluded.