Wednesday, June 13, 2012

From the Horse's Mouth

A bit surprised that this hasn't had more play: in an interview with Empire last week, Neil Marshall--who directed the penultimate episode of the second season of Game of Thrones, "Blackwater"--has this to say on the subject of the show's use of nudity:
The weirdest part was when you have one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder, going, "You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it!" So I was like, "Okay, well, you're the boss."

This particular exec took me to one side and said, "Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side. I represent the perv side of the audience, and I'm saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene." So you go ahead and do it.
(The original quote is in a podcast.  Here are two text reports, both of which seem quite cheerful about HBO courting the pervert demographic.)

Of course, this isn't really a surprise.  No one who watches Game of Thrones can have imagined that titillation was not at least a partial motivation for its copious scenes of nudity and sex.  And given the unattributed quote from a one-time director, a grain of salt might not be entirely out of order as well.  But it is something to have people involved with the show saying this--that young women are being asked to strip naked and simulate sex for the benefit of perverts.  If someone could explain the difference between that and soft-core porn, I would be very grateful.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Game of Thrones has good PR.

The violence is there for fun too. Is that kid who plays Joffrey abused by being asked to enact morally perverted acts?

JP said...

It's interesting that people also have no problem with violence being presented as a fun thing.

Nussbaum's question deserves a more considered answer. But that would mean rethinking the underpinnings of much of what many of us have been conditioned to believe is 'just entertainment' and therefore harmless.

JP said...

It's interesting that people also have no problem with violence being presented as a fun thing.

Nussbaum's question deserves a more considered answer. But that would mean rethinking the underpinnings of much of what many of us have been conditioned to believe is 'just entertainment' and therefore harmless.

Anonymous said...

"If someone could explain the difference between that and soft-core porn, I would be very grateful."

Soft-core porn has no agenda other than providing material for masturbation. "Game of Thrones" has another agenda. Easy! :)


"that young women are being asked to strip naked and simulate sex for the benefit of perverts."

Whoa! The tone of your post changed completely there. From this-is-stupid to this-is-immoral (with a hint of "Damn the Patriarchy!"). This could be the secularism talking, but not everything is a moral issue.

I'll go farther: most things aren't.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

JP, anon.:

The violence/sex equivalence crops up a lot in discussions of this issue, and always baffles me since it seems so disconnected from what's actually happening on the show.

I mean, let's ignore the fact that dividing violence and sexuality along gender lines is pretty fucked up. Let's ignore the fact that violence often denotes agency and makes the people who engage in it look good, whereas nudity, as its used on this show, usually denotes passivity and makes the people (=women) who have been stripped look vulnerable. Let's ignore the fact that the use of nudity and sex to humiliate female characters, even those who are known to the audience and not just background extras, far outstrips the use of violence to humiliate male characters. Let's also ignore the fact that being beheaded by your king is not the sort of thing that happens in Western culture too often, while being treated like a piece of meat and expected to parade your naked body to strangers is something that still happens quite frequently to women in 2012 - for example on the set of GoT.

Even if we ignore all those troubling facts, the simple fact is, there is no stark division between sex and violence on GoT. Male characters are exposed to violence, but female characters are exposed to sexual violence. The two are bound together.

Anon. 2:

The show as a whole may have another agenda, but according to that quote, the purpose of nudity on the show is to titillate. Ergo, porn.

As for the tone of my post, I don't think it changed so much as you mistook it. As I discuss in this post, I very much believe that the question of what we're willing to tolerate for the people who make our entertainment is an ethical issue, combining feminism and labor rights.

angelfromanotherpin said...

It's a thing which has constantly disappointed me about the show. I want to see sexual content that's there to underline that the world being presented is a place where people are sexual beings: horny, messy, complex, *adult.* Instead I get sexual content that's there for it's own sake, an adolescent naughtiness that permeates American media sensibilities.
As was famously said, I can't define the difference, but I know it when I see it.

S Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alex said...

Abigail,

Your definition of porn is "contains intentionally titillating elements"? I think that subsumes more than you have considered.

Linking to a separate page as an argument that this one is tonally consistent seems a rather elaborate way of conceding the point.

Your conception of ethics is confusing, but your meta-ethics are downright inscrutable. Are you saying that you aren't a fictionalist?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

"Conceding the point"? What point am I conceding, unless it's "I'm a feminist, and I view pop culture through a feminist lens," which is something that I'm proud of?

At any rate, as you say, you now have two different posts that lay out my views in what I think is a perfectly straightforward way. If you'd like to engage with those views, go right ahead. But what you're doing right now - expressing bafflement that I have expressed my views without going to the trouble of explaining what you disagree with - is annoying, and doesn't incline me to want to talk to you.

Elissa Caffery Fleming said...

There certainly have been times, watching GoT, when I've said, "This is basically softcore porn now," and my husband (who, let's be real, knows more than I do about what softcore porn is like) has agreed with me. I didn't hesitate to keep watching, though; even if I found those scenes dumb and at times boring, they didn't trouble me ethically.

Maybe they should've. I dunno. I'm not convinced that the clear intent to titillate is a problem, though.

I think you may well have a point about such scenes doing harm by reducing empathy with and respect for women, but I'd like to see you make that point more explicitly. I feel like using the loaded word "porn" isn't too helpful; the connotations aren't necessarily warranted, and if you're not careful you could find yourself arguing about "is it or ain't it porn," when that isn't actually the question you want to ask (lulz).

Anyway, thanks for the post, that quote is pretty interesting.

Alex said...

"If you'd like to engage with those views, go right ahead. But what you're doing right now - expressing bafflement that I have expressed my views without going to the trouble of explaining what you disagree with - is annoying, and doesn't incline me to want to talk to you. "

Here are points I have brought up that you have ignored:

1) You definition of porn subsumes more than you intend, because quite a lot of culture contains some intentionally titillating elements
2) Are you a moral fictionalist?

I'm most interested in your meta-ethical stance, so if you would deign answer a question, the question is:

Are you a moral fictionalist?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Elissa:

Per the post I link to in my reply to Alex above, my concern is less about the viewers of GoT and more about its actresses. So whether or not the nudity on the show promotes a lack of empathy towards women within the show's audience, I think it reflects a lack of empathy towards women behind the scenes. I would like to see fandom talking a bit more about what's demanded of those actresses for the sake of our entertainment.

Alex:

I think Elissa is right that getting into a discussion of what is or isn't porn is counter-productive, and not really the purpose of this discussion. As for moral fictionalism, a quick google reveals this article which describes it as the belief that morality is nonexistent but a useful fiction nonetheless. Whether I hold to that belief seems like quite a chestnut since it hinges on the question of what morality is, which I think philosophy has been wrangling with for quite some time. It also strikes me as beside the point, and maybe not much more than faffing about. After all, whether morality is real or just a social convention, that doesn't change the fact that women are disadvantaged in our society in many ways, including being more likely to be treated as objects of titillation and expected to expose themselves for the gratification of men, and that GoT is a reflection of that tendency.

And now that I've answered your question, let me pose one of my own: are you deliberately trying to be unpleasant?

Because rather than engaging in conversation as a person who is truly interested in an exchange of ideas might do ("you seem to be saying X; I disagree because of Y") your behavior has been confrontational and demanding, withholding your own views and expecting me to justify mine on your terms. You're behaving more like a teacher quizzing a student than someone who is genuinely interested in my views and wishes to engage me about them.

Are you deliberately trying to be unpleasant?

If so, you might want to consider that I'm under no obligation to continue this conversation. In your next comment, you might want to try to be considerably more cordial than you have been so far, and to remember that a conversation is a give and take.

Alex said...

Abigail,

Thank you for the link and explanation, that's quite courteous of you, but I'm familiar with what the term means.

"Whether I hold to that belief seems like quite a chestnut since it hinges on the question of what morality is, which I think philosophy has been wrangling with for quite some time."

Well, yes, ethical theories don't disappear easily because they can't be falsified, but that's common knowledge.

"It also strikes me as beside the point, and maybe not much more than faffing about."

Not at all. At first glance, meta-ethics might seem like just an extra taxonomy, but it has a huge impact on how a person views other ethical systems in relation to their own, and whether (and how aggressively) they seek to force their views on others. If people believe that their views are true statements from a divine source, they don't tend to be open to arguments.

Deliberately trying to be unpleasant? If I were trying to do that, I'd make different choices. In my experience, saying "wait, let's get back to that point you made earlier" doesn't make people upset, so that would be a low percentage tactic if I wanted to bother you.

Withholding? What questions do you want answered about my views? I'm happy to discuss them.

87c83f8c-b744-11e1-abc5-000bcdcb2996 said...

The nudity in the Game of Thrones has gotten embarrassing this season. The nudity in the scenes with Dany in season one arguably showed us something about her experience in the arranged marriage with Khal Drogo that might not have come through without nudity. In this season, Osha seducing Theon could absolutely have been shown without recourse to full frontal nudity on her part alone.

However, people on the production side of shows being concerned with titillation is hardly new. Sarah Michelle Gellar was not only cast as Buffy because she was a great actress. Kira Nerys got a skin-tight uniform that no one else in the Bajoran military seemed to have halfway through the show. These decisions were made by production execs and partially for reasons of titillation, as I'm sure you know. I'm interested what you see as the difference between the pressures that exist on fully clothed actresses to maintain or achieve a certain body type and the situation that exists when the skin-tight clothing or underwear is completely taken off, as in GoT. Discussions about the sexualization of women (and to a much lesser extent men) in media have gone on and are ongoing.

I work in theater, and have seen directors treat actresses (whose jobs do not involve removing any clothing) horribly with regard to their body shape. I've also been involved in productions with scantily clad actresses where those scenes have been dealt with admirably and the actresses have felt comfortable. So I think it's hard to get the sense of the backstage atmosphere of a production from what appears on screen and a few "airing the dirty laundry" quotes. The mood behind the scenes of any dramatic production is an odd animal and I would caution assuming too much.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Alex:

Thank you for the link and explanation, that's quite courteous of you, but I'm familiar with what the term means.

I never doubted that. But I wasn't familiar with the term, and I suspect that readers of the blog following this conversation might not have been familiar with it either.

If people believe that their views are true statements from a divine source, they don't tend to be open to arguments.

I think you've rather made my point for me there. Neither I, nor any other feminist I'm aware of, believe that our stance derives from a divine source - rather, it derives from our observation of the world. But that doesn't make us open to arguments on feminism's inherent rightness and necessity, nor does it make us less likely to believe that it is right and proper for our views to be "imposed" on others who may disagree with them, through legislation that promotes women's equality, or by challenging and seeking to delegitimize attitudes that harm and demean women - for example the belief that women's bodies are public property and that parading them around in the nude is nothing to get worked up about.

Deliberately trying to be unpleasant? If I were trying to do that, I'd make different choices.

Well gosh, we wouldn't want you to do that, would we? I mean, if you were deliberately trying to be unpleasant, you might have responded to my complaint by dismissing it and not altering your behavior one bit.

Withholding? What questions do you want answered about my views?

And there you go again. It's my job to ask you questions on your views? You're acting like a teacher again, expecting me to chase you around so you can lead me to where you want to go. You came into my blog and started a conversation with me. If you want that conversation to be one of equals, then you have to lay out your own views, unasked, and most importantly, to explain what their connection is to the subject at hand - which, I'll remind you is, is nudity on GoT.

Alphanumeric string OpenID person:

You're right that the limited definition of female beauty and the pressure to conform to it are problems for actresses as well, but they strike me as different (if related) problems - the difference being the one between being clothed and being naked. There is an extra level of vulnerability that attaches itself to nudity and goes far beyond the question of whether an actress looks good. In my previous post on this subject, I talked about a sex scene between Theon and a ship captain's daughter. I have no idea whether the actress looks good naked, because the whole purpose of that scene was to make her look pathetic and unattractive, and a big part of that was accomplished through nudity. It's an utterly humiliating scene for the character, and though I don't know how the actress felt about it, it seems to me like an entirely different set of problems than the pressure to look good on camera.

Foxessa said...

Titillation, risque, naughty -- they are a very different qualities -- barely porn at all.

GOT is not titillating, risque or naughty. These are qualities that include a light touch, touching lightly, as the dictionaries say.

Depicting women forced to be naked in public, while subjected to outright physical brutality, or at the very least, the imminent threat of physical brutality, rape and homicide as well, is sadistic, not touching lightly. Those who say this kind of prolonged, frequent scene is merely titillation indicates something about how that person thinks and sees women in the first place, and it is pretty ugly, because all this happens against these characters's will -- unlike the fantasies of what BDSM is about -- where it is supposedly mutually agreed upon, consented and safe.

Alex said...

Abigail,

Italics instead of quotes is a good idea! I'll follow your lead.

I think you've rather made my point for me there.
You asked me how questions of meta-ethics were anything more than "faffing about", I explained and provided an example. You seem to have made the assumption than the example was meant to apply to you. Attempting to both clarify a point of confusion and accuse you of something in the same sentence seems like poor writing to me, which is why I didn't attempt it.

Well gosh, we wouldn't want you to do that, would we? I mean, if you were deliberately trying to be unpleasant, you might have responded to my complaint by dismissing it and not altering your behavior one bit.
Rejecting the accusation that I'm deliberately trying to be unpleasant is evidence that I'm trying to be unpleasant?

It's my job to ask you questions on your views?
Traditionally, people in a discussion ask questions of each other, yes. I still am not sure what is unclear about my own views, as I've already made some clear statements:
1) almost no issues are moral
2) "contains titillating elements" is an overly
inclusive definition of pornography

More? My pleasure.
3) nudity in a film or television show is altogether different than "parading about" and nothing whatsoever like "public property"
4) the beliefs you have expressed seem paternalistic, with the assumption that your personal feelings about nudity are the only ones which can be (or should be) felt by anyone

But most importantly:
5) the treatment of characters in a work of fiction is not a moral issue, but an aesthetic one, and belief otherwise is a misunderstanding of one's reactions between "immoral" and "ugly"

If you want that conversation to be one of equals, then you have to lay out your own views, unasked
Here I was worried you didn't have a sense of irony.

Foxessa said...

) the treatment of characters in a work of fiction is not a moral issue, but an aesthetic one, and belief otherwise is a misunderstanding of one's reactions between "immoral" and "ugly"

Would you say that about works such as The Protocols of Zion and the Left Behind series? You cannot leave morality and ethics out of art any more than you can in any other human endeavor, though the concepts of justice attempt to do so.

That people have different moral and ethical conceptual platforms, however, is true. But there are very few cultures at any time who believed that pornographic material and behaviors had a place in public or domestic spaces -- and that includes even Ancient Rome.

And by now the cable nets, computer and vid games, have gone over the line into pornography, particularly in the depiction of women and how they are treated.

Foxessa said...

In addition Alex's tone comes through as arrogant and superior, and what he is doing is what women everywhere by now recognize as derailing. The discussion her is now focused on his determinations as to what is what. The issue here is there is the creation of social harm through deliberate choices by the entertainment producers to depict women -- and very young ones as well -- as frequently if not constantly naked, brutalized and degraded because the producers find it sexually arousing and like it like that.

There may belegal challenges to the cable networks and game makers in these areas since they obviously do not even wish to police themselves. The gaming community has been up before on these charges and the community rallied around. But as things have only become so extreme since the last one, even the women they counted on to rally around, despite the treatment the males in the community have meted out to the women, are finding this too much.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Foxessa:

It would be very interesting to know just what scenes of nudity HBO execs think appeal to the "pervert demographic." I had been assuming that these included merely the "sexposition" scenes - the one nude scene in Marshall's episode, "Blackwater," is such a scene. But you do have to wonder whether there was a similar executive whispering the ear of the director responsible for the scene in which Joffrey forces one prostitute to severely beat another, which also features full frontal nudity.

Alex:

You seem to have brought us back full circle. This is exactly the same argument you made in your very first comment, which means you've already had my reply: a) I disagree, and b) here's a link to a post that explains my view in more detail. You were welcome to engage with either of these posts, but instead you chose to take us down a weird rabbit hole that has simply led us right back to the beginning, far less charitably inclined towards one another than we were when we started.

So I think that before you comment here again you might want to consider whether you have anything new to add to the discussion or whether you're just going to take us down that rabbit hole again. Just as importantly, you might want to consider whether, even if you have something new to add, you can say it in a way that will incline me to take you seriously - and yes, if someone tells you you're being unpleasant and you don't amend your behavior, then you're being deliberately unpleasant. If the answer to either of those questions is no, then maybe it's better for everyone if you move on.

(Those same considerations, incidentally, should be taken into account if you decide to respond to Foxessa.)

Unknown said...

(formerly alphanumeric string person)

I wonder if we'll get to hear more out of the GoT actresses and actors about the experience. What must 20 year old Jack Gleeson, playing Joffrey, think of having to order his fellow actor co-workers to simulate sexually humiliating acts on camera? Not as big a question as the ones facing the female performers, but still I think an interesting one.

I suspect that we won't hear a lot as it's bad form to criticize one's employer in any profession. I am not as concerned about the atmosphere on set as I am in the exchange between the execs/artistic committee and the audience. The art of acting is simulating actions and emotions while on stage. You can have a very moving Romeo and Juliet performed by an actor and actress who are indifferent about one another in real life, but can perform infatuation/love when called to during a show. The love doesn't necessarily break into the relationship of the actors, just as hatred doesn't come between people playing Iago and Othello. This may be different when clothes are off and sexual acts are simulated, but I don't know. The Irish actress you discussed in the other post thought a line was crossed. Her experience may be shared by other GoT actresses but we don't have enough information. I'm prepared to be wrong about this, but I would stress that the things shown happening on screen to characters and the things felt by the actors/actresses themselves during and immediately after the scene are very different. I think larger is the question (which you raised earlier) of actresses increasingly having to be willing to parade around naked in order to get a job.

Foxessa said...

Unknown's points bring up the long struggle of women in the theater (not only plays but ballet and all other public performance arts) to overcome the public perception that they were whores and prostitutes as a matter of course -- and the rightful prey of any man who could -- or even could not -- pay.

It was a very long struggle, and it was not only in Europe, England and the Americas. We know about the Heian Floating World -- you were a respected denizon of it but you wouldn't be married, or very unlikely to be so. The so-called sacred prostitution - performers of the Indian temple dance culture.

Anyone who thinks that 'temple prostitution' had anything of sacred about it, or protected the women from ill treatment of every kind and exploitation, hasn't done the research -- which isn't that hard to find. It's really easy to find if you read Hindi -- though I don't, I have friends who do.

So I'm also worried about what this means for the future of women in entertainment industry, that has always exploited women sexually and economically as it is. But in those days there were in certain places actually laws about where these women could be be, who they could marry, the status of the resulting children and all the rest.

lieven said...

Another recent development is the casting of (ex) porn stars in major mainstream productions. GoT has two of them. On the one hand, I don't think a past in porn should stop people from a career change, but on the other hand, this could raise the pressure on other actresses to accept more nudity on the perhaps false assumption that the ex porn stars will easier accept it.

Dotan Dimet said...

Executive responsible for catering to the pervert demographic? Didn't SNL tell us about it first? http://gawker.com/5902076/snl-explains-the-nudity-in-game-of-thrones

greyfoot said...

Alex, "the treatment of characters in a work of fiction is not a moral issue, but an aesthetic one, and belief otherwise is a misunderstanding of one's reactions between 'immoral' and 'ugly'" is only one side of the argument. I'd suggest readers of Alex's posts consult authors such as Wallace Stegner, Roger Kimball, Lionel Trilling, Flannery O Connor, and other scholars who have contributed to this decades-long debate about the relationship between aesthetics and morality. These authors certainly didn't (and don't...Kimball is still alive, of course) feel that they misunderstood that relationship.

Abigail, in your other very thoughtful post on this subject, I appreciate this statement: "We're suffering from a dearth of information from the actresses themselves, about what it's like to actually film these scenes, and what their potentially harmful components are, without which this whole discussion has the potential to be patronizing in the worst possible way." However, you've also said that we don't hear enough people raising these questions. If you mean "enough people related to the entertainment industry," then you're right. In general, though, people have been raising these moral questions for a very long time...just not, as I said, people involved in entertainment. There is a tendency toward derision and dismissal of this subject in modern Western culture, though. It happens just as much, if not more so, when the issue of race pops up. People groan out of an at least somewhat libertarianesque mantra of "that's none of your business," which is a sentiment that isn't entirely off the mark and can't be ignored either, of course, but we must be aware of extremes, and lackadaisical amorality (as it's perceived at least) and relativism can be symptoms of that. We can't reach a conclusion about the legitimacy of these claims and issues unless we actually discuss them, can we now?


greyfoot

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