The hit HBO series Game of Thrones returned for its seventh season on July 16th, as any user of social media – even those who aren’t fans of the show — will have noticed. Was there ever a show that benefited more from free publicity and word-of-mouth than Game of Thrones?
But even while in many corners of the World Wide Web, critics and fans alike are eagerly dissecting plot developments and the story arcs of their favorite characters, there is a growing sense that in their desperation to keep maintain the high-level of shock and titillation that characterized past seasons, GOT is starting to turn-off once faithful fans.
Writing for The Guardian, Stuart Jeffries shares his experience of souring on the show once he came to realize “how right Ian McShane was when he described Game of Thrones as ‘only t*ts and dragons,’ by which he meant, surely, formulaic hokum that degrades its viewers by commodifying women’s bodies, making entertainment out of sexual torture and pimping up its spectacles.”
One might wonder why it took seven seasons for Jeffries to finally realize what one director frankly admitted to in a 2012 interview, when he shared that an unnamed producer said to him, “’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.” Nevertheless, the fact that he finally is coming to this realization is, at least, some progress.
But the problem is certainly not unique to Game of Thrones. An aspiring actress, disgusted by the endless casting calls requiring nudity from female actors, took to posting the notices on her Tumblr page, “Casting Call Woe”: “Fake boobs are a plus,” “We can pay for any plastic surgery she may require for the movie.” “Be sexy. It sells,” “Nudity required but not shown on film,” “NOT UGLY.” These are for so-called “legitimate” roles, mind.
The backlash is building.
Writing for CNN, actress and activist RaVal Davis observes, “For far too long, naked women have become such a staple in TV and film that it’s hard to notice, much less quantify, the inequality unfolding right before our eyes. But a recent study from Mount Saint Mary’s University did just that and found that actresses are almost three times as likely as their male counterparts to be required to strip to their unmentionables… Undoubtedly, female nudity has become an accomplice to get viewers through bad plotlines and awkward acting. And sometimes it’s just the cherry atop the box office sundae.”
She continues, “But it’s not only an issue for the viewer. It’s an even larger issue for the actress being asked to display her body. As a new actress trying my best to break into episodic television, I have to admit I cringe every time I read those typical female character breakdowns. You know the ones: The waitress in the club who has no more than five lines but happens to have sex with the main male character. She’s totally inconsequential to the plot but helps move the episode along somehow. And, of course, NUDITY REQUIRED or MUST BE OK WITH NUDITY is bolded at the bottom of the script. It’s degrading but seemingly sometimes a necessary evil for actresses to make their way above the five-line mark.”
But though Davis correctly identifies the problem, she misses the mark in offering up solutions. She points to the film “Girls Trip,” as correcting the balance by featuring male nudity, instead.
And then what? When we’ve crossed every line, where is there left to go? Maybe instead of seeking parity in the nudity featured in entertainment we should instead try telling better stories that don’t rely on nudity to draw-in the viewers.
Melissa Henson is the program director for the Parents Television Council, a nonpartisan education organization advocating responsible entertainment (www.ParentsTV.org).