With unclothed female forms the norm, box-office morality has always maintained a coy double standard when it comes to male nudity. A familiar argument – and one entrenched in much of our culture – is that there’s little to appreciate about the nude male physique. From an early age, we’re nurtured into adopting a perverse perspective – that the masculine form is awkward and undesirable, compared to a woman’s rounder, softer curves. Whereas for the ancient Greeks and Romans, the exposed male form was lovingly eulogized in marble, contemporary visual culture veils its modesty with a fig leaf of moral virtue. It’s worth remembering that, as with the statuesque figures of antiquity, what we’re discussing is a version of myth – and it continues to divide the boys against the girls.
Where porn ends and art begins is a complex (and often illusory) judgment call, but, if current permissive trends continue, one of cinema’s last great taboos may be decisively on the wane. Is it too early to proclaim that the films of the future will be unabashedly naked? Recalling the brief mainstream popularity of porn in the early seventies, it’s wise to remember that a backlash from our moral guardians may never be too far away. No doubt the MPAA has further campaigns to wage, but as cameras become progressively candid, it seems that cinema’s latest cockfight has only just begun.