Remember when a micro-violin had to be specially made and tuned to assuage Washington Post columnist Richard Coen's anxiety about how James Bond's screen evolution from slack-limbed inebriate to P90X infomercial model meant that cantankerous old lechers like Richard Coen might no longer be able to impress attractive young women with their personal VHS movie collections, leather-bound volumes of Chaucer, and tales of drinking too much port wine and falling asleep on the Orient Express? Well, it totally happened and it totally made Richard Coen the most risible columnist of November, something you might think would stop other male columnists from making the exact same argument.
But you'd be wrong! The Telegraph's Tim Stanley decided Saturday night to take his own crack at the Daniel Craig muscle conundrum, arguing (incorrectly, but we'll get to that) that buff leading men are 1) a modern cinematic innovation, 2) proof that Hollywood only makes movies for teenage girls, and finally 3) that Hollywood doesn't care about olds anymore. Glue-sticking this specious argument about movie trends together is Stanley's pervasive self deprecation, which lends the entire article a discomforting air of narcissism. Yeah, Tim Stanley, we get it — a buffed and polished movie star has made you feel physically inadequate. Welcome to the body image crusade Western culture has waged against women since the slinky, delicate-limbed female subjects of Egyptian art.
As proof that Hollywood is just now, right this very decade pushing unrealistic physical standards on unwitting moviegoers, Stanley contends mournfully,
When you pass the age of 21, many movies simply aren't made for you any more. They are aimed at the same kids who shop at Abercrombie & Fitch, served by topless boys with washboard stomachs.
It's no secret that Hollywood favors youth, but Skyfall skewed older — according to the ever-reliable studio research summarized by Rotten Tomatoes, Skyfall's Nov. 9 opening skewed older, with 75 percent of the audience being over 25. Not only that, but, as to Stanley's other concern, that "contemporary blockbusters are aimed squarely at teenage girls," the third installment of Daniel Craig's ass-kicking montages skewed 60 percent male. In other words, the newly buff Bond is attracting the same audiences that Roger Moore and the werewolf-chested Sean Connery attracted back when all intelligence operatives had to do was order cocktails and fret about the Red Menace.
And that, mercifully, brings us to Stanley's real worry: nostalgia for a time when leading men didn't look like they'd stepped off the pages of a comic book. It's only fair to note that Stanley tries really hard to make this article about how muscled leading men are bad for everyone's body image, and he veers very close to making that point in the following passage about how the sexual revolution of the 60s made sexual objectification more overt in the movies:
The problem was that movies were made by male-dominated studios in a sexually conservative era. Up to the early Sixties, the ideal woman was still perceived to be chaste and therefore their capacity to lust was undervalued by the marketing boys. Some male stars still managed to draw huge crowds on sex appeal (from Rudolph Valentino to James Dean), but they were rarely subject to the same degree of objectification as female actors. The sexual revolution of the Sixties was supposed to change all this; suddenly men and women were encouraged to show more flesh and enjoy each other on more equal terms. But Hollywood took a long time to catch up. Tastes and standards continued to be set by men who were thrilled at the new level of sexual possibility, but rather ignorant of what women wanted.
He goes on to talk about how weird it would have been if the balding, overweight thespian Michael Gambon had accepted the Bond role back in 1971 (he worried that he was too paunchy to pull it off, but we should all assume that he was biding his time to play the yet-to-be-created Dumbledore). Stanley then inexplicably makes a u-turn into self consciousness, first bemoaning the fact that studios don't market movies to olds anymore (ahem, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and then citing The Hunger Games, the Twilight saga, and The Amazing Spider-Man as proof that "movies have undergone a gender rebalance. Whereas they often used to be made by men for men, they are now increasingly made by men for women."
This, of course, means that movies have lost all "their wit and charm." Movies today are ridiculous, not like back in Stanley's day when James Bond had to fight a guy who had weaponized his bowler hat. Or escape from a slow-moving laser aimed at his testicles. Those were witty, charming movies. The Hunger Games is clearly trash because it's marketed to teenage girls (The Hunger Games is trash because its special effects make it look like a SyFy movie).
How do we get from criticizing Hollywood for skewing image perception to pining for a time when movies had more "wit and charm"? Columns like Tim Stanley's and Richard Coen's aren't really about how being inundated with flawless human forms skews our perception of our own bodies. If they were, Stanley and Coen would have been writing about how every Bond girl in every Bond movie EVER is impossibly thin, and how the fact that a archetypal male hero only ever desires such impossibly thin women may, you know, send a really negative message to women, i.e. Roger Moore/Sean Connery/Timothy Dalton/Pierce Brosnan/Daniel Craig will not fuck you if you can't fit into a certain size of spykini.
Body image only becomes a problem for such critics when the objectifying eyes turns its merciless gaze on the male body. God forbid that studios foist an impossibly sculpted male body on movie audiences! An impossibly sculpted body, like, say, Marlon Brando, whose biceps were busy creating an impossible masculine movie ideal two years before Ian Fleming published his first Bond novel. This isn't to say that the bodybuilding culture's appearance in every superhero movie that comes down the pipe hasn't harmed young male moviegoers, but rants like Stanley's are guilty of selective criticism. Hollywood has been peddling ridiculous physical ideals way before James Bond started lifting weights, but critics like Stanley only take notice when pop culture trends invade his viewing space and start trying to impose their versions of male beauty on him.
Why can't men just be men anymore? [Telegraph]