- Last Updated: 6:17 AM, July 8, 2012
- Posted: 10:28 PM, July 7, 2012
If every generation gets the work it’s not supposed to be reading — from Ovid’s “Art of Love” to Judy Blume’s “Forever” — this generation has been given the first to feel like required reading.
We speak, of course, of the “50 Shades of Grey” trilogy, which has occupied slots 1, 2 and 3 of Amazon’s best-seller list for months, toted through airports and subway stations by un-self-conscious women, discussed on morning chat shows (author EL James has appeared on “The View”and “Today”), and at family get-togethers. James is estimated to be earning over $1 million a week in royalties.
The “50 Shades” phenomenon, however, doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Did you realize, for example, that the No. 2 movie in the nation last weekend was the male-stripper-fest “Magic Mike,” a film made exclusively for straight women and gay men? Or that the hits “Twilight” and “True Blood” are basically about shirtless men?
And consider last year’s mainstream rom-com, “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” which built an entire set piece around Ryan Gosling’s six-pack abs, so ridiculously taut they seemed to have their own supporting subdivisions. (Meanwhile, Emma Stone, Gosling’s on-screen love interest, remained fully clothed.) In the new art-house film “Take This Waltz,” written and directed by Sarah Polley, Michelle Williams stars as Margot, a young wife with a decent and adoring husband, who leaves him anyway, for a far hotter, more sexually adventurous man. (After a time, threesomes become a happy part of their rotation.)
Why are women suddenly, en masse, openly demanding — and happily receiving — equal-opportunity sexploitation?
There is, of course, the argument to be made about women’s increased purchasing power — over 60% of all private wealth in the US is controlled by women, who also make 85% of consumer purchases — but that alone can’t account for the profound cultural shift taking place in America today. (How odd that a woman’s access to birth control and abortion were back up for debate in the same year that Duane Reade began stocking vibrators in their aisles.)
The objectification of men by women isn’t new, but aside from, say, Burt Reynolds’ April 1972 centerfold for Cosmopolitan (so dated that it’s hard to tell where the bearskin rug ends and his torso begins), it’s been rare. Brad Pitt became a household name on the strength of his largely-shirtless 14 minutes of screen time in 1992’s “Thelma & Louise,” but since then he — like peers George Clooney and Matt Damon — has hewed to a more traditional version of male sex symbol-dom: distinguished, self-deprecating, eminently well-suited.
Of Pitt’s cohort, the only actor known for truly living to take his shirt off is Matthew McConaughey, who co-stars as an enthusiastically waxed-and-wily pro in “Magic Mike” (which is actually based on star Channing Tatum’s stripper past). Its opening-weekend success was driven by women, who composed 73% of the audience.
While the sexualization of the culture has increased exponentially over the decades, what we’re seeing is new, and it’s generational: Not only are women demanding the same amount of eye candy and soft-core-porn that men have forever been served, but this new crop of actors — from Tatum to the Hemsworth brothers to Chris Pine to Gosling — are happy to be of service.
Tatum’s case is the most illustrative: an actor of great charm and limited range, he’s already starred in two top-grossing films (“The Vow” and “21 Jump Street”) and, as part of his strategy to become a full-fledged A-list actor, decided to make a semi-autobiographical movie in which he’s half-naked for most of his time on screen. That a respected filmmaker such as Steven Soderbergh would lend his talents and brand to such a risky venture only underscores this shift: If men get to watch Megan Fox vamping it up in “Transformers,” women get Channing Tatum taking it off in “Magic Mike.” Everybody wins.
That said, there remains a key difference in male and female tastes: In both “50 Shades” and “Magic Mike,” the protagonists may be unabashed sexual libertines, but what they’re really looking for is love.
“[‘50 Shades’] is less about overt sex and more about the things every woman wants,” says Jenny Hutt, SiriusXM host and “Shades” obsessive. “They allegedly have this S&M relationship — but he doesn’t ever hurt her! It’s about women wanting to be adored, ravaged and respected. The book serves as a reminder to women that it’s OK to like sex, to want it. But at its base, it’s romantic.”Follow @NYPostOpinion