Seven million. That is how many watched the leaders’ debate on ITV on Thursday night. Amazing, really, when you consider that there was not an oiled hunk to be seen. Not a flash of bronzed biceps or glimpse of polished pec to lighten all the heavy talk about immigration and the NHS.
Poldark gets seven million viewers, too, but that has Aidan Turner, his sexy scar and his topless scything in it every week. Neither show has anything on Game of Thrones, which returns next week, and which drew 9.3 million viewers for the finale of the last series. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? It has Kit Harington in it, and you should see the brooding brows on him. Phwoar! etc.
Sorry, that is demeaning. Harington, 28, who plays the series’ leading character, Jon Snow, told an American newspaper this week: “To always be put on a pedestal as a hunk is slightly demeaning. It really is and it’s in the same way as it is for women. When an actor is seen only for her physical beauty, it can be quite offensive.” Harington, who also models for Jimmy Choo, added: “It can sometimes feel like your art is being put to one side for your sex appeal. And I don’t like that.” Quite right, too. Ben Stiller’s spoof supermodel Derek Zoolander put it best when he said: “There is more to life than being really, really, really, ridiculously good looking.”
Turner, who plays Poldark, has also had to deal with the objectification question, having recently become the nation’s favourite Sunday night crumpet. He must now contend with magazines analysing the perfection of his torso. He is haunted by headlines like “Cornish Tasty”, and has seen his body become the battleground for a thousand newspaper think-pieces. Being a latter-day Mr Darcy is hard.
The objectification of men, and in particular of male actors in period-style television adventure series, is the latest worry for the modern woman, and man. Woman’s Hour opened the show with an item on “ladies who lech” this week, which must mean that this is now a thing. Although I think it is probably less a case of rabid women licking their television screens and dribbling over actors in the street and online while yelling “Get yer scythe out for the girls” than the fact that a lot of people watch Poldark and Game of Thrones because a) they are quite good television and b) they are on and what else to look at while sitting on the sofa? The fact that the cast, as in all television dramas and indeed all visual entertainment across the globe, is quite attractive is a small bonus.
The problem, such as it is, is that there is a perceived contradiction in all this – that the same women who would demand equality and the right to walk down the street without being harassed are now giggling and drooling over some television hunks. The difference, of course, is that one is reality and the other is fantasy. It must be very frustrating to be Harington and Turner and to put in a heavy day of acting only to have the nation swoon over your pretty arms. It is also part of the job: they are selling a fantasy and if the audience buys into it, then it is a job well done.
It is not OK to objectify anyone, including men, especially if they have said that they do not like it, as Harington has. (Turner, to his credit, has taken his objectification on his perfectly chiselled chin – stop it! – calling it a “bit of fun”.) It is also not the same for both sexes. Men are rarely objectified in a way that strips them of the power they wield. Their flesh is muscular and ready for action – it is not the passive sexualised nudity of so many women on screen and billboards.
Nevertheless, equal opportunity lechery comes pretty low on the list of priorities. In the battle of the sexes, it’s better to argue for more women in power than more men in pants. And all of this doesn’t mean a thing in a world where the morning after the leaders’ debate – watched by seven million, despite the lack of hunky males, remember – the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, was declared a winner by one newspaper and several thousand more online thanks to her “sexy” Welsh accent. Now that really is demeaning.
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