So Mike White once again showed us penises in white lotus. Am I supposed to be impressed? At this point, a penis is as mainstream for HBO as the family sitcom is for ABC. And for that, I am grateful. I appreciate it all! But the allure is starting to fade, and the sparkle of seeing a phallus on my 55-inch Samsung TV during prime time is losing its charm. I want more. I want a hole.
Vulva, anus, it would be fine. It doesn’t even have to be a close-up. Rather, what matters is the involvement and transgression that pushing our cultural boundaries on prestige television can provide. White—who has won three Emmys for her incisive portrayal of class, race and gender in White Lotus-is a writer we can trust to carry out this task in a simple yet subtle way. It is a duty that we must encourage him to fulfill.
Obscenity laws might well prevent that. While there are few formal rules and regulations prohibiting something like lips from being shown outside of a medical or pornographic context, the The Federal Communications Commission further cites Judge Potter Stewart’s 1964 line “I know it when I see it” as a benchmark for what distinguishes obscenity. So what makes flaccid penises OK when vagina or buttocks are nowhere to be found?
It’s a matter of personal interpretation, but it’s also likely because many viewers are simply unable to see the hole as anything other than pornographic. A flaccid penis is the symbol of a lack excitement, while a vagina or anus can always be perceived as erotic whether aroused or not. There is something missing in the way we interpret the orifices, something that a larger visual presence in the media could perhaps provide.
Despite this discrepancy related to genitals, women appear naked on screen much more often than men. The list of female celebrities on the international catalog of nudity in films and television Mr. Skin is nearly three times the height of male celebrities on its sister site, Mr. Man. But when you narrow that down to the genitals specifically, a new dichotomy emerges. Although “bush” and “full frontal” still outnumber dicks, the former depicts the vulva in an obscured form. According to Mr. Skin’s keyword research, there are only 287 movie and TV clips featuring labia and 173 featuring “vagina,” most of which are from erotic art films by niche like Nymphomaniac or pornographic films that have been canonized as culturally significant like Debbie does Dallas. Meanwhile, on Mr. Man, there are 4,386 clips featuring a penis. There is no case of an anus, regardless of gender, that is not related to pornography.
Isn’t it time to change history? If any network had to do it, it would be HBO, houses the most cock strokes of any show in history. In fact, it even seems appropriate for the hole to appear on a show like Euphoria, where he would quickly become engrossed in the larger stunt and spectacle of the series itself. In a show like white lotus, however, the hole would retain the power to mean something on its own. In season one, Steve Zahn’s penis wasn’t just there for the sake of showing off a penis, but rather was integral to our understanding of his character and his anxieties. It was a symbol not only of his masculinity, but of the fragility of his sense of self as he grew older as both father and husband. It was useless in terms of sex appeal. Couldn’t the hole, in whatever form, offer an equally rich symbolic narrative?
How exactly a vulva or asshole would accomplish this without being flagged as obscene is a challenge I trust in a writer like White. White has already proven himself adept at handling sex scenes in a way that highlights the inherently bizarre nature of intimacy. The infamous ass eating scene of white lotusThe first season is a perfect example of this, but imagine how much more striking and human it would be if we had the slightest glimpse of the ass itself. (Not to mention more inclusive of the many types of sex people have).
One solution could be prostheses, although they are clearly a way out. Earlier this year, I lamented that the majority of penises we’ve seen in mainstream shows and movies were prosthetics. Zahn’s cock scene made a bit of a splash, despite being fake. In season two, we saw Theo James’ penis again which has since described the prosthesis used as if flown “on a donkey in a field” – it was nine inches long and four inches wide. by Sebastien Stan talking penis in Pam and Tommy was fake, just like Taylor Zakhar Perez’s in Naughty. I don’t like it – it implies that of average appearance, real penises aren’t fit for public consumption, but maybe there’s something to that. Maybe we can start with prostheses and then move on to reality. You have to start somewhere !
I imagine that even with the use of prosthetics, the task of showing the hole is still quite demanding for any actor. But what is the role of the actor if not a receptacle through which norms can be challenged and dogmas questioned? white lotus showing a hole of any variety would highlight a shift in how we view the body in media. The only reason it remains obscene is because we haven’t been asked to watch it any other way yet. Mr. White, could you please raise the question?