MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

The Big Blue Elephant in the Corner of the Room

Who’s afraid of the big blue cock, indeed?

Watchmen finally opened this weekend, and all around the internet film journalists are endlessly analyzing the film’s opening weekend box office take, and whether the film will make back its bank, and how many DVDs it will have to sell to break even, and whether a Blu-ray Watchmen release might somehow boost sales of Blu-ray players. All fascinating stuff, sure, but not quite so much as the obsessing over the glowing blue bits-and-pieces Doctor Manhattan displays in the film. Which I find kind of funny, given that half the folks who’ve written about the blue penis probably do most of their work sitting around in their underwear anyhow, and if they were built like Doctor Manhattan and could get away with it, chances are they’d be letting it swing in the breeze, too.

New York Magazine’s Culture Vulture pulled together a comprehensive rundown of Watchmen wang references, including a shout-out to David Poland‘s “Who’s Afraid of the Big Blue Cock” ditty, and it’s rather interesting, for a film that has so many other things to endlessly discuss and dissect, how many folks seem to feel Doctor Manhattan’s sexual organ is the star of the show. Doctor Manhattan’s dong has caused as much chatter around the film as its relentless violence, blood, gore and dismembered limbs, or even the penultimate question of whether or not Zack Snyder pulled off the seemingly impossible feat of successfully adapting Alan Moore‘s beloved graphic novel for the big screen.

It’s not even a real penis, for pity’s sake, it’s a digital one. But for all the hubbub around it, you’d think actor Billy Crudup, who plays Doctor Manhattan, had grown an enormous sexual organ just for the part — you know, kind of how actors will grow a scruffy beard, or gain or lose 30 pounds for a role. Though come to think of it, if Crudup really had the ability to grow a gigantic dong — glowing or not — by sheer force of will, that would probably make him the envy of most of the male world, even if they wouldn’t necessarily want to see it on display on a giant screen in all its vibrant technicolor glory.

Or perhaps they think Zack Snyder decided not to discreetly cover the cock just so he could titilate any audience members who’ve ever pondered what sex with a nuclear superhero might be like, or to tap into the sexual anxieties (or, perhaps, latent homosexual tendencies?) of men who might feel threatened by having a big, blue cock waved in their faces onscreen. Why all the brouhaha over a computer-created bit of full-frontal nudity? Personally, I was more intrigued by the ability of Laurie’s blue-hot lover to replicate himself into multiple iterations — two of them in bed with her at once, while the other’s off doing his work. I can think of a lot of women who wouldn’t complain too much about a man who can simultaneously be on with his lover in bed while doing the work that brings home the bacon. If Doctor Manhattan could also further divide himself to also walk the dog, do the dishes, fold the laundry and mow the lawn, most of us probably wouldn’t quibble over whether he was nude or clothed.

But on a more serious note, why is it that a director can display real female nudity, or have female characters running to-and-fro all scantily clad, or pan a camera lovingly over an actress’s bare (or barely covered) tits and ass, and that’s just dandy, but Snyder makes the decision not to shy away from the fact that Doctor Manhattan spends most of the story naked and suddenly that’s a huge deal? Yes, you can argue that frontal male nudity is “different” from frontal female nudity, what with male parts being all on display, but I would argue that the female breast is every bit as sexualized in our culture as the penis — perhaps more so, given the existence of web sites that track naked boobies in movies, but not so much instances of male nudity, full frontal or otherwise.

I suppose Snyder could have neutered Doctor Manhattan, giving him a discreet bulge that barely hints at the existence of a sexual organ, as if he were a glowing blue Ken doll playing house with Malin Akerman’s latex-clad Dominatrix Barbie. Or just respectfully kept his camera shots off Doctor Manhattan’s nether regions — but what on earth would have been the point of that? The primary target audience for this film — fans of the graphic novel — already knew that Doctor Manhattan is a nudist. Maybe they wondered how Snyder would handle the nuclear nudity, but they certainly can’t pretend to be surprised by it. As for everyone else — let’s be realistic here. This film was never growing to be a cross-quadrant hit, however much the studio would have liked it to be, so what else would Doctor Manhattan be covered up for? To appease the kind of folks who wouldn’t be going to see the film anyhow because it’s violent and bloody and has a bare-ass sex scene?

The whole point of Doctor Manhattan is that once Jon Osterman got zapped and turned into a nuclear superhero, he changed. He’s no longer human, and as such, has no need of human morality or human conventions like clothing. He’s like a god, right? And if a god wants to walk around naked, well, who’s going to tell him he can’t? It makes perfect sense that Doctor Manhattan would have no need of clothing, especially when he’s just hanging around the pad doing his super-brainiac work. Who’s going to see his dangling bits, other than his girlfriend Laurie, who’s already seen them up close and personal? Doctor Manhattan does manage to put on a suit for his public appearances, but to me he always looks uncomfortable and weird when he’s fully clothed, like E.T. when the kids dressed him up in a dress and wig.

On the other hand, as Paul MacInnes pointed out in an article in the GuardianMalin Akerman, who plays the second Silk Spectre, has a costuming update that makes her look something like a super-dominatrix, heavy on the skin-tight, black latex — not the breezy short-skirted dress with full blousy sleeves Dave Gibbons gave her in the comic. And yet, you don’t hear most of the same folks who’ve written about the giant blue penis mention anything about the main female character being clad in an outfit that looks like it feels right out of some submissive guy’s secret sexual fantasy. The message seems to be: skin-tight, revealing costume on a female character? Awesome. Character who by all logic should be naked, walking around without his boys in a house? Not so much.

Why do we still make such a big deal over the idea of male full frontal nudity, even computer-rendered as it was in Watchmen, when female nudity on film is not only acceptable, but seen by many as a reason to see the film in the first place? Akerman’s rather unnecesssary brief nudity in the film is seen by most guys, I expect, as almost a bonus feature, while Doctor Manhattan’s fully contextual digital nudity is a subject of contention. Why? Doctor Manhattan, as a character, has evolved past the point of needing to clothe himself because of human moralistic standards. When will we evolve to the point that women can be shown nude on screen without being objectified for it, and a man can go full frontal without anyone getting their boxers in a bunch?

We still have a ways to go in equalizing the portrayal of nudity in any context in movies, but kudos to Zack Snyder for not being afraid to take the bull by the horns in going full-frontal with Doctor Manhattan in Watchmen.
– by Kim Voynar

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon