Doctor Manhattan.jpg

So Adam and I went to see Watchmen last night with some friends. Overall verdict: meh. Crappy dialogue, terrible pacing. But I'd like to stand up in defense of superhero Dr. Manhattan's full-frontal blue nudity. The majority of reviews have seen fit to mention it: Anthony Lane, "buff, buck naked, and blue, like a porn star," Roger Ebert, "complete with discreet genitalia," Kenneth Turan, "pale blue and naked (don't ask)," NPR, "As he lacks a spandex suit — or for the most part a suit of any sort — full-frontal shots of him also qualify as blue, come to think of it." NY Mag cut to the heart of the fascination with this tipster post, which noted that in the film, gasp!, Dr. Manhattan was circumcised.

And sure enough, a number of my fellow midnight film patrons passed the verdict of "too much penis for me." But getting worked up over the blue penis is a failure to notice the rest of the film. A female superhero, Silk Spectre II, is outfitted in a latex body suit with perma-hard nipples, there's a horribly cheesy sex scene set to "Hallelujah," and your overshare problem is the glowing blue penis?

Mainstream American culture is still fundamentally uncomfortable with male nudity. Amanda points out this is why the recent Vanity Fair spread with Seth Rogan and Paul Rudd failed:

If you challenged the strict gender stratification where women are for shutting up and being hot and men are for staying clothed and looking, and say, put lean, naked men in a picture to be gazed at by a famous lesbian, you’d have made the point, but it wouldn’t be funny, because there’s no gotcha there. And then a lot of people would be uncomfortable, because you revealed the lie of gender essentialism. But this isn’t funny, either.

In fact, when I thought about it more, it brought to mind another recent clunker, He's Just Not That In To You. When one of the male characters starts wearing fitted, unbuttoned shirts and tight jeans, it's in an attempt to appeal to prospective gay clients to his business. He's made fun of by his straight, male bartender friend.

We're comfortable with objectified male bodies when they are a joke, but not when it's merely a part of a character -- the way female nudity, particularly in action films, so often is.

So yes to the blue penis. Let's hope it makes people pause to consider why it's discomfiting to have male nudity displayed, not for laughs, and not part of some art house epic, but just as a side-bit character trait that no one seems to remark on.

(And, while I'm clearing my throat, I'll second A.O. Scott's call for a moratorium on "Hallelujah.")

--Phoebe Connelly