Op-Ed: Gratuitous Nudity Is Not Necessary to Tell a Detective Story, Good for Health?

Gratuitous Nudity Is Not Necessary to Tell a Detective Story

Nudity is good for your health?

Who else is equally captivated and confused as we head into the final episode of Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective,” whose season finale will air this Sunday on HBO?

After the first six episodes aired, Erin Gloria Ryan at Jezebel wrote “How True Detective Can Solve Its Woman Problem” and went on to quote other female writers from Slate and The New Yorker, who were both largely in agreement.

Their predominant criticism with what has been an absolutely brilliant season of television was that this season “has thus far failed to present viewers with a single complex female character,” and that too often the female characters are presented as sluts. The first murder victim was a prostitute. One of the two male leads Marty Hart (played by Woody Harrelson) has an affair with a court stenographer, followed by a former prostitute he’d interviewed on a case years before. Marty’s 16-year-old daughter is caught by the police in flagrante delicto (not seen on the show) with a couple of slightly older boys, and then to cap it all off, Marty’s wife goes and seduces his police partner in a quick 30-second grudge match.

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All three female writers certainly have a valid point, although I think Maggie (Marty’s wife, played by Michelle Monaghan) was shown as quite a complex character in that pivotal scene when she visits and ensnares Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey). My problem isn’t so much that in “True Detective” the female characters are largely incidental to the story arc, but rather that in 2014, writers still use female actors in roles as eye candy, making them get naked and then compounding matters by showing it all for no other reason than to titillate male viewers.

Now just in case you’re perplexed, I’ve nothing against nudity at all. However, I’ve always been a fervent believer in equality, and onscreen female nudity is one instance where Hollywood, despite its apparent liberal protestations, should be leading by example. At the 2013 Academy Awards, host Seth MacFarlane was accused of being sexist and tasteless when he sang “We Saw Your Boobs.” Personally I think he had a point, but went off tangent when too many of the actresses he referenced had been topless while portraying victims of sexual assault. However, his mistake shouldn’t detract from what I feel was his greater point. Too often female actors are required to show their breasts and more.

None of the three actresses in “True Detective” whose roles called for them to strip off during sexual encounters were portraying victims, well at least not victims of sexual violence. In each of these occasions they were having consensual sex with Marty, and while it’s true these scenes contributed to how we see and pity Marty, each one of these could have been filmed in a less gratuitous manner. Alexandra Daddario, hitherto best known for playing Annabeth in two of the Percy Jackson films (adapted from YA books by Rick Riordan), played Lisa, a court stenographer, and had probably the longest and most gratuitous nude scene. SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, ensures that members have certain rights when agreeing to and filming nude scenes, which among other points include a closed set with all non-essential crew members removed during filming. While that might be comforting while the actor is performing naked, as soon as the film or television show is released, 21st Century technology allows the footage to live without context in perpetuity, as it is screen-captured both in still and video formats for anyone on the Internet to watch without context, and to pause, zoom in and replay to their heart’s content.

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I hesitate to include this link, as I am highlighting what I hate, yet here is stolen video of said nude scene (NSFW) uploaded online complete with an advertisement running beforehand, whose revenue goes to the thief and not to the show’s producer or actors.

The above is just one clip of many available online, and despite the massive availability of the naked female form on the Internet, famous nudes seemingly always attract clicks. Perhaps it’s time that SAG-AFTRA updates its nudity clause to force a show’s producers to make every effort to remove these clips from the Internet? The Motion Picture Association of America rails against movie piracy to ensure movie producers’ profits are protected, so perhaps they should also protect their talents’, erm, talents from being exploited by piracy as well — as piracy is exactly what the above clip is.

After Lisa’s striptease and straddling, the cameras cut away while she and Marty (presumably) had sex, and I just can’t see why this scene could not have been shot with less of Ms. Daddario’s flesh on display.

Last week I wrote about the incessant and frankly unnecessary fact-checking of Netflix’s “House of Cards,” but it, too, was guilty of a gratuitous display of two women’s breasts in its second season. After a first season in which Francis Underwood and Zoe Barnes had been filmed having sex on many occasions, yet always careful to avoid showing actress Kate Mara’s naked chest, it was disappointing to see producers drop their guard in the scene where Doug Stamper spies between the blinds during Rachel and Lisa’s (oooh lesbian!) lovemaking. Even if this scene was important to the plot (and I’d argue it wasn’t), all it needed was a deft use of a bed sheet to prevent this show from also falling for the cheap “boob shot.”

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I still think Seth MacFarlane got it right, but while excellently produced television shows like “True Detective” and “House of Cards” keep on showing their actresses’ breasts, I suppose there’s no hope for other quality shows like “Game of Thrones” et al.

While it is important to see complex female characters on television, it’s even better when the actresses playing them are covered up.

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