Culture

Should We Be Talking About the Objectification of Hot Men on Daytime TV?

Ellen and other shows are searching for their own shirtless hunks. Is this what equality looks like?

Photo Credit: via YouTube

What even happens on network daytime television anymore? Oprah is long retired, almost all of the soap operas are cancelled, and game shows, which used to be the indulgence of every sick kid recovering on the couch, are now relegated to their own hard-to-find cable channel. What is going on while we’re all at work paying attention to something other than The View and Judge Judy? Well, apparently, there’s a lot of shirtless guys.

Ellen DeGeneres, daytime’s reigning queen (RIP Oprah) regularly asks her hunky male guests like Josh Duhamel and Alex Pettyfer to remove most of their clothing. Now she has a shirtless man in residence, a hunky “gardener” named Nick who is there nominally to water her wall of fake flowers, but is really just there as a screech-inducer for the mostly female audience.

Nick’s abs are so formidable that he’s landed a gig in the Magic Mike sequel. In his absence Ellen has been asking her pectacular viewers to post videos of themselves auditioning to be his stand in on YouTube. So far many men who know their ways around a gym have chosen to submit themselves to audition for the job and Ellen has aired the best of the bunch, much to her audience’s delight.

She’s not the only one who is trying to recruit hunks. The Price is Right (which is still on and exactly the same as you remember it except it’s now hosted by Drew Carey and a “brand new car!” costs more than $10,000) has found itself in a similar predicament. They found their first male spokesmodel (formerly called Barker’s Beauties) in 2012 with an online talent contest. Winner Robert Wilson was so good at his job that he’s now moved on to a role in Days of Our Lives. The show is, once again, hosting a male model search, complete with an America’s Next Top Model-style web show. We’ll be able to vote for the finalists starting 1 December.

As an admirer of the partially nude male form I certainly enjoy these contests, but is it wrong? Are we making a mockery of these men by lusting after them? 

“I think the context is really important,” says Chloe Angyal, who is a senior columnist at feministing.com. “It’s daytime television so it’s aimed at married middle aged women, so it takes away a lot of the potential for the sex to ever be acted on … And it’s presented by America’s most visible lesbian, so that takes so much of the risk out of it … it takes a lot of the sex out of it.”

She’s right. We’re laughing at these dudes on Ellen running around in their thongs and preening for the cameras as much as we’re lusting after them. Does that make it all right? Just imagine the storm that would happen if Jimmy Kimmel had his female viewers send in videos of themselves in their underwear looking for a gig as his “gardener”.

“We’re seeing men deriving value from their physical attributes. This is a newer way for men to derive value though historically it was the only way for women to derive power or access to the public sphere and it continues to be a primary way for them to be valued by society,” says Amanda Lotz, an associate professor of communications as University of Michigan and the author of Cable Guys: Television and American Masculinities in the 21st Century. “That there’s a continued discrepancy to get power and status for women would make a similar skit on Kimmel be not as funny.”

So, if we’re objectifying women is it acceptable that we’re objectifying men? Angyal says that isn’t necessarily the case. “That’s kind of like saying none of our water should be polluted, but if we’re going to pollute the water, we should pollute it all equally,” she says. “It’s OK to acknowledge a person is good looking and that you want to do adult things to that person. That is not objectification. Objectification is reducing someone to less than human because we find them sexually attractive. I don’t see a lot of that happening in those videos. I see a little of that happening, but it’s not disembodied women’s legs or comparing women to cars or all the other crap that happens on television all the time [to women].”

This is not the first time that daytime shows have peddled male flesh to the delight of their female viewers. Sally Jesse Raphael regularly had whole shows devoted to male strippers back in the early 90s. What about post-Magic Mike America allows for nearly naked dudes to be on TV just about every day? Simply, it’s competition. 

“For a long time broadcast standards were conservative, these were matters of business and concerns about what sort of imagery sponsor would want next to their products,” Lotz says. “Cable came along and produced all sorts of original programming that is far more salacious and scandalous. I think to stand out and gather an audience at 4pm, these shows are following that path.”

This, along with SportsCenter and The Walking Dead is just another thing we have to thank cable for. And as long as male nudity is a source of humor and presented in a human way outside of an obvious sexual content it doesn’t seem to be that problematic. After all, people have been enjoying a finely-formed male body since Michelangelo put chisel to marble, there can’t be anything too bad happening if we do it to a nice gentleman who wants us to guess the price of a toaster. Maybe, when it comes to naked bros on daytime television, we should stop feeling guilty and enjoy the view.

 

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