Put Your Clothes On!

Why I hate nudity on television.

When it comes to TV bum-showing, we are facing a changed landscape.

Photo illustration by Slate.

“She would show her bum to a dead bird.” This is how my dad would describe Jayne Mansfield or Brigitte Bardot or any hot chick who demonstrated a willingness to disrobe on camera. If pops were still with us, he would definitely be flinging this phrase at Lena Dunham. And he would be correct: La Dunham would definitely show her bum to a dead bird. And she’s not the only one.

Most of today’s actresses are more than willing to give it a whirl. (Yes, I know they all prefer to be called actors, but I am a feminist so I am going with actresses, blokes included.) This is surprising to me. If I were an actress I would refuse to show my bum. I would stamp my feet and refuse to do it. Why? Because I have a terrible fear of cold drafts.

This terror comes from growing up in the U.K. where unexpected blasts of chilly air terrorize the entire population on a daily basis. Drafts are also a scourge in Brooklyn—the rattletrap old buildings! the shoddy new construction!—which raises the question: Why is Lena Dunham so comfy tearing her clothes off on Girls? Yes, she is a very courageous young lady. Most people think she’s courageous because she is willing to expose her non-Hollywoodorexic body to the critical eyes of the peanut gallery. I say no. If any medals are being flung in Miss Dunham’s direction, they should recognize her fearlessness in the face of drafts. (I suspect that her assistant deploys a battery of those vintage draft-excluders which are fashioned to resemble a really long dachshund and are placed along the bottom of your front door, so Lena can do her nude scenes without fear of frigidness.)

There is a long history of nudity in movies. In this regard TV has lagged behind. Archie Bunker never showed his bum. Bo and Luke on The Dukes of Hazzard wore obscenely tight clothes from Miller’s Outpost, but never removed them. No nudity for Joan Lunden, Johnny Carson, or Rip Taylor. However, since the fin de the last siecle, there has been no shortage of clothing-optional programming. The Dunham bum is, in many ways, the apotheosis of this new nudity trend rather than the genesis. Whether it’s NYPD Blue, Oz, True Blood, The Americans, or Game of Thrones, bum-centered shows are the new norm.  Am I happy about this situation? No. Is it because of the drafts? Yes, but there’s more.

Here’s the main reason why TV nudity makes me anxious: The characters on any series become, over time, familiar and squishy and cosy. They become my TV friends. Because they are my TV friends I expect them to behave like my real friends. In the days of Gilligan’s Island and Family Affair and Three’s Company and even Roseanne, my TV friends could be relied upon the do just that. And now? My TV friends are going berserk. They are constantly tearing off their foundation garments and bonking their brains out, right there in front of me.

Having watched every episode of Girls, I naturally became “friends” with all the characters. Hannah and Adam and Ray and Shoshanna and the gang are my best pals. Unfortunately they do not seem to realize that this is a two-way street. They insist on disrobing in front of me and showing me their privates. OK, so it’s mostly Adam and Hannah, but you get my drift/draft. My real friends do not shag in my presence. If I were ever to walk in on a couple of my non-TV friends and they were in some complicated nude entanglement, we, my real friends and me, would not know what to say to each other. We would probably just put rocks in our pockets and walk into the sea.

If, like me, you live in New York, then the Girls nudity situation is even more complicated. The cast of Girls is always out and about. I have seen them on the street. I met Jemima Kirke, who plays Jessa, at a party. I blushed because I was overcome with the feeling that I had seen her bum, even though it was probably not actually her bum but just the top half. I encountered Adam Driver in the lobby of an apartment building and blushed again. I wanted to say “I have seen your bum which is strange because I have had friends for 40 years and not seen their bums, and yet yours is more than familiar,” but somehow managed not to.

When it comes to TV bum-showing, we are facing a changed landscape. TV is now littered with body parts. Channel surfing is like staring at Jimi Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland album cover. (I used to do this a lot back in the late ’60s while thinking, “I hope, for the sake of these hoochie mamas, that the studio was not drafty when they shot this picture.”) A sea of wanton flesh. Last week on the season premiere of Mad Men, Roger Sterling lolled about in the nude. He concealed his todger with a phone and proceeded to take a call, thereby giving himself the kittenish air of a Vargas girl.

Many of today’s TV actresses are willing to flaunt their bums, but they do not permit camera crews near their most secret areas. In this regard, movies are, yet again, leading the charge. If you want to get a look at Charlotte Gainsbourg’s bits, all you have to do is buy a ticket to Nymphomaniac, the new Lars Von Trier movie. It should be noted that the penetration shots were filmed using porn stars, and then spliced in afterward. And Dieu merci for that! When, in years to come, Dame Charlotte is watching her old movies with her grandkids and the local vicar, she can always say, “Yes, that’s my bum and my boobies, but the minge shots, c’est une autre jeune fille. More tea? Une madeleine?”

Between those wicked drafts and my confusion over real friends and TV friends, screen nudity is never a source of pleasure to me. Unless, of course, it involves Alan Bates and Oliver Reed. In 1969 I, along with a bunch of horny school chums, went to the movies to see Ken Russell’s Women in Love starring Glenda Jackson and Alan and Oliver. (I recently saw it again when Anthony Bourdain selected it for his TCM Food in the Movies series because of the fig eating/cunnilingus scene. Naughty! ) Miss Jackson showed her bum and her boobies which all my schoolmates very much appreciated. I, on the other hand, was feeling a bit left out. Then came the famous nude wrestling scene where I got to see not just willies and bums, but also two butch hairy male actresses hugging each other in front of a blazing log fire. (Good for countering drafts.) Loved it! See, I told you I’m a feminist!