Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whither Thou, Beefcake?

I just happened upon this photo of the True Blood gang naked on the cover of Rolling Stone.  I consider True Blood to be soft core porn that's moved into the realm of kink over time. I look at this cover (which I've chosen to keep cropped) and am embarrassed for the actors. I especially think of Stephen Moyers, a Brit who plays Bill, who is 40+, and I think, "Man, where is your dignity????"  The photo is totally gratuitous. Meant to be provocative, it comes across as depraved, right up there with reality shows and Hustler.

Which brings up Richard Armitage's naked body shots. Let us count the number.  Some are nude, but some I find naked.  Guy of Gisborne did not have to disrobe.  Period. In Spooks, the boiler suit scene was nudity, perhaps so was John Porter's, alongside a line of other naked men.  Maybe. In Between the Sheets, lots of nudity/nakedness.  Graphic sex.  Well, the show was all about sex, but did it need to be graphic? I don't think so.  

In Sparkhouse, John Standring did it in the car with his clothes on.  Works for me. I get it. Cold Feet?  No socks on his feet, but his Speedo rather resembled a sock.  Necessary? A clue.  No. Other roles required no nudity.  Some were actually memorable.

Did Armitage really need to disrobe so often? More importantly now, does he really need to change his body for every TV role?  Does he need to work out so hard that he pukes? Does he need to lose and gain weight at a frequent and rapid rate?  What's with having two trainers?  Whatever happened to the art of illusion?  Armitage just finished off Spooks (MI 5) 9.  I imagine he is beefing up for Strike Back 2. Whither Armitage?

Look at Toby Stephens whom I just discovered.  Has he disrobed much?  Well, I imagine the answer is "no", perhaps because Mom is Maggie Smith.  No one could ever convince me that nepotism didn't help get him where he is today; I understand even the States wants him. He doesn't have to disrobe.  I haven't seen Colin Firth doffing his duds often either, and his claim to fame is a single dripping wet shirt. John Garfield played a boxer without being buff and he was believable.  But, but, but, you say, times have changed.  If you want to get somewhere you do what you need to do, what the times demand.  Yet I can still name you dozens of successful actors who did not go the body/nudity/nakedness route.  

Here Armitage was dismayed that his Guy was drooled over.  Yes, it's partly due to the fact that he willfully and creatively gave the character a tender side. And especially due to the fact that he looks beyond good in leather.  But how ingenuous do you have to be to not see that gratuitous body shots are not helping your acting causeOr deny that your handsomeness opens the doors and that the unwarranted use of your body will make you popular in an embarrassing way?

I know that Armitage used to be a dancer, so I imagine he is body conscious. It's part of his personal artillery and expression.  I also imagine that he must be an anxious and terribly pragmatic soul, to acquiesce to what's demanded of him body wise.  Better to be acting in anything than not be acting.  And yet, I wonder, is he feeding into the beefcake expectations?  I would say, yes.

So, here we have a prodigious talent on the beefcake conveyor belt with a twist, finding and creating meaning for the naked/nude action hero.  Whither thou, Armitage?  Why am I so disappointed by this direction, which at this point seems like a speeding bodalicious juggernaut with no end?

Feh.  Because partly I identify with him.  But mostly because I treasure his talent; it is wondrous, and it's rare in this life to happen upon such a gem.  It makes you want to hang onto it, and keep it pure and show it to everyone.  It is not shameful to be undone by Beauty (not only the physical) and somehow moved and awed. I love this heightened experience more than anything in the face of his characters' unfolding; it skirts the fringes of ecstasy, this sensuous apprehension of truth and beauty.  That experience is a moment in eternity and an event. Amongst all the dreck, the veil is torn and truth and beauty piercingly shine forth.  That is my perspective as the observer and more importantly, the recipient.

He may not forever be sexually objectified, but it doesn't stop one from feeling the loss even now and commenting on it.  He's never struck me as a hunk and in my opinion, he's certainly not, with his long, lean ectomorphic body (in its original incarnation).  Shakespeare comes to mind, how he successfully wrote for the masses, to entertain.  Yet, he was genius enough to write about the human condition in a way that any one could relate.  I think of Les Enfants du Paradis, where actors/mimes on the 'Boulevard du Crime' had to entertain and satisfy those in the gods (aka, 'peanut gallery'). It can be done and perhaps that's what Armitage contemporaneously attempts to do addressing the masses with shoot 'em up style, yet insisting on nuanced, fine tuned characterisations; for the defence, I offer Guy of Gisborne as Exhibit A.

I do not argue nakedness as any sort of justification, however.  The masses these days don't value anything but reality TV, where rank nakedness abounds, of body and soul.  I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of it. I imagine he'd be showing his films at Sundance, and his plays off Broadway. In fact, I can't think of a single instance in his works of anyone having to get naked.

I used the word "naked" advisedly.  Sometimes, in watching some scene with bare flesh I cringe.  It seems so undignified for an actor of Richard Armitage's calibre and presence, someone who actually looks like a mature man of a certain age, to have to buff up and display the goods. 'Nudity' carries a cloak of dignity; nakedness is painful, immodest exposure. I always think of Armitage as that rare someone who is inherently dignified, that is my flaw.  And when the character does not do the actor justice in said manner, from my perspective it diminishes him and I don't like to see him or anyone diminished.

So, whither Richard Armitage and his 6 pack?  It borders on the exploitative, whether he condones it or not.  I don't like it, and I will be incensed forever that it seems to be required. I want to tap him on the shoulder and whisper in his ear, "Hey, do you want to end up like Stephen Moyer?"  Is it worth it to sacrifice everything, including one's dignity to ambition?  I guess over the years we will find out.  And whether I was completely wrong in my estimation. All I know is, I can live without the beefcake.  Convince me with your acting. Like Alec Guinness or John Garfield.

Oh,  and nevermind, Mr Armitage.  This isn't really about you.


  1. This is really intelligent writing, pi!

    I like seeing Mr. Armitage's body, I won't deny it. I have no opinion on the question of whether he should or shouldn't disrobe; I think that is up to him. I tend to think if he is going to he may as well do it now because that chassis isn't going to last forever in the shape it's in now. But I absolutely agree that I have no sympathy for any complains he may make about being perceived as beefcake. You don't want us to drool over your naked body, don't take off the clothes. I have a draft post about this that I haven't published for fear of the reaction, but if I ever do I'll link back here.

    Welcome to the Armitage blogosphere, the water's fine!

  2. Hi servetus,

    Welcome to the blog. No argument about seeing the body. Well, it's out there. I appreciate what I see. But if I didn't see it, it would make no never mind. I first saw him in North and South where there was no uncovering.

    As for his current or future disrobing. Mr A, get a clue and don't do it. I challenge you to get along without it (easy for me to say). I guess it takes conviction about one's gifts or maybe arrogance.

    Servetus, don't fear the reaper. Say what you think. It's not like the Armitage, like Big Brother, is watching. As for others, a thought never killed anyone, :)

  3. I agree with what you are saying pi, although I don't necessarily mind the semi-nudity. (Haven't seen the unedited version of Between the Sheets yet though!)
    I think because he was a dancer, he is more attuned to his body than some actors might be. But I have no idea why he isn't offered the kind of roles like Rupert Penry-Jones or Matthew Mcfayden. It boggles the mind!

  4. Pi,

    I'm mad at myself for not discovering your blog sooner!

    I'm in agreement with you about the nudity and promised myself that I would be as truthful in my opinions of 'Between the Sheets' as I have been with everything else. That's coming up in my Diary. But you've hit on what it is that has bothered me and used language much more eloquent than mine. So if you don't mind, I would love to link your comments in my piece. Might pull me from Mutt status for a moment or two. :D Let me know what you think.

  5. @phylly3

    Yes, you make a very good point! He is attuned to his body. It will be interesting to see what he thinks and feels when he gets older. :)


    Thank you so much! I'm really looking forward to reading your piece! Do send me a link, because I am not yet sure of all the RA blogs out there and don't want to miss your take on things.

    @ all: I think RA is a treasure, and it grieves me that he isn't getting the roles he so richly deserves but neither should he sell himself cheap, IMO. In a way, though this is about him it's also about a bigger picture.

    I really don't understand why he isn't getting the great roles either. Man, that hurts! His talent is lovely and pure, exquisite really, but perhaps too much of a quiet and modest talent in a world of loud and ambitious narcissists/the well connected. The world is dominated by extroverts. Yes, the body speaks loud and clear and you can't appear more extroverted than that, but IMO it can also steer attention away (permanently so!) from what is of true and enduring value. It really is about choices, in the end.

    I started this blog because like some others, I can say what I really think and feel and not have to justify myself in some weird manner or appease anyone (not good at that anyway :)). And I'm also terribly opinionated.

    Whatever his choices, hell, I really love that man as an artist. He rocks my world. I love that he came into my life; I am so much richer for it.

  6. Interesting that men are now exploiting themselves too, in some sense it is nice to know that we all have equality on some level.

    Yet I agree, he is a great actor and it would be wonderful to see him working with top notch material. Thou, I do believe his time will come, sooner than later. That fact that his name was thrown in with the Bonds. The Time of Richard is coming and we will have to share him with the rest of the world.

  7. I share your feelings of dismay and concern, pi. I think that Strike Back is glorified violence and beefcake; is that the best role that was on offer, or was it the one that lasted longer and paid best, or what? I have no problem with nudity and enjoyed BTS, where I think the more explicit shots tells us about his character, his partner, and their lousy relationship. But in SB it's beefcake pure and simple, and he would have known it. That shot when he's getting crucified, all oiled up, shot from below making his bits part of the treat (if that's the word)--I was embarrassed for him, and actually, I was kind of ashamed of him. (I know, that takes a nerve, I sound like his mom.) An actor uses his body as an instrument and his voice as an instrument and his face as an instrument, but good acting does not involve using your genitals as a instrument!

    And the point about what he does to his body in order to prepare for roles is an excellent one. Robert de Niro gained a lot of weight to play "Raging Bull," but that was generally regarded as an excellent movie. Putting yourself through physical hell to lose weight or reach SAS standards for a show like Strike Back: was it worth it? The SAS doesn't hire 38 year old men, and there's a reason.

    I wish we could see him rading in two trainers for a trainer and a good doctor who can tell him if he's likely to hurt himself doing the physical things he does. He's going to get some hideous overuse injury.

    In a way he's starting to remind me a little bit of David Beckham's assumption that he's Peter Pan and will always be a boy. He's been injured and unable to play often, lately; he doesn't play well when he does hobble onto the pitch; he's getting older in a sport that eats young men (and RA's even older). Yet from what the papers tell us there's shock at the idea that he's just past it, for the next World Cup. Two men struggling to stay in the only games they know? Or two narcissistic men with Peter Pan complexes? Or maybe just a complaining poster (me)?

    "You know my heart keeps tellin' me
    You're not a kid at thirty three"--or at 39. I think he looks great naked, but I'd rather know that RA was earning a little less and was more able to take good care of his health, not strain, not overdo, than see him naked again. And if he is at all serious about wanting a family . . . even actors can have families. What are his personal priorities? What is he giving up to act in the roles he gets? Is he being seen as a less credible actor for taking SB? (Yes, I know, he acts in it, but I wonder if his acting skills were the main thing they were looking for in a lead and if the macho stuff lowers his reputation.) I hope he is doing what is best for him overall--personally, physically, emotionally--and not making getting naked for roles more important than his long-term health.

  8. About SB, I think they were looking for an actor with talent that could pull of the sensible/drama part of the story(in this case the first ep requires it more) and do a credible SAS soldier. If I'm not mistaken he said that when read the cript it was interesting for him because it wasn't just macho stuff but also dealed with the impact his 'soldier life' had with his 'civilian life'. IMO, he accomplished it in Ep1 were the writers gave that plot more screen time.

    OML :)

  9. @aaa,

    Briefly, from your thoughtful post: I don't think he is truly narcissistic or remotely the Peter Pan type. My guess is that the simplest explanation is that his behaviour and choices may be largely driven by fear and insecurity.

    As I just finished responding to you it occurred to me that perhaps we take so much for granted- he's a hulk of a man and heartstoppingly intelligent as well as looking mature, not boyish. I remember that there were great and unreasonable expectations of him when he shot up to 6'2" overnight at age 13; perhaps we're treating him in a similar manner, forgetting that he is a very late bloomer and expecting an emotional inside that matches the outside.

  10. A man's bare torso is not "nakedness" or "nudity". It is socially accepted for a man to bare his upper body in certain situations. I could happily do without if he would get plum roles instead but all this talk seem to me to be a bit out of proportion. He is not the only actor who keeps fit and gets his shirt off occasionally and it is not the same as doing cheap porn.

  11. Forgot to add, I saw a bit of Toby Stephen's new show Vexed and he was definetely completely naked in that, his modesty only protected by a carefully placed camera.

  12. Hey, pi! I didn't know you had a blog... just discovered it from a link on Me + RA. Great post! I agree with you and like all the points made. I look forward to more of your thoughts.

  13. @Pi, great post! You made some really excellent points and said it so well.

    I have always found it puzzling that an actor would complain about the desire to be taken seriously in his craft or not understanding why he is perceived as a hottie, and then turn around and display his body. I mean really, what do they expect?

    And I had to laugh at your line "man, where is your diginity?" I don't know how many times I have thought that in regards to certain actors over the years, LOL! Nice to know I'm not the only one :)

  14. Errrm, what are they expected to do? Not just RA, I watched the first episode of the new series of Merlin the other day and if young Arthur isn't presented as "beefcake" than I don't know. It goes with the territory. It is required by the female audience. Is an actor supposed to have written in his contract that he doesn't have to take his shirt off? Is he supposed to say no to an otherwise very desirable job? Few can afford that! This is about taking the shirt off, something a man does at a beach or when he's working in his garden on a hot day. It is not about full frontal nudity and explicit sex.

    While I agree that a "beefcake" image does not help to gain a reputation as serious character actor, I don't think it harms an actor's reputation. I don't think that RA's (or the character's) dignity did suffer in the scenes with this shirt off either.

    As to Stephen Moyer, more than one RA fan has wished RA had been cast in that part or a similar part in an internationally successful series with a cult following. RA may have wished it himself.

  15. Welcome to everyone! :waves:

    I wanted to specifically address the issue of "what are they expected to do"?

    @Anonymous 1.37pm

    Just because everyone's doing it does not legitimise it. It's also a very utilitarian perspective- you do what you gotta do. If you accept that, then of course you aren't going to have a problem with it. Dignity,on the other hand, is not a commodity.

  16. Wow, you make it sound as if it is something illigal or at least highly immoral!

  17. Unfortunately Rolling Stone has become a total bloke fest in recent years. They put T and A on the cover at every opportunity now. It was different when I used to read it back in the 90s!

    Looking forward to more posts, Pi!

  18. Delighted to have found your blog, pi. You've been expressing many thoughts that have run through my mind with regard to the potential conflicts with "hunk/hottie" vs quality.(And the issue of responsibility for one's choices)

    This actor is too talented to be wasted; directing/producing is something I would presumptuously wish for him, without retiring from acting....


  19. What disturbs me about his beefcake moments is his seeming lack of trust in his
    own talent. He can say no but so far as we know he hasn't. I think the moment
    in Spooks8 when Lucas pulled his glove off with his teeth -- a Guy of Gisborne
    move that was rhapsodised endlessly online which the writers had to know
    about -- falls into the same category. It's a deliberate titillation and
    to then be coy about it smacks to me of manipulation which doesn't square with
    what I want to think of him.

    It's impossible to know what his motivation is --
    he's talked about directing and it's possible that he's trying to raise his
    profile enough to become a player. Listening to him talk about himself though
    can be tricky -- he's talked about having a minor acting talent but it's hard to
    tell if that's what he truly thinks or if that's just charming
    self-deprecation. The intuitive hit that I get from him is that he's very
    ambitious but uncomfortable ackowledging that side of himself let alone talking
    about it, but what do I know?

    Anyway, thanks again for saying what you think. I'm right there with you.