Hung in America
Peter Lehman/Arizona State University & Susan Hunt / Santa Monica College

Sneaky Ray

At the end of Season 1, Ray, the well-hung hero of Hung explicitly unites the penis and the American dream in voice-over, continuing the season-long metaphorical connection between his big penis and the collapse of the American economy. For this reason, the show is set in Detroit, Michigan, where things were once proudly made in America but which is now the site of an economic downturn, bordering on ruin. Cars might not be made in America the way they used to be but jocks are – well hung. In our two previous columns on this series for Flow, “Hanging by a Thread” ((Lehman, Peter and Susan Hunt, “Hanging by a Thread.” Flow, Vol. 10, No. 3 (2009), flowjournal.org, Department of Radio, Television, and Film, University of Texas at Austin. )) and “Still Hanging, ((Lehman, Peter and Susan Hunt, “Still Hanging.” Flow, Vol. 10, No. 6 (2009), flowjournal.org, Department of Radio, Television, and Film, University of Texas at Austin. )) we have identified several tensions and contradictions within this project, which we will trace to their season conclusion here.

Two related contradictions dominate the series. The series presents itself as being about both Detroit’s economic woes and its hero’s penile abundance: loss and absence versus abundance and plenitude. The ostensible connection is simple: economic hard times drive Ray to be entrepreneurial and figure out how to cash in on his gift but this seems like little more than a pretext for the show’s premise: a woman pimping a well-hung man to other women who are looking for good sex. As if to indicate that they know which side their bread is buttered on, the producers have titled their show Hung not Recession and presumably the talk about the show around the proverbial office water cooler is about well-hung rather than unemployed men. Indeed, there is surprisingly little footage in the entire season that actually shows poverty, unemployment, shuttered factories, or abandoned neighborhoods. In brief, the series tries to tie Ray’s big penis to hard times, but ends up focusing on the good times that the big penis–and only the big penis–can bring. And this relates to the second contradiction.

In Lady Chatterley’s Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains, and Body Guys ((Lehman, Peter and Susan Hunt. Lady Chatterley’s Legacy in the Movies: Sex, Brains, and Body Guys. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, forthcoming 2010). )) we identify a new body guy film genre that features a sexually gifted hero with a good sized penis and nearly magical sex style. These body guys awaken, arouse and fulfill the sexual desires of a beautiful woman who is initially involved with a boring, sexually incompetent mind guy. We explore the anti-intellectual aspects of the appeal of this genre which portrays the world of the mind and intellectual men as deadly dull while celebrating the penis and penetration sex as what contemporary women in the film audience need and want for their fulfillment. Hung gets caught in a contradictory attempt to both celebrate and critique Ray and his big penis and in so doing also depicts the world of the mind and of professional men as dull and boring and represents their bodies and sexual skills as mediocre or even incompetent in comparison to Ray’s.

In the next to last episode of the season (8/30/09), the pattern whereby women who have sex with Ray respond in ecstasy and remain under his spell achieves new heights when “Horny Patty” (figure 1), a co-worker in Tanya’s office, reports on her sexual encounter with Ray: “Having sex with that guy is like doing coke.

Figure 1 – “Horny Patty”

It’s expensive, but you really want it, so you buy it and you get this huge awesome rush. But then you come down from your high and you’re broke and you feel even lonelier and pathetic than you did before and you want to kill yourself.” Patty explicitly states what we have argued about the projects of this series and the body guy genre in general: sex with the body guy, linked to his large penis, is so exceptional that once a woman has had it, other men are just that — merely other men. They are not in the ballpark with the body guy who represents a once in a lifetime experience. Here the “awesome” experience is compared to a drug high so intense that if the woman cannot maintain her habit (the big dick), it is better to kill herself. Remarkably, in the midst of this paean of praise to Ray’s penis and performance, Tanya interrupts, remarking, “That’s a good thing, right? A huge awesome rush.”

In the same episode Lenore tells Tanya, “I could use a little Ray myself.” No one can forget him once they’ve had him. Why: “He’s got a big fat dick and he knows how to use it.” She is willing to pay a great deal of money for Ray, demonstrating that these are not empty words. Later in the episode, however, when we see them having sex, a contradictory moment occurs when Lenore informs Ray before he begins that, “Not all women can come from dick alone.” “I haven’t heard any complaints,” Ray confidently replies, without giving a moment’s thought to it. To which Lenore replies without missing a beat, “That you know of.” She then pays him additional money to include oral sex in their session, which she enjoys. Elsewhere she even remarks that women say that the preference for “tongue to dick” is 60 to 40 per cent. In these moments, the series acknowledges that even in its penis-centric notion of sex, not all women can achieve orgasm from the penis alone. The penis and penetration are still central, just not “alone.” But such moments work more like an inoculation than a true critique. Everything we have seen and continue to see suggests that Lenore, like all the other women, is indeed overwhelmed by Ray’s big penis and that his “big fat dick” is what her obsession with him rests upon. By acknowledging that not all women need just this, in effect, the show gets on with showing that all women need just this and they will be changed forever.

The centrality of the penis to a woman’s pleasure becomes even more explicit in the season finale, if such a thing is possible (9/13/09). Lenore has befriended Jessica and we see them getting massages together in a spa. Asking about Jessica’s love life with Ronnie, Lenore first inquires how often they have sex and then gets right to the point: “Your vagina is like a car battery, Jessica. You gotta keep it charged…How many times was he [Ronnie] inside you last week?” Again, we marvel at how the dialogue here makes explicit what is usually implicit in the body guy genre and elsewhere in this series. Even if one accepts the car battery metaphor of a woman needing to occasionally sexually “recharge” herself, why should such recharging be focused on having a penis in the vagina? One can imagine many ways that a woman could recharge her sexuality that has nothing to do with having a man penetrate her vagina. But that would require creativity, imagination, and the use of the mind rather than falling back on penetration and the big dick. Horrors! And like Patty in the previous episode, Lenore makes a clear distinction between Ray, who she has in mind for Jessica, and other men: “You need a professional. Someone who will fuck you so good you don’t care what your husband does or doesn’t do.” For Patty, Ray is coke with a high no other men can offer. For Lenore he is a professional who makes a husband so ordinary that how he fucks will be so minor league that what he does or doesn’t do is irrelevant. Ray is that professional and not just in the literal sense that he sells his services but in the accomplished sense that he “services” women like they have never been serviced before and like they never will be again.

Lenore’s insulting references to Ronnie relate to another key pattern we have traced throughout the series: the denigration of the mind guy – the successful professional men in the series whose careers and accomplishments rest on education and the work of the mind. All of them are seen as boring, domineering, unattractive, and most noticeably, sexually incompetent in comparison to Ray. If Ray is the professional, they are the amateurs. The predictable answer to Lenore’s question about the number of times Ronnie was “in” Jessica for the previous week is “zero.” Ray himself is befuddled at what Jessica sees in Ronnie and although she claims it is not just his money, after he loses his wealth, her interest in her former husband and high school sweetheart, Ray, intensifies. In a rhyming narrative development, one of Ronnie’s patients is a woman with whom he was a friend in high school. Clearly they are drawn to each other as they renew their relationship in his exam room. But whereas Ray and Jessica’s relationship is taken seriously, Ronnie’s attempt to reconnect with a high school classmate is portrayed condescendingly. She is a podiatrist, suggesting some kind of a match for a dermatologist. She also has an exaggerated “homely” quality, lacking feminine beauty much like Ronnie lacks masculine power and sexuality. Rather than celebrating departures from the norm, this scene depicts these doctors as inhabiting a goofy, childlike world where they are perfectly matched because of what they lack! Ronnie cannot fulfill a real woman but he stands a chance with this one. They are like rejects hopefully attracted to each other while the cheerleader/beauty queen and jock with the big dick are where the real action is.

Despite this strong affirmation of the well-hung body guy, Hung lays down the basis of a serious critique, one that at the conclusion of the first season may be a lost opportunity. Ray may thrill every woman he “services,” but the women who drool the most over him are all impaired or unappealing in some way. Horny Patty is unstable and prone to violent outbursts. Jemma (Episodes 5 to 8 ) is manipulative and vengeful. The beautiful yet vacuous Lenore borders on being repulsive with her arrogant, insensitive, mercenary ways and wanton materialist values.

The more incisive potential critique, however, rests upon Jessica’s position within the key opposition in the series: big dick versus big money. Both ends of the polarity are couched in terms of power. Lenore convinces Jessica to abandon the sale rack (figure 2) for high end clothing (figure 3).

Figure 2 – The Sale Rack

Figure 3 – High End Clothing

When she witnesses Ronnie’s displeasure with the exorbitant costs, Lenore convinces Jessica to shout, “I have the power.” When Jessica says that Ronnie was not “inside her” at all the previous week, Lenore tells her she needs her “pussy” charged because if “the battery dies, you become weak.” But Jessica who left Ray for Ronnie is not empowered in either relationship: “Once I get what want, I forget why I really wanted it.” Both ends of the poles–big penis and big spender–are inadequate sources of power for Jessica and she is paralyzed between them; disillusioned instead of fulfilled.

Jessica’s entrapment implicitly reveals that both big penises for sexual satisfaction and capitalist consumerism are ideological constructions providing a pleasure that is ultimately hollow and ungratifying. Ray actually conflates his penis with the “American way,” a phrase also strongly linked to capitalism. Dominant sexual ideology can create a desire in women for big penises just like capitalist ideology can create a desire for an endless stream of products they don’t need. As sources of pleasure and fulfillment, the “charge” from the big penis may be just as fleeting and meaningless as “charging” stuff at the shopping mall. Indeed, Hung furthers this critique by making Ray and Jessica’s own children, who are appealing characters, reject both worlds that their parents inhabit. As Goths the kids shun materialist America, and as people who seem comfortable with their considerably overweight bodies they reject the body culture that their hung, jock father and beauty queen mother represent.

The series ends with Ray smugly and cluelessly celebrating how lucky he is to have a “dick and a dream” – the great American way, even as that dream is falling apart around him. But a new contradictory dichotomy also emerges as an apparent premise for the second season. To Tanya’s dismay, Lenore becomes a partner in Happiness Consultants bringing a business sense to Ray’s big dick and Tanya’s “strong sense of ethics.” The soulful brainy Tanya will compete with the unscrupulous beauty Lenore for the control of Ray’s product (figure 4).

Figure 4 – Tanya and Lenore fight for control of Ray’s “product”

The last thing we see is Tanya reading a self-help book on empowerment that she uses to kill a fly — her previous symbol of defeat. She then looks into the camera. Who will determine the ultimate meaning and value of the big dick? On the one hand, women seem to be vying for control of Ray’s big dick but, on the other hand, in doing so they demonstrate the powerful impact their contact with it has upon their lives. And Hollywood loves a good catfight.

Image Credits:

1. Sneaky Ray
2. “Horny Patty”
3. The Sale Rack
4. High End Clothing
5. Jessica and Lenore fight for control of Ray’s “product”

Please feel free to comment.




Still Hanging
Peter Lehman, Arizona State University and Susan Hunt, Santa Monica College

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Ray Drecker of Hung

On July 26th, the fourth episode of Hung aired on HBO, and on July 30th Variety reported that the series was renewed for another season. The president of HBO claims the show has “broken into the popular culture in a way we haven’t seen in a while” ((Schneider, Michael. 2009. “HBO Announces Series Pickups.” Variety.com, July 30.)) Our “real time” analysis of the series continues from our previous Flow column, “Hanging by a Thread.” Our hero is still hanging, but the series’ ideological project seems to be weaving the thread into a rope. We have identified a new film genre in which male characters we call “body guys” outshine “mind guys” in the sexual and romantic arenas, and they do this with a special gift: a vigorous penile-centered sexual performance with a good-sized penis. The scenario has found its way to television, epitomized by Hung’s protagonist, Ray Drecker.

First a few preliminaries. We have no knowledge of forthcoming episodes or plans for the series. We may, therefore, be pleasantly surprised. Indeed, it is of special interest to us that Alexander Payne is one of the executive producers of Hung and that he directed the pilot. In our forthcoming book, Body Guys in the Movies: Unmaking Love and Remaking Your Life, we carefully analyze Sideways (2004), written and directed by Payne. We argue that the film creatively explores the world of the mind guy and language as an erotic alternative to the usual celebration of the body guy, the penis, and penetration-centered sex. Oddly, at this point Hung seems the polar opposite.

The series goes out of its way to foreground the recession and current economic crisis in the United States, and many critics have taken the bait. Indeed, recently MSNBC’s “Countdown” began a story on the recession’s impact on television with clips from Hung. Our research suggests, however, that the narrative structure, characterizations, and thematic obsessions at the center of Hung have been developing for nearly 30 years and are much more about gender politics than current economics. For the past 30 years, as women have moved into virtually every occupation and broken many glass ceilings, films have visually and dramatically asserted the one thing our culture says they do not and cannot have: the penis. We did not see the recession coming, but we clearly foresaw a show devoted to the glories of a well-hung man. The series is honestly titled: it is about the big penis, not the big recession which is little more than a gimmick enabling the show’s premise that might otherwise outrage people. We go straight to the outrage: the big penis, the nerdy mind guys, and the women who, once they encounter that penis, can’t forget it. We limit our observations to episodes 1-4, which is all we have seen as of this writing.

The big penis impresses in every episode culminating in the final scene of episode 4. In episode 2, Lenore, a former co-worker of Tanya’s, tests Ray as a gigolo before agreeing to recommend him to her wealthy business clients. He passes with flying colors.

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Lenore

Lenore is beautiful and experienced so her seal of approval carries extra weight. Lenore demands a vigorous sexual performance, and Ray remarks that it’s lucky he’s an athlete, making explicit the highly physical nature of the body guy’s sex style. Beginning with the pilot, the series is built upon the assumption that size matters, meaning bigger is better for all women. Not one woman thus far prefers average penises let alone the unimaginable – smaller penises. In the pilot, we learn that both Ray’s ex-wife, Jessica, and his “pimp,” Tanya, are impressed with his big penis, and in the second episode when Tanya tells Lenore that Ray is “well endowed,” she replies, “Terrific!’ Good cock is hard to find.” This reaches a remarkable apex in episode 4 with Molly, a middle-aged client who tells Tanya that it is very important to her that the man she pays for be large, not even medium, and she cringes at the possibility of a small penis. We learn that her husband is small and a very poor lover who demands sex from her every morning.

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Molly

In her words, he doesn’t have the “equipment” or the “talent.” At the end of episode 4, Molly tells Ray that she can’t go through with their planned sex. Ray interests her to the point that she finally says, “ I wouldn’t mind just looking at your penis.” When Ray asks if she wants to see it, she reaffirms so by replying, “That would make me happy.” He stands before her and drops his pants, rendering her awestruck at the mere sight of it. She remarks, “Changed my mind. You’re nothing like my husband, are you?” Ray confidently replies, “I doubt we have much in common.” Molly equates a small penis with inadequate sexual ability and a large one with the promise of sexual fulfillment to which Ray chimes in with full support. Molly then immediately embraces sex with him and the scene cuts so a shot of Ray walking away from the encounter with a mission accomplished look; they were right.

A related pattern further amplifies that for all women in the series bigger is better. Once a woman has had sex with Ray and experienced his large penis, she can’t get over it, try as she will. At the beginning of episode 3 we learn that Lenore has misled Tanya. At first, Lenore refuses to pay for Ray’s service, leading Tanya to believe she didn’t enjoy the experience. By the end of the episode, however, she has come around and recommended Ray to her business clients, one of whom is Molly. Ray is so well-hung and performs so well that even the duplicitous Lenore falls under his spell, to the point where we learn that she even stole his underwear to keep as a memento. In a variation on this theme, at the end of episode 3, Ray’s neighbor’s wife, Yael, is sexually attracted to him the instant they first meet. She misinterprets a fortune cookie Ray gives her as a sign of his interest, and in episode 4 she eyes him again as if she somehow “knows” about his extraordinary endowment before actually seeing it.

The way in which these women can’t escape Ray’s powerful, lingering effect relates directly to how the series represents successful professional men, be they lawyers, dentists, or entrepreneurial seminar instructors. Every one of them is emasculated, nerdy, overly aggressive, self-deprecating, or cowardly, and each episode adds to this pattern. In episode 4, Tanya goes on a date with Floyd, her business seminar instructor.

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Floyd and Tanya

The HBO episode guide tellingly describes the date as “depressing,” and indeed Floyd may be a successful teacher and businessman but predictably he is a failure as a suitor, blathering on about how he, of course, can’t compete with the other men for a beautiful woman like Tanya. When he takes Tanya home, Ray stands outside waiting to talk with her. Floyd immediately thinks Ray and Tanya are involved, and that he cannot possibly compete. He hurries back to his car even though Tanya has invited him into her home. This pattern repeats in episode 4 when the two men pass each other jogging and stop to talk.

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Ray runs into Floyd

Floyd tells Ray to stay away from Tanya because he is a quitter, then runs off as quickly as he can, fearing Ray’s response. Ray’s neighbors, the Koontzs, supply a variation on this theme; Yael’s instant lusting after Ray implies her lawyer husband has not been satisfying her sexually.

Women and the mind guys (the upper-middle class male professionals whose career success is associated with advanced formal education and mental acumen) become either cheerleaders or foils for the well-hung body guy, Ray. Without them he would be, well…just well-hung. But several contradictions complicate the series. The sex scene in episode 2 inadvertently reveals that Ray’s big penis and pounding sexual performance do not bring him pleasure in and of themselves. Indeed he later complains to Tanya that it was “never-ending work” and that Lenore was constantly telling him what to do. In this instance, he is disempowered since his female pimp Tanya sets up the encounter with a woman she knows from a previous job and it is part of her business plan. In effect, Tanya is in the male position of the pimp. Lenore is likewise in the position of a traditional john, even telling Ray she is like a man, then ordering him to do exactly what she wants. Ray even has to report back to Tanya. The entire sequence of events makes clear that the veneration of the big penis and the highly athletic sexual performance centered upon it are integrally tied to power dynamics. If Ray does not control those dynamics his pleasure turns to never ending work.

And what about the women who limit their desire to and define their pleasure around such a penis and fixed notion of a good sexual performance? In episode 4, Tanya berates Ray for initially rejecting Molly since he is put off by her middle-aged, conventionally over-weight, unattractive body. Tanya tells Ray that he has a “pea-sized brain.” The series has been guilty of thus far portraying all the mind guys as unattractive but here Tanya characterizes the body guy’s mind that way and specifically in size terms like those used to venerate his penis: bigger is better. The normal insult within the genre is a term like “teenie weenie dick,” which Molly uses to express contempt for small penises. Now Tanya expresses momentary contempt for Ray’s small brain, as if that is much more significant than his big penis. Will the series explore these contradictions and untie or even cut the rope it is weaving from the thread? It is hard for us to see how it can at this point but… (to be continued).

Image Credits:

1. Ray Drecker of Hung
2. Lenore
3. Molly
4. Floyd and Tanya
5. Ray runs into Floyd

Please feel free to comment.




Hanging by a Thread
Peter Lehman/Arizona State University & Susan Hunt/Santa Monica College

Thomas Jane in Hung

Thomas Jane in Hung

When the HBO series Hung premiered on June 26, 2009 the inevitable happened – the big penis got its own TV show, titled after it no less. There’s a national fascination with penises, and television joins film and other media to laugh about small ones (Seinfeld), celebrate the revival of ones that don’t work (Cialis commercials), gasp about melodramatic ones (TV news and John and Lorena Bobbitt), and swoon over big, impressive ones (Ally McBeal) [Lehman, 2007 and 2008]. In two of our previous Flow columns, we placed Californication and Six Feet Under within a new body guy genre that we analyze in detail in our forthcoming book, Body Guys in the Movies: Unmaking Love and Remaking Your Life. The movies explicitly link the body guy’s special gift as a lover to his good-sized penis: television has just caught up!

Ray Drecker, high school athlete, pro baseball player, and current high school coach is the well-hung body guy at the center of Hung. His jock status ties him to the world of the body typical of the genre and his low-paying job makes him, for all practical purposes, working class. Even though he is a high school teacher, the pilot establishes his exclusion from the world of the mind. We see him teach a class only once and he shows no interest in it. He’s brought in a “poet in the schools,” Tanya, to save him the trouble of preparing a lesson plan. He spends the class time staring at her with sexual desire, and we later see them having hot sex together.

Yet, Hung is unusual in a significant manner. From the beginning, the pilot associates the body guy with loss and failure. We see images of the show’s setting, Detroit, in economic ruin while Ray laments in voice-over what has happened in America; a ruin that parallels his own life. His beauty queen, high school sweetie and wife of twenty years, Jessica, divorces him for a wealthy man; the uninsured house he grew up in burns down; he loses custody of his children; he owes back taxes; and his low salary as a high school teacher forces him to find additional work. It seems that he has nothing and logically, being well hung seems good for nothing – he is a loser. Enter the contradiction. In a flashback, we see Jessica angrily drive away as she lists all Ray’s attractive high school qualities that he has lost: “… you were beautiful, athletic, talented, smart, popular…and hung.” Ray shouts after her, “And what am I now, Jessica, what am I now?” She retorts, “Now you’re just hung.” At the height of her fury for wasting her life on a loser, she has to acknowledge that his being hung was a very real asset. A parallel moment occurs in the flashback where we see Ray and Tanya having first time sex. He is on top of her vigorously thrusting while she ecstatically moans and groans with a look of orgasmic pleasure on her face. To be sure we do not miss the point, she screams out, “You’re so big, oh my God.”

Both Jessica and Tanya reaffirm the significance of that big penis in another way
— they remain under its “power” even after Ray is gone. When Ray shows up at a party at Jessica’s new home to ask for a loan, she shows an inexplicable interest in him despite the presence of her new husband.

Ray and Jessica Reunite

When Ray attends a self-help job seminar he runs into Tanya again and they end up in bed, their sex act depicted in an identical manner to the first time, including her screams about his size. When Ray casually prepares to leave afterwards, Tanya berates him for arrogantly thinking that his big penis is all she cares about; so disgusted with the thought that she announces she must change the sheets as if to rid herself of any traces of his presence. But she returns to him again platonically when he misses several seminar sessions. He shows her the personal ads he’s written to sell his sexual services as “Big Donnie,” and she offers to become his “pimp” and market him properly for a percent of his profits. Once this special big penis has touched a woman, she cannot easily move on and forget it. Both these women let Ray know that being well hung makes a big difference in their pleasure, even at the height of their anger. The women and the premise in the pilot valorize the big penis even as the man who possesses it has nothing else. It gives him something worth more than all that has been lost.

Jessica was enamored with Ray at age 18 when she was the high school beauty queen, following the conventional pattern of young, attractive women having access to Ray’s type of stellar masculinity. Yet, the former beauty queen shouts her disenchantment with Ray’s promise as a young, popular, well-hung jock: “[I was a] stupid-ass beauty queen. Clearly I was stupid enough to have completely bought into it.” Remarkably, however, Tanya, an erudite and educated, 38-year old woman of average appearance repeats Jessica’s infatuation with Ray’s gift and also buys into it.

Tanya

Thus the show proclaims Ray’s masculinity a damaging myth while at the same time offering it as attractive and accessible to an intelligent, professional woman approaching middle age who is not a beauty queen. The show broadens the insidious project of offering the well-hung body guy and his athletic sexual performance to conventionally attractive young women to include accomplished mature women, as if to tell them they too can find satisfaction and completion with the well-hung body guy. It’s never too late.

If Ray’s big penis gives him something worth more than all he’s lost, it also gives him something more than what others have. The show essentially sets up a penis/money dichotomy with the penis, or, more accurately, the big penis, as the privileged term. Ray has no money, and it’s the root of his personal problems, yet the wealthy men in the show, Jessica’s dermatologist husband, Ronnie, and Ray’s attorney neighbor, are exceedingly unappealing. The rich guys even look similar. Both are short with a soft appearance and no signs of athletic prowess. Ray on the other hand is a tall ex-jock and classically handsome. Before we see Ronnie, Ray refers to him as an “overcompensating little fucker,” a label confirmed in stereotypical ways the second we see the short man tending meat on his grill at a deadly dull backyard party. Everything about the “overcompensating little fucker” suggests that he is far from well-hung.

Jessica, Ronnie and Ray

Ray’s arrogant neighbor, Koontz, lives in a McMansion complete with Grecian statues and acts in an overly aggressive boastful manner, another cliché about men overcompensating for small penises. Upon first meeting his neighbor, Ray is filmed in extreme high angle, appearing little boyish. At this point Ray thinks Koontz is inviting him to an open house party, but instead he smugly asks Ray to clean up his yard. By the end of the pilot, it’s Koontz who is filmed in high angle, appearing tiny from an emboldened Ray’s perspective, reversing the size reference. Ray says of himself, “My big dick is all I’ve got,” but the pilot suggests that it’s worth more than all the material possessions the educated, wealthy mind guys with their law and medical degrees conspicuously display. They’re the real losers. Big money and big brains are no substitute for a big dick: all they do is advertise what a man doesn’t have, implying that masculinity boils down to one thing.

Alessandra Stanley begins her review of Hung with a very clever pun by noting of Ray’s life, “He is hanging by a thread. But that’s not why the story of his life is titled ‘Hung.’” Perhaps not but that is precisely how we read the current cultural investment in narratives about body guys with big penises and thrilling pounding sexual performances aimed at contemporary women. The impressive spectacle of the big penis hanging with its promise of a gifted sexual performance is desperate and indeed hangs by a thread, one that is easily torn, leaving nothing.

Works Cited

Lehman, Peter and Susan Hunt. 2009. “ ‘You Can be Dead but You’re Never Really
Dead:’ Six Feet, Six Inches Under.” Flow, Vol. 9, No. 8, flowjournal.org, Department of Radio, Television and Film, University of Texas at Austin.
—–. 2008. “Californication: Trouble in Body Guy Paradise.” Flow, Vol. 9, No. 4,
flowjournal.org, Department of Radio, Television and Film, University of Texas at
Austin.
Lehman, Peter,. 2007. Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of
the Male Body, New Edition
. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
—–. 2001 “Crying Over the Melodramatic Penis: Melodrama and Male Nudity
in Films of the 90s,” in Masculinity: Bodies, Movies, Culture edited by
Peter Lehman (New York: Routledge), pp. 25-42.
Stanley, Alessandra. 2009. “Gifted and Talented in a Grown-Up Way: Review
of Hung.” newyorktimes.com, June 26.

1. Thomas Jane in Hung
2. Ray and Jessica Reunite
3. Tanya
4. Jessica, Ronnie and Ray

Please feel free to comment.




Observe and Report What?
Peter Lehman / Arizona State University & Susan Hunt / Santa Monica College

Figure 1: Screen Shot from Observe and Report

Figure 1: Flasher from the Opening Scene of Observe and Report

Jody Hill represents an important aspect of the current television flow – the flow between film and television. His HBO series Eastbound and Down (2009) and his film, Observe and Report, also 2009, have both been critically acclaimed. Given the timeliness of the film to our series of Flow columns on masculinity and the mind-body dichotomy, we devote this column to it. Observe and Report is an extraordinary examination of American masculinity and the interrelationship between notions of proper and ideal masculinity, the male body, and the penis. The film is literally about the alleged awesome spectacle of the penis, and indeed, the first shot of the film and the entire opening scene centers on a man who approaches several unsuspecting women in a mall parking lot and opens his trench coat to flash them, the camera always carefully placed behind him (figure 1). We are denied the spectacle of the penis, however, and only see its shocking impact on the shrieking women. The next day the same man enters the mall and flashes Brandi (Anna Farris), a beautiful but vacuous and materialistic blonde mall clerk. Hysteria ensues (figure 2).

Enter mall security guard Ronnie Barnhardt (Seth Rogen). Ronnie is grimly serious about the “pervert” and the threat he poses to Brandi, a woman who has contemptuously dismissed Ronnie but with whom he is clearly infatuated. When he asks the sobbing Brandi if she is all right, she responds that she doesn’t know. Clearly the sight of the penis has shaken her to her core. As others gather around, including an equally serious mall manager (figure 3), Ronnie declares that he will protect Brandi from the “pervert” as if he was protecting the United States from nuclear attack by terrorists. Ronnie’s masculinity is comically noble as he vows to rescue femininity imperiled. Everyone from Ronnie the guard to the mall manager who supports his mission to the victim all seem to agree on one thing: the power of this rogue penis must be brought under control so that… So that what? So that everyone can go back to shopping?

Figure 1: Screen Shot from Observe and Report

Figure 2: Brandi is Hysterical After Being Flashed

But it seems that the security guard and the manager are not the true masculine force after all. Enter Detective Harrison (Ray Liotta). Ronnie, it turns out, is just a mall cop, not the real thing. Hill treats Liotta’s masculinity with the same ironic high seriousness with which he earlier treated the spectacle of the penis and its threat to women and shopping, and then with which he treated Ronnie’s vows to make everyone safe, which is to say, they are all ridiculous. (figure 4) Harrison, far from being a true embodiment of masculinity, reveals that the ideal is the problem not the solution. Ronnie’s problem is not that he fails to be a real man but that the model of such masculinity is itself a pathetic failure – a hollow ideal and value for which he strives. Now we have three levels of pathetic failed masculinity on the loose as it were: a “pervert” flasher, a mall cop who couldn’t be a real cop, and a real cop that makes you wonder why anyone would want to be one.

Hill’s touch of genius is to represent the literal penis in this quagmire of failed masculinity. After carefully misleading us to believe we will never see the awesome spectacle itself by always placing the camera behind the flasher, he slowly and then shockingly erodes that expectation. We see a profile sketch of the infamous offending organ and then a Polaroid picture found in the garbage of a penis presumed to be that of the flasher. Ronnie becomes obsessed with the Polaroid, repeatedly holding it up to his forehead as he proclaims his quest to find the “pervert.” In his review of the film, J. Hoberman ((Hoberman, J. 2009. “Seth Rogen Wanders Another Shopper’s Paradise in Observe and Report.” villagevoice.com, April 7.)) notes, “The two men have a certain physical similarity, and Observe and Report’s most relentless riff is the blatant equation of the flasher’s oft-seen and pointedly unprepossessing dick with the castrated mall cop’s attempt to possess what a Lacanian would call the phallic function.” But the film is infinitely more sophisticated than Hoberman who simply reinforces the cultural assumption that a small penis represents a failure of the “phallic function.”

Figure 1: Screen Shot from Observe and Report

Figure 3: The Mall Manager takes Flashing Seriously

When we least expect it, Hill directly shows the film spectator the flasher’s penis. Near the end of the film, the flasher runs up to patrons at a public dining table in the mall. Standing perfectly still, he pulls open his trench coat, fully revealing himself and then begins running exposed through the mall. Those applying Hoberman’s characterization of his penis as “pointedly unprepossessing” in the previously viewed Polaroid would have trouble characterizing what they see now: his flaccid penis reveals the head resting above his scrotum with little or no shaft exposed. This contrasts with the normative representation of the 4-inch penis dangling down in front of the scrotum to the bottom or below. In our forthcoming book, Body Guys in the Movies: Unmaking Love and Remaking Your Life, we argue that such penises as the flasher’s have rigorously been excluded from representation precisely because of the assumption that they cannot bear the representation of normative masculinity and male sexuality as Hoberman suggests. That assumption, however, is ludicrous and we argue that such penises speak to a fundamental truth about masculinity that needs to be repressed in order to maintain the desired awe and mystique of the penis. Just when women have made major social, political, and economic inroads within our society, a newly intensified discourse around the importance of a big penis seems to tell them that this is the one thing they need to be complete, but they don’t have and can never have one, except of course by getting the right guy.

The flasher “pointedly”, in Hoberman’s terms, is not the right guy! As the flasher runs around the mall, his penis never approaches the normative spectacle of the large flopping penis we have come to expect in representation. Significantly, however, the flasher’s rarely represented penis type is not a sign of phallic failure. The audience identifies with the flasher who now resembles a streaker as he runs through the mall, gleefully exposing himself to the bland shoppers who seem to be on remote control in comparison to his energetic, fun-loving spree. In the midst of this delightful romp through the temple of capitalist consumerism, Ronnie brutally and unexpectedly shoots the flasher, apparently killing him; a shock to the mall patrons and the film spectators as well. But our streaker is not dead. Instead of getting him medical aid, however, Ronnie carries him like a trophy to police headquarters to show off his prize, and the film ends by mocking him as he poses triumphantly for a television reporter as a hero who has deluded himself and attempts to delude the public into thinking he has indeed fulfilled the “phallic function”.

Figure 1: Screen Shot from Observe and Report

Figure 4: The Mall Cop and the Real Cop

The streaking and shooting scene makes clear that it is not the flasher’s perversion or small penis that is pathetic but, rather, it is the ideal normative masculinity by which he is measured and judged that is pathetic. It may be true that he has a “pointedly unprepossessing dick” but the point (pun intended) of the film is that the “phallic function” by which we judge such a lack is preposterous and ultimately scary. Ronnie, with the symbolically unprepossessing penis, in a desperate effort to assert his manhood, pulls his gun and brutally shoots the unarmed, nearly naked man—his brutal act of violence directly linked to the very phallic function that judges a man like the flasher as inadequately small! This offensive spectacle of the normative masculinity so many men strive towards recalls an earlier scene where Ronnie makes love to Brandi. Again, he strives to perform as a man “should,” admirably thrusting away. But in contrast to the standard Hollywood lovemaking scene where this style is enthroned, here we see Brandi lying unconscious with her head next to her own vomit. The moment Ronnie stops this pathetic spectacle, Brandi momentarily comes to life and asks him why he stopped. The comedy arises from us wondering, why would anyone want to continue such a joyless activity?

Ronnie and nearly everyone else in the film is quite literally asked to observe the penis and the “pervert” and report on it. As we observe them in their duty to uphold normative masculinity and the security of shopping mall consumerism, we never identify with any of the “normal” people: the mall cop and his alcoholic mother, his mall guard partners, the mall manager, the real cop, or the girlfriend. But we end up identifying with and caring about the allegedly perverted man who is the cause of all the problems. We are happy to observe that his body and his behavior are both affronts to the cherished norms of masculinity and consumerism, and we are happy to report that Hill perversely celebrates this — in the best sense of that word — with all trace of normalcy revealed as pathetic and violent.

Image Credits

1. Figure 1: Author Screen Shot from IMDB.com
2. Figure 2: Author Screen Shot from IMDB.com
3. Figure 3: Author Screen Shot from IMDB.com
4. Figure 4: Author Screen Shot from IMDB.com

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“You Can be Dead but You’re Never Really Dead:” Six Feet, Six Inches Under

Six Feet Under Promotional Image

Promotional Image from the First Season of Six Feet Under

We began our first column, “Californication:  Trouble in Body Guy Paradise” (Flow Vol. 9, No. 4) by identifying a new body guy hero in the movies and relating him to the anti-intellectual American body culture that grew out of the 1980s and 90s.  Not surprisingly, many television shows have engaged these same issues, and a similar body guy hero emerged during this time period.  Some TV shows like House and Medium are totally focused on mind/body issues while offering variants on the usual body guy heroes.   The brilliant, sexy Dr. House, with his limp and cane screaming out for a Freudian reading, sums it all up:  his bodily deficiency is tied to his genius—he’d trade it all in a minute to be a normal “body guy.”   In Medium, the gifted psychic of the title does her best “work” (so to speak) while sleeping.  Alison Dubois’s psychic visions come to her in her dreams, saving her the trouble of having to go to law school for example or work hard at being a detective like her colleague in the D.A.’s office, Detective Lee Scanlon.  These shows help lay bare our culture’s struggle to grant intelligence and the work of the mind a prominent and sexy place within the larger scheme of things.  Indeed, it is perhaps revealing that it is a beautiful woman (Patricia Arquette playing real life “psychic” Alison Dubois) who gets the visions; Lee Scanlon is out there working like a man.

Still from Six Feet Under

Jack and Sawyer from Lost

And indeed TV has its share of conventional body guy heroes, some of whom are pared against a mind guy ala the classic film genre paradigm. Lost pits Sawyer, a classic body guy outsider figure, against Jack Shephard, a classic doctor as body guy hero, in the fight for the love of a woman. (Doctors can gain body guy status because their profession literally involves bodies and “hands on” work—frequently surgery). Grey’s Anatomy has another classic doctor as body guy in Derek Shepherd, aka “McDreamy” who wins Meredith Grey’s love from a nerdy doctor.  He establishes his skills as a gifted lover in the pilot episode before either he or Grey know who the other is. Some shows, while being less overtly sexual, recapitulate the basic paradigm:  Prison Break contrasts the body guy criminal Lincoln Burrows with his sensitive, brilliant architect brother Michael Scofield. Battlestar Galactica has a conventional body guy hero in Lee Adama and a mind guy in Baltar, a very unusual figure in regards to sexuality issues.  Due in part to the narrative complexity of many episodes over several seasons, some of these TV shows create quite complex variations on the rather fixed, stable relationships in terms of sexuality and attractiveness of the mind guy-body guy dichotomy found in cinema.

Within this context we now examine the first two episodes of Six Feet Under (2001), suggesting how it lays out the dynamics of the series within some of the above parameters, much like we argued the opening two episodes of Californication did for that series.  The title Six Feet Under suggests a show about the body — the dead body.  And indeed it delivers on that promise but it also integrates the funeral home setting into its observations about life in 21st century American body culture of the living kind. And this is not unqualified good news for the body guy and his legendary penis.  Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) is a classic body guy in every regard.  He has rugged good looks and is a non-conformist living on the outskirts of society.  He dresses in jeans and has the scruffy looks of a working class man.   Rather than take his place in the family business, he “irresponsibly” leaves home and joins a counterculture.  His brother David (Michael C. Hall) becomes a mortician and works in the family business; he dresses in suits and has a prim and proper appearance (figure 1).

Still from Six Feet Under

Figure 1: Nate and David Fisher

The pilot begins with Nate’s return to Los Angeles for a family visit. We are introduced to Nate as he deplanes and says goodbye to Brenda (Rachel Griffiths), a traveler with whom he has struck up a conversation.  She is of course immediately sexually attracted to him as women are to body guys—she can tell that he would be a great fuck.  Minutes later we see them engaged in highly athletic, pounding intercourse on a counter in a janitor’s closet in the airport (figure 2).  This kind of pound, pound, pound sex that we call pound cubed in our forthcoming book, Body Guys in the Movies: Unmaking Love and Remaking Your Life is classic body guy sex.  The body guy sex style is penile and penetration-centered and body guys always perform above par, even when they are doing it with a new partner for the first time and in extraordinary circumstances. The context for this stellar sexual performance is as follows:  Nate and Brenda, who hardly know each other, have first time sex in a public place that is cramped and physically uncomfortable while in danger of being discovered by airport personnel and under the pressure of knowing that family members are late in coming to pick Nate up.  In this almost absurd setting, Brenda commands, “Shut up and fuck me,” then moans in pleasure as Nate does so and adds approvingly how “very good” he perfectly performs in the most imperfect of situations.  The very definition of the body guy and his magical penis!  Needless to say, Brenda is suitably impressed with Nate and pursues a relationship with him.

Still from Six Feet Under

Figure 2: Nate and Brenda having sex at the airport.

In the second episode Nate is sent to a pick up a body in a nursing home.  He lifts the head and another mortician takes the feet as they move the corpse from a bed to a gurney.  In the process, the man’s bed clothing opens, revealing an erection.  Nate is shocked and comments on it.  His helper, with a bemused look in his face, replies, “You can be dead but you’re never really dead.”   With the corpse in his hearse, Nate calls Brenda and meets her for coffee.  After hearing him relate the incident about the erection, she remarks in an erotically playful manner, “I don’t meet that many men with dead guys with hard-ons in their cars.”

Both the mortician and Brenda make light of the incident in a sexual manner, the former suggesting it gives mysterious life to a dead man and Brenda suggesting it is kinky and turns her on.  But the series suggests something else.  Wishful thinking to the contrary, when a man is dead, he is dead, and his penis is dead and useless — even if he was a body guy with that oh so impressive penis.  It did nothing to save him; it was powerless and this last gasp of spectacle and display does not point to the power of the penis/phallus to defy death and somehow live on but, rather, proves hollow and empty in its path.  The bigger they are, the harder they fall.  At the end of the series, Nate, the body guy, will be dead – really dead – in the prime of life due to a genetic deformity in his brain causing a stroke.  No one will think it is funny or sexy.  If episode one establishes the body guy in all his glory, episode two poses the shadow of death that awaits Nate over the course of the series, and this tension is played out over all five seasons.  There is something desperate in clinging on to a dead man’s erection as proof of anything, but as Peter Lehman has shown elsewhere, movies have in recent years become fascinated with images of the penis in death. Six Feet Under makes clear that at one and the same time this fascination is contradictory—on the one hand, it celebrates the seemingly impressive spectacle of the penis even in death, while on the other hand it reveals that no matter how “impressive” that display may be, it is utterly useless and powerless. The message to men is, “You, and your penis, really are dead.”

Image Credits:

1. Promotional Image from the First Season of Six Feet Under
2. Jack and Sawyer from Lost
3. Figure 1: Nate and David Fisher- Author Screenshot
4. Figure 2: Nate and Brenda having sex at the airport – Author Screenshot

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Californication: Trouble in Body Guy Paradise
Peter Lehman / Arizona State University & Susan Hunt / Santa Monica College

Still from Californication

Figure 1: Mia Punches Hank during Sex in Californication

In our forthcoming book, Body Guys in the Movies:  Unmaking Love and Remaking Your Life we identify an important, pervasive narrative paradigm of the American and international cinema of the last three decades in which a body guy closely associated with the land or blue collar work awakens sexual desire in a woman married or engaged to an upper-class, highly educated professional man. To name just a few:  1988’s Two Moon Junction (written and directed by Zalman King) jump-starts the genre followed by Henry & June (1990), At Play in the Fields of the Lord (1991), The Piano (1993), Legends of the Fall (1994), I.Q. (1994), Bridges of Madison County (1995), Antonia’s Line (1995), Box of Moonlight (1996), Lawn Dogs (1997), Titanic (1997), The Horse Whisperer (1998), The End of the Affair (1999), Fight Club (1999), Enemy at the Gates (2001), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), The Notebook (2004), Asylum (2005), Fur (2006), and Lady Chatterley (2007).  There has been at least one significant body guy film released per year for the last twenty years.  Nevertheless the paradigm has gone unnoticed by film critics so not surprisingly its TV counterpart has also escaped critical notice.  In Body Guys in the Movies, we link the rise of the “body guy” genre to the development of a new intense body culture taking place in America and many other parts of the world during the 80s and 90s and continuing into the new millennium and argue it is significant for two related reasons.  The body culture and the genre are tied to an overvaluation of a certain kind of masculinity, male body, and male sexual performance and a simultaneous anti-intellectual, devaluation of the world of the mind and the intellect, which has a unique intensity within American culture and history.

In this battle between the big penis and the big brain, the magical, “big dick” wins handily and it is within this context that we turn to television and the Internet for our 3 short essays for Flow.  We begin with the current Showtime hit series, Californication starring and executive-produced by David Duchovny who brings extra street cred to the role ala his association with Zalman King, one of the most prominent figures in the development of the body guy film genre and the creator and executive producer of the wildly successful TV series The Red Shoe Diaries starring Duchovny.  The first two episodes of season 1 of Californication lay out the premise of the series in a manner that concisely encapsulates key issues of the body guy genre and its crisis at this particular moment in time.  Hank (David Duchovny) epitomizes the writer as body guy, a variation of the man close to the land and blue-collar worker which includes Henry Miller in Henry and June and the Ralph Fiennes character in End of the Affair as well as related artist figures such as the Leonardo DiCaprio character in Titanic.

Figure 2

Figure 2: David Duchovny as Hank in Californication

In keeping with the conventions of the body guy we are introduced to Hank as he is having sex.  His performance is so remarkable that afterwards his partner remarks that she never has orgasms with her husband.  Throughout the first two episodes, sex is everywhere for Hank since in keeping with the conventions of the genre he is not only better at it than other men, but women know it in an instant.  He sleeps with the wife of the film director who adapted his novel.  He goes to a book signing where he picks up a young woman and immediately we see them having sex.   The same thing happens with a woman who simply pulls up next to him at a red light and tosses her phone number into his car or another whom he spots in a bar or even one whom he inadvertently offends at a dinner party.  He exudes sex and sexual competence.  When a friend asks Karen, Hank’s ex, about her current love life, we hear the following exchange:  “And the sex with Bill?  Is it good?”  Karen dissembles with hesitation and lack of enthusiasm, “Yeah, it’s different, you know.”    Episodes of Californication are only 30 minutes long but by the end of the first two we have seen him in sexual situations with 5 women.  That averages out to a different woman every 12 minutes!

Figure 3

Figure 3: Hank in the Act

But all is not what it seems to be.  There is trouble in body guy paradise.  Karen, Hank’s longtime girlfriend and mother of his child, has left him and moved in with another man, almost unimaginable in the classic paradigm where the woman is frequently left longing for the body guy she has lost.  Here Hank does the longing.  And Mia, the young woman he picks up at the book signing, suddenly inexplicably punches him twice in the face as she rides him in the woman on top position and then interrupts their sex (figures 1 and 2).  He later learns that she is only 16 years old and that she is the daughter of the man Karen is engaged to marry.  Later in the first season he even learns that he did not seduce Mia; she seduced him!

The image of Mia punching him has a later rhyme when Hank makes love after dinner with the woman he offended.  He is behind her in the doggie position and when she thrusts backward, she knocks him over and as he falls off the bed, he knocks a painting off the wall that topples down with him (figures 3 and 4).  This image is a perfect metaphor for Hank’s sexuality in the series:  he is the body guy thrown off balance by a changing world of sexuality which, despite his apparent success attracting women and performing, he does not understand and cannot master.  Within the first two episodes of the series that world is characterized by 3 things: an opposition between L.A.(the body culture)  and New York (the intellectual culture);  a generational shift including a shift from books to blogging (much is made of Hank’s age); and a sexual shift where experienced, aggressive women act on their sexual desires rather than wait to have them ignited by the special powers of a gifted man (women pick him up, punch him, and fuck him out of bed).

Figure 4

Figure 4: Hank Thrown off Balance

Californication, like several recent films such as 9 Songs (2004) and Lie with Me (2005) point to a pivotal moment in the transformation of the body guy genre: he no longer awakens the woman’s sexuality and rescues her from a stifling relationship with a mind guy.  Indeed he finds himself in a world with experienced women on the prowl who know just what they want (thank you very much) and have high performance expectations, tossing men aside who do not live up to those standards or when they are done with them.  Whereas women once mourned the loss of the body guys men like Hank and the male lover in 9 Songs now romantically pine for their lost loves who have left them.  Still the body guy and his magical penis and sexual performance retain their potency but the narrative no longer grants him the power to educate women about that.  So once again, the more things change the more they stay the same.  These women know what they want and it just happens to be what men have always wanted to give them.

Image Credits:
1. Figure 1: Mia Punches Hank during Sex in Californication– Author Screenshot
2. Figure 2: David Duchovny as Hank in Californication– Author Screenshot
3. Figure 3: Hank in the Act- Author Screenshot
4. Figure 4: Figure 4: Hank Thrown off Balance – Author Screenshot

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