Blog

Naked/Nude came the stranger

 Apollo Belvedere

Apollo Belvedere

Should it surprise us that a man would think that an image of a naked/sexualized woman doesn’t objectify her?

In a piece for the “Gray Matter” column in the Dec. 1 edition of The New York Times, Yale psychology professor Paul Bloom states that images of a naked or sexualized woman don’t objectify her and that objectifying people isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as in sitting behind someone to block the sun). What makes pornography dangerous, he says, is the way it reduces people to their animal nature.

Fair enough, but I think the subject is even more complex than he realizes. First off, he confuses the words “naked” and “nude,” which the art historian Kenneth Clark brilliantly differentiates between in his book, “The Nude.” Naked is about reality and vulnerability. You’re naked in the shower. You’re naked in the doctor’s office. The people in a porno film are really naked, and they’re really having sex.

Nudity is a type of clothing, even armor. It’s about performance and art. And yes, it can be about objectification. Consider the Apollo Belvedere, one of the most sublime of male nudes. It’s a work of the most rarefied artistry and, yes, it’s an inanimate object with which you cannot have the kind of reciprocal relationship that you can have with a human being.

Can a person be an art object? You look at ESPN’s annual “Body” issue, and you see a celebration of different body types for different sports. Some of the images – gold medal-winning ice skater Evan Lysacek striking a pose before water; San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick looking boldly at the camera as he stretches out on a leather couch – are as beautiful as the Apollo Belvedere and Farnese Hercules.

 Farnese Hercules

Farnese Hercules

So these people are art objects in the sense that the images are inanimate and we don’t necessarily have an actual, everyday relationship with them or the people they portray. And while I suppose we could think naughty thoughts about these images, there’s no intent to dehumanize the subjects involved.

So Professor Bloom is right – though not necessarily for the right reasons.