Starbutts and the Body Double: Class Politics in Fetishism

There are a number of websites available on the Internet (like, Mr. Skin) that dole out movie clippings and images consisting exclusively of celebrity nudity. Not technically pornographic in content, these sites cater to a certain section of the audience, the type that Laura Mulvey would probably describe as the Possessive Spectator, and have become almost a part of celebrity culture worldwide. It has become a steady practice to extract nude sequences from films to feed the voyeuristic consumption habits of the masses. The problem being, though not pornographic in content, such extratextual and decontextualized dissemination of movie clippings unhinges them from the film text, making them readily consumable goods – pornographic in intent. And they are all hyperlinked in such a fashion that it automanufactures more voyeurism.

Although such practices might make purists squirm in disdain, it still may appear gentlemanly compared to the more recent phenomenon of ‘controversial’ movie clips going viral over the Internet and the social platforms. It did not take publicists and/or moviemakers much time to find out how the social media can be used as a publicity platform free of cost, and certain movie clips consisting nudity started to make regular appearances before the release of the films. A very good example would be the nude clip that surfaced before the release of the film Chatrak (2011), depicting a cunnilingus performed on Paoli Dam by Anubrata. In the past weeks, a similar controversy has appeared concerning Radhika Apte’s frontal nude scene in an Anurag Kashyap short film made for an international audience (aside: note how international doesn’t mean national anymore). While such scandals generate much debate over who might be behind these acts, it is an undeniable fact that this curious nexus of social platforms and news media in making viral videos does wonders in generating awareness about the film in question.

Lena Heady’s naked walk of shame in the fifth season of Game of Thrones had already created much murmur in media circles even before the season had started to air. Now that the season is over, much is being said about the season finale of the HBO TV series that aired June 14, 2015. The series has always been under critical and popular debate owing to its convoluted storyline, an almost obsessive-compulsive deployment of plot twists and shocks, rampant nudity, and overtly realistic brutality (as opposed to the CGI gore of, say, Spartacus). The brief June 15 article in the New York Post titled ‘Game of Thrones’ used a body double for that big Cercei scene was widely shared and circulated in the social media circle, more specifically, Facebook, and hence the following few observations:

Capture

Whenever the media points out things like these, it raises the obvious question of how male actors are seldom under scrutiny for using stunt doubles in action scenes, whereas the media and audience regularly obsess over the usage of body doubles in nude scenes of the female actors. Body doubles for nude scenes should be no news to anyone, it being a part of a gag in one episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. where Joey gets the job of playing Al Pacino’s butt, or in Notting Hill (1999), where Julia Roberts explains the nudity clauses in acting contracts to Hugh Grant, and various other examples within and without film and media. But even then, whenever someone points out the use of a body double in some nude sequence, they sound almost hurt and betrayed; as if the entirety of the filmmaking technique is not based on some deception or the other. This strangeness of attitude then points to a problem a bit more complex than a simple male/female commodification binary; it points out how even objectified bodies are subject to class stratifications. The knowledge that the nudity on display is not of the person we think it to be, but someone else’s—a subordinate in the craft-chain, a non-star—immediately acts as a devaluer of the fetish quotient.

In this particular sequence we see a twofold failure of fetishism in action – internal and external to the narrative. On one hand the audience’s fetishism over actor Lena Heady’s naked body is decimated by the news of the body double, on the other the actual sequence of the ‘walk of shame’ in the episode is brutalised and overexposed by design to an extent where it unsettles all audience to the point that any scope of sexualisation of the body is annihilated. The reaction of the audience and Cercei at the end of the walk is likely to be the same – shocked, shaken, wide-legged, and drained.

Fetishism is, in its essence, an inculcated class issue. We fetishize objects we are taught to fetishize. Thus, we do not fetishize the whore, but we fetishize the housewife, the stepmother, the actor, the star, or in this case, the queen. The High Sparrow knows this fact, and so he offers the ultimate fetish-object, the queen, her highness, as meat to hungry dogs. In fact, the citizens, all gathered around to witness the spectacle, first gasp, and then jeer and howl at Cercei. The ritual of humiliation becomes an act of passive-rape. During her parade, a woman flashes her privates and shouts, “I’ve had half as many cocks as the queen.” Soon after, one of the thronging citizens comes forward, disrobes himself and shouts, “I’m a Lannister, suck me off.” All selfhoods become relational to the image of class and power.

Running for almost ten minutes, the sequence is as excruciatingly brutal as it is lengthy. But this stretched out, never-ending sequence is designed to have an unsettling effect even on the most avid of fetishisers. Cercei is paraded down the street—with a few guards guarding her, and a priestess ringing a bell and chanting “shame” behind her—almost like a rare zoo animal put out on display before it is again put back in the cage, in this case, the Red Keep. The duality of simultaneous accessibility and inaccessibility of the naked body of Cercei is what ignites the unrest in people, and their almost taunted, jilted sexual desires find a vent in the brutal abuse hurled towards her.

Like children pelt zoo monkeys with stones, the commoners are permitted to verbally abuse her, flash her, throw rotten food, and even spit on her, but they are not allowed to touch her. The question is, even when Cercei Lannister is shorn, stripped, and paraded down the city streets, is she still even close to being a commoner? The answer is, of course not. Class is intrinsically connected with history; the inevitability of history is the inevitability of class. Cercei can be humiliated as chosen by the people who at the point of time have power over her, but even then, she cannot be declassed. Even in her parade of shame, Cercei still has her cocoon of aristocracy wrapped around her; class is a clothing that cannot be stripped.

– Souraj Dutta

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