Am I a hypocrite if I enjoy the half-naked man? (A Jack Reacher post that turns into a Pam & Tommy post)
I recently finished watching the Jack Reacher series on Amazon Prime, and I have to say, I am surprised not just at how much I enjoyed it, but why. In case you’re not familiar with the character, Jack Reacher is an ex-Army MP who wanders the earth, getting into trouble pretty much everywhere. It’s Doctor Who with more punching and less time travel, basically.
Two Jack Reacher movies were made starring Tom Cruise, and while his action star bona fides are legit, he was a bad choice for the role. Jack Reacher is enormous. He’s such a mountain of a man that his mere physical presence is enough to make people think twice about messing with him. Alan Ritchson, star of the TV series, is 6’2” (still not quite tall enough to be Reacher, but close) and as my dad used to put it, “Built like a brick shithouse.” I mean look at the guy.
I enjoyed the series both because its core mystery felt fresh and intelligent but also because the character of Reacher himself was so different from most action heroes. For starters, he’s not very heroic. He’s a straight-up murderer and makes no apologies for it. He doesn’t quip before he shoots a bad guy in the back of the head or breaks his neck in brutal fashion. He kills because that is the solution to this problem. It’s not sexy or slick when he kills people, it’s ugly. But it’s also the right thing to do. Legal? Not usually. But right? Always.
I’m totally fine with the gray morality of Jack Reacher, but what gives me pause is how often the show finds reason to take his clothes off. To be fair, it rarely feels gratuitous. When he strips down to his skivvies alongside his Army buddy — his female Army buddy — it’s not salacious, it’s practical. He’s soaking wet, having just driven into a river. He needs new clothes, so he pulls some from a donation box in a parking lot. Reacher gives zero fucks about modesty or fashion. His clothes are wet, so he takes them off.
As someone inclined to enjoy looking at attractive naked men, I don’t mind any of this one bit. When Ritchson gets fully in the buff for a sex scene in the shower, it certainly didn’t ruin my life. But it did force me to consider my possible hypocrisy. If I’m sick to death of women being sexualized for the sake of the male gaze (and boy howdy, am I) should I not hold the same attitude for the female gaze?
On the one hand, I don’t care if it’s hypocritical because it’s about time men got treated like meat, too. But that’s not going to fix anything at all. Considered another way, Jack Reacher’s physicality is a crucial part of his character. You’re supposed to be in awe of it, so showing off just how powerful he is serves the narrative. You cannot look at that body and not notice the muscles. Yes, you absolutely believe that he can snap someone’s neck in an alley or take a punch and keep going.
But let’s be real. He’s getting naked in the show a lot because look at him.
I was feeling some kind of way about taking advantage of this, gazewise, while watching Pam & Tommy. In case you’re not familiar, the Hulu series portrays the real-life events of the late 90s, when a sex tape recorded by the newlywed title couple is stolen and sold on the brand new world wide web.
At one point, Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, Sr. gets his hands on the tape. Pam & Tommy pre-emptively sue him to prevent him from publishing stills from the video. This leads to his lawyers deposing Pam about the creation of said tape. If the scene is even slightly accurate, I hope every man involved suffers spontaneous organ failure. Pam — not Tommy, as he wasn’t subpoenaed — has to identify herself, her lover, and their location in various scenes from the tape. In other words, she has to sit in a room full of strangers while some of her most intimate moments are playing on a TV nearby.
I cannot imagine the humiliation she must have felt. And why? Because the lawyers could make a case that she had no right to object to images of her having sex being published. After all, she posed for Playboy many times and made a living running around a beach on Baywatch. She profited from being the object of male lust, therefore (the thinking clearly went) she had no right to complain about whatever form that took. Whether she consented to it or not. It’s absurd to the point of being farcical. Pamela Anderson is allowed to decide when and how her body is displayed, regardless of how she’s made that decision in the past. Because she’s not just a centerfold or a TV lifeguard, she’s a human being.
And that just really drives the entire Jack Reacher conundrum home. There is the intellectual question and there is the reality. Baywatch put physically attractive people in bathing suits on a beach; Jack Reacher has a mountain of a man stripping down to his underwear from time to time. The viewer is invited, nay encouraged to appreciate the bodies on display as part of the entertainment, and so long as none of the actors were pressured to do something against their will, that’s ok. What Alan Ritchson consents to putting on screen for my attention is fair game, and what he doesn’t, isn’t. The end.