I’ve written before, mostly in jest, about the public’s interest in Gene Kelly’s backside. That’s right; devoted to his bum are individual tumblelogs and Facebook pages, recurring hashtags, animated gifs, and dozens upon dozens of tweets. Regarding the latter, a few recent cases in point:
- Gene Kelly had a most spectacular ass. Watching it is akin to a religious experience. (via @phoenix_emrys)
- Gene Kelly’s ass. Like for real, tho.
#favoritethingsinclassicfilm (via @avardvark)
- Gene Kelly should pretty much *always* be in tights.
#AnAmericanInParis (via @jillian6475)
Gene Kelly puts the “ass” in assets! (via @chrissysago)
- GENE KELLY’S ARSE, YOU GUYS. (via @shelikeswaves)
- Chillin’ on the couch knitting while watching Gene Kelly’s ass. Doesn’t get much better than this. (via @phoenix_emrys)
And earlier this week, the heart-bedazzled picture above as well as this animated-gif montage of Gene’s accoutrement emerged on my Tumblr dashboard.
But it’s not just Gene Kelly’s rear-end that fans — women and men, straight and gay — are objectifying on a daily basis (yes, daily). It is also his arms, chest, scar, legs, clothes, and body in general. To accompany the following images, here are some captions, all taken from Twitter over the past month or so:
- “He was the whole package. Arm porn FTW.” (via @gamerchick02)
- “Gene, you put on your shirt far too soon!” (via @kellyakabilly)
- “Gene Kelly’s little scar drives me wild.” (via @bubblegenius)
- “Thank you God for giving us Gene Kelly…in short shorts.” (via @nxlee)
- “Gene Kelly looked damn hot in a vest.” (via @JackieHunter1)
- “Was there ever a male body as perfect as that of Gene Kelly?” #MEOW (via @saratuppen)
Still, the objectification and fetishizing and gazing and fantasizing don’t stop there. In fact, many social media users envision themselves having sex with Gene Kelly. For example, were she alive in the 1940s, The_FilmFatale “thinks [she] would have lost [her] virginity to Gregory Peck, married Jimmy Stewart, and had a brief affair with Gene Kelly.” Similarly, Fat Heffalump professes on Twitter, “Oh Gene Kelly, I do have indecent thoughts about you.” As well, while watching Anchors Aweigh (1945) one night, Bitchy Leia may or may not have “thrown [her] panties at the TV” while another fan, Mrs Friday Next, professed that Gene, the equivalent of “tap-dancing sex,” can “take [her] any time.” Finally and perhaps most directly, Donna Penski admits that she’d “fuck Gene Kelly in a New York minute.”
Men, straight and gay, play the game as well. Take BenLaVegetables and Eh_Young, for instance, who tweet respectively, “Ok, I admit it, I have a man crush on Gene Kelly
#SoWhatSueMe” and “Gene Kelly really knows how to swoon anyone of any kind.” The same goes for Grand Hotel, who with “no fucks to give,” informs his followers he has “fantasized about sex with Gene Kelly because [he] imagines him as very versatile and fantastic at it.”
All this and we still haven’t made it to the Gene Kelly artwork and fan fiction currently being disseminated across social networks like Tumblr, livejournal, and deviantART. Some of the drawings like this one here and here from vintagestyledheart are of Kelly explicitly. But most, such as those below which are inspired by Calvin Klein’s black-and-white ad campaign and shots like this one and this from The Pirate (1948), tend to “ship” Kelly and his frequent musical co-star Judy Garland. Further, as the image to the right attests, some fans have even created the name Jugenea, borrowing from other celebrity supercouples and portmanteaux like Brangelina (Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt) and TomKat (Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes).
And then there are the fan-written fictional narratives featuring/objectifying the two stars. For example, in “Gene Is Liza’s Father” readers discover that on the MGM lot in 1943, Kelly and Garland “fornidanced” (i.e., “when two very talented people use their extreme talent to dance and fuck at the same time”) and thereby conceived Liza Minnelli. More graphically, the author of ”Do I Love You?” envisions that “Judy slid her hand around to the front of [Gene's] pants and felt the unyielding hardness of his erection. She caressed him and his grasp got stronger. He looked at her as if he was considering taking her right there, but he picked her up and carried her to the bed. Gene liked having room to make love.” The writer of “A Single Touch” and “Weak Will” likewise describes an affair between “Kelly” and “Garland” in detail: “He grasped onto her hips with a surprisingly painful grip, pulling her towards him and pushing into her with the same hunger yet fulfilling tenderness she yearned for.” Finally, I’ve also been directed to pieces of Singin’ in the Rain fan fiction that place Gene Kelly’s Don Lockwood, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), and Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) in a ménage à trois.
So what is going on here? Why is the world of social media objectifying and fetishizing Gene Kelly (as well as his co-star) so much and so often? Of course, this is not limited to the song-and-dance man; it occurs hourly on the Internet via shared images, memes, fan fiction, and artwork of other classical stars like Paul Newman and Clark Gable as well as current public figures like Ryan Gosling, Timothy Olyphant, Josh Charles, Colin Firth, and the Old Spice guy. With this in mind, I asked a romance scholar (she reads/researches romance novels) her opinion on the matter and whether this new/inverted gaze was fueled, in part, by the TV series Sex and the City as well as the Internet and our ability to self-publish. She replied that actually, romance novels began heavily objectifying men and grew more erotic in the early 1990s, pre-Carrie Bradshaw and company. Ultimately, she thinks that “the gaze just shifted” and that perhaps (or hopefully) “it’s feminism finally doing its work.”
I’d venture to bet, however, that Sex and the City as well as other shows and pop-culture phenomena that preceded it like Oprah, Madonna, Designing Women, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, and Seinfeld (Elaine Benes), all of whom/which (at times) consider men from a female perspective, did play a little part in this shift. I further argue that the steadying decline of religion, an institution that traditionally constrains women’s activity, voice, and sex drive, as well as our society’s growing openness about and/or attention to gender and sexuality contributes to this female gaze as well.
But mostly, I think we can thank (or admonish?) the Internet, smartphones, and social media for this as they have leveled the playing field somewhat. In other words, while much of the entertainment and news media still reinforce a conventional male perspective (e.g., women function as objects, victims, and arm-candy who should maintain impossible body images), social media, which in many instances is currently dominated by women, may promote a modern female perspective. Indeed, popular sites/blogs like Jezebel, The Hairpin, Ms. Magazine, Bitch Media, After Ellen, Healthy Women, Arianna Huffington, Feminist Ryan Gosling, Dooce, and Feministing have put women’s issues, interests, etc. in the forefront on a daily (and sometimes, hourly) basis. The same goes for hundreds of other Twitter accounts and Tumblrs and Facebook Pages, too many to list here.
This is not to say that our objectification of Gene Kelly’s and Ryan Gosling’s lips or eyes or scar or ass is not without controversy or question. After all, should women be doing the same thing to men that they’ve done to us for the past, oh, since time began? Shouldn’t we rise above that? And ultimately, shouldn’t we be teaching our children that it’s wrong to objectify either sex in this way? Those are the sorts of questions tackled recently by bloggers at The Daily Femme, Jezebel, The Good Men Project, and Salon. (See? At the forefront…) Unsurprisingly, most of these posts say no, women should not feel remorse for fetishizing men and that this is not a double standard. Here’s why, according to the authors:
- Unlike many women, “men do not have trouble being taken seriously based on their looks or perceived sexiness, nor is their worth in society primarily judged by them.” Moreover, men will not be told throughout their lives that “their primary value is based on whether women want to fuck them. They will not be paid less on the dollar, or subject to violence in representation or acts. They will not be treated like meat or chattel.”
- As well, in the long run, men’s objectification of women is far more harmful than vice-versa. Some proof to this is that “women do not harass men on the street, hire as many prostitutes, or think that a ‘titty bar’ for lunch is an excellent business get-together. Similarly, women don’t typically view men as nothing more than a sexy thing only good for a fuck.”
- Along these same lines, recent studies have shown that when men objectify women, the latter perform more poorly in school; the reverse did not affect males’ performance. As well, unlike objectified men, objectified women may also undergo mental illnesses and shame, and in some cases, become silent and closed-off from others.
- Finally, contrary to societal beliefs (and some religious teachings), “women like to look.”
Some of my readers will (perhaps correctly?) interpret these claims as mere justifications for women who want to fetishize male soccer players, take pictures of hot dudes on the London subway, or tweet about the majesty that is Gene Kelly’s ass. And that’s fine. It’s arguably a complicated matter that deserves more room/research than I’ve allowed here. But one thing seems fairly certain: the more widespread social media becomes and the more Gene Kelly (as well as other male stars/figures) keeps finding his way into the spotlight — yes, 15 years after his death, he’s more popular than ever — the more we’re going to see “appreciation” sites and images like these…
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