Penises and pop culture: what has caused this sudden television trend?

It’s no secret that streaming services like HBO — or Crave, for Canadian viewers — haven’t held back from including nakedness in their television shows with the odd penis peppered in here and there for good measure. 

The latest example I can think of before 2021 would have been Game of Thrones, which during its prolific eight-season run included a smorgasbord of gratuitous nudity. 

But with the constant violence, incestuous relationships and a disappointing finale, it’s easy to forget about the handful of bottomless male moments audiences were privy to.

Over the past year or so, it seems as though television shows have expanded their visual repertoire to include more and more phallic guest appearances. 

Well-seasoned fans of the massive TV hit and latest cultural phenomenon Euphoria are already aware of the show’s usage of nudity, specifically its casual inclusion of penises. It’s become a running joke amongst viewers that you can’t really watch an episode of Euphoria without seeing at least one dick. 

The age of the prosthetic peen has somewhat suddenly been showcased on our television screens with full-frontal force. Euphoria’s Cal Jacobs demonstrated this with his less than pleasant reveal in season two episode four. Actor Eric Dane had complete operational control of the fake but convincingly realistic member that peed on the floor and hung out of his pants for what felt like an eternity. 

Sebastian Stan’s portrayal of Motley Cruë drummer Tommy-Lee in the Hulu drama Pam and Tommy has featured several moments with the drummer’s appendage. A notable scene captured a “conversation” between the character and his penis – voiced by Jason Mantzoukas and operated by a separate puppeteer. 

This is all to say that I don’t really have a problem with this recent trend that appears to be taking over popular shows. In fact, it’s well overdue that dicks took the spotlight for a change in entertainment media instead of the constant onslaught of highly sexualized and often unnecessary shots of women’s bodies. 

The male gaze has desensitised audiences to see women in various states of undress and not bat an eye. Outside of indie, arthouse cinema, a penis, flaccid or otherwise, is still something of an anomaly. 

It’s a social conundrum. Male nudity is not even close to as demonized as it is for women — just watch Pam and Tommy to get the entire scope of the truth behind this statement — but it feels risquè to witness because it’s still so new. 

The Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That even ventured into this relatively unexplored television territory with prudish Charlotte, of all people, at the helm of that particular penis cameo. 

 For a show that’s grounded itself in the sexual exploration of single women living in New York, the original series never went so far as to actually show the genitals the leading women often graphically discussed amongst each other over brunch. 

The two sides of this coin seem to centre on power or vulnerability. Take Oscar Isaac in Scenes from a Marriage, who is also one of the few examples on this list that didn’t use a prosthetic for his nude scene. A man in the midst of a mid-life crisis is exposed with his nakedness and it feels like it serves a legitimate narrative purpose. 

The HBO trope of randomly inserted topless women doesn’t have to be the only way nudity is presented to audiences. 

Nudity for the sake of nudity in the media we consume doesn’t really seem necessary unless there’s a specific reason and meaning for its placement. 

I can’t definitively say what the tipping point was for this newfound penis phenomenon, but perhaps it isn’t a bad thing. 

Especially if it begins to shift the focus and pressure away from female actors who are expected to bare it all because it’s become the entertainment expectation.

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