J.J. Abrams Doubles Down on Objectification Equivalence

[Content Note: Misogyny; objectification; hostility to consent.]

On Tuesday, I noted that one of Star Trek 's writers, Damon Lindelof, defended the gratuitous and consent-hostile scene of Dr. Carol Marcus (played by Alice Eve) in her underwear by drawing an equivalence between female and male nudity and giving pathetic lipservice to critics in an attempt to diffuse the criticism while clearly standing behind the scene.

Last night, director J.J. Abrams was a guest on Conan O'Brien's show, and doubled down on the same strategy in an awkwardly staged segment designed to feign concern about the criticism while implying in every conceivable way that critics are oversensitive hysterics. The scene is pitched at O'Brien's show site with: "To answer charges of sexism in 'Star Trek,' J.J. shows a cut scene of Benedict Cumberbatch showering." Which pretty much sums it right the fuck up.

O'Brien: We had the beautiful Alice Eve on the show last night—

Abrams: Yes.

O'Brien: —who does a terrific job in the movie, and I guess [clears throat] you've been taking some heat for a scene—

Abrams: Yeah.

O'Brien: —I didn't personally see what the fuss was about; I was quite happy about the scene—uh, but, um, there's this scene where, uh, Alice Eve—Kirk gets a quick look at her in her underwear—

Abrams: Well, she's changing—

O'Brien: Yeah.

Abrams: —and the idea was, the intent was it's Kirk, who was always a sort of womanizing character.

O'Brien: Yeah.

Abrams: The idea was: Have a beat like that in the midst of all this action and adventure—

O'Brien: He takes a quick peek, yeah.

Abrams: —have a scene where he looks and then looks away. I don't think I quite edited the scene in the right way, but, look, she, she—to me, it was a sort of balance—there's a scene earlier where he's not dressed, either, so I felt like it was a sort of, you know, a trade-off. But some people did feel like it was, uh, uh, you know, exploiting her [gesture to indicate he thinks that's absurd], and, while she is lovely, I can also see their point of view.

O'Brien: Okay, well, there is—I think we should explore this more. This is the photo still of her in the scene. [puts up still shot from film of Alice Eve in her underwear; laughter and applause] Very beautiful. Uh, and I, you know—

Abrams: Yeah.

O'Brien: And you defended this—you can take it away, that's okay; our director wanted to keep it up— [cuts back to the show; laughter]

Abrams: I'm not defending it, but, but, but, but I think there's a picture of Kirk, who's also— [puts up still shot from film of Kirk, shirtless in bed, with a disrobed female character behind him, her arm wrapped around him, gazing at him] And the other thing—he, he's like, he's [inaudible] for girls—

O'Brien: Yeah, so that's okay, that should balance it out.

Abrams: We had a scene—this is true—we had a scene, a shot, of the, the, the villain, played by Benedict Cumberbatch— [edit] We had a scene with him where we saw him actually, uh, taking a shower. And, uh, I actually brought a piece of the clip—

O'Brien: This didn't make it—

Abrams: It's not in the movie, but we had this, and this is one of those things we ended up cutting, so we can show it…

O'Brien: Let's take a look at this. [footage of Benedict Cumberbatch from mid-chest up, taking a shower, with a very serious look on his face and accompanied by serious music; cheers and applause] Wow. He's not enjoying that shower very much. [laughter]

Abrams: No, he—that was a shower of evil.

O'Brien: Yeah. A shower of evil. [laughter] You know, I saw that just seconds before the show, and I thought: That would look better with different music.

Abrams: What do you mean?

O'Brien: This is just—well, take a look. [same clip, but set to porn music; laughter and applause]

Abrams: You know, uh, I—I would've used it if we had had that music. I would've kept it in the movie.

O'Brien: [laughs] You didn't have access to that kind of—

Abrams: That's true!

O'Brien: I have a budget here that you could never dream of.

Abrams: [laughs]
Again, women's bodies and men's bodies are not objectified in the same way, and that is a truly contemptible argument that anyone should be embarrassed to make in the year of our lord Jesus Jones two thousand and thirteen. Even if they were (AND THEY ARE NOT), the scenes of Marcus in her underwear and Kirk in bed with a naked woman (who has no other role in the film) are fundamentally different in that Kirk breaches Marcus' consent by looking her in direct contravention of her explicit request that he not look. That's not showing Kirk to be a "womanizer"; it's showing Kirk to be a predator who's committing a sexual assault.

Abrams' claim that the scene of Marcus isn't exploitative is further undermined by his attempt to equate it with a deleted scene of Benedict Cumberbatch in a shower, which is "improved" by setting it to porn music. Of course he knows it's exploitative garbage that isn't the same as a scene of a disrobed man; that's why it takes broadcasting on national television a pornified deleted scene of a male character to try to "balance" its inclusion. In his pathetic attempt at defending the scene, Abrams underscores exactly why it's indefensible.

Finally: I find utterly reprehensible the idea that, if only we try hard enough!, we can somehow sexually objectify men just as effectively as we do women, in order to justify the continued objectification of women's bodies. That's not progress. That's a step forward only in a race to the bottom, and there is little to be gained by pretending that service to the lowest common denominator is a favorable equalizer.

Sexual objectification is dehumanizing. I don't want things to be "just as bad" for men. I want things to be better for us all.

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