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Jacob Shirtless! Hot Naked Were-Puppy! The Wolf Pack Goes Topless!

September 24, 2009

What’s with the Twi-net fascination with men of color without shirts?

I’ve been noticing how images of shirtless Jacob and other half naked members of his wolfy cohorts are dominating fan-sites lately. Why are these “russet colored” males (as Meyer would describe them) always bearing their abs-n-pecs-of-steal while the white vamp men tend to remain fully clothed?

Yeah, I know the wolves “run hot” and the vampires are like ice sculptures in the texts, but this doesn’t mean Taylor always has to be on show with all the chest goods hanging out… Ok, scratch that, how about some equal opportunity shirtlessness instead? I did see a topless photo of Emmett the other day and images of Rob-minus-shirt pop up once in awhile, too. Perhaps shirtlessness is going to branch out to include the white actors in equal opportunity objectification… (Not that this is the goal we are aiming for, as Jean Kilbourne jokes in Killing Us Softly).

In seriousness though, the relative nakedness of the males of color smacks to me of our cultural tendency to be far more willing to sexualize those deemed lesser. Just as we sexualize, dehumanize, and infantilize women in our ads, movies, TV shows, and fashion trends, so too do we do the same (although less pervasively) to non-white men. Putting arguments about whether the actors are “real native” aside, they are meant to portray Quileutes, and the fact that this portrayal is far more naked, bodily, and beastly speaks to the white privilege that still dominates our society. As Paul Kivel explains in his book  Uprooting Racism,

Men of color have been portrayed [consistently throughout U.S. history] as wild beasts, aggressive sexual beings with little or no restraint and insatiable appetites for white women … [Further] white women are taught that men of color are highly sexualized beings whose very gaze will assault them.

The sexualization of black men remains a powerful tool in objectifying men of color, creating fear among whites and perpetuating the racial divide in the U.S. (cited at Teaching Tolerance)

This “racial divide” plays out in Twilight at the level of the narrative as well, with Jacob being the male who cannot control himself. His body shakes with anger, resulting in him bursting out of his clothes as he turns to wolf. How savage! His desire for Bella runs wild, and he forces her to kiss him, which, though romanticized in the text, is sexual assault. How beastly!

This representation of dark men as sexual predators is nothing new. As S. Elizabeth Bird writes in her book Dressing in Feathers,

The representation of Native Americans without clothes is a very old tradition. The captive narratives of the eighteenth century frequently mention nudity among the “savages.” This theme was carried through to the nineteenth century, at which point it was often accompanied by heavy moral condemnation of such immodesty. The Native American’s disregard for clothing was supposedly clear proof that they were inferior and primitive.

There is no doubt the texts frame Jacob as the inferior mate for Bella, but are the ubiquitous shirtless photos of Taylor Lautner framing the Native Male he is meant to portray as inferior to the more fully covered (and hence more ‘civilized) images of Robert Pattinson?

Sure, it’s nice to admire a beautiful male body and Lautner certainly doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, in an MTV interview with Larry Carroll he cited his favorite quote from the series as “Does my half being naked bother you?” But, even if the objectification is relished by the person being objectified, this doesn’t make it any less problematic (or less racist).

We are far too adept at objectifying women, children, and men of color (or MOC). Women have long been animalized, the derogatory term “cougar” being the latest incarnation of this trend. With MOC, perhaps the most pervasive form of objectification is presenting them as savage. As noted at Newspaper Rock: Where Native America Meets Popular Culture, the term “wolf pack” itself reinforces the notion of Native Americans as beast-like. And, as the term “were-puppy,” used at Tres Fab Sweetie further suggests, Native Americans are viewed as more child-like than ‘real men’ (or vampires). As they don’t have the cultural clout of white male (vampire) privilege, I doubt their shirtlessness will be going away anytime soon. While this is good news for those of us who like gazing at beautiful male bodies, it’s not such good news for eradicating the racist undertones that result in some bodies being more animalized, infantilized, and objectified than others.

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