Did you strip for a whole bunch of people this year? Why not? Pretty much everybody else did. And for once, our famous men seemed as happy to reveal as much as our celebrity women. Channing Tatum and crew sex-packed to the max in Magic Mike, Bobby Cannavale put the part into his part of an auto-asphyxiation-loving mobster on Boardwalk Empire, and Prince Harry came dangerously close to showing off his crown jewels in Las Vegas. As for the ladies, Lena Dunham went au naturel on Girls and during the Emmy Awards telecast, Madonna unleashed her right breast during a show in Istanbul, and both Lady Gaga and Rihanna showed off their birthday suits on billboards for their respective scents. This was also a very good year for accidental nudity — or a very bad one if you happened to be The Newsroom star Alison Pill, who made headlines in September when she accidentally tweeted a topless photo of herself; or Anne Hathaway, who earlier this month suffered an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction while exiting her car at the New York premiere of Les Misérables. Yes, 2012 was the year when there seemed to be 50 shades of naked skin everywhere — even before you read a certain S&M book trilogy.
Don’t believe me? Then maybe you’ll believe Internet flesh-pert Mr. Skin, whose Top 10 Nude Scenes of 2012 include celluloid sequences featuring the likes of Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman (Take This Waltz), Olivia Munn (Magic Mike), and Helen Hunt (The Sessions). Something was clearly in the air — and we don’t just mean Kate Middleton’s paparazzo’d boobs.
Even the conservative broadcast networks aped their risqué cable colleagues by ramping up the amount of flesh acreage featured on their shows, albeit of the pixelated variety. In August, the censorial-minded Parents Television Council released a study that showed that in the 2011-12 season, the five major networks beamed 76 incidents of full nudity into homes, compared with 15 the year before. Guilty parties included The Office, The Bachelor, and, rather marvelously, Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.
So are we heading toward a naturist utopia in which Brian Williams reads the news naked? Not so fast! As with many sociological phenomena, nudity tends to be cyclical. Back in the ’60s and ’70s you couldn’t escape folks getting naked and dancing around to an endless Carlos Santana guitar solo. But the ’80s and ’90s proved a more conservative period. Despite our current fleshy free-for-all, there’s evidence that the wheel may be turning yet again: Just last month, a ban on public nudity was successfully introduced in, of all places, California’s ultraliberal Bay Area by a local politican named — wait for it — Scott Wiener. Whether this will turn out to be the, ahem, tip of a conservative iceberg that leads to a cooling effect on the rest of our currently clothes-off-mad culture remains to be seen. But certainly fans of male nakedness should hope that things don’t get too … chilly.
Meanwhile, people looking to point the finger of blame at someone for this year’s rash of nudity should probably aim for Michael Fassbender and, specifically, the penis he so fully displayed last year in Shame. Frankly, as targets go, it’s a hard one to miss.