Dicks. Cocks. Penes. Half the population has them, and they've been the object of fascination for centuries—whether that be the physical organ itself or the phallus. You know what the Washington Monument is, right?
If May was National Water Safety Month (it was!), then June's been National Trouser Snake Month. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner was famously caught sending photos of his bare chest and erect penis and resigned for doing so this month. When his dong-in-boxer-shorts photo was initially posted on Twitter, Weiner said his account was hacked, noting that somebody was playing a joke on his last name.
The former Congressman finally admitted that he sent the photo, but said he wasn't resigning. The photo that broke the camel's back showed Weiner's erect penis. The image was far too explicit for any politician to survive.
Because of the Weiner scandal, cable news and comedy shows flashed Weiner's erect penis on screen, wading into a taboo area of American censorship. Fewer and fewer Americans themselves are chuffed by dicks—no biggie. Dicks are a regular co-star in pornography, whether that be still or moving images, and have been for decades.
During the 1970s, as pornography became hip in the U.S., John Holmes became, apologies to Babe Ruth, the "Sultan of Smut." Holmes' enormous peen was so popular that it was even used to promote other films that claimed to have male stars who were more virile or who had bigger dongs than Holmes.
But it was the underground actor Joe Dallesandro who first helped usher male nudity into American popculture during the late 1960s, as the country began explicitly exploring its sexuality with fervor. Dallesandro appeared in a handful of Andy Warhol films. One of them, 1968's Flesh showed Dallesandro's penis, and helped make his a sex icon.
Flesh was a reaction to Hollywood stardom—and censorship. The movie was about a male street hustler, and Warhol, who was recovering from being shot, wanted to release the film before Hollywood could finish its own hustler film, Midnight Cowboy.
When Warhol designed the cover for the Rolling Stones' 1971 album Sticky Fingers, he used a photo of a male bulge in jeans. It's unclear whose bulge that is, but according to Dallesandro, it's him. "It was just out of a collection of junk photos that Andy pulled from," said Dallesandro. "He didn't pull it out for the design or anything, it was just the first one he got that he felt was the right shape to fit what he wanted to use for the fly. It had nothing to do with anything else. There was no photograph session set up where they were taking shots of crotch areas."
While Weiner's bulge was nothing but lewd (and a bit sad!), Warhol's Sticky Fingers bulge cover was playful and smart. The original LP art even had a zipper that could be unzipped—an idea Warhol came up with. The zipper actually damaged the albums during shipment, scratching "Sister Morphine". To prevent scratching, a divider was placed under the cover; on it, another bulge image, this time in white underwear. Warhol injected his pop art sensibility, a bit of sleazy fun, and a pun into that cover, now wildly regarded as one of the best album covers ever. Stores refused to stock the album, citing the controversial cover.
"Guys don't like to see penises in film because they are either too small (in travel mode) and therefore not worth all the fuss, or too big (in action mode) and so threatening to self-esteem."
The male genitalia has been depicted in fine art throughout history, something Warhol knew and was able to push forward with male full-frontals in the movies he produced and directed. Film and penises have historically had a funny relationship: Whether it be John Wayne or Sylvester Stallone, Hollywood films are often tributes to dicks: they are macho fantasies, fueled by testosterone, phallic guns, and orgasmic explosions. They're the cinematic equivalent of an erection. But Hollywood's depiction of the male member itself has been far more, well, flaccid.
In the mid-1960s, Hollywood revamped its ratings code, but many theaters were still reluctant to show films with X ratings, save for the ocasional art house flick and the occasional junk-flashing anomaly, like Porky's.
Full frontal female nudity tests the boundaries of what the ratings board sees as decent, but it appears in R-rated movies for two main reasons: Hollywood has traditionally been run by straight men who make movies for straight men, and the female genitalia is obscured by pubic hair. In an R-rated Hollywood film, it's more difficult to discern if an actress is actually aroused or simply acting. Wieners are simple, straightforward. If a character has an erection, then so does that the actor. It's a little too explicit and real for many moviegoers. It's considered pornography.
"Guys don't like to see penises in film because they are either too small (in travel mode) and therefore not worth all the fuss, or too big (in action mode) and so threatening to self-esteem," wrote political theorist Mark Kingwell. Homophobia also plays a part, but the part it plays in the American zeitgeist is overstated.
If you've seen hardcore pornography in the last thirty years, you've probably seen somebody else's dick. Penises are very much a part of porn. But in blue movies, penises are doing something (or someone). In straight porn, they are doing something to women, making them an adult avatar in a third-person sexual fantasy. But in movies, filmmakers can't really show the the penis doing much of anything—save for exceptions like The Brown Bunny. Everything becomes simulated, thus leaving the penis to be fetishized as a standalone entity, in much the similar way that Hollywood objectifies the female body.
"America fears the penis, and that's something I'm going to help them get over."
During the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood's penis count increased, with major stars like Richard Gere and Bruce Willis letting it all hang out. Dicks are stil one of America's last taboos—a taboo that younger filmmakers today continue to tackle, but increasingly, it's for laughs.
"America fears the penis, and that's something I'm going to help them get over," filmmaker Judd Apatow told World Entertainment News Service. "I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on. It really makes me laugh in this day and age, with how psychotic our world is, that anyone is troubled by seeing any part of the human body." In films like Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Apatow has included dong after dong, real or drawn. Other comedians have been latching onto the humor and shock value in explicitly showing the penis— Will Ferrell showed George W. Bush's dingaling (actually, it was some random Internet dick) in his stage show, causing a handful of theatergoers to walk out.
Gaming, which is just now starting to deal with sexuality in a relatively realistic fashion,is behind the penis curve. The early 1980s saw games like Custer's Revenge and Stroker. In the days before the ESRB, Custer's Revenge for the Atari 2600 had an erect George Custer dodge arrows to have his way with an Indian female. Custer's Revenge was offensive, and worse, its gameplay was bad. Its sales were the result of drummed up controversy. The game's developer, Mystique, was an off-shoot of a porn filmmaker. Another Mystique game, Beat 'Em & Eat 'Em featured a naked man shooting cum into women's mouths.
Stroker was to the point: it was a Commodore 64 gamed about jerking off. Through the years, penises have popped up in games—whether that be in Hitman 2 or as a dick-shaped monster.
If Apatow is making it his life mission to populate movies with cocks, Rockstar Games appears to be doing the same in gaming. Take 2003's Manhunt, in which a pantsless final boss tries to chainsaw players in half, or the digital dick in 2009's Grand Theft Auto IV: the Lost and the Damned. Rockstar followed that up with a naked guy hanging from the rafters in a barn—a disturbing image of male nudity and human violence.
These days, with similar dong pics from folks like Kanye and supposedly Brett Favre, cockshots are expected. Gawker even has a guide on how to take the perfect one. Deadspin has an "athletedong" tag, keeping a running tab on dicks that are good at sports. Is this the new normal?
But in an age when Lady Gaga uses penis-heeled shoes to shock, cockshots are quickly becoming muted, blasé, and dull, even. The more dicks are fetizhized, the more prevalent they are. The taboo is still there, but the shock of cocks in American culture is now going limp.