Poldark mania: should we all stop ogling Aidan Turner's chest?
His greased-up torso is about to set pulses racing again in the new series of 'Poldark' but his female co-stars are asking women to stop objectifying the Dublin actor. It may all be a bit unfair, admits Meadhbh McGrath, but welcome to our world, lads
Published 26/08/2016 | 02:30
It was the moment that would come to define the television year, setting pulses racing and sparking a thousand thinkpieces: a topless Ross Poldark, played by Dublin actor Aidan Turner, revealed his rippling torso as he scythed his way through a field under the Cornish sun.
He was the new Mr Darcy, a Diet Coke guy from the 18th century - and viewers couldn't get enough.
The BBC period drama attracted some 8.5 million viewers over the course of its first season, but it was that scene which was voted best TV moment of 2015 in a poll of 44,000 users by 'Radio Times'.
Following the frenzy over last year's scything scene, along with a sequence showing Turner swimming naked, the show's writer Debbie Horsfield urged viewers not to expect more of the same this time around, as the new episodes had been filmed last October.
"Unfortunately, autumn is very chilly in Cornwall, so we won't be doing any of that," she warned.
And yet, fans were delighted this week when it was reported that the first instalment of the second season, which returns to screens on September 4, features another topless scene within the first 15 minutes, as we find Ross battling the heat while hammering away at the walls of his tin mine.
The BBC wasted no time in taking advantage of Turner's good looks yet again during an adaptation of Agatha Christie's 'And Then There Were None' last Christmas, in which Turner appeared in one scene wearing nothing but an artfully draped hand towel.
While the BBC may be happy to capitalise on the 33-year-old's impressive body, Turner and his 'Poldark' co-stars have been less than thrilled with the hysterical response.
In an interview last week, Heida Reed, who plays Poldark's childhood sweetheart Elizabeth, chastised viewers for their fixation on 'the chest', saying that she hoped viewers enjoyed the programme "for more than a topless scene".
"There are some women who think that men being objectified is some sort of cosmic retribution," she said. "I don't think that's a progressive way of thinking. As a feminist, I think feminism is about gender equality across the board. We shouldn't objectify anyone."
Eleanor Tomlinson, who plays his wife Demelza in the series, has similarly grown weary of the obsession, and said she hopes the 'Poldark' mania will "calm down a bit" during the 10-part second season.
"Only because I think Aidan, bless him, is getting a bit fed up with it," she told the 'Telegraph'.
"'Poldark' is about so much more than that one thing. And although of course it's dream publicity for the show and it certainly grabbed people's attention, they didn't want it to be known just for that.
"I mean, Aidan's a beautiful man - absolutely gorgeous - but I think he would like to be recognised for his performance, and I would like to stop being asked about his chest."
Turner himself has been hounded in interviews about the scene, and despite the recent revelation that the topless scene was all his idea in the first place, his reaction has shifted from one of pride ("I'm not going to look like that forever. Damn it, I'm 31, I'm going to live it up," he said last year) to bewilderment (he told 'Vogue' he found "the whole thing a bit preposterous" and "overwhelming") to irritation, as he refused to discuss it with the 'Guardian' last weekend, beyond saying he was tired of all the attention: "I'm sick of it. Let's move on."
'Game of Thrones' heartthrob Kit Harington (29), who plays Jon Snow in the hit fantasy series, has also had enough of his sex symbol status, and has spoken out about feeling objectified on numerous occasions.
"To always be put on a pedestal as a hunk is slightly demeaning," he said. "It really is and it's in the same way as it is for women. When an actor is seen only for her physical beauty, it can be quite offensive."
Harington, who earned his first Emmy nomination for the role this year, went on: "It can sometimes feel like your art is being put to one side for your sex appeal. And I don't like it."
The British actor seemed to have no qualms about the abundant female objectification on the show, staying silent amidst years of criticism, but now that male celebrities are having their bodies scrutinised as if they were - wait for this - female celebrities, it seems they have a good deal more to say on the topic.
Male objectification is everywhere - from the 'hunkvertising' sparked by the infamous Diet Coke break ad in 1994, to today's David Gandy underwear ads for M&S - but the debate surrounding it is complicated.
While some women, such as Harington's 'Game of Thrones' co-star Emilia Clarke, have called for more male nudity to balance out the plethora of breasts and bums in film and TV, others deem any such leering at men's bodies a step backwards in the fight for gender equality.
The argument against such shameless objectification points to a supposed contradiction: that the same women who condemn Page 3 girls and advocate for the right to walk down the street without fielding remarks about their legs are flagrantly drooling over a bunch of TV hunks.
It should be noted that one applies to everyday real-life experiences, and the other to lazy Sunday night fantasy.
While it must be annoying for Turner to put in a hard day's work on set only to find audiences are more interested in marvelling at his abs, it's all part of the job.
Actors like Turner are selling a fantasy, and if viewers lap it up, as they so eagerly do, then he can rest easy knowing his work is done, and done well.
Is it possible for a man to feel demeaned when women are analysing and commenting on his chiselled torso? Of course, but the likes of Turner and Harington are not objectified in a way that renders them powerless.
Indeed, in last year's summer hit 'Magic Mike XXL', so often cited as proof of some sort of global male-objectification epidemic, the gleaming torsos were accompanied by a generous dose of winking self-awareness about how the cast's manicured bodies were being presented to cater to the female gaze - for once.
Star Channing Tatum said at the premiere: "I'm all for equal opportunity objectification of everyone", echoing producer Reid Carolin's comments that the film hoped to say "women can look at men the same way men have been looking at women on screen for years".
The female variety, on the other hand, comes with a backdrop of centuries-old oppression. Whereas a topless Poldark is unlikely to affect a man's promotion opportunities or dating prospects - realistically, it poses no threat to him other than possibly motivating him to join a gym - objectification has measurable real-world effects for women, contributing to a larger culture of inequality.
Perhaps it is unfair to men to make them feel anxious about looking like David Gandy in the shower or Aidan Turner mowing the back garden - but welcome to our world.