The White Lotus, HBO Max’s new surreal dark comedy series about a group of wealthy tourists at a luxury Hawaiian resort, uses the prism of an island getaway to tap into each of its characters’ vulnerabilities. In the case of Mark, played by Steve Zahn, he lets all of his fears hang out—quite literally.
An early scene in the pilot episode, “Arrivals,” finds Mark splayed out on the bed in a hotel suite wearing just a bathrobe, exposing his penis and lifting it up to show his wife Nicole (Connie Britton) just how enlarged his testicles have become. While a distressed Mark immediately assumes he must have cancer, the scene is also played for laughs, with Nicole commenting that it’s been some time since she last had a proper look at her husband’s genitals.
It’s still incredibly rare for any mainstream comedy or drama to include footage of male genitalia, and the first episode of The White Lotus left some viewers wondering if the penis in question really belonged to Zahn, or was a prosthetic. The actor cleared up that question in a recent interview.
“I didn’t even have to do that part,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s somebody else wearing a prosthetic. That’s about as absurd as it gets, right?”
The brief hotel room scene in The White Lotus is the second instance of full-frontal male nudity on TV this summer, after Netflix’s steamy streaming series Sex/Life, which included a moment where the increasingly insecure, obsessive husband of the main character stalked his wife’s ex-boyfriend into a gym shower and became intimidated by how well-endowed his love rival was.
In each instance, the penis can be said to serve a narrative purpose—something which is arguably lacking in the many, many equivalent examples of gratuitous female nudity in film and TV.
“Ultimately, what’s memorable and powerful about both The White Lotus and Sex/Life‘s uses of full frontal male nudity is how each scene delves into sensitive territory,” wrote Decider‘s Meghan O’Keefe. “For Zahn’s Mark, his fixation on his testicles is tied to his mortality, his virility, and his connection to his dead father. For Vogel’s Cooper, his curiosity in Brad’s penis size speaks to his insecurities as a sexual partner for his wife. In both cases, men are grappling with deep-rooted insecurities about being, well, men. Nudity here is used to express vulnerability, and that is fascinating.“
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