Fast Times At Ridgemont High Dared To Ask, 'Why Couldn't You See A Naked Man?'

To say Americans have complicated feelings about nudity and sexuality would be a massive understatement. The human body is an object of fascination, shame, embarrassment, allure, and fear. We want to embrace our sexuality to the fullest but want to keep as much in private as we possibly can. On film, the questions get even thornier. Sex and nakedness are a natural part of life, but is showing them on screen inherently exploitative? After all, the characters within the film do not know they are being looked at in those intimate moments by an audience full of strangers. But that goes for every other moment of their life too. Why should the ones where they aren't entirely clothed be any different?

One thing cannot be denied though: When it comes to nudity on film, women are exponentially more likely to be asked to disrobe for a picture. After all, we live in a patriarchal society primarily dominated by cisgendered, heterosexual men, and that extends to the film industry as well. They are naturally more inclined to feature naked women in their films because that is the pleasing visual to them. Whether they approach those scenes from a brash or timid perspective, the impulse to photograph a pair of breasts comes from the same place.

Because of this, there is a dearth of equitable nudity on film from men, and if a stray penis does make its way onto film, it usually will be in a comedic context. Seeing a naked man just be naked, let alone in an erotic context, rarely ever happens. Well, Amy Heckerling tried to at least make one little step on the road to equity with her directorial debut "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." As you may expect, she was met with tremendous opposition along the way.

Nearly an X-rated movie

One of the most important scenes in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" is the sex scene between Jennifer Jason Leigh's Stacy and Robert Romanus' Mike. In the scene, the seemingly suave Mike climaxes almost immediately, and this moment is what leads to Stacy getting pregnant and subsequently getting an abortion. In the scene, both Leigh and Romanus strip completely naked, and there is no carefully placed bed sheet for them to hide behind. At a time when men were never asked to do something like this, Romanus lets it all hang out. Well, this was simply too much for the MPAA. In the audio commentary for the film, Amy Heckerling explains how this one shot of a penis nearly got them an X-rating:

"They said, 'That will make this an X movie.' I said, 'How come you can see naked girls and you can never see naked guys?' And the rating board said, 'Because the male organ is aggressive' ... I was upset. Verna Fields said, 'I'll go to Washington and fight for you,' but they were not gonna go for that."

Obviously, this is an incredibly stupid opinion, which should not be surprising coming from what is now called the Motion Picture Association. Their standards for movie rating have always been tremendously flawed at best. Heckerling ended up resorting to what is known as "frame f**king" in order to make the penis basically a blur on screen, and they got their R-rating. It's still visible but incredibly brief. Heckerling lamented of the scene in its current state:

"But there was so much more, and they cut it all out, and then they said, 'Look, we fixed it for you because we made it better.'"

Sure, Jan.

No issue with the women though

Of course, no amount of female nudity would dissuade the ratings board. In that scene, Jennifer Jason Leigh leaves nothing to the imagination, and her body is shown plain as day. Nobody objected to that, apparently. No, it's scenes like that which had people rewinding their videotapes over and over again, watching the movie in their parents' basement. The disparity of judgment between the two bodies is so depressing.

"Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has two major lasting legacies. The first is Sean Penn creating one of the most indelible characters in the history of teen comedies with pot-smoking surfer Spicoli. The other is the masturbation fantasy of Judge Reinhold's Brad imagining his sister's friend Linda, played by Phoebe Cates, taking off her bikini top as she emerges from their swimming pool, and I would argue this is the moment people think of when they think of this movie. As a cishet man myself, I knew about this scene before I even knew what "Fast Times" was. On the commentary, screenwriter Cameron Crowe says that when a guy realizes he wrote this movie, the first thing they say is, "Tell me about Phoebe." Yuck.

What does it say about our culture that a film's most iconic scene is a man imagining a woman baring her breasts in front of him but seeing a penis for a few seconds means an X-rating? I will never be able to square something like that in my head, but for a lot of people out there, they see no problem with this. We are not going to fix America's issues with sex and nudity in one fell swoop, but we can start by normalizing penises on film. It's a simple request.