Rita Ora (L) helps remove the shirt of actor Zac Efron. Photo: Michael Tran
On paper the Best Topless Performance gong at the MTV Movie Awards didn't offend anyone - after all it included both men and one woman (thanks to the presence of Jennifer Aniston’s We’re The Millers performance).
However when Zac Efron won the award and had his shirt ripped open by presenter Rita Ora a pocket of male viewers began frothing at the mouth. Efron got up to take the statuette and started a speech about “the fans”, but was stopped in his tracks by Ora’s Chippendales-ish removal of his shirt, after which he finished up with a Mr Universe pose and then trotted offstage to have his photo taken (topless).
Immediately to Twitter they flooded, crying out things like “Girls who complain about "the objectification of women" incessantly on my TL are now posting half naked pictures of Zac Efron” and “I dont approve of zac efron's shirt being ripped off because it objectifying. what if someone did that to emma watson????????”
Actress Jessica Alba, actor Zac Efron (holding the Best Shirtless Performance award for 'That Awkward Moment') and recording artist Rita Ora attend the 2014 MTV Movie Awards. Photo: Christopher Polk
The fact that Efron had earlier promised to shed his shirt if by some miracle he bested Chris Hemsworth for the Best Shirtless Performance trophy seems immaterial to those convinced his bared abs are an example of “reverse sexism” gone mad.
I’ll get to the “sexism” claims, but first, consider this: nothing at these sorts of events happens by accident. Even “Nipplegate”, widely assumed to be an unfortunate mishap, was likely planned. The era of Soy Bomb-esque moments of true anarchy at awards shows and major events is well and truly over.
Couple that with the fact that Efron’s character in the upcoming Bad Neighbours spends a lot of time topless (including in one especially memorable scene alongside star Seth Rogen), and it’s not unthinkable to imagine that this was a finely-tuned “viral” marketing moment.
Hell, the MTV Movie Awards were already sufficiently aware of the power of this sort of stunt when they filmed promos for the 2010 ceremony starring Tropic Thunder’s Les Grossman (Tom Cruise’s finest performance) instructing Robert Pattinson to continue washing his hair with dirt - “Your filthy hair made you a star. Your filthy hair made me HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!” - in order to keep ratings high.
Plus, I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist (I totally am a conspiracy theorist), but just as celebs wear no-name ensembles to the Kid’s Choice Awards if they’re likely to be slimed, do you really think a dude who regularly ends up on Best Dressed lists would front up to an awards show wearing a press-studded chambray shirt by choice?
Thus, while it’s tempting to believe that Rita Ora was truly overcome with animalistic lust, it’s more likely that when you add Efron’s previous pledge to strip off, promotion for Bad Neighbours going into overdrive, and the whole “perfectly tanned torso and press-stud shirt” thing together, you get this situation.
Whether or not it’s “sexist” is another matter altogether. What’s entertaining (or galling; take your pick) about the “this is sexist against men” response to moments like this is that they rely on little more than “imagine if women were treated this way??” arguments - which, in the context of an industry where women are frequently expected to strip off, lose weight, and inflate their bosoms in order to gain the privilege of, say, being the latest bit of Transformers-adjacent eye candy, are all too easy to dismiss.
Imagine if women were treated like that? Honey, we don’t have to imagine it. Perhaps what worries these men so much about “reverse discrimination” and the like is that they’re terrified that if “the feminists win”, men will suddenly be treated in the same way they’ve treated women for centuries.