So the October issue of Vogue is about to hit the newsstands (Sept. 25) and already there’s been a hue and cry about Annie Leibovitz’s pix of a shirtless Tim Tebow rolling a huge tire through a rocky landscape. It’s an image that conjures Greek myths (Atlas, Sisyphus), Surrealism and homoerotic muscle mags. This is, of course, nothing new for Vogue goddess Anna Wintour, who invited the Teebster to The Met’s Costume Institute Gala this past spring and who is well-known for her appreciation of male beauty, though her taste tends to run to comely swimmers (Ryan Lochte) and especially, taut tennis players (her fave Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic).
Just as predictably, the blogosphere – which loves sex news it can wallow in while simultaneously feeling superior to it – is all over this one, with incredibly incisive posts about whether or not Tebow is just a decorative Kardashian and a fame whore as well as a hypocrite for “betraying” his chaste Christian values by going topless.
To me, this is just another example of our ambivalence toward the male body and of our need to keep women in their place. Women are displayed for public delectation. Not for men the role of sex object. No, they are the commanding doers of our culture. (Even when they are objectified, as Tebow clearly is in the Leibovitz photograph, they’re still doing something.)
Still, put up an image like this — which women and gays may particularly admire – and everyone gets flustered, even though the male body has been celebrated throughout art history and indeed may even once had pride of place. (See “Time to Regal the Male” in August WAG.)
There is also a more general ambivalence toward the human body that sees a disconnect between being a spiritual person and being a carnal one. And yet since the Renaissance at least, the central figure in Western civilization, Jesus Christ, has been portrayed in art as both suffering God and glorious male nude.
Maybe Tebow is not as simple as some people think. Maybe he’s using such photo spreads to call attention to his causes and beliefs. If so, he’d be one with the Renaissance artists, who found new ways to marry the sacred to the so-called profane.