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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
Nearly 15 years ago, an episode of “The Sopranos” showed just how emasculating some men consider cunnilingus. Uncle Junior’s lover Roberta tells him that he’s “a real artist” when it comes to “kissing down there” — but instead of puffing up his chest with pride and telling all his fellow mafiosi, he warns her not to dare spread the word. “They think if you suck pussy you’ll suck anything,” says Junior. “It’s a sign of weakness and possibly a sign that you’re a fanook.” Tony finds out and humiliation ensues. Junior gets so enraged that he considers having his nephew murdered — all over some oral.
Just contrast that scene with Michael Douglas’ recent proud profession about going down.
Sure, the mafia may have a stricter definition of masculinity than the rest of society. It’s also true that there are counter pop cultural examples from the late ’90s; take Big Pun’s rapping about his “thick tongue, known to make a chick come.” But that “Sopranos” episode nonetheless expressed a widespread cultural attitude that has diminished tremendously in the last 15 years — and how! But also, seriously, how?
Douglas isn’t the first male star to go there: Lesser-known actors like Justin Long and Jamie Bell have in recent years hinted at loving the act (the latter even declared it a manly duty to be good at it). Movie heartthrobs have gotten in on the act — from Justin Timberlake to Ryan Gosling (there’s a GIF, you’re welcome). TV — or in the case of Netflix, “TV” — has been, um, eating it up. Just in the past year, there was Kevin Spacey going down on Kate Mara in “House of Cards” and the character Jon Snow being heralded a “proper lover” on “Game of Thrones” for “the thing you did with your tongue.” My favorite example is from “Scandal”: The president of the United States calls cunnilingus his “superpower.” (A man with an arsenal of nuclear weapons considers pleasuring a woman with his tongue to be his superpower? Word.)
That’s not even to begin cataloging the cunnilingus scenes on “Girls,” although one stands out — the one with Shosanna’s crush from Jewish summer camp who loves to go down (a scene that, personal anecdote, I happened to watch with a male friend who announced with macho swagger, “We Jewish boys know how to do it!”). As Ian Kerner, author of “She Comes First,” which he describes as an ode to cunnilingus, tells me, ”I feel like I can’t turn on HBO these days, or some other cable network, without seeing a guy under the sheets as he stimulates his partner to orgasm.”
“Certainly there does seem to be a cultural shift toward the act,” says Kerner, whose legendary book has remained in Amazon’s top 25 sex books since it was published in 2004. “Lately I’ve noticed a proliferation of [online] reviews from men who are willing to praise it,” he says. “This has not always been the case.”
Part of the change can be attributed to greater sexual literacy and dawning awareness about the importance of clitoral stimulation. After all, men’s masculinity has long been tied to their ability to satisfy a lover, but in recent history it’s become harder to pretend that some simple in-and-out is enough to satisfy most women. There are certainly some bigger cultural changes at play too, like “sexual liberation,” such as it is, and women’s increasing erotic agency. Kerner also points out that “there’s so much more cunnilingus in porn these days and not just female-friendly or lesbian channels.” It’s become a porn standard, and “porn always has a trickle-down effect on sexual mores,” he argues.
None of this is to say that cunnilingus is new (people have been putting their mouths on each other’s genitals since always) or that we’re super-evolved when it comes to vaginas (we still mock them for being too smelly, too hairy, too big, and refer to them by the same name we call cowards). But the act — and being skilled at it — has increasingly become equated with masculinity. It’s not quite culturally tantamount to a big dick, but it’s getting close.
Unfortunately, this isn’t necessarily a good thing for the ladies. As Lux Alptraum, CEO of Fleshbot, points out, “The pairing of oral skill with manliness makes cunnilingus less about the woman receiving it than about the man performing it” and “the woman’s pleasure more about validating the man’s skill than about the woman herself having a good time.”
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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