Was John Cena’s flesh really the most problematic thing about the Oscars? Christians need to get better at picking their battles, says Jonty Langley


Source: Alamy

It wasn’t just Oppenheimer that had a winning streak at the Oscars. John Cena did, too. And some Christians were outraged.

Of course they were. You can always count on a small but vocal group somewhere to be absolutely fuming.

At last week’s Academy Awards, loveable goofball and wrestler-cum-actor, John Cena, did a skit with host Jimmy Kimmel while they presented the award for Best Costume Design. As part of the skit (a tribute to a 1974 streaker at the Oscars), Cena appeared on stage, ostensibly naked, covering his privates with the announcement envelope (It was a big envelope, and that’s relevant, not a compliment).

In the wings, Cena pretended to prevaricate over his decision to get his kit off, allowing for a wonderful piece of dialogue where Cena said: “The male body is not a joke!” and Kimmel responded: “Mine is!”

Cue minor titters at the deadpan discomfort of the naked man and big laughs at a solidly written gag.

What’s to get angry about? Well.

Tacky and offensive

Some Christians, ones who I have to assume shower with the lights off in case they see something untoward, were offended at the ‘nudity’. To be clear: at no point did we see any more of Cena than we would on the beach, in the wrestling ring or at a naturist camp for extremely shy people. Legs, chest, abdomen? Yes. Unmentionables? You can’t see John Cena’s.

But, as any woman who has been outfit-shamed knows, you don’t have to reveal much to still be judged. In this case, the judgement was that the gag was ‘tacky’, an appeal to shock value. Of course, the only people shocked by this sort of thing are ones who use the term ‘shock value’ in angry letters to the Beeb (or even our own Auntie Prem).

Was the scene actually a ‘satanic humiliation ritual’, forced on Cena?

And ‘tacky’ is quite a subjective term. The idea seems to be, though, that Christians should dress ‘with dignity’. You know: like rhinestoned televangelists or those righteously oiled-up muscle-men who tear phone books in half before giving an altar call.

Putting aside the obvious (yet historically ignored) arguments against the bizarre insistence on non-Christians adhering to religious rules they never subscribed to, it does seem a little odd that this is the part of the Oscars people found problematic.

Bigger issues

Not to sound too much like an overly dramatic movie trailer, but: In a world where countless people are starving while food goes to waste, an event where the obscenely wealthy parade on red carpets and discuss clothing more expensive than essential and unaffordable surgeries for ordinary folk, maybe a lack of clothes is not the tackiest thing happening.

And to be fair, some objecting Christians didn’t mind the nudity itself. They minded the ‘feminism’. Yes. Feminism is to blame, not for John Cena getting his no-doubt designer kit off to make us giggle, but for ‘double standards’. It’s hard to work out what these standards are, to be honest. After all, it’s not like, even at the Oscars, men were being singled out in order to parade themselves in a lurid flesh market. That pressure is still firmly on women.

Christians should dress ‘with dignity’. You know: like rhinestoned televangelists

But it is, perhaps, a little more reasonable to argue that if a woman had been in (or indeed out of) Cena’s shoes, this would have caused more of a furore. Except, would it? The ‘uncomfortably naked for comedy’ trope is a trope precisely because it was so common for women to be portrayed in this situation, sometimes for pure comedy, more often to titillate the male gaze and objectify the actress in question. There’s a fine tradition of men being portrayed in these positions, too, so perhaps the Suffragents can sit this particular issue out.

But hey, maybe there is a point in the idea that men’s bodies are seen as funny and women’s as objects of desire, and I’m sure that points to some problematic power dynamics at play. But was this skit really the problem? Is nudity (itself an abstract and post-fall concept for human beings who are all, scandalously, naked under our clothes) that big a deal?

A hill to die on

Most of us would accept that it’s an issue on which we can happily disagree and remain in communion. Most of us. But. Peruse the comments on articles and videos about the Cena skit and you’ll find naked truthers talking about how the scene was not a bit of fun but, actually, a ‘satanic humiliation ritual’, forced on Cena by Illuminati-adjacent elites for occult reasons I can’t guess at without without my own vision on Patmos.

You can’t make this stuff up. Except, obviously, people do.

And while the increasing numbers of Christians being pipelined into wild conspiracy theory communities is alarming and no doubt terrible for our witness, at least it’s comforting to know that there are worse reasons to be outraged at an award ceremony gag than that a man appearing shirtless.

How nude is too nude? Writer Lizzie Hutchison and Simon Ward, former COO of the London Fashion Council, chat to Premier’s Esther Higham about John Cena’s naked stunt and what biblical modesty really looks like. Listen now on premier.plus