The Tragic Objectification of a Boy

Bjorn Andresen

“I wish I were objectified” yearned a male BroadBlogs reader. Other men have said the same, if less directly. I eventually turned the discussion into a blog post, warning: be careful what you wish for. 

“Objectification” and “desire” are commonly confused. Beauty, charisma and confidence can each spark the latter, which is likely what these men wanted: to be desired.

Sex objects may be desired but they are also treated as if they are merely objects that have no thoughts or feelings to fret over. All that matters is someone else’s pleasure or purposes.

Consider the tragic objectification of one boy.

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

Bjorn Andresen was 15 when he won the role of boy ingenue for the 1971 film “Death in Venice” which gained him the title, “the most beautiful boy in the world.” He may have been. But the resulting attention pretty much ruined his life.  

That moniker is now the title of Kristina Lindstrom and Kristian Petri documentary of Andresen’s life. And it isn’t pretty.

Bjorn lost his parents at a young age and gained a “stage grandma” who pushed him into showbiz just as director Luchino Visconti was putting Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice” on the silver screen. The story revolves around a stunning youth who catches the eye of a great writer who at first feels liberated and uplifted by his desire but grows increasingly obsessed with him. Mann describes the boy’s hair as honey-coloured, his eyes the colour of water, his beauty like a Greek god, and his being cold as a statue. This is the look and feel that Visconti sought to capture.

Like the fictional “great writer” the real-life director Visconti, who was openly gay, was captivated by Andresen’s beauty. For the screen test Visconti asked him to strip down to his underwear, walk around and look into the camera. The 15-year-old was shocked by the request and giggled nervously but complied. Such direction would be viewed as sexual harassment of a minor today. 

During filming Andresen said the director was pretty much focused solely on “go, stop, turn around, smile.” A bit like Roger Ailes’ FOXNews casting couch. Visconti also forbade his crew from looking at the boy, hoarding his beauty for himself.

Yet when Bjorn and Visconti toured to promote the film the director made base jokes about the boy’s lost looks — the now 16-year-old having aged a year. He didn’t care whether he hurt the boy. But then, an object’s feelings don’t matter. And while objectifiers are typically less attractive than the objects they demean, the object is held to narrower standards. It can be hard to hold on to self-worth when it is tangled up in fleeting beauty, whose standards are so cramped in the first place.  

But others were not so particular, still finding the youth lovely for many years. That did not help. 

After a post-premiere banquet his team left a very drunk Bjorn alone and easy prey for a group of guys who brought him to a gay club, where he was in no shape to make responsible choices or defend himself from advances. 

Soon after, he was marketed as “the most beautiful boy in the world,” which catapulted his celebrity. But as his fame rose his happiness fell. He went on a whirlwind international tour, including becoming a hit singer in Japan. The pace was so hot and fast that he was given pills to keep up. Meanwhile, a parade of men treated him like a piece of meat, or big game to be won, as he put it years later. By the time he was 21 Bjorn was receiving money and gifts from men who he thought were friends or nice fans, but now he understands they were merely using him as an escort “trophy.” One Parisian set him up in a lovely apartment and provided Bjorn with money and gifts. Looking back he says, “I felt like some kind of wandering trophy. I wanted to be somewhere else, and be somebody else.” In later years he became a depressed alcoholic.

He now calls the whole experience a “living nightmare.” 

Sexual objectification, existing for others’ purposes and not our own, makes it hard to grow into full human beings, or to even see yourself behind the projected object.

Related Posts
Anything Good About Being A Sex Object?
Does Porn Objectify? Experts Disagree
Why Men Objectify

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 22, 2021, in objectification and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. Objectification is not a good thing and people should not want to be viewed like a trophy. Bjorn Andresen was only fifteen years old and his director, Visconti sexually harassed him by making the poor kid strip down to his underwear and walk around the room for Visconti’s own sexual pleasure. Bjorn was labeled, “the most beautiful boy in the world”, and this wasn’t a good thing for Bjorn. Being viewed as an object or trophy just because you are beautiful is never acceptable. When people objectify another individual, they view that individual as empty headed and incompetent, unable to process emotions and what’s going basically. Bjorn grew up unhappy because he was given money and gifts left and right by random strangers, which he grew up to learn that those individuals who adored him so much were objectifying him. This can cause anyone to go down a miserable path in life and can also affect someone’s mental health severely.

  2. To know that one life changing movie will make a person’s life turn in a total nightmare. I feel so horrible for Bjorn Andresen and what he endured during his youth. He was objectified for his boyish charm and pretty face. The director of the film “Death in Venice” is who started the objectification upon him. He wanted him to himself which made me believe he was bisexual. Mainly men were attracted to him because of his looks and labeled in a wrong sexual way. Later in years the attention from the men became worse and it led Andresen to drinking and not being as successful as he should have been. The entire experience led him to his downfall in his career

  3. My heart hurts for Bjorn, this type of situation is devastating no matter who it affects. People deserve to be known for something other than their looks, especially when they are so young. We see the objectification of women everywhere, told to dress a certain way or act a certain way to appear small and vulnerable to men. What about inferiority is so attractive? I think it ties back to a man’s need for power in order to feel superior, since they don’t have the capacity to feel empowered within themselves. Regardless, this behavior is uncalled for and extremely demoralizing. The objectification of men, women, and children, is something that needs to be eradicated from society, but what are our first steps?

  4. It is such a heartbreaking story of Bjorn Andresen. I agree with one of the commons saying that there is a longstanding history of objectification towards women in many cultures, so sometimes people are not sensitive enough to spot objectifying when it happens. Objectification could be used in many ways, including but not limited to sexual assault, like what happened to Bjorn Andresen, and rape, verbal abuse, etc. Some might not even be directly connected with sex, with statements like women are born to bear kids, and some might be sugarcoated. But in all cases, the manipulators do not care for the objects’ feelings or emotions rather than their own goods. Respect as human beings are nowhere to be found in those cases. I hope people would care for themselves more when feeling objectified.

    • Yes, this is the key to the problem with objectification: in all cases, the manipulators do not care for the objects’ feelings or emotions – They only care about what they think is good for themselves.

  5. Bjorn’s story is most likely how a lot of men and women feel being overly sexualized /objectified I feel like that topic in general is very hush hush and swept under the rug and almost kinda normalized when it shouldn’t be just because girls get objectified more than a guy may be objectified doesn’t mean their emotions and feelings are invalidate when it does happen . I haven’t seen one person that genuinely cares when a guy gets objectified because women are so use to that , the reaction is so low when it happens to the opposite sex . It shouldn’t be low it should be a equal reaction Bjorns story is very sad because although he was coined the most beautiful boy in the world he wasn’t happy , and that title led to his alcoholism not to mention during this he was a minor which is a whole different disturbing topic by itself . In order for society to understand both genders . The genders themselves have to understand each other when things like this happen

  6. After reading this blog it made me realize how much people don’t understand what it means to be objectified . I believe that this is a topic that we should be more open to having in society as well because every time someone complains about being only wanted for sex. I have heard people make fun of them ( especially guys ) and tell them that they should shut up and stop complaining . The story of Bjorn Andresen is very heartbreaking it doesn’t matter who , no one should ever be put in a position like that .Bjorn Andresen’s story is eye opening to the experiences celebrities must feel often . Which is why I also believe when people like to objectify celebrities as well it is not okay . In the end we are all humans that want to be treated with respect and love . What people want to feel is attractive for who they are because a lot of people nowadays deal with low self esteem issues because of the high demands from society when it comes to beauty standards . Unfortunately though I believe this can land people in the darkest holes in their lives because there is a difference between being desired and being found attractive rather than being straight up objectified .

    • Yeah, since women are so commonly objectified we take it for granted, including take for granted our misunderstandings. So I think it helps to understand better what the concept means when you see it happen with a male.

  7. When men say “I want to be objectified!” what they MEAN is “I want to retain the respect that I receive as a male AND I want to be desired as well.” Those feelings are normal, but that’s not what “objectified” means.

    If they actually got to be “objectified” – if their worth was determined by their compliance with arbitrary beauty standards, if they were disrespected and ignored, and they were deemed “worthless” after they no longer comply with arbitrary beauty standards (because they aged or had a major surgery, etc.), I don’t think they would enjoy being “objectified.”

    Because men are usually the ones doing the objectifying, they tend to be blind to the impact of those on the receiving end of being objectified.

    • Yeah, there is a lot of confusion among both men and women about what objectification is. Both women and men commonly confused objectification and desire.

      Thanks for helping to make the clarification!

  8. Patricia Gallardo

    The tragic objectification of a boy who was known as the most beautiful boy gained him international recognition and was used for other’s purposes. Bjorn was left alone and drunk that other’s prey picked him up and took him to a gay club where he was in no shape to make a responsible choice. This blog reminds me of Spanish actresses who were obligated to sleep with the directors to gain a part in a soap opera. Some actresses who wanted to be famous were told they had to have dinner with businessmen or politicians to be a part of their network “Televisa.” Some actresses claim they were raped by the producers and were used as sexual objectification. When they speak up they are canceled from the show and are no longer ever allowed to participate in any of their network shows. Bjorn was used and no one cared about him. He was used as a trophy as he states to the point that he suffered depression.

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