The Tragic Objectification of a Boy
“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.
Posted on July 22, 2021, in objectification and tagged Bjorn Andresen, Death in Venice, Kristian Petri, Kristina Lindstrom, Luchino Visconti, objectification, The Most Beautiful Boy in the World. Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.