(NB: I've seen this movie once, though very recently, and the Conan sequence was edited for time in the version I saw. Any errors in my memory are entirely to be expected from my brain, and I apologise for them. I'm happy to be corrected if my facts are wrong.)
In the wake of the recent controversy around a scene in the new Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, in which Science Officer Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) strips down to her underwear, writer Damon Lindelof took to Twitter to offer an apology to fans and moviegoers offended by what they saw as exploitative female bodily display. “I copped to the fact that we should have done a better job of not being gratuitous in our representation of a barely clothed actress,” he wrote on his Twitter feed (@DamonLindelof). “What I’m saying is I hear you, I take responsibility and will be more mindful in the future.” He did, however, qualify the apology thus: “We also had Kirk shirtless in underpants in both movies.” Likewise, director JJ Abrams, appearing on US talk-show Conan on May 22 2013, posited not only the Kirk scene - in which actor Chris Pine is seen shirtless in bed with two scantily clad alien women - as a balance to the Marcus scene, but also suggested that a further sequence, cut from the theatrical release, in which villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) showers as the camera pans in on his naked upper torso, effectively answered accusations of sexism.
I want to use this post to argue that these counter-scenes - what I’m referring to as the Abrams Defense - do not, in fact, redress issues of sexual objectification and female bodily display. In doing so, I want to bring in issues of power, dominance, and the Gaze, and to look at the disavowal mechanisms built into the Kirk scene that effectively allow him to reclaim his objectification in a manner denied to Marcus.