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Gentlemen of Hollywood, your tool does not impress

Let us now name famous men who are alleged to have engaged in masturbating in front of women – Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K. and James Toback. There might be more. It's hard to keep track. Louis C.K. has admitted to doing it.

It's peculiar, repulsive behaviour and according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, it falls under a form of "paraphilia" – "recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviours generally involving non-human objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one's partner, or children or other non-consenting persons."

It's also about the power some men believe the penis holds. It's a type of exhibitionism that narcissism begets and it originates from a powerful status some men believe they have achieved that allows them to have no empathy for the victims.

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The entertainment world is rife with penis worship. No area of industry or commerce sees so much of what anthropologists call "primate crotch display." That's ordinary behaviour in the animal world and we see it in day-to-day life, with guys man-spreading on subways and buses. In show business, this primitive behaviour is done blithely, without thought and it's about dominance. Male dominance.

It's hard to believe there will be significant improvement in the status of women in Hollywood while this constant, personal, solipsistic pleasure is taken in penis worship. It's like expecting animals to suddenly behave as thoughtful, empathetic humans. You don't have to be Desmond Morris (the zoologist who wrote The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal) to see widespread animalistic qualities in showbiz and understand that many famous men – from actors to producers – try to seduce or assault through dominance, or simply dominate, and that's usually about glorifying the penis.

Call it alpha-male body language or call it poisonous toxic masculinity, it is everywhere in showbiz. There's a kind of male personality that thrives in the business. Often, the behaviour seems benign and boyish to the audience, but it is astonishing that even in the current climate, a watershed moment, we're told, the obsession with guys' genitalia goes on and on. Take a recent edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the one that celebrated Jimmy's 50th birthday. It was just one long birthday party, with Kimmel seated in a childishly garish seat for the whole show. And there were 37 guests, almost all men.

First, Adam Sandler came to celebrate Kimmel reaching the age of 50. Right off, he informed Kimmel that his testicles would now become "longer than the Blade Runner movie." Ray Romano came on to offer advice and informed Kimmel that his testicles were going to get hit by his little kids running round. But, Romano said, "It doesn't hurt so much because there's slack there." This long bit went on and on, the point always being to tell Kimmel, "Your testicles fall down." Then, various celebs read out "Mean Tweets" about Kimmel including one about "his dick" being like his nose.

Along came Ben Affleck and director J.J. Abrams. They introduced a hand-drawn comic-book work Kimmel had created at age 10. Then, Abrams joked he'd made an all-star movie of the work and was there to introduce the trailer.

In the trailer, many famous actors played the super-hero characters. There were only two women, Jennifer Aniston and Wanda Sykes. It was goofy and ridiculous. But the climax was fascinating. Matt Damon, as the evil figure, announced that the 10-year-old Kimmel had not drawn genitalia for the characters. So he lowered that part of his costume around his waist and showed off what was either his penis sheathed in some plastic material or some doll-like prosthetic, but it was still a prominently displayed dangling penis thing.

All great fun. Just a birthday party for Jimmy. Utterly benign and just boys engaged in being boyish, some might say. But it struck me as wildly inappropriate to anchor the material in so many jokes about the penis and testicles and then have Damon flaunt real or fake genitalia as the pinnacle of the spoof. Heaven knows what women thought about it.

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If this is truly a watershed moment and accountability that is under way, then it cannot be all about women feeling empowered to name and shame powerful men. It has to be about male behaviour, too. There's a difference between predatory sexual behaviour and penis jokes on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, but the culture of ceaseless, casual penis celebration cannot be disentangled from the Hollywood culture of male exhibitionism, assault and exploitation of women. It's all toxic. All of it.

To the 35 male guest stars on Kimmel's birthday show and to all the penis-swinging, blustering guys who pursue, torment and seek to dominate women, we need to say this: Gentlemen, if that is what you are, we know you have a penis. Keep it in your pants and, right now, keep the penis jokes in your pocket. Nobody will care if you stop with the jokes. You'll still have a penis. We know that.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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