Look of the Week: Is Saltburn star Barry Keoghan's naked Vanity Fair cameo progressive or passé?

Barry Keoghan in Saltburn.
Barry Keoghan in Saltburn. Photo credit: Amazon MGM Studios

There's method dressing, and then in the case of BAFTA-winning Irish actor Barry Keoghan, there is method un-dressing.

The Banshees of Inisherin star set the internet alight when he made a divisive nude appearance in a video promoting Vanity Fair's latest Hollywood Issue cover last week.

In a clip posted by the magazine on X (formerly Twitter), the camera pans across suited and booted stars from Bradley Cooper and Natalie Portman to Colman Domingo and Lily Gladstone before landing on Keoghan - in nothing but his birthday suit.

It was a nod to Keoghan's latest role (and one explosive final scene) in British director Emerald Fennell's Saltburn, a salacious depiction of class, power and desire set at Oxford University in 2007.

Barry Keoghan completely naked on the cover of Vanity Fair.
Photo credit: Vanity Fair

After a chance encounter on campus, Keoghan's character Oliver Quick soon becomes obsessed with his beautiful, charming and exceedingly rich classmate Felix (played by Jacob Elordi) and attempts to infiltrate the impossible world of British high society. If you're yet to watch the bloody, bathwater-soaked film, forgive us for spoiling the fact Keoghan gets naked in that too.

But while some were grateful that a few more seconds of Keoghan's rear had been committed to film, others thought the cheeky exposé a little passé. "We have, quite literally, seen it all before," wrote London's Evening Standard of the social media stunt. While others on X dubbed the big reveal as "cringe", gimmicky and even pleading for dignity on the actor's behalf: "The way the media has reduced his performance to shock nudity is so childish."

Keoghan, too, had mixed feelings about this newfound level of celebrity exposure (pardon the pun). "It's crazy," he told Vanity Fair. "It can be detrimental to the mind and your mental state if you read into it too much or you look at too much stuff being said. But I wouldn't go there if I wasn't prepared for that, or if I wasn't open to receiving what people want to say. I think it shows an act of maturity in your craft, and if it justifies the story and moves it forward, why not?"

Whether you were a fan of his surprise state of undress or not, the cover video offers an interesting insight into our expectation of celebrity nudity. While naked male magazine covers are rare, they're typically infused with a certain sense of humor that protects them from public rebuttal.

Much like Keoghan baring it all, male nakedness is used as a gag - it's bold, sassy, and above all, never to be taken too seriously. Actor Neil Patrick Harris, for example, starred on the cover of Rolling Stone in May 2014 wearing nothing but a black satin bow tie and a matching bowler hat hanging precariously from his crotch. It's the kind of brazen, smug nudity where arousal isn't the goal, rather more likely is a giggle or an eyeroll.

Women, on the other hand, have a long and complicated history of sexualized depictions of nudity. From the dedicated Page 3 sections of British tabloid papers (featuring full-page photoshoots of topless women) that were banned less than a decade ago, to Playboy centerfolds, public female nakedness has been designed to titillate.

But perhaps the tide has changed. In an evermore conservative era, where even Gen Z are questioning the validity of sex scenes in movies  (as one UCLA study suggested) has the buck (or butt) finally stopped?

Not for Keoghan. "I think (nudity) is true art. It really is," he told the magazine. "And it's true vulnerability as well. You're really kind of putting yourself out there in the most vulnerable state. It's beautiful to look at."

* Editor's note: Featuring the good, the bad and the ugly, Look of the Week is a regular CNN series dedicated to unpacking the most talked about outfit of the last seven days.