I recently watched a movie from the 80's. What struck me about it was that there was a lot of casual shirtlessness. It was an old Disney movie, so you know it's all innocent and child-safe. Now, movies today show a lot of shirtlessness, but it tends to be treated quite differently. Shirtless men in movies these days are mostly put on display, deliberately included for eye candy. Often, it seems quite contrived that the buffest star in the movie gets plenty of skin time. The stars train and preen for their big screen appearance. In more "innocent" films, shirtless exposure may be minimized, even when the plot calls for it.
But what I saw here was casual shirtlessness. It wasn't contrived, it was quite natural. They are not super-buff stars, with their own team of trainers, and their perfect tans. They are normal guys, men and boys. They can be seen in some scenes simply milling about a crowd, and no one treats them differently or gives them strange looks.
The young boy in the lead role is seen to sleep shirtless.
I actually suspect the modern presentation of shirtless males as something sexy and provocative is partly to blame for the decline in casual shirtlessness seen in everyday life. The Running Shirtless blog covered a similar topic, brought up in a comment. Thus, while shirtless men are increasingly seen in media and advertising, they become increasingly taboo in daily life. Taking off your shirt is seen as showing off, inciting lust, provocative. We have a special tolerance for things we see on TV, too. We overlook language on TV that we would object to in person. In the same way, we might let children watch a movie where the male star is flexing his shirtless muscles, but then get offended when a guy goes shirtless in the park. "Doesn't he know there are children here?"
I hope we as a culture can combat this tarnishing of innocence. Why should shirtlessness be something dirty, or even provocative? Can we return to the innocence I saw in this movie, and learn to enjoy casual shirtlessness again?