Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Pornography, fashion models, and Tea Party politics

I was talking the other day with a friend of mine about pornography and certain images that were being shown and we were having a debate about the details of the pictures and whether or not they were titillating. I finally just said to my friend it’s a fantasy. Some people might go out and act on those fantasies, but for the rest of us, it’s a release of those fantasies. I might find something arousing or titillating that I would never actually do. Unlike, say, the models in magazines or on tv, who also represent fantasies about what women should look like, wear, be willing to do. The difference is that we take the fantasies of advertising seriously whereas the fantasies in pornography, we don’t necessarily. This is why women starve themselves to death, have surgeries, etc. in an effort to look like the women we see on television and in fashion magazines. We know this. We’re told this repeatedly. And yet, we forget it. We take the world that advertising creates, whether it’s selling us investing opportunities or clothes or alcohol, as real.

The late great comedian Bill Hicks, in his DVD concert Sane Man makes fun of the notion of women appearing in adult magazines as “models.” I’ll spare you the further, yet funny, details of his routine, but he clearly spoofs the ideas of them as models. But if we actually think of the women in adult magazines as models, then that allows us to rethink this whole concept of “legitimate” models, advertising, etc., to break the spell, no, the fantasy of our lives, that they dangle in front of us, which most of us will never even begin to achieve.

And then I started thinking (and talking, because I am an external processor who thinks outloud) that this really can be extended to politics, for example, to the Tea Party movement. They see things on tv, especially Glen Beck or Sarah Palin, and it appeals to a side of them that longs for simpler times, which weren’t really simpler but just long enough ago to seem that way. These people tell them that they’re on their side, that they believe in the same values that they do and for some reason, possibly because Beck and Palin are white, seem to be middle class-oriented, and represent all the things that they aspire to. But what they seem to forget is that it’s a fantasy that they’ve bought in to and that they’re participating in. It looks real, the same why an airbrushed anorexic model looks real. It might even feel real, like someone who meets their favorite actor and actress and says “wow, she’s just like a real person, like you or me.” But she’s not. And Glen Beck is not. And Sarah Palin is not. And Barack Obama is not.

Guy Debord, in Society of the Spectacle wrote, in 1968, that the spectacle takes our gestures and steals them from us, replaying and repeating them back to us. We no longer recognize our gestures as our own.

“The externality of the spectacle in relation to the active man appears in the fact that his own gestures are no longer his but those of another who represents them to him. This is why the spectator feels at home nowhere, because the spectacle is everywhere.”
Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Section 30

It’s the ultimate simulacrum. Taking our very real desires and re-enacting them to us. Some people know this and cynically turn away from politics, or participate while complaining that there is no real difference between the candidates. Others know that politics affects all of us, on a very real level. And though the differences may be slight, there is a minute difference between two candidates who represent our own desires back to us.

It’s played out on the very unreal screen of television news. At times it’s like an Oliver Stone movie with lots of big crowd scenes and speeches, like The Doors Movie or JFK.. Other times it might be on a slightly smaller scale. We’ve seen these images so many times that it feels familiar. It feels right. That’s what the spectacle, the fantasy draws upon. The familiar, the easily recognized and repeated gestures that come before us, that we know symbolize, even signify certain attitudes. They are cultural short cuts. But it is all a fantasy, just like the models in a pornographic shoot, the car safely speeding down a winding road (while the adman tells us not to try this at home), the fashion model selling us lipstick, etc.

People need to figure out what they really need. And then to fight for that. What if we had no politicians or pundits leading our rallies? What if we, the common people, stood up and spoke for ourselves? Isn’t that what our democracy is supposed to be about? Ordinary people talking about their struggles, their homes being foreclosed on, their struggles and fears around immigration and origin, their vision for the future (not nostalgia for a past that never existed and will never exist again), their desire for the jobs that they want, etc. Others have said it before, better than I. We have to break this spell, once and for all, that television and image culture have over us, to recognize every minute of it as fantasy and nothing else.

It’s ok for a fun escapism, whether it’s a conservative watching Glen Beck or Bill O’Reilly for a few minutes of soothing succor or a liberal watching a documentary of Woodstock and longing for the good old days of protest and rebellion. It’s all been packaged for us. But it’s not real. Repeat after me. It’s not real. It’s not real.

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