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April 12, 2014

De-localization of sex in art: a theory
Posted by Teresa at 05:41 PM * 88 comments

Assuming a popularly-supported art form, i.e. one that has a broad audience, and survives on payments from individual members of that audience, or from advertisers who target that audience:

Banning sex in art doesn’t get rid of sex. It only de-localizes and diffuses it, so that it becomes ubiquitous, unacknowledged, dumbed-down, and largely normative.

I remember the liberalization of censorship of both text and images in the 1960s. The overall effect, it seemed to me, was that sex got less creepy. You could tell where it was and where it wasn’t.

Comments on De-localization of sex in art: a theory:
#1 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 06:24 PM:

I think this is true. But don't think it's necessarily limited to art or sex.

I went on a walking tour of the Amsterdam Red Light district a month or two ago, given by a retired policeman who used to patrol there. We were walking along one of Amsterdam's strangest places, where an old church (de Oude Kerk, in point of fact) faces a series of red-light windows* across a narrow, cobbled alleyway.

After four or five windows, we passed a small cafe, then, quite unexpectedly, a day-care center. The policeman told us that his kids went there before they were school-aged. And when the children in that day-care center brought treats in on their birthdays, they didn't just bring enough for their classmates and their carers; they brought extras and went along the row of red-light windows, giving them to the prostitutes, whom they knew as people. And the prostitutes usually had treats set by for the children.

I'm not sure precisely where this fits, but it seems to me that it does, somehow.

-----
* Amsterdam red-light windows: small rooms, each with a separate door onto the street. The doors are glass, and behind each one sits a woman in lingerie, lit by a red light. In the backdrop, you can see a narrow bed. They are the basic unit of prostitution in the district.

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 06:54 PM:

I think that in general, familiarity makes things less strange and powerful. Look at how much the banalization of homosexuality has made it more acceptable -- to the point where gay marriage is now a reality in many venues, where it wasn't even considered as a possibility at earlier points in our lifetimes. The demonization of S&M has been countered to some extent, but not completely. And all this because, mainly, people know someone involved in it -- the more the activity becomes seen as done by People Like Us, or even People We Know, the less scary it is.

Art is one aspect of this. Art has had something of the taboo about it for at least the past 150 years, in part because taboos make things exciting (and artists like doing exciting things). In both metaphoric and actual situations, the littoral is where speciation happens most strongly -- borderlands are where things are changing.

#3 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 07:32 PM:

I had cause today to remark in other premises that I am continually amazed at what Young People Today don't need to be closeted about. In just my lifetime, the following things have gone from shameful things to be hidden and never talked about when not among 'your own people' to ... well, to mainstream media properties and ordinary stuff that even clergypeople are not embarrassed to talk about in public:

* non-heterosexuality
* the existence and reality of birth control and 'safe sex' practices
* variant gender identity
* the existence of sexual desires belonging to women
* comic books as legitimate entertainment
* science-fiction geekery and cosplay (there is a man in a red state running for state legislative office whose opponents have publicised a photo of him dressed as The Flash -- and he blinks at them and says, "Yeah, so?")
* the fact that BDSM desires and practices exist
* the prevalence of rape and the fact that features of our culture encourage its normalization
* the fact that it's Not Ok in big flashing neon letters to speak derisively of non-white races and non-Christian religions -- when I was a kid even liberal allies unconsciously used language that would now be considered shocking slurs


There are still, of course, people who wish to enforce shame about and silence on these subjects, but far more mainstream figures are calling them reactionary nutjobs to their faces than used to when I was a child.

#4 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 08:08 PM:

I wonder how this fits in with what I observed during the 70's and early 80's--I encountered some people in school, and in criticism I read, who seemed to find sexual symbolism in all manner of things that didn't seem sexual at all to me. Things that sounded more like violence than sex, or which seemed to have other, better significances lurking just beyond what I could understand, and when I tried to figure that out, I got no help, just this Fraudian drivel. I did make couch stuffing out of one counselor who didn't knock that stuff off after I advised him to, but it was a supreme nuisance to my neutrois and not turned-on-by-anyone self. Nowadays it seems more confined to some of the po-mo academic crowd, who combine it with sheer unreadability.
To #3 add "recognition of sexual abuse of the young". I was...what I am, before that happened. But out of 13 people I know, all genders and ages, 11 claim to have endured that, and I wish I could change that number to zero.
You might also add "it's becoming not okay to dump on fat people." All right, back to the topic...

#5 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 08:16 PM:

Angiportus @4: And domestic violence. I don't think my 19yo sister has any IDEA how shocking it was to hear My Name Is Luka (YouTube video on mainstream radio, back in the day ...

#6 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 09:44 PM:

I recall reading, about 44 years ago, an argument that was, in effect, that sexual frustration made for good art. That the suppression of sexuality meant that the creative urge, which would, otherwise, be released through sexual expression, would come out as art. This strikes me as arrant nonsense.

#7 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 09:47 PM:

Fragano, #6: Me too.

#8 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 10:33 PM:

Elliott Mason @ #3:

"there is a man in a red state running for state legislative office whose opponents have publicised a photo of him dressed as The Flash -- and he blinks at them and says, 'Yeah, so?'"

Even better, that guy is a vampire LARPer. And is a Republican accusing his opponent of being too liberal.

#9 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 11:33 PM:

#5 " ...seemed to find sexual symbolism in all manner of things that didn't seem sexual at all to me..."

There was ditty about that at the time:

If its longer than its wide, its a phallus
If its longer than its wide, its a phallus
If its shorter than its wide, turn it on its side
Then if its loner than its wide, it is a phallus

#10 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: April 12, 2014, 11:35 PM:

Oops, that was comment number 4 I was replying to.

#11 ::: old enough to know better but still learning ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 12:30 AM:

Perhaps I'd better keep this nym for this.

Re # 6, #7 - "suppression of sexuality and creative urges". I was just thinking the other day about this. I too thought it was ridiculous. But...

Not deliberately, not by conscious choice, and after previous involvements with people while I was in college, I spent over 25 years without being involved with anyone.

And what happened quite soon, and I noticed not too many years after, was that I became much more creative. Much more time, many more designs, much more concentration on it. Sit down at 9 in the morning, "just to draft out a couple of things" - and get up at 4 or 5 in the afternoon, all stiff and chilly because of not moving for so long, and with a stack of paper full of designs.

And I was thinking at the time, maybe those old monks weren't so wrong about sublimation.

But now, I think it definitely wasn't sexual frustration. It was the time and mental energy I used to spend thinking about someone, or sex with someone. All freed up. And where it went was creativity.

And, I think, that's not where it would go for everyone. Hard as it is for me to understand, I know people for whom that is not their thing.

#12 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 12:49 AM:

old enough... @11: And an obvious question is: was that better? Which (as is often the case) elides the very basic question, better under what criterion of measurement? Where the measurement criteria can include "for whom?" as just one part of it....

#13 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 03:57 AM:

I think there are three things here that we're probably conflating: absence, displacement, and repression.

Angiportus @4 describes absence: sex is just not a thing at all. (But violence, in this case, is, and bubbles up in all kinds of places. And that's certainly something I've seen.)

Meanwhile, the example from old enough to know better but still learning @11 is genuine displacement. There was energy in that place, and it's channelled over here now. But note that it's transformed in the process. (I'm presuming that the designs in question are not full of elements remniscent of the secondary sexual characteristics of old enough's preferred gender and body-type.)

This is the ideal of Catholic clerical celibacy, by the way. And I've certainly seen priests, friars and nuns who have made that work for some or all of their lives.

But when it doesn't work, we end up in repression, which is also where we end up with a straight-up banning of an extant powerful thing. The energy disperses like groundwater, and bubbles up untransformed in all kinds of unexpected places. And it erodes and undermines innocent relationships, creating great sinkholes where we once had functioning elements of the community.

#14 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 08:02 AM:

One sign of living in the future is that you can have a man casually mention his husband on Radio 4 while being interviewed about something completely unrelated to homosexuality or gay rights.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 09:06 AM:

old enough to know better but still learning #11 & abi #13:

I have the feeling that creativity and sexuality are both complex things. Two aspects of my creative life have burgeoned thanks to having a stable, loving relationship and deep emotional security. Sexuality is part of that, I've no doubt

#16 ::: James Moar ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 11:42 AM:

(there is a man in a red state running for state legislative office whose opponents have publicised a photo of him dressed as The Flash -- and he blinks at them and says, "Yeah, so?")

Shame there aren't any yellow states, we could have a man running for office who was photographed as the Reverse-Flash.

#17 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 04:50 PM:

This is a point on which conservatives, in my experience, are on average far more insightful than liberals. They get that this is happening, think it's utterly evil, and push back as hard as they can. So many liberals don't get that it's going on at all.

There's a counterpoint to this, raised in an old Boing Boing thread, which really cut through my dogma.

We were discussing Lenny Bruce and the liberalization of language when someone raised Lenny's idea that using the slurs and the insults took the sting out of them and made them harmless. This other cat pointed out that was generally not at all the case, that when bigots were desensitized to bigoted language, they could use it more often. He went on to point to a general coarsening of the language post-Lenny.

That last point depends, but the first point I think holds.

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 04:51 PM:

I brought this up on Twitter a couple of hours before I wrote about it here. What I had in mind were the samples of pre-code comics Saladin Ahmed's been tweeting. Some of them contain raunchy elements, but the overall feel of them lacks the ubiquitous sexualization of modern mainstream comics.

I've seen references to how Doc Wertham, the Congressional hearings on comics, and the creation of the Comics Code "cleaned up" the previously freewheeling comics industry. This is nonsense. Code-era comics wound up with a visual vocabulary in which almost all adult women had obtrusively sexualized physiques, they were depicted identically from their collarbones to their ankles, their breasts behaved like nothing found in nature, and their clothing often amounted to a coat of brightly-colored paint on an essentially nude figure (plus high heels). Good thing no one was actually having sex on camera.

Collective memory remembers the high points and the iconic examples (many of them back-formed, but that's a different discussion entirely) of 1960s popular culture. If you weren't there to see the ground-level stuff when it was on the newsstands, it's hard to convey how much formulaic encoded tease and suggestion and hint was present in it -- a sort of constant gesturing in the direction of sex that could never be followed through on.

A while back I was browsing the Arizona State Library's photos from that period, and was struck by the frequent appearance of display-only attractive young women at public events. I'd forgotten about that. Here are examples from the Post Office's campaign to introduce zip codes in the Tucson area:

Miss Zip Code, Tucson AZ
An upskirt list of reasons to use zip codes
Miss Zip Code takes her skirt off
Miss Zip Code encourages you to mail early
Miss Suzy Sunshine is also big on zip codes

No one's asking what these women have to do with zip codes. They're just there. The fact that they're pretty and are showing their legs is reason enough.

The page at the Arizona state photo archives that links to that campaign also links to the Postmaster General's campaign a few years earlier to get rid of plain-brown-wrapper smut in the mail.

===

As I said, I tweeted my theory. Shortly thereafter, Zak Jarvis replied:

Having spent a lot of time reading Victorian stuff lately, OMFG YES.

Yes. Especially newspaper stories completely unrelated. Of course, the 1980s weren't as much better as they wanted to be.

When depictions of designated sexualized figures look nothing like photographs of real people doing the same things, you haven't gotten rid of smut. You've just redistributed it.

#19 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 05:59 PM:

18
USPS booth babes?
From here, they're more shocking for how irrelevant they are to the campaign. Although, if it were being done today, they'd probably be showing much more skin, and the photos would include males in skimpy swim trunks.

#20 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 06:08 PM:

PJ Evans beat me to the "booth babe" punch, but the other thing I would note is that those women's thighs look a lot closer to mine in terms of both size and muscle/fat ratios than their modern equivalents' would.

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 06:28 PM:

20
Yes, they looked remarkably un-model-like by current standards. (In other words, they looked like real people, who may or may not work as models. The skirted-leg shots looked quite a lot like normal skirt lengths for that time.)

#22 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 07:16 PM:

Ah, there's more room here to talk about what I'd been seeing!

The nucleus of the observation was reading the original The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Now, I'm sure it's out there, but I had never seen any discussion whatsoever about the story being -- to my eye, at least -- a Fight Club level exercise in sublimated homosexuality. The good doctor is a somewhat older man who never married and spends all his free time with close male friends who also never married. Mr. Hyde lives low and does completely unspecified things of an incredibly low moral caliber. From the story, the only thing we know he's actually done is trample a little girl. But there's a really pervasive sense that whatever Hyde's mortifying transgressions are, they're sexual.

To an extent, this is coming at Foucault's repressive hypothesis from the other angle. I've always bridled at his assertion that the unnamed is freer, and this gives me a handle on why.

Foucault is arguing for a cultural cloaca.

I do like lizards, but not that much.

And what I mean by that is this: the Victorians could use 'discourse', 'discussion', 'communication' or even 'palaver', but instead the commonplace was 'intercourse', which had the same set of connotations then as it does now, just with different emphasis. None of those other words do. So there's sex, all vasocongested, right in the middle of completely unrelated discussion.

What's repressed is mixed together into an undifferentiated mass that gets stuck to everything because no one can talk about it. It's not just sex, it's also violence and coercion (as multiple folks have mentioned) -- all our cultural excreta.

This is all still a bit unformed in my head, but these links are two of the newspaper stories I was thinking of when I replied to TNH on Twitter.

(And a warning, these are both about actual murders and contain a good deal of gruesome detail, one with illustration).

June 13, 1906, the Denver Mountain News. Because, apparently, newspaper stories about a murder need a drawing of the murder happening.

October 12th, 1912. Cleveland Plain Dealer. What got me in this one is how lurid the detail gets when it comes to describing the defendant's wife seeing the pictures.

(Also, what do you call writing avoidance behavior that accidentally accumulates a novel's worth of research material you weren't originally looking for?)

#23 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 07:51 PM:

Teresa, #18: I doubt you would find a "conservative" today who would call any of those pictures either sexualized or inappropriate. The conservative definitions for those words have shifted dramatically.

#24 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 08:14 PM:

Haven't read enough 19th-century stuff to know much, but the part about all the unmentionable stuff getting stuck together and gunking up the works reminds me of my own sense that a lot of the time people like that counselor of mine were mushing together stuff that ought to be kept apart, that is, failing to see crucial differences--not just between different problematic things, but between those and the good or nice things.
And they would say that some "innocent" thing I was obsessed with, actually was or symbolized some "nasty" (to me) or at least trite thing that they were obsessed with. When this approached the level of metaphor rather than simile, I saw how a metaphor actually hides the metaphee, it makes one thing disappear by calling it the other thing. So there were 2 kinds of confusion going on at once, that between various kinds of unspeakables, and that between the unspeakable and the speakable.
But dragging all the nasty or problematic things out in the daylight might at least help us start telling them apart, and seeing how they can be undone.

#25 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 08:17 PM:

John A. Arkansawyer @17: I may be dense, but I'm having trouble understanding the referents of "it" and "this" in your first paragraph. Conservatives think sex becoming less creepy is a bad thing?

With regard to your second paragraph, I think there are a number of different ways that people can become desensitized to something formerly shocking. Sometimes, Bruce's tactic of exposing the infection to light and air leads to greater awareness and discussion; sometimes it just causes more harm.

I also think there's an interesting interaction between this theory, and Ada Palmer's recent piece considering historical accuracy and historicity in the 2 Borgia TV series. She touches on how historical dramas struggle with the contrast between what is shocking today, and what would be shocking in the period being depicted. I haven't distilled my thoughts any better than that, I can only recommend the article (which I think I originally found via PNH's tweet).

#26 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 09:03 PM:

Conservatives think sex becoming more acceptable is a bad thing, Jeremy -- so they oppose sex becoming more acceptable. Which means they oppose sex becoming less creepy. Because (in general, and way overgeneralizing) they think sex outside of marriage is a Bad Idea.

#27 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 10:26 PM:

Tom, #26: More specifically, they think that sex becoming more acceptable for women is a bad thing. The rules concerning sex outside of marriage for men have generally been enforced more in the breach than the observance*, but anything that looks like women taking control of their own sexuality is anathema.


* Unless the man in question is of the opposing political bent. Then it's Katy bar the door.

#28 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 11:16 PM:

Angiportus #24: I like "metaphee", though I think that would normally be called the referent of the metaphor.

I very much agree that suppression leads to obsession. America has had such issues with sex from the beginning, precisely because of its deep cultural divide. Basically, America was founded by an awkward coalition of religious fanatics¹ and dope-smoking Freemasons (with the Quakers providing a bit of overlap). Since those got stuck under a single government, we've had the puritans² and libertines (later assisted by advertising) repeatedly provoking each other³, and maintaining roles as each other's Designated Bad Guys.

¹ AIUI, looking for someplace where they could persecute unbelievers in peace. :-~

² Lower-case, AIUI the actual sect by that name was more complicated than their stereotype.

³ Fr'ex, "How dare you show yourself like that in public?" "How dare you tell me what I can wear in public?"

#29 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 13, 2014, 11:22 PM:

old enough... @ 11 (& followons, especially abi): displacement works in some cases; in others, it doesn't. ISTM that expecting it to work usefully may have been a previous age's version of today's belief in standardized academic testing; there are some good-looking results, but nbody knows (or even asks) whether they've lost even better results by Procrusteanizing the population. (There was a news story within the last week or so about corporations complaining that they couldn't find enough people who were good at the sort of creative, self-starting, etc. things that tests can't cover; I'll post the link if I find it and winkle it out from behind a paywall.)

TNH @ 18: cf Halvorsen's complaint in "The [Widget], the [Wadget], and Boff" that sex is omnipresent, up to "a girl in her underwear with Stilson wrenches for sale". Possibly it did catch the attention of people who wouldn't otherwise attend/think; cf the "pissed fly" (attributed to Schiphol at a panel at Confiction, but damfino where it came from originally); that doesn't make it any less annoying to the rest of us.

#30 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 02:46 AM:

Zak 22:

I still want to see or write a version of Jekyll/Hyde where all of Hyde's paramours are male -- consensual, well-paid and of age -- to see if that substitution alone works.

#31 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 07:03 AM:

John A. Arkansawyer @17: This is a point on which conservatives, in my experience, are on average far more insightful than liberals. They get that this is happening, think it's utterly evil, and push back as hard as they can. So many liberals don't get that it's going on at all.

[I could say something about conservatives here, but I like my vowels so I'll just say:] You're wrong. We get it, think it's an improvement, and we approve of it.

---

Zak @ 22: Jekyll/Hyde being gay turns up in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (at least in the paper version, dunno about the film). It's explained in the Annotations (scroll down to annotation for page 15, and NB! Spoilers!).

#32 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 08:09 AM:

Jeremy Leader @ 25: Sorry. I was too short. I mean the sorts of things that Elliott Mason lists @ 3.

Maybe it's just a southern thing, but there is a stark age divide among my liberal friends here between those who get that openness and those who don't. I don't mean they don't get it so much as they don't see it when they're looking at it. Possibly it's that the younger generation, especially those who are benefitting most by that openness, are less liberals than something further on. That would suit me just fine.

Roy G. Ovrebo @ 31: Generalizations will misrepresent someone's reality. If I've done so to yours in a way that's unreasonable, my apologies. Again, my perceptions on this point may be a southern thing.

It's really not fair for me to use the word conservative when what we have now on the national stage are right radicals.

#33 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 09:17 AM:

I'm not even slightly kidding that the terminology viewed as hippie and accepting and transgressively egalitarian when I was 7 (taught to me by my mom to avoid me learning offensive terms) is, in the main, considered offensive now. Because we've moved on that far. Kind of how like John Paul II was a radical liberal rabblerouser in his youth and a reactionary in his old age, without having shifted his opinions much.

What's a Red Queen's Race if the landscape is outpacing you?

#34 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 09:20 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 26

I'll just be polite and say that I see no evidence that conservatives[1] "think sex becoming more acceptable is a bad thing."

Conservatives in general think that sex does not justify doing things that are otherwise wrong (lying, harming others), but the most sexually conservative people I know are no more opposed to sex than vegan anti-bulimia advocates are opposed to eating.

To the thread in general, I'm finding the discussion fascinating--I've been thinking about some of the same things with regard to violence. Ares and Aphrodite--the gods of not thinking clearly; I'm very much not a devotee, but they can't ever be ignored.

1) The exception is some theological strains within Catholicism; if we were 500 years ago, "conservatives think sex is at best a necessary evil" might be true.

#35 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 09:52 AM:

John A Arkansawyer @ 32: It's me who should apologize for flying off the handle. But really, it might have been the case a few years ago that liberals (or social democrats) were unaware of what's at stake, but by now the "conservatives" have shown their true colours everywhere.

#36 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 10:17 AM:

cgeye @ #30:I still want to see or write a version of Jekyll/Hyde where all of Hyde's paramours are male -- consensual, well-paid and of age -- to see if that substitution alone works.

It would be a very different take on the story, since it would suggest to most modern audiences, that Hyde isn’t really evil. All the adaptations I can recall tend to make him a decidedly hetero Jack-the-Ripper-type serial killer.

#37 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 10:27 AM:

Sam Chevre @34 and Tom Whitmore@26 (and others)--

Especially here in the US, I think it's very important to distinguish between the average, run-of-the-mill conservative and the people getting paid to be pundits and television irritants and agents provocateurs. Just because Ross Douthat is Ross Douthat (or at least the version we are being treated to, courtesy currently of the NYT) does not mean that all observant Roman Catholic males in the US between 20 and 45 share the attitudes behind his somewhat off-putting remarks about sexuality and sexual expression.

Some of this public expatiation may well have some sincerity behind it. Much of it is bought and paid for, and is carefully curated and projected on the theory of "If the Left is for it, we must be against it". The William Donovans and Kathryn Jean Lopezes and Michelle Duggars and others of their ilk may be sincere in and of themselves, but their platform is provided by those with an intense desire to shape public opinion and control political and social outcomes.

We are delighted by the conservative candidate who likes cosplay. Want to bet at least some of us would find other points in common with him, if we were allowed to meet and talk in an environment that wasn't polarized--carefully, expertly polarized? The work of men like Roger Ailes at Fox News, Grover Norquist, and many others has been aimed at making sure we're all too angry and disgusted with each other to talk and negotiate--because the minute we all start find common ground and building bridges, their goals are compromised. It's the reason behind the political attacks from the Right on Republicans in political life who are willing and able to meet with and make deal with Democratic politicians--the minute there's an effort at making a deal in good faith, there is also an awareness and acknowldgement of common goals. The two sides must be kept separate and at odds at all costs, and public "Conservative" pronouncements on sex and sexuality are just one of the available tools.

This rule applies to issues surrounding sex and sexuality every bit as much as it applies to economic and social justice issues.

I have some thoughts about the points Teresa raises in her post, but they are complicated and diffuse and I haven't had much luck pulling them together yet.

However, do please remember that Real Conservative People may or may not resemble (in any or all particulars) those who are paid to be Real Conservative People in the public sphere. Also, current Real Conservative People are not necesarily the same as the Real Conservative People of our childhoods, and may or may not share their opinions and preferences. While we remember what we grew up reacting against, we should also rememeber these are not all the same people and not all are saying the same things.

(For a good example of this, look at same-sex marriage and parenting. Even Real Conservative People are deciding this is probably not going to take any skin off their noses, and many are beginning to resettle into positions ranging from not-my-life-not-my-problem to supportive; let us not forget Ted Olson's role in the suits against Prop. 8. My somewhat conservative brother can watch in amusement as his daughter-in-law's brother and his husband cope with the eruption of a toddler into their middle-aged lives, and he's far from the only person having that experience who wouldn't have anticipated that forty years ago.)


#38 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 12:04 PM:

First thing that popped into my head on seeing the title of Teresa's post was, "But isn't sex like politics--always local?" Then I remembered that there's such a thing as phone sex, which morphed into internet sex, and thought, drat, all I've got here is a back-of-the-room comeback and not an actual insight. But what the hell, nobody else has used it.

#39 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 12:38 PM:

Roy G. Ovrebo @ 35: My liberal friends get the magnitude of the stakes. In fact, I think they overestimate the stakes sometimes. Ruth Bader Ginsburg resign from fear so a judge further right can be appointed? That's ridiculous!

What I think they don't get is what the stakes actually are.

My very liberal church is full of older, boomer-era* liberals. Since we were the first established religion to perform same-sex marriages in the US, we have a lot of same-sex** couples and GLBT folk. We were and remain very forward-looking, for the eighties.

But when I say "genderqueer"? People think I misspeak. And so on.

A lot of Elliott Mason's list @ 3 is what I (and maybe I'm wrong) find radiates outside these folks' visible spectrum.

*like me? I guess. But I think of myself as a member of that thin, thin, came of age during punk rock and new wave, Blank Generation

**currently all lesbian, which I find curious

#40 ::: Encephalogistic ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 01:09 PM:

More than normative, I'd say. The diffusion of sex turns it in to game of sorts, a way for consumers to congratulate themselves on having discovered the (nominally) hidden erotic elements. They join the elite 'few' who are clever enough to see what's really going on, while simultaneously playing at the pretense of chastity.

I was born well after the 60's, so I don't have any direct experience of that media landscape. But training people to respond positively and erotically to unspoken assumptions seems like it might get complicated and squicky.

#41 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 01:10 PM:

CHip @29:
displacement works in some cases; in others, it doesn't. ISTM that expecting it to work usefully may have been a previous age's version of today's belief in standardized academic testing; there are some good-looking results, but nbody knows (or even asks) whether they've lost even better results by Procrusteanizing the population.

Yep. The problem is, from what I have heard and seen, that some people do displacement really well, and others really don't. And unfortunately, the medieval theological attitudes toward sex ("well, only if you're WEAK, and then you probably shouldn't enjoy it") meant that the former people were "more virtuous" than the latter, and a lot of the latter pretended/convinced themselves that they were the former as a result.

And furthermore, some people cross the displacement/repression line as their lives progress. I even know one person whose creativity works best in the winter if he's celibate, but in the summer he's more creative if he's not. (His relationships have consequently been...complex.)

I gather that there are techniques that one can use to improve one's displacement:repression ratio, but those require discipline in themselves.

It's complicated. How could it not be? People are complicated, sex is complicated, and creativity is complicated.

#42 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 01:22 PM:

Following on from John A Arkansawyer #39: Last year at WisCon there was a panel called "Intergenerational LGBT Dialogue". It was, um, it had some very problematic parts and could have benefited amazingly from having stronger moderation. Or just from having its panelists not being 4/5 over-50 white lesbians ... the sole under-40 queer woman of color felt incredibly stomped on in the conversation, and most of the "younger generation" input ended up coming from audience members rather than the panel.

The older panelists seemed to want to repeat, over and over, that We Kids had no idea How Good We Had It, because back in THE DAY (insert horrific story). Which was valuable, in spots; a couple of college-student activists in the audience got some perspective. But we also had to push back at the panelists using language that, well, it was progressive in the 80s. Or making assumptions that were progressive in the 80s, but implied that 1/3 or more of the audience members didn't exist ...

It's happening again this year and I have hopes for it. It has a more thorough moderator. All the panelists are, again, mostly female-identified (though there is a 30yo genderqueer woman on it). Assuming it doesn't go So Very Badly this year that we can never do it again, I really want to make sure at least one gay man and at least 3 people of color end up on the panel next year ...

#43 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 04:08 PM:

Tom #2:

I think it's important to remember that the mechanism you are describing is morally neutral--we become more comfortable to that which we see and hear more often, and that which is linked to people we admire or identify with. The same mechanism that now makes it shocking to hear a racial slur in public once made it shocking to see an interracial couple in public.

And this is probably the greatest power of the media (particularly television), for good and bad. The ability to create characters that desensitize people to things they used to object to, or to sensitize them to things they used to take for granted, is a very powerful thing.

And linking back to the original point of the thread, I have long suspected that the movie rating system causes movies to mix together sex and violence in some really unhealthy-for-society ways. (Think of the once-ubiquitous woman in the shower scene in violent movies, partly to keep the 18 year old men interested, partly to ensure an R rating.)

#44 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 07:34 PM:

@22: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as taught to my high school self 25-ish years ago, had a lot to do with gay assumptions: namely, that Mr. Hyde was "rough trade" and We Don't Ask About That. Of course, in the intervening 25 years I've forgotten most of what Mr. Hyde *did*: per Wikipedia gjb pnfrf bs zheqre ng yrnfg . I don't know what I thought the implied stuff was, at the time.

In vaguely related news someone on Facebook was trying to put together an '80s playlist with a kinky edge and the question came up, "Kinky now or kinky then?" I made the point that being gay was kinky, back then. Some of that may have just been that I was much younger. I get the feeling that exhibitionism these days is practically standard. As in "a really large amount of teenagers' phones contain nude pictures of themselves." It could be more talked about than happening, I don't know.

#45 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 07:48 PM:

My hobbyhorse in this herd is non-sexual friendship. It's common to vital in literature from 1900 back, and then got all Freuded up for a while (like Teresa's descriptions of post-Code comics women all being dressed in ... semiotics...). Now maybe it can come back, if we can imagine that the characters could have a romantic or sexual relationship or a non-romantic, non-sexual relationship.

I like albatross' point that familiarity can take either side of a moral issue.

#46 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 14, 2014, 08:42 PM:

@Clew no. 45: That one is all over popular culture. As in, Sam couldn't possibly have loved Frodo enough to go with him to Mordor if they weren't either having sex or wishing they could.

#47 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 02:17 AM:

Yup! Powers a lot of fanfic. And, while I think Sam and Frodo having a romantic bond is an interesting version of the story, it surprises me that the nonromantic `greater love hath no man' has so nearly vanished from our imaginative possibilities. (Maybe something from Buffy?)

I feel as though there's some causal link between women becoming real people and all serious relationships getting sexed up, but I can't nail it down.

#48 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 05:27 AM:

As a young and astoundingly ignorant adolescent in the 70s, I came to the not entirely insane conclusion that everything I didn't understand in pop culture was an allusion to sex. This had the immediate result of vastly increasing the amount of smut in my environment, not an entirely bad thing for a teenager, and also allowed me to catch the cue to laugh at a dirty joke. What it did not do was help me understand either the environment I was living in, nor did it answer very many of my questions about sex. I find it difficult to evaluate the current environment accurately. It certainly feels vastly more relaxed and less squicky, but how much of that comes from age and experience, I'm not sure. Not all, I think.

#49 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 08:35 AM:

@clew #47: If women aren't real people, the relationships with women aren't relationships with real people. Thus, relationships with men are inherently different than relationships with women.

On the other hand, if women are real people, well there's no way to distinguish one sort of relationship from the next, so suddenly they all might be sex. After all, if you have romance with some real people, how can you have friendship with other real people?

I say this half-sarcastically, but also half-seriously. Like you said, I can't nail it down, but it seems like it happened, and also that it is all very strange.

#50 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 10:03 AM:

Lydy Nickerson #48: I find it difficult to evaluate the current environment accurately. It certainly feels vastly more relaxed and less squicky, but how much of that comes from age and experience, I'm not sure. Not all, I think.

My impression is that we're having a second round of breakdown in social constraints. We went through this recently in the "so-called Sixties" (which ran over on both ends), and what happened was we lost a lot of the arbitrary rules we'd developed from prior history, but then we continued to figuring out what new rules we needed. This destabilization is happening for more-or-less the same reasons as the last -- technological change, enforced contact with other cultures, and a sense that our governments are going bad on us.

The big thing to realize is that in such a time, the young are pushing ahead, testing the limits - but not everything they try out is going to "stick". Some of it will, though....

#51 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 12:26 PM:

As a young and astoundingly ignorant adolescent in the 70s, I came to the not entirely insane conclusion that everything I didn't understand in pop culture was an allusion to sex.

Oh, me too. (Following story I've probably told before...) I remember not having a clue what all the "No nukes" graffiti I saw meant, and not wanting to ask because I was embarrassed at not already knowing the presumably-dirty word "nukes." I felt that graffiti-spraying was inherently a Bad Thing, so if graffiti-sprayers were objecting to nukes, nukes must be Good Things that were being maligned. I finally decided they must be homosexuals.

#52 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 01:06 PM:

albatross @43 said: And linking back to the original point of the thread, I have long suspected that the movie rating system causes movies to mix together sex and violence in some really unhealthy-for-society ways. (Think of the once-ubiquitous woman in the shower scene in violent movies, partly to keep the 18 year old men interested, partly to ensure an R rating.)

It is less accidental than that. I highly recommend the documentary "This Film Is Not Yet Rated", which investigates (via documentary and attempted reverse-engineering) the MPAA's system for assigning ratings to movies.

Female sexual pleasure on screen, even if it's only shown in a closeup on her face, is almost an instant R-or-higher. This is a consistent bias of the system. There are movies where a couple having sex are shown in tasteful-but-thorough silhouette from the side, and the male makes happyfaces, and then he apparently orgasms ... and it's only PG-13. But even one female orgasm-face is an R.

Lots of violence qualifies as only PG or PG-13 on the MPAA's current standards.

#53 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 01:08 PM:

I should note that a movie having a rating higher than R almost ensures it will only be shown in art houses in limited release -- and will therefore make almost no money. NC-17 and X ratings are used punitively towards indie filmmakers to get them to change their content in ways the MPAA approves of, even to the detriment of the story being told.

#54 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 03:14 PM:

Elliott 53: I don't think the X rating is given by the MPAA anymore. The NC-17 was established because unlike the X it could be trademarked; they learned from all the self-"rated" "XXX!" movies, which were actual porn.

I do want to agree with you about the MPAA (a despicable, corrupt, and dishonest organization in every way) using NC-17s punitively, and especially to ensure that queer content is financially penalized.

#55 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 04:22 PM:

The number of R rated movies went down a few years back after TV networks cut back on the hours during which trailers for those movies could be shown.

#56 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 04:26 PM:

Zak @22:

(Also, what do you call writing avoidance behavior that accidentally accumulates a novel's worth of research material you weren't originally looking for?)
One of my own worst work habits.

#57 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 07:42 PM:

I'm not sure this thread is the place for it - but I'm not at all sure it's not either, videlicet the premise of this thread, so - Teresa, where did you find that Robert Chambers illo?

Does it illustrate the kind of thing his characters start seeing all over after reading The King in Yellow? That could explain much.

(Also and even more tangentially, it totally makes me think of Vanessa in Something Positive.)

#58 ::: Clifton ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 07:49 PM:

... and never mind, because I see that our resident Heterodyne just answered that over in Open Thread 195.

#59 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 09:23 PM:

cgeye, #30 --

It'd be very interesting to do Jekyll & Hyde exactly as you say, and to treat Jekyll as the imposition.

Roy, #31 --

Oh good! It wasn't just me reading into it, then. Being a hardcore self-learner, I never have a good grasp of when I'm walking in others footprints. The comments there from Elaine Showalter (exquisitely appropriate name for the topic, too!) exactly mirror what I got from the story. At some point I really need to go through Nevins' annotations. Those look like great fun.

TNH, #56 --

Well, I'll take comfort in the company and buy some extra bookshelves. Now then, where do you buy extra walls?

Clifton, #57 --

Leyendecker is right on topic here!

I present for your perusal, this Leyendecker image. All by itself it's all kinds of sublimated, but when you add in the fact that the woman's face is the face of his life-long partner, Charles Beach, it adds that little something extra.

As an artist, I wish I could even describe how this image manages to convey the eroticism it does.

Leyendecker did what he did so well, it's hard for me to really clearly identify it as sublimation -- for his time, he was relatively 'out'. But his art carries so much of the cultural baggage that to me, it feels permeated.

#60 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 09:57 PM:

Elliott, #52: The way I heard it, back in the early days of ratings, was "A man cutting off a woman's breast is only an R, but a man kissing a woman's breast is an X."

#61 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 10:01 PM:

No, a man kissing a woman's breast can easily be PG, depending on how you shoot it. :-> All kinds of sexually-objectifying shots of women are PG or PG-13, but any shots of parts of men's bodies not clearly visible at public beaches, or any intimation (visual or otherwise) that the woman actually enjoys using her body for sex, and you're well north of PG-13 territory.

#62 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: April 15, 2014, 10:21 PM:

Encephalogistic at 40: ...a way for consumers to congratulate themselves on having discovered the (nominally) hidden erotic elements. They join the elite 'few' who are clever enough to see what's really going on...

For a while I felt that way about The Big Bang Theory. Then I decided that the slash-bait was so blatant that it took all the fun out of it.

#63 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 04:08 AM:

Whether such things are blatant depends to some extent on the audience. Every so often, I find myself wondering how ever some line got written, and into the final cut. It's not, to me, funny, and there is some obvious bigotry. It comes across as crude. And then I remember that I am in a different country, well educated, literate, and used to "colour" having a different spelling.

#64 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 04:42 AM:

Xopher @ #54:

I always thought "X" meant "not rated by the MPAA", so while a rating-of-sorts, it was explicitly not an MPAA rating.

#65 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 07:26 AM:

I don't think that's accurate, Ingvar. There have always been NR movies, and NR versions of movies that also exist in R-rated versions. But the MPAA gave out X ratings until they switched to NC-17.

#66 ::: dotless ı ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 10:11 AM:

Xopher Halftongue@65: My memory is that both statements are sort of true: "X" was part of the MPAA's rating scheme, but it wasn't an MPAA trademark; an "X" wasn't accompanied by an MPAA seal, whether that "X" was the result of an MPAA review or not. So, some films were submitted for review and got an "X", but it was also legal and common to use "X" to describe a film that hadn't been submitted for review.

#67 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 10:14 AM:

Zak @ 59

TNH, #56 -- Well, I'll take comfort in the company and buy some extra bookshelves. Now then, where do you buy extra walls?

You move into a large loft and use the bookcases as modular walls. At least that what's I do.

#68 ::: Jeremy Hornik ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 10:52 AM:

old enough @ #11
"As Balzac said, 'There goes another novel.'" --Annie Hall

#69 ::: Cassy B. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 12:01 PM:

Victoria @67, you have to be careful; books are HEAVY. Make sure the floor is rated for the weight...

#70 ::: Cassy B. doesn't see spam; sorry ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 12:02 PM:

Sorry; my nym stuck. No spam here.

#71 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 01:16 PM:

Cassy B. sees spam @ 69

I am. My modular wall consists of five 7 foot tall units alternating with four 4 foot tall units in a single row aligned over a floor joist that is in turn supported by a load bearing column. I also made a point of not double-stacking the books on the shelves. I've done that in the past with apartments lacking sufficient walls.

I have fabric blocking the wall's crenelation. The display niches have my 3D art as well as my plastic Valkyrie helmet / foam sword / bunny ear display. (long story)

In addition to my wall of books, I have an "art gallery" wall for my art collection. (one of the long walls has 0 windows) Not to mention an entry hallway hallway lined with hooks for my hat collection. The second floor was once a gathering space for a local lodge and later a dance studio. The hat-and-coat-hanging amenities are much appreciated.

The joys of living in 2/3rds of the second floor of a 19th century commercial building. I can (finally) see all of my books, but there is no built-in storage beyond the modern 2 sink vanity in the bathroom. There are no cupboards in the kitchen beyond the sink's framing bit.

It's a good thing I like the looks of modular storage.

#72 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 02:06 PM:

abi @ 41:
Somebody through a monastery had words for it:
   Tempore brumali/Vir patiens/Animo vernali/Lasciviens"
(from Carmina Burana). Interesting to see a real-life example. And you're particularly right about people convincing themselves that what they can do is virtuous and therefore what everyone ought to do; IMHO, that's one of the most visible faults of standardized testing.

albatross @ 43; the US ratings bizarrerie is just the recent expression of the US ... imbalance? ... wrt sex/violence; Sturgeon noted the slant (in Venus Plus X), and my family inadvertently ran into it when I was young and abroad (pre-MPAA, a Western that nobody in the US would have thought about was considered too violent for children in Denmark). I'm not sure it causes an unhealthy mix at the R level -- ISTM that R movies tend not to make as much money, especially since PG-13 was added -- but it was documented as causing shuffles around G (considered the kiss-of-death for age ~10+) vs PG (considered much more marketable). (This was some years ago; may no longer be true. Elliot@52's link may have more hard data on this, but I'm on a train and not getting through to it.)

Teresa -- was this prompted at all by the brief discussion of Ron Miller's costume photos over in Open Thread 195(?)? We discussed his comments about disappearing nudity, but may have given insufficient weight to the effect of crumbling covertness (vs, e.g., fans getting older or costuming becoming more competitive).

The shift also reduced puerile taboo-breaking in place of creativity. This was probably far more often mocked (cf "But how can you have intellectual content without four-letter words?" (Anderson, "Critique of Impure Reason") than found, but it made too easy ignoring anything that broke taboos.

#73 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 02:06 PM:

abi @ 41:
Somebody through a monastery had words for it:
   Tempore brumali/Vir patiens/Animo vernali/Lasciviens"
(from Carmina Burana). Interesting to see a real-life example. And you're particularly right about people convincing themselves that what they can do is virtuous and therefore what everyone ought to do; IMHO, that's one of the most visible faults of standardized testing.

albatross @ 43; the US ratings bizarrerie is just the recent expression of the US ... imbalance? ... wrt sex/violence; Sturgeon noted the slant (in Venus Plus X), and my family inadvertently ran into it when I was young and abroad (pre-MPAA, a Western that nobody in the US would have thought about was considered too violent for children in Denmark). I'm not sure it causes an unhealthy mix at the R level -- ISTM that R movies tend not to make as much money, especially since PG-13 was added -- but it was documented as causing shuffles around G (considered the kiss-of-death for age ~10+) vs PG (considered much more marketable). (This was some years ago; may no longer be true. Elliot@52's link may have more hard data on this, but I'm on a train and not getting through to it.)

Teresa -- was this prompted at all by the brief discussion of Ron Miller's costume photos over in Open Thread 195(?)? We discussed his comments about disappearing nudity, but may have given insufficient weight to the effect of crumbling covertness (vs, e.g., fans getting older or costuming becoming more competitive).

The shift also reduced puerile taboo-breaking in place of creativity. This was probably far more often mocked (cf "But how can you have intellectual content without four-letter words?" (Anderson, "Critique of Impure Reason") than found, but it made too easy ignoring anything that broke taboos.

#74 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 03:00 PM:

Angiportus @4: sexual symbolism in all manner of things that didn't seem sexual at all to me. Things that sounded more like violence than sex

This point will doubtless have already been made, but I would speculate that those people are doing the usual conflation of sex and power.

Speaking of things that have changed in one's lifetime, I remember my dad using the expression, openly and entirely without irony, "When rape is inevitable, lay back and enjoy it."

Fragano Ledgister @6: That the suppression of sexuality meant that the creative urge, which would, otherwise, be released through sexual expression, would come out as art. This strikes me as arrant nonsense.

Well, if you strike the "sexual" qualifier, I have certainly found, personally, that certain classes of frustration do drive my artwork, and that when those needs are satisfied, I feel much less driven to do art. But (for me) I think it's less a "sexual" thing than a "frustration" thing.

See also what old enough said.

abi @20: those women's thighs look a lot closer to mine in terms of both size and muscle/fat ratios than their modern equivalents' would.

A coworker commissioned me to do a "refrigerator portrait" for her to help motivate herself to eat more healthfully. Her idealized self? Marilyn Monroe. What impressed me was that this lady actually has some meat on her bones. She'd be regarded as positively zaftig by modern standards.

#75 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 07:21 PM:

dotless, you can't trademark a single letter. That's why the X rating couldn't be a trademark of the MPAA.

#76 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 07:39 PM:

Xopher@75

I'm pretty sure that the MPAA DID trademark the G and R ratings.

My understanding is that they made a deliberate decision NOT to trademark the X rating.

#77 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 16, 2014, 07:58 PM:

According to Jack Valenti, when the film rating system was developed in the 1960s, replacing the old Hays Production Code, all o the ratings were single-letter: G, M, R, and X. The first three were trademarked within the context of the film rating system; the last was deliberately left untrademarked to provide a standard form of description that could be self-applied by filmmakers who didn’t want to submit their films for rating.

The National Association of Theater Owners then demanded an adults-only rating to protect then from prosecution under local laws; the X rating was pressed into service for that purpose.

#78 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 01:05 AM:

This may be relevant to the discussion:

eschergirls.tumblr.com

Dedicated to the bizarre distortions inflicted on the female form in comics, computer games, etc., Eschergirls has identified a series of stylized poses and insults to good figure drawing that apparently code for sexiness. For example, in much of the genre, every woman must at all times be twisting her spine so that her breast cleavage and buttocks are both clearly visible. If she isn't doing that, she must be arching her back at an angle that is only possible in the real world with a cracked spine. This is all in the service of showing off the character's secondary sexual characteristics. On the other hand, actual secondary sexual characteristics are verboten. Instead of realistically swelling or swaying breasts, women in these genres have balloons, often without nipples; instead of hips, quite often women are drawn with snakelike proportions, but squatting, to provide the illusion of hips. And their bellies go beyond model thinness to remove all possibility of even putting organs in there.

As I posted over there, it goes beyond denying that women are people in human bodies. It goes beyond lust for human bodies that are denied human agency. It reduces women to a collection of loosely connected bits. The bits are all that matter. They matter so much that they must be placed front and center as often as possible.

#79 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 04:48 AM:

Entirely appropriate to a discussion of art, sexual imagery and the public space, Finland will be launching a series of "Tom of Finland" stamps.

#80 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 05:52 AM:

Jacque @74 - It's not just people that confuse sex and power. I had a pair of neutered tomcats who persistently tried to mount each other; in the behavioral context it seemed to be more about dominance than sex.

#81 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 12:25 PM:

Jenny Islander, #78: Way back in the 80's, I noticed that sf/fantasy covers often showed women in cringing or sprawled poses, even though these were not physically impossible, while the men looked like they were doing things or about to start. It was like the women were all shrinking, and the men were expanding, or something. Of course, I was also bemused by the way a weapon-brandishing hero was often shown with his legs planted so far apart it looked like he was going to fall on his ass any second.

#82 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 01:50 PM:

@Angiportus no. 81: It's been noted at Eschergirls and elsewhere that a male character who is stricken unconscious looks unconscious, while a female character is nearly always drawn in a pose that, if her eyes were open, would read as, "Come and get it, big boy."

#83 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 03:10 PM:

Angiportus, #81; there's research evidence that sitting in a big, space-taking way will increase one's blood testosterone, where sitting in a small slumped way will increase -- oh, I forget which chemical signal, but one with an opposite effect. So everything teaching ladies to be small and contained and men to be relaxed and big tends to reinforce men-aggressive, women-not behavior.

Jenny Islander, the Liefeld exaggerations make sense to me if the characters are three helium balloons -- breasts, buttocks, and hair strung on one rope and covered with a Lycra sock. (I *can* face a mirror showing my breasts and rump at the same time, actually, and I don't look anything like the eschergirl drawings.)

#84 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 05:30 PM:

Angiportus @ 81 and clew @83

For a time I had a male roommate who was doing the self-teaching thing with Art for Comics because he wants to write comic books. (The fact that he dropped his art major for history in college because they weren't teaching him the right kind of art also needs to be taken into consideration.) Because I showed an interest, he would share his source material/text books.

The reference books I considered good were male and female athletes dressed in spandex outfits and posed in superhero poses and photographed. The more questionable ones were the How to Draw Nudes. Muscles, heads, faces and other non-secondary sex bits looked realistic in each book.

The sections on how to draw breasts left me thinking that I'd seen a whole lot more naked human mammary glands (and in a much wider variety) than the authors had. To quote my friend who is a professional corsetier... fitting a bra is like fitting a room for carpet. You may need 40 square feet, but it's helpful to know if you need it in a 4x10 configuration or a 8x5. Unlike one nude studies author, I know that A-cup physics/geometry are not the same as DD-cup physics/geometry. And, yes, the author used geometry and (tea cups) in explaining how to draw the right kind of breast.

So now I have a "china bra" joke to my anti-grav bra joke collection.

#85 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 17, 2014, 07:07 PM:

clew @ #83: breasts, buttocks, and hair strung on one rope and covered with a Lycra sock.

A fool there was and he made his prayer/ to a rag, three balloons and a hank of hair?

#86 ::: Angiportus ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2014, 10:30 PM:

Various observations. #82 Jenny Islander, I am reminded of that picture of the Teresa of Avila statue and how everyone seemed to consider that sexual but to me it looked like she was unconscious. I seem to recall reading that O-faces were as likely to be squinched-up as slack.
Clew, #83 and Sarah, #85, wouldn't that be 4 balloons?
Recently I got to see "Frozen" and though it was mostly pretty good I was repelled not only by the impossible thinness of the heroines but their facial profiles--at once prognathous and tiny-faced, like a pug dog, not like something that could chew or breathe--and how their voices were so high even when grown-up. You'd expect to find some midrange types in there somewhere. It often seems to me like every woman on tv or in movies, has the same darn voice. I know no one ever sounds as good as they think they do, but still.
Movies--I don't watch many on my own, but at the plasma center I have been getting a cinematic education. The other day we got the beginning of something that had a man taking off most or maybe all of his clothes for a religious rite, with the viewing angle strategically cut, and of course it didn't do much for me except reassure me that other people didn't look that fabulous either--but then he started doing something that looked gruesome and painful, and whoever was in charge of the screens immediately yanked that movie and put on "Frozen" instead. A fellow donor said that nudity was verboten at that place, but I found it odd that gruesomeness wasn't the sticking point instead, as no one under 18 gets to set foot in there to start with. Today we were treated to something with plenty of shots and blows and explosions, but no bare flesh, except for abused faces. I would rate it B for Barf Bag. Makes me wish I could afford one of those pocket gizmos with full Internet, and watch science programs or something.

#87 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: April 18, 2014, 11:41 PM:

The times I sold plasma they were showing slasher films. Really, people want to look at gore while their blood is being drained? Ew.

#88 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2014, 06:18 PM:

Anne Sheller @80: It's not just people that confuse sex and power. I had a pair of neutered tomcats who persistently tried to mount each other; in the behavioral context it seemed to be more about dominance than sex.

In my house it's guinea pigs. The boys don't do this, because I don't let them out together, because they'll try to kill each other. But this is common when one of the cohabiting girls goes into heat.

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