Thursday, September 25, 2008

Consumer Self-Taxonomy

The other day I was cruising around on the INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY and accidentally rolled my mouse over an orange, rectangular ad that was at the top of the window at which I was looking. No big deal, right? Well, simply moving the cursor onto this orange area started off a chain of people (some recognizable, i.e. Pharrell Williams and Eva Longoria) identifying themselves as PCs and telling me the interesting jobs they do, clothes they wear, ways the help the world, et cetera. At first these messages were a bit disorienting, but I soon identified the rectangle as part of the new MICROSOFT marketing campaign, no doubt in response to the recent APPLE commercials that show a young, cool-looking JUSTIN LONG identifying himself as a MAC and ragging on the square, nerdy man who is understood to be a PC.

After having my interest piqued by this internet snippet of the ad, I consulted YOUTUBE to see what other incarnations this campaign has taken and I viewed the minute-long television spot. This version had even MORE interesting people proclaiming themselves to be PCs and giving examples of all the opportunities one can encounter by choosing MICROSOFT instead of APPLE.

Shortly after experiencing these advertisements, I found myself sitting in class waiting for the professor to arrive when two classmates, one of whom was seated behind his APPLE laptop, brought up the new MICROSOFT ad campaign and the two of them began to chide both the commercials and the company itself and even went so far as to denounce those who happen to use a MICROSOFT product. They listed off a few new products that each company made and proclaimed APPLE to be the superior electronics producer.

In meditating on the nature of these advertisements and my two classmates' conversation I have been left dumbstruck by how seriously some people take their products. WINDOW's new campaign shows people from every walk of life DEFINING themselves by the computers they choose to buy and use and my classmates seem to have adopted this method of self-taxonomy. In my AMERICAN AUTOBIOGRAPHY class and my '50s AND '60s CINEMA class we have been reading about the SHAMELESS CONSUMERISM that seemed to take over America in the 1950s. In each class we have seen the purchasing of now standard appliances like the refrigerator or toaster oven turned into a family event in which friends would come to said family's house to see the new appliance in action. Many other people in my class who speak up about the subject distance themselves from these kind of events because now it seems ridiculous get excited about a toaster, but what does not seem to get mentioned are the countless other items that are put on pedestals and coveted in modern America. The once-exciting oven or vacuum cleaner has now been replaced by items like MACs, PCs or VIDEO GAME CONSOLES. Families still invite friends over to herald their new purchases, but these products have now taken the form of BLUERAY-PLAYING,HIGH-DEFINITON TELEVISIONS or similar items.

I did community service at a nearby Christian thrift store, HIS HOUSE MINISTRIES, a few days ago and two other people with whom I was working (one a young man of about 18, the other an older fellow probably in his late thirties) immediately started up a purchase-charged conversation when the younger one was examining his IPHONE (pictured, right) whilst the elder talked about his IPOD. I listened to them talk for quite a while that day and the conversation seldom strayed from the subject of CELLULAR PHONES, TELEVISION SETS and CARS. In between discussions of products, each seemed hard-pressed to come up with conversational topics beyond the WEATHER or the FLOW OF TRAFFIC.

I cannot tell if the same CONSUMERISM that took over America in the 1950s is increasingly conquering minds or if its rate is staying the same, but simply selecting new products and new ways to target the CONSUMERS. There is another recent phenomenon becoming prevalent at least in the greater COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA that involves people BUYING huge decals emblazoned with logos of, say, REESE'S PEANUT BUTTER CUPS and getting them placed onto their cars. People are becoming so wrapped up in what they buy that they are actually PAYING the company to ADVERTISE its product!

Here, where I should be providing closing words, this whole situation leaves me at somewhat of a loss for them. I often attempt to end BLOG POSTS with either solutions or questions, but I cannot seem to conjure either right now, only these above observations.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What is a Sex Pervert?

About a week and a half ago I watched WOODY ALLEN's Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask (1972). This film is centered around frequently asked questions about SEX and there is an ensuing short story or skit for each inquiry. Whilst watching the segment for the fifth question,"What is a sex pervert?" I became interested because I have never actually known the answer to this question. I have heard the word "PERVERT" used plenty of times and feel I could even use it effectively on my own, but I have never actually heard a definition of what makes a PERVERT a PERVERT.

Lucky for me, though, in my film class, Cinema, Sex and the City 1914-1934 (not to be confused with the one mentioned in my last post), we have been reading and discussing MICHEL FOUCAULT's 1978 thesis, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, which seeks to explain how and why SEX has come to be repressed by the POWERS THAT BE in western society. In the beginning of Part 4, Chapter 3, FOUCAULT addresses how there is no "...all-encompassing strategy, valid for all of society and uniformly bearing on all manifestations of sex." In approaching this problem, FOUCAULT distinguishes four great strategic unities which he sees as "...form[ing] specific mechanisms of knowledge and power centering on sex." These unities are: a hysterization of women, a pedagogization of procreative behavior and a psychiatrization of perverse pleasure; the last one of which contributes to the discussion in this particular post.

FOUCAULT defines "PERVERT" as an instinct that is set aside as separate in physical and psychic realms. He says that "... a clinical analysis was made of all the forms of anomalies by which it could be afflicted; it was assigned a role of normalization... with respect to behavior; and... a corrective technology was sought for these anomalies." So the pervert is an anomaly in the world of sexual normalcy, such as a PEDOPHILE or FOOT-FETISHIST, which were the examples used in my class. According to FOUCAULT, these anomalies are to go into a clinical setting and come out either "cured" of their sexual demons or can at least control them in public.

My professor also brought up SIGMUND FREUD's ideas on PERVERSION. He said that FREUD uses the same sort of definition for the word (one who deviates from the sexual norm), but does not think that these deviations should be in any way "treated" or "cured." It is perfectly natural for sexual preferences and ideas to differ from one person to another and the people who should really be "on the couch" are those who fail to acknowledge this acceptibility of qualities deemed "PERVERSE" in the public eye. Let me provide full disclosure here in saying that I have no citation for these Freudian views. I am simply working on what I understand from my professor's words on the subject.

For one more view of what a makes a PERVERT a PERVERT, I consulted the OXFORD ENGLISH DICTIONARY which produced this definition of the word "PERVERSE": "Of a person, action, etc.: going or disposed to go against what is reasonable, logical, expected, or required; contrary, fickle, irrational." So, one of the most respected dictionaries in the world gives a fairly broad definition of the word that echoes FOUCAULT's definition, but also throws in the words "fickle" and "contrary," which I suppose would rope in anyone who has an unstable, fluctuating sense of sexuality and one who does the exact opposite of what is considered the SEXUAL NORM, which, I suppose, would be around HETEROSEXUAL, VAGINAL INTERCOURSE.

Now, back to the WOODY ALLEN film: the aforementioned story that comes after the question about perversion shows a black-and-white game show that features a panel of celebrities, that includes one REGIS PHILBIN, asking yes or no questions in attempt to guess the contestant's particular perversion. As it turns out, the contestant apparently GETS HIS ROCKS OFF by exposing himself in public places (pictured,left; please excuse the poor photo quality). Immediately after the game portion of the show, the host reveals the winner of a mail oriented contest in which contestants send in their fantasies and the best fantasy will then be enacted on the show. Said winner is a Hasidic Jew whose fantasy involves his wife getting on her knees and eating pork while he is scolded and chastised by a dominatrix.

So with all of these examples of SEXUAL PERVERSION, which one can we decide on as THE definition for this mysterious, yet ubiquitous, word? If PERVERSION is deviation from the SEXUAL NORM, then what is this SEXUAL NORM in the modern western world? Well, I consulted the ever-trustworthy source of WIKIPEDIA for an answer and guess what it is? WIKIPEDIA says that, "In the West, many people have relaxed the traditional definitions of normality, choosing instead to define normal sexuality as any sexual practice which does not involve what are regarded as sexual perversions." This takes us in a big circle that again gives rise to the questionm, "WHAT IS A SEXUAL PERVERT?"

In ALLEN's film, the contestant with the hidden PERVERSION appears as a kind old man who looks like he a could be a loving grandfather. The only reason he is a PERVERT is because he is on the fictional gameshow, What's My Perversion? He does not seem strange or threatening until we hear what the man's PERVERSION is. But wait, let's take the answer in two halves: "He likes to expose himself." This does not sound so bad; maybe the man just likes to show his partner his genitals and he likes to hear feedback and admiration. Okay, no big deal. But "IN PUBLIC!" This is where the old man could really upset some people. Does this mean that a PERVERT is not a PERVERT unless he or she acts upon the sexual drive and projects it on to a non-consenting partner? I think this may have something more to do with it, but what if the person in question has desires to expose his or her genitals in public, but stifles the urges. Is this person still a PERVERT in the public eye (considering that the public somehow knows about the person's urges) and can this person be accepted in society because the stifling of his or her urges creates the illusion the he or she fits into the SEXUAL NORM?

I have been writing this BLOG POST on and off all day and still feel as though I am still pretty far away from an answer to the question at hand. I would appreciate some help if anyone has any incite into what it means to be a SEXUAL PERVERT.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Streetcar Named Desire and the "Age of the Chest"

Wow, folks. I cannot believe it has been over two months since I last posted. I never wanted to have such a massive gap in my BLOG's life, but a small bout of WRITER'S BLOCK turned into an extended period of BLOG APATHY, which I hope will end with this post. I am not proud of my inactivity, but I have come to terms with it and am ready to move forward.

Let me catch you up to speed with my whereabouts as they have fluctuated since we last spoke and I think it will help to put my (hopefully) forthcoming POSTS into perspective. I have departed from the WINDY CITY of CHICAGO after an eductional, enjoyable and enlightening two month stay. I have traveled back down to VIRGINIA, gone on a family beach trip in NORTH CAROLINA, gone back to VIRGINIA and driven back to my school in SOUTH CAROLINA, where I have been for about the past month. I have returned to work at the Columbia-located AMERICAN APPAREL and have been in my JUNIOR YEAR of school for three weeks.

Before addressing the MEAT of this POST I would like to DEDICATE it to the anonymous user who encouraged me to update my blog. Thankyou.

Today I read KRISTEN HATCH's essay called "Movies and the New Faces of Masculinity" for my '50s and '60s Cinema class. In this essay, HATCH addresses the arrival of actors MARLON BRANDO and MONTGOMERY CLIFT on the HOLLYWOOD scene in 1951 and how both of these actors completely shattered the proconceived notion of the Hollywood star and introduced new acting methods, behavioral norms and ideals about MASCULINITY. She discusses BRANDO and CLIFT's refusal to date Hollywood starlets for publicity, their shunning of materialism and, most important of all, the fact that each of these men changed the societal norm for MASCULINE BEHAVIOR both on and off the screen.

HATCH addresses BRANDO's role in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and highlights the actor's repeated shirtless appearances throughout the film. Apparently in this film (which I will be watching tomorrow for my class) BRANDO's character, STANLEY KOWALSKI is featured in soaking wet shirts that cling to his well-toned body and is displayed prominently without any kind of torso covering. This may not sound so RADICAL or OUTRAGEOUS in modern times, but HATCH states that, "The film's cinematic celebration of Brando's chest was recognized by cultural commentators at the time as a turning point in the representation of male body." She goes on to say that a 1958 PLAYBOY article jokingly references A Streetcar Named Desire "...ushering in the 'Age of the Chest' by making 'American chest concious.'" This portion of the book features this picture (at left) as an example of the actor's look circa Streetcar.

HATCH goes on to describe how this role flipped around LAURA MULVEY's theory of film's gaze being from a male perspective that objectifies women (which actually wasn't written until 22 years after) which would put the film's director, ELIA KAZAN, way ahead of the film culture curve. BRANDO's body in Streetcar was actually deemed "too desirous" and the Production Code Administration of that time had to downplay much of the film's sexual content. In concluding her essay, HATCH explains how "...the revolutionary possibilities of [Brando and Clift's] nonconformity were disregarded as childlike, unmanly" and that their mere physical presences onscreen served to "...offer new and unheralded erotic possibilities."

WOW! This absolutely blew me away when I read it! I know MARLON BRANDO was a big sex symbol in his day, but the fact that he completely revolutionized the way most women FETISHIZE a male is unbelievable! Just think of all of the advertisements for WORKOUT MACHINES, DIET PILLS, GYM MEMBERSHIPS, ATHLETIC APPAREL, etc. that all feature muscly, well-toned men as the desirable physique for men to embody and for women to possess. ALL OF THESE ideals stemmed from BRANDO's insecure, immature character in this 1951 film. This is basically proclaiming that he is the BEATLES (pictured, left) or the MIGUEL DE CERVANTES (pictured, above right) of anatomical builds.

It seems absurd to think that a man is depicted onscreen with no shirt on, something EVERYBODY does EVERY day (and there had to have been MUSCLY MEN around in the form of, say, construction workers or wrestlers), and causes a complete EROTIC REVOLUTION. I guess that the rest of the modern western world and I are immune to these sort of happenings now because we are so used to MASS CULTURE shoving different ideals in our faces, and I suppose these standards had to start in places like the film adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire. MASS CULTURE is a very recent imposition onto the world it already seems strange to think of one specific image as having such a vast effect on people.