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July 24, 2003

Charlie B Part 4

Friedrich --

Ain't it always the way? The moment I pull my sorry self together and put up links to the first three installments of Charlie B's why-didn't-I-think-of-that-myself "50 Things That Made Me What I Am" series, he goes and puts up Part 4. (It's readable here.) It's a fascinating posting on the topic of the gay-porn artist Tom of Finland, whose work clearly means more than a little something to Charlie.

Full disclosure: I admit that I'm a fan of Tom of Finland's too. Talk about an artist who did what he did once and for all, and made it his own. Even if the objects of my own desire are of a different sex, I find that there's very little art that's so direct and unapologetic about the way the male erotic imagination works -- its love of the exaggerated and the heroic, its dick-centeredness, the way raunch and rapture overlap and blend, the combo of sweetness and grottiness ... Has there ever been a straight artist who was so eloquent and direct about the male erotic urge? Bukowski, maybe. A couple of film directors: Bertrand Blier and Marco Ferreri. A few comic-book artists: John ("Horny Biker Sluts") Howard, especially. But many others? It seems that guys, and even guy artists, tend to moderate their tendencies when they have to take gals into account.

Which reminds me of an exchange I once witnessed. A woman said to a gay friend of mine, "Why do so many of you gay guys tend to be so promiscuous? Is it something about gayness?" And my gay friend said, "No, it's something about guyness."

Did I ever tell you that I once went to a movie theater to see a documentary about Tom of Finland? Being very careful to keep my eyes to myself. And not turning around to check out what all the creaking, groaning, and gasping was about ten rows behind me. A not-bad documentary, by the way, now purchasable as a DVD here. Fun to learn that Tom was drawing what moved him deeply -- he was doing what he loved -- and that he eventually managed to make a living at it. Imagine that.

Tom's work raises some fun questions, too. For instance: why is "objectification" objectionable if it's done by men to women, but not if it's done by men to men? Tom of Finland's work is nothing if not flamboyantly, insistently objectifying. Yet you don't hear too many political complaints about it. Do we conclude that only gay guys are allowed to have the fun of objectifying? Or is it perhaps that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with objectification? (My own hunch is that objectifying is simply part of what the erotic imagination does, whether it's a question of the male or female, straight or gay erotic imagination. Indulge your erotic imagination, in other words, and there's going to be some objectifying going on. Deal with it. Or, even better, learn to enjoy it.)

You can check out a gallery of Tom of Finland's art here.



posted by Michael at July 24, 2003


Objectifying has come up in your columns before, and much to my delight, you now seem to be getting defensive about it ("deal with it"--is a very defensive phrase) which means you aren't quite as cozily comfortable with the idea as you once were. I think (the more I think about it, which you have caused me to do) that the "health" or "acceptability" of it also has something to do with the object a person is turning another into, and the respect the person doing the "objectifying" has for the object. One could (and many have) certainly argue that sociopaths are the ultimate "objectifiers"---no empathy at all. Ted Bundy certainly turned his victims into pure objects. As someone else once said---if you put a picture on the cover of a magazine that showed a white man holding a nude black man at the end of a choke collar, it would be considered racially inflammatory and banned, as well as just horrifyingly inappropriate. are we to react if a mag shows a man holding a nude woman in a choke collar that way?? Hey---just get comfortable with sex fanstasies, baby, and relax? On the other hand, if the man believes her "voice is poetry"---has he "objectified" her? Maybe. It's different. The difference seems, while intuitive, also obvious. I think saying "objectifying is just a natural part of erotic fantasies" is a pretty generalized comment which therefore could also be used to defend child molesters, etc. I just think some distinctions need to be drawn. And as for how gay men feel about objectification---I don't know, given that I am not a gay man, but I have read the autobiographies of several who have spoken at least semi-honestly about their lives, and "low self esteem" is certainly a challenge for gay men. As it may well be for women who let themselves get talked into some of the mag posing I mentioned. Just coz they haven't found their voice to object yet doesn't mean it's OK.

Posted by: annette on July 24, 2003 12:36 PM

Annette -- I actually think we agree on almost all the points you raise, even if we're maybe weighting our emphasis differently. I'm saying that the tendency of the erotic imagination to objectify is omnipresent and inarguable. It's rather like hunger or sweat or restlessness -- it just seems to be part of what it is to be human. (Women objectify too. Take a look at any fashion magazine, or the cover of any romance novel. Where's the man? And who is he? Never a real person, so to speak, and almost always an off-the-rack hunk who plays a supporting role in the woman's drama. A mere object, in other words -- an accessory.)

You're saying (correct me if I'm wrong) that that's a cause for concern. Couldn't agree more. The erotic imagination's tendency to objectify has led to many lousy things being done -- just as hunger (and ambition etc etc) have led to lousy things being done. And you're absolutely right that worrying over what's permissable/acceptable is important. You're right as well to emphasize the "respect" part of the equation. (I agree with you, anyway, which is as good as "you're right" for me.)

I'll try to make one additional point, which is that I don't think denying the fact that our erotic imaginations objectify gets anyone anywhere, except more uptight and often crazed. It seems to me that it doesn't hurt to start by admitting that the urge to objectify seems to be omnipresent. Which is my only point here. You're ahead of me, getting into questions of good-or-bad, and what's-to-be-done. I'm just dragging my feet, trying to establish the fact as fact.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 24, 2003 02:16 PM

Michael---couldn't agree more. In fact, I think denying the desire for objectification may be what leads to Ted Bundy. I think acknowledging that it exists is a step shy of saying "so it's always OK." I understand that you don't mean to do that. But I think some people make that jump too easily.

Posted by: annette on July 24, 2003 03:58 PM

Turning other people into objects is not limited to erotic fantasy--the clinical detachment that medical people keep from patients is very similiar. There I think it's a defense mechanism. Perhaps it's the same in erotic fantasy? I want to think about this but I dont want it to become part of my "real" life. Just a thought.

Posted by: Deb on July 24, 2003 04:34 PM

I think there is a "defense mechanism" involved in all of it, and I think Deb makes a good point. I think men (and being a woman, my experience with being "objectified" is with men, or seeing men do it to other women; I acknowledge women do it too, but I think it is more widespread and routine for men to do it) who make highly critical comments, or even appreciative ones for that matter, about women's appearance, and often women they don't know, are essentially saying "I don't want to think about this person as a 3-dimensional person, or about what I might do FOR her. I want just to think about what she can or can't do for me. I don't want to even have to think about her needs or feelings at all." In short, it is just a form of selfishness and negation. Which is why it makes women, once they become aware of what it really is, crazy. (See M. Blowhard's recent post on why women gets so angry about porn they don't like). It usually does this to them. The similarity to medical personnel is: "I have a job here and I am treating the disease. I don't want to have to think about what this person is going through. I'm not a psychologist or a minister, for God's sake." It's a desire to eliminate empathy. They might have to recognize that this a real person and it could even be them. Which is why I just reiterate it isn't a good thing, for, you know, the cause of basic humanity.

Posted by: annette on July 24, 2003 08:18 PM

Michael, Not that I care one way or the other, and since I couldn't possibly know you if I fell over you on the street it can't make the least difference to me; but I was just a tad curious the other day to notice, on the Brazilian porn site that you linked, a plethora of priapic penii and it made me wonder just what it was you had enthused over. Now that you note today that your enthusiasims are of a hetero nature at least that question has been cleared up. I continue to wonder what you found compelling in the Steven Malanga article in City Journal wherein he decries the fact that in, and I quote, "America's universities-- with their multiculti curricula, anti-Americanism, and intolerance of open debate... labor studies programs subsitute propaganda and activism for the disinterested pursuit of truth." That bit of objective observation seems to pertain to the fact that he (Malanga) finds the concept of a "living wage" for America's poorest workers some kind of Commie plot perpertrated by (can you imagine?) labor studies departments in as many as 50 universities across the country. Wow. I am certainly gonna concern myself with that problem when otherwise I would be worrying about how the hell, and why, we are paying to solve the problems of the Iraqi's when we could be concerning ourselves with the fact that children in this country are going to bed hungry and without medical care.

Posted by: MIchael S on July 25, 2003 01:15 AM

Deb -- Ooh, creepy thought, but you're probably onto something.

Annette -- I dunno. I guess I see the tendency the erotic imagination has to objectify as A), sure, yeah, as you point out, potentially dangerous or offensive, but also B) full of potential for pleasure, and C) in any case inevitable and inescapable. (Glad to admit that all of this is highly debatable.) From which I conclude that it's maybe best to A) accept it, and B) learn to use it for pleasure rather than pain, as much as possible anyway. (Art can come in very handy here.) I wonder if you're thinking less about objectification per se and maybe more about people who don't handle the phenomenon with any tenderness or humor. Or, as you say, respect. Your thoughts?

Michael S. -- I'm glad the priapism question's cleared up. Puzzled though about the other thing. I did suggest a Malanga piece, but it was a very short one about businesses in L.A. I do know that he wrote a piece about labor-history studies, or some such, in the same issue, but I haven't read it, and didn't recommend it. It isn't any good? Sorry to hear it.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 25, 2003 01:34 AM

Sorry, Michael....I was just imagining you in a tux and carrying a spear, imagining all the things you can do for me....But---ooooh---there's the personal trainer guy---catch ya later!

Posted by: annette on July 25, 2003 08:35 AM

Wait ... "Personal trainer" ... erotic imagination ... Objectification ... Women and men ... "Personal trainer" ...

Hmm. I think we've got the raw materials of a bestseller here.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on July 25, 2003 10:59 AM

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