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August 15, 2007

Pin-Up Masters

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I used to see them on the walls of dirty, cluttered service station or car repair shop offices. I even saw some at the San Francisco branch of the appraisal company my dad worked for.

Now they're gone. A victim of Political Correctness.

Pin-Ups is the subject. No, make that pin-up artists, because it's the artist who gives the pin-up its character.

There were only a few major calendar companies offering a pin-up line. They generally featured artists who were skilled in the genre and whose work sold well -- the pin-up buying public was not lacking in taste, apparently. Other, sometimes cruder, pin-up art could be found in magazines and on their covers: the publication Movies Humor is an example.

2Blowards has not ignored the pin-up. Friedrich von Blowhard has proved to be a devoted student of famed pin-up artist Gil Elvgren, as can be seen here, here and here. There are books about Elvgren; I'm most familiar with one that attempts to present all known examples ofl his pin-up art as well as examples of his regular commercial work. The original Taschen edition is here and the more recent Barnes & Noble reprint is here.

Perhaps the most famous of all 20th century pin-up artists were George Petty and Alberto Vargas, both of whom gained their renown because they were featured in Esquire magazine for many years, whereas Elvgren's work was mostly seen on calendars.

If you are interested in artists of the golden age of pin-ups, I suggest the book The Great American Pin-Up, which presents examples of work by dozens of artists who spent at least part of their career in that trade. I used that book as reference for this article, trying to identify artists whose work I thought was especially good. Unfortunately, most of the really good pictures in the book don't seem to be on the Internet, so the examples below are a shadow of the glory and tackiness of the pin-up world.

The examples I selected are definitely on the prim side because that suits my public temperament. Besides, my intent is to show the artistic style of the artists, not the content. You can find plenty of content in the books cited in this post.

Gallery

George%20Petty.jpg
By George Petty
This World War 2 vintage illustration was subject of the wrath of the Post Office.

Alberto%20Vargas.jpg
By Alberto Vargas
Also from the time of World War 2. Petty and Vargas used simlar techniques for their pin-up work because their work was both in vogue and in Esquire (yes, that small "v" is intentional). The archetype of this style is a illustration of an ultra-leggy girl with a white telephone tucked next to her head.

Gil%20Elvgren.jpg
By Gil Elvgren
Elvgren cranked out lots of pin-up art. His challenge was to remain within the audience expectations of the genre while providing variety. Even a 12-illustration calendar could be challenging when coming up with subject-matter. And viewers would be familiar with the previous year's calendar, so Elvgren was really dealing with a set of 24 pictures that had to be different, yet somewhat similar. If you thumb through the Elvgren book cited above, you'll see page after page of cutie-pies with a surprised look and "O" shaped lips while showing plenty of thigh, nylon hose and garter belt. Just remember that the typical Elvegren fan was seeing only a fraction of this output at any given time.

Rolf%20Armstrong.jpg
By Rolf Armstrong
Armstrong had a long career. In the Twenties he did a lot of cover art for movie magazines before transitioning to pin-ups. If you want to see much of his work, consider this book. Armstrong worked mostly in pastels which made his work distinctive. He tended to retain the facial likeness of his models when doing pin-ups: the model for the picture above is the one he used the most. (Other artists often would use the model to establish pose, clothing and lighting and then paint a somewhat different face.) This tends to make Armstrong's work a little too repetitive for me -- especially his output in the 1940s. In fact, I mostly prefer his magazine covers and other illustrations to his pin-ups.

Joyce%20Ballantyne.jpg
By Joyce Ballantyne
Not all pin-up artists were men. Joyce Ballantyne most certainly wasn't, nor was Zoë Mozert, and both had successful careers. Ballantyne's most widely-seen commercial illustration was of the Coppertone girl whose bathing suit was being pulled down by a dog, revealing her tan-line.

Earl%20Moran.jpg
By Earl Moran
Moran did high-quality pin-up art, though this example is far from his best. The Great American Pin-Up has a good selection of Moran's work.

Fritz%20Willis%20-%202.jpg
By Fritz Willis
Willis belongs to the post-WW2 generation of pin-up artists. This can be seen in his technique, which is similar to magazine illustration of the late-1950s-early 60s. I like Willis' work, though he had a tendency to draw heads a little too large for the bodies and the legs a little too short. (The illustration above doesn't have those defects.)

Did I say at the top that pin-up calendars are gone? I don't see them in use on office walls -- but I do see Gil Elvgren collections for sale at big-box bookstores in the calendar sections right along with views of Paris, fine-art reproductions and other popular subjects.

No telling where they're hung after being purchased, though.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at August 15, 2007




Comments

The calendar pin-up series that I liked was of a rather Wagnerian woman named "Hilda" or some such. She was cuddly rather than muscley, red-headed, and often portrayed in skin-tight long red underwear. I confess that I identified with her.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on August 15, 2007 9:01 PM



They liked their women thick back then. Men of good taste.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 15, 2007 9:46 PM



As the Fritz Wiliis pin-up demonstrates, part of the art was obviously in getting as close to actual nudity without going over the line. Political correctness didn't kill pin-ups, the greater explicitness offered by Playboy and it's imitators rendered them tame by comparison.

Posted by: Peter L. Winkler on August 15, 2007 10:48 PM



These artists were also very creative. Can you imagine trying to come up with one scenario after another to reveal yet another view of the aforementioned cheesecake? I think Elvgren was a master. Like a lot of other great commercial artists, he came out of Chicago's American Academy of Art, and followed the Haddon Sundblom school of painting that was very popular at that time in Chicago, where Sundblom was king. He had a very long career and was still doing this kind of work into the 70's.

For my money, Elvgren and Petty were tops. I also like the normal bodies of the women. Wonderful work!

Posted by: BTM on August 15, 2007 11:13 PM



Peter -- Your point regarding Playboy might be valid up to a point; a centerfold could easily be removed and then tacked to a wall, just like a calendar.

However, as a gummint employee in the mid-90s, I witnessed a lot of administrative fuss about keeping work cubicles free of stuff that might give ladies the vapours. Some of said stuff included pin-ups, whether Elvgren-like or recycled Playboy 'folds.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 16, 2007 12:35 AM



Yeah. Calendars made to give heart to the guys who get squirted with sump-oil all day long. And the sublime Coppertone girl! (Let's ditch all that global goody-goody Benetton dreck.)

And your art postings, Donald...they rock too!

Posted by: Robert Townshend on August 16, 2007 2:45 AM



How any of this stuff could "give ladies the vapours" is beyond me. It's almost chaste.

I've always liked the work of George Petty. His pinups were so popular that a movie, The Petty Girl, was made in 1950, starring peaches and cream Joan Caulfield as the original Petty girl. I was just a tadpole at the time but something stirred.

The techniques of Vargas and Petty may be close but that slight difference makes all the difference to me. Vargas's work lacks Petty's freshness.

Posted by: ricpic on August 16, 2007 7:09 AM



Great stuff! Which has also got me wondering: Did other countries develop big pinup girl-type illustration markets? Does anyone know? Or was it mainly a U.S. thing?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 16, 2007 8:56 AM



Pin-up calendars still can be spotted on occasion in auto repair shops and similar places. Today, however, they mainly feature photographs.

Posted by: Peter on August 16, 2007 9:36 AM



Thanks to Vargas, I am un-Google-able unless you really have a lot time to waste.

As for this stuff in the workplace, you still see it in garages and other shop type work environments. Was it ever present in offices? Office workplaces pre-'85 fascinate me. Smoking at your desk!? Crazy stuff.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 16, 2007 10:26 AM



Confirming Peter here ... There are tons of pinup calendars out there to be bought these days, from Sports Illustrated, Maxim, Pirelli, others. Models often bring out calendars featuring pictures only of them -- the Claudia Schiffer calendar, that kind of thing. But they're all photos. I wonder who buys 'em, and where they get displayed. Teen boys only? In teen boys' bedrooms?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 16, 2007 10:29 AM



You call this art?
By same logic, the prison tattoos should be called art (I know, some do call it such), every other kind of nauseating kitch could be called art.

And yes, ricpic, I can easily imagine ladies who would be offended if their coworker use this crap for a prominent display in his cubicle.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 16, 2007 11:24 AM



Yes, and also in auto shops, machine shops, and other place where women are still fairly rare. It's interesting how photography has taken over, though. People want to look at the "real" thing, I guess.

Also, Suicide Girls could be seen as the modern pin-up.

Posted by: the patriarch on August 16, 2007 11:55 AM



Tatyana's snivelling response has given me a whole new respect for this artform.

Posted by: omar on August 16, 2007 1:17 PM



*omar's arrogant response confirmed me in my beliefs.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 16, 2007 1:39 PM



These girls are pretty enough, and the photographs, certainly aren't terribly revealing. I don't think ladies would get the "vapours" over these (although I understand Tatyana's dismay. You simply don't know what might offend and perhaps better to leave pictures like this, for either sex, out of a co-ed public workspace). And BTW---calling it "the vapours" is actually quite a bit more offensive than these pics are. But to equate hanging these pics in a cubicle with hanging a P-Boy centerfold in a cubicle is ridiculous. P-Boy is graphic, these are suggestive. Completely different. (Yes, hanging a P-Boy centerfold in an office cubicle, would, indeed, give this lady "the vapours."). Like hanging the Mark Spitz swimsuit poster vs. the Playgirl centerfold pic.

Posted by: annette on August 16, 2007 2:30 PM



I always thought a retro-y pin-up calendar was a necessary design element in a good mechanic's shop. Most of the competent, honest, car shops I've patronized have had them. I haven't seen one in my current mechanic's shop (competent, honest Butch), but his shop has the proper, "there's a retro pin-up calendar on a wall somewhere around here" feel. Maybe he's got 'em in the back.

I will stand up for the vaporous ladies, though. I wouldn't be offended by classic pin-ups, or Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, or probably even Playboy centerfolds (I say "maybe" because I haven't seen one in several years, so I don't know what the standards have become.) But, yes, I can think of a lot of centerfold-type stuff I would be offended by, put up in a mixed-sex office, and for traditional, and not "PC" reasons. They're not called "men's magazines" for nothing, and there are, ahem, ladies present. It's boorish to presume to use a mixed-sex business environment as if it were a single-sex, social one. (And that goes both ways. I'm talking to you, "shower"-shakedown lady...) Of course, there's always a minority in any organization with no manners or no common sense on the side, and hypersensitivity and no common sense on the other, so we all end up beset with stupid niggly diktats about what we may or may not display on our cubicle walls.

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 16, 2007 3:13 PM



I can well understand why Tatyana scorns the pinups. This is a generational matter. These pinups were powerful and evocative in the 40s and 50s, when I grew up. Like most powerful art, they evoked a variety of feelings, especially the forbidden.

But since Tatyana apparently grew up long after the great cultural divide of the 1970s abolished the forbidden, and we entered into an anything-goes society, there is virtually no way for her to grasp or appreciate the evocativeness of those pinups, or understand the feelings they triggered in men and boys of my generation.

It works the other way, too. The music that young people love today leaves me cold and evokes no feeling at all in me. It is mostly the thumping of rhythm, almost devoid of melody, story, or lyrics, and it is routinely sung by performers who never trained or disciplined their voices. Young people will call it great art, and will be mystified by my lack of enthusiasm for it. Give me Frank Sinatra in a black dinner jacket under a single spotlight, with a quiet orchestra behind him, and I am riveted, while Tatyana's generation is bored.

This is generational. The superbly-wrought pinup girls are rich art from another time when there were other values and beliefs in America, and these pinups still resonate among my generation, but not Tatyana's.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 16, 2007 3:36 PM



I'm flattered by Mr.Wheeler's attentions, I truly am. It's justthere is a little matter on the way of his excessive writer's imagination: the whole image of me he invented has nothing to do with reality.

It's amasing, the almost anthropological reconstructive powers employed, to dissect my 3-sentence comment and make all kinds of assumptions, of my intentions, my understanding (or not) of American boys and men' feelings, what generation I belong to, my musical preferences, etc. All wrong, I'm afraid.

It's like that other time, Mr.Wheeler, when you attempted to lecture me on purpose and beauty of architecture, remember? I do. That still cheers me up.

Donald,
since you touched on a subject of anatomical accuracy: do you think it's anatomically probable that a woman (as depicted by A.Vargas) will have no hips to speak of, but thights that start to veer off at the lowest points of the hip bone? And her buttocks happen to start below her hips?

Posted by: Tatyana on August 16, 2007 4:45 PM




The problem that women had were not the pin-ups
per se but the behavior of too many men who acted
as if women were to be seen and not heard, that is
that they were not worth listening to, only looked
at with desire.

This lack of respect, when endured on a regular
basis can generate a lot of anger, and of course,
they took it out on the pin-up because they saw
it as teaching men to look at women but not listen
as if they had nothing worthwhile to say.,

It would all have been avoided if a lot of louts
had been taught manners.

Posted by: Adriana on August 16, 2007 6:17 PM



Tatyana,

What image? Be specific. What is your age? How do your views differ from what I ascribed to many of the young? After all, you say you are not what I ascribe to you but you don't give us a single clue--not one-- as to how you disagree with my analysis. If you are going to separate yourself from my analysis, do so, point by point. I will stand by what I said, and marvel that you ascribe my perceptions as applying only to yourself. I enjoy feisty women, and would even enjoy seeing you prove me wrong. But for now, the jury is out.

Posted by: Richard S. Wheeler on August 16, 2007 8:22 PM



Mr. Wheeler,
There is a jury?
And you request disclosure of my age?
Also, you call your rant "an analysis"?

There is no end to hilarity.

Listen, I don't owe you anything. You invented a strawman (a number of them, in fact), and now demand me to demolish it. Sorry, I have better things to do with my time.
There was nothing in my original comment about your or anybody else's generation, of boys, or their feelings (although more appropriate term, in this case, might be "sensations". Physical arousal is not a "feeling". Surely you, as a professional writer, know the difference).
Let's stay on the subject of what I said, and not my persona:
that the kitsch displayed is not an art form. It is to art as plastic Chinese flip-flops are to ...say, these Zanotti pumps. Or as much as French pornographic postcards from Flaubert times to Bouguereau. Oh, it might be called such in some "art studies" graduate's dissertation, or occasionally on this site.

When Donald introduces here real painters, unknown to wide public, and then emphatically call these pornographers 'artists'...I dunno, I start having doubts of his motives. It can't be that he doesn't see the difference.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 16, 2007 10:57 PM



Oh dear.

I called the creators of pin-ups artists and I'm getting flak.

I'm using the word "artists" because that's the term normally used in the USA for people who create graphic images, often in a commercial setting -- the focus is on who is doing the process not the type or quality of the result. The term tends to be used situationally, not in a precise definitional manner. Even the definitional manner gets slippery because different people consider different things art: witness Comments pillow-fights here at 2B when representtional vs. Modernist painting comes up.

There's a similar case when people refer to "sales literature." There is (virtually) no intent to equate a pamphlet for kitchen sinks to the ouvre of Tolstoy, and both the users of the term and the readers or hearers of it understand what's what when it's used.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on August 17, 2007 12:24 AM



This is better art than about 99% of what passes for art these days. These images push various pleasure buttons in my brain, most modern art doesn't, so these are superior to modern art. The top one perfectly shows the youthful, spunky beauty most men desire, while the bottom one shows the more subtle seductive power of women, a bond girl before they underwent 90's masculinization.

Why Tatyana has polluted this discussion with her resentful feminist bile or how she can refer to richards gentle observations as a 'rant' is beyond me, maybe it's that time of the month.

Posted by: omar on August 17, 2007 6:57 AM



Exactly, Donald: both users of term "sales literature" and consumers understand it is not novels they're talking about.

Maybe bloggers here do, to - but not the commentators. Just read the previous comments on this thread.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 17, 2007 7:56 AM



The "art" thing is maddening, isn't it? There's Art 1, which is a category of behavior, and is purely descriptive; and then there's Art 2, which has to do with value judgments about quality. It sometimes seems to me that half of all arguments in the culturesphere could be avoided if people took care to specify which meaning of "art" they were using ...

All that said, it seems to me that a useful way of describing and judging these images is as "likable, memorable, and evocative popular art." Does that suit people? They're visual equivalents of the popular music of the era. And the artists who made it might be thought of as the visual-guy equivalents of the popular singers from the '40s.

Whether American pin-up art will attain immortal-art-art status the way that some popular art has (Sinatra, Elvis, "Casablanca") seems up for grabs yet. But why not enjoy it as fun popular art? It's also, by contrast to a lot of popular culture of the present-day, very sweet-natured, no? ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2007 9:51 AM



One last musing ... I think Moira and others are certainly right that care needs to be taken in coed work places. That said, here's a question. It used to be that one pleasure/benefit guys got from going to work was that they got away from the wife and spent some time nearly every day among guys. Love the wife and all, but a guy's gotta be a guy a certain amount of the time. These days, of course, a guy goes to work and most of the time there's a lot of gals there.

So what do guys these days tend to do to have themselves some among-guys-only time? Gals are great, of course, but there's always that effort of translation involved in communicating between the sexes, and besides don't a lot of them take everything personally? So, just as gals love to get together and be gals together, guys seem to have a need to band together and spend a little time in an environment of male values. I know where I work it isn't rare for guys to cluster in an office together (especially after meetings, for some reason), close the door, and tell dirty jokes and tear their hair out about how consensus-lovin' many women are, etc. After ten minutes of this, we're ready to re-enter the coed work world.

Does the "what do guys do these days to spend time among guys" question help explain the popularity of golf?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2007 9:56 AM



And yet the belief that women are mainly to be looked at is a BAD "male value" and shouldn't be encouraged.

Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with people of either sex liking to look at pictures of people they find attractive. But as some of the other commenters have said, the pin-ups DO have unpleasant ideological baggage and you can't just ignore that. It's not "political correctness" to pay attention to how many women feel about these images, it's basic decency.

Anyway, "political correctness" didn't kill the pin-up, pornography did. Our culture is much MORE saturated now than it was in the pin-up age with images of women aimed at selling things or eliciting male arousal, and most of those images are quite a bit more obvious about presenting the women as objects. It's the opposite of what we'd see if what you all call "political correctness" (which is to say, human decency) had won.

Posted by: BP on August 17, 2007 10:24 AM



Actually, the example you've shown that I find most appealing is that by Rolf Armstrong. For all her ideal beauty, the subject looks like a real woman with an actual (and charming) personality. The composition and technique are first rate, even though many would say the genre is schlock.

The others are rather artificial, with certain assets unconvincingly enhanced.

Posted by: Rick Darby on August 17, 2007 10:47 AM



BP -- From a certain point of view, all art has unpleasant ideological baggage. Much Italian Renaissance art, for instance, was made in praise of 1600-style Catholicism, if not the Medicis themselves. It's certainly worth knowing this. But isn't it a shortcoming from an art-and-pleasure p-o-v only if you think that the point of art is to achieve present-day political acceptability? (Incidentally, a small prediction: present-day political acceptability is going to look pretty bizarre 30 years from now. So why use it as a landmark?)

Also: American pinup art was made with a male viewership in mind. There's nothing wrong with that, at least not unless you also think that it's bad that romance or chicklit novels are written for women. The way men are portrayed in romance fiction can be quite an affront to actual men. But that's OK, because the romance genre isn't meant for men. I suppose it could go far enough so that it's worth getting upset about. But, in the case of these pinups, it's hard to see much in the way of offensive excess.

I'd suggest as well that the hyper-gruesome character of much contempo porn has a lot to do with the prevailing PC atmosphere. As I'm not the first to notice, the deconstruction of traditional maleness that we've seen over the last few decades hasn't resulted in what was expected by some: more polite, civilized males. It has resulted instead in a lot of cartoonishly exaggerated, Maxim-ish, clueless maleness. To some extent, in other words, political correctness has created what it claims most to despise.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2007 11:09 AM



"But isn't it a shortcoming from an art-and-pleasure p-o-v only if you think that the point of art is to achieve present-day political acceptability?"

Of course. But it's disingenuous to aply this to pin-ups because they are pretty much ONLY ideology. They depict women in dress and poses aimed only at bringing men pleasure; notice that you will not see women acting like pin-up girls in real life. As I said, I don't find anything INHERENTLY wrong with this; I don't begrudge anyone their fantasies, and I've certainly known girls who liked having pictures of attractive men posing shirtless in their dorm rooms or whatever.

But you take away the capacity to elicit male arousal and you are not left with anything, as art. That is their entire reason for existing.

So it is worth asking how the ideology of pin-ups fits into our culture. And the fact is that women are expected to spend a lot of time making themselves sexually appealing to men and are rewarded for doing so; that our culture is full of images and stories that reinforce the value of women as objects of male desire, and not so many images and stories that reinforce their value for other reasons; and that there is no reason that women should be expected to accept all of this without protest.

Another way of looking at this is as a question of preferences. You and the other bloggers here are really into standing up for individual preferences against ideology, and I agree with you. I agree with what you say about architecture, on the whole, I agree that contemporary literary fiction is mostly a sham, etc., and that people should not be shy about expressing their preferences.

All of the female commenters in this thread have expressed reservations about these images. All of the women I know--friends, my mother, my sister--express reservations. They did not get this from radical feminist theory, which most of them have not read or even heard of. They are expressing only their honest reactions: images of women as objects of desire make them uncomfortable and they would prefer it if they were not so pervasive in our culture. They have a sense of humor about it, of course, because living in our culture they must.

Again, I'm all for your insistence on the importance of insisting on personal preferences in the face of ideology. But somehow when it is women expressing their preferences it is "political correctness" or "women taking everything personally" or "the vapors." The commenters in this thread, my friends, my sister are in fact expressing their preferences against an ideology, the ideology of pornography and Maxim and, to a lesser extent, pin-ups. Shouldn't you be on their side?

Posted by: BP on August 17, 2007 12:23 PM



To some extent, in other words, political correctness has created what it claims most to despise.

To some extent, yes - but I think the arrow of causality doesn't run in just one direction. The ancient dictum about laws arising when virtue (manners, courtesy, whatever) is lost applies to PC (at least sex-related PC), and it is probably as much, or more, a response to cluelessness as its cause. Hey, I came of age in the late '70s, so I know firsthand that, after you've told people that all the old rules are merely pointless and repressive, the consequent befuddlement breeds one set of people who take it as a license to behave like jackasses, and another set of people who are pissed off and resentful of the jackasses' behavior, but who no longer have any accepted standards to appeal to make their case against the jackasses. Voilà, PC, and a third set of jackasses to make a buck out of all the confusion.

I don't find PC in itself to be a very satisfactory explanation for "the hyper-gruesome character of much contempo porn", either. The beginning of the gradual and accelerating "pornification" of society, I think, precedes PC by a few years. If anything, making pin-ups taboo should have resulted in making pin-ups in their traditonal form more exciting, not in their being kicked to the curb in favor of the ever more raw and crude. I think it can be explained more simply in terms of plain-old physiological habituation, and the natural tendency of desire to be "channelized" aka fetishized. If you're not old and sick and find you need pharmaceutical enhancers and the most outré porn to get it up, you can probably thank the market, not the bluenose in HR.

You've got a worthwhile point in there somewhere about the modern workforce and limited opportunities for men to hang in "no girlz allowed" environments, but you're muddling it up with every other complaint in the "politically correct anti-politically correct" playbook.


Posted by: Moira Breen on August 17, 2007 1:14 PM



BP -- Where do I suggest that women shouldn't react to this art as they see fit? Lordy, people should everywhere and always react to art as they see fit. The case of erotic art, or of art that appeals directly to sexual pleasure (as with romance novels and fashion magazines too), is always an interesting one. I'm not sure there's any getting around the fact that fantasy and objectification play important roles in this kind of stuff. Which is admittedly a dicey fact, and one that some people are going to find hard to deal with. (My reaction to them: Tough luck.) But it can also be part of why this kind of art is fun to play with and explore -- it nearly always has a charge. But I'm puzzled by your use of the word "ideology." I can't imagine many people looking at a WWII-era pinup and saying "It's about nothing but ideology." What do you mean?

Moira -- As you noted, I used the words "To some extent." And I do think that PC has played some role in vulgarizing sex-fantasy material. If you disagree, I'm not sure how we can settle the issue. What would the objective test be? But PC did a lot of things that, it seems to me at least, can't have contributed to a classier sex-fantasy world. As a form of mental-behavioral lockdown, it created hostility and resentment, which often result in ugliness. (It's the "Oh yeah? Then screw you" response.) As a branch of utopian feminism, it helped remove the underpinnings from traditional masculinity, thereby contributing to a coarsening of masculine acting-out. (It's the "if I'm not allowed to learn the craft of being male, then I'm going to act out media-fed fantasies of being male instead" response.) I wouldn't claim that PC is the One Explanation for the gruesomeness of some of today's porn and erotica -- as you say, the arrow of causality isn't running in only one direction. But it seems to me likely that it has played some role.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2007 5:50 PM



These images posted here are definitely art. Kitch, maybe, but also art. The two are not mutually exclusive. And Tatyana is... amusing.

I also like the term "the vapors." I'll have to remember to use it myself sometime.

Posted by: Lynn on August 17, 2007 5:53 PM



Michael 2B, I think Moira is correct, in that it was habituation, rather than PC, that made porn gradually uglier. I think she's mistaken in saying that we should expect PC to have made porn less ugly, insofar as it became taboo.

PC was/is a social movement confined to a small class of people (male and female) with disproportionate political and legal power, but not much social presence outside universities, and the offices of certain large cities. It had enough clout to affect campus behaviour codes, and in some places the law, without ever having enough social power to effect changes in popular mores. Its upholders used their political/legal clout to punish people's taste for porn, and made them angry. It didn't really succeed in making porn taboo again; it lacked the social power to do so. I think you're both mistaken about that.

On the other hand, Moira is right about this: the broad-based, popular social taboos that kept porn out of the mainstream until the late 1960s also did much to keep its titillation factor high. It was only when the social taboos against porn dissolved that it had to get dirtier, and rougher, in order to prevent habituation from making it boring. Men didn't need crotch-shots to excite them in the period when a flash of leg above the knee, or a semi-sheer blouse, was all that was visible, in public, of the female form. In the Victorian era, men were aroused, it's said, by a flash of ankle. What's hidden is sexy...

Posted by: alias clio on August 17, 2007 6:36 PM



Lynn,

You say the kitsch on display is art. I say it is just kitsch - and kitsch and art are mutually exclusive.
Two opinions, nothing more.
But when I express my opinion, you find me "...amusing". Why? I'd really like to know. That word, in my mind, is better used describing a circus monkey.

One blowhard chooses to ascribe all the imaginary ills of later than his generations to me personally, commands me to embody this fantastic persona and gets sour when I decline the honors. God knows why; maybe he spilled his farina, or his nurse was disinclined to play naughty.

The other one puts into my mouth some feminist speech I never uttered, becomes not just arrogant but, frankly, quite rude to me - but our polite hosts see nothing in it, despite repetitive assurances of their efforts to keep the discourse civil.

Donald tells me he used the term artist (emphasis his, not mine) "...situationally, not in a precise definitional manner" - and hints that his terminology is of same kind as calling sink booklets "literature" - he didn't mean to say that pin-up is art. Not really.
Then MB refers to the schlock above (thank you, Rick Darby, I was looking for that word) as "erotic art". Uhuh.

And I'm the one being "amusing" here?

About the "vapors". Just met the term in a short story by Saki, one from Reginald collection. Ah yes, everything worthy of repetition has been invented already.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 17, 2007 7:19 PM



Clio -- I wonder if we aren't talking about a couple of different developments. Of course the lifting of taboos in the '60s led to an acceleration in explicitness. What I'm talking about is the frat-boy/rap-derived vulgarity of the last 7 or 8 years. The advent of the web obviously played a big role in allowing/encouraging this; there are obviously other factors to take into account too, one of which is, I suspect, a reaction against the PC of the '90s. I'm not sure why you don't want to credit this notion, but so be it ...

I wonder as well if PC didn't hit as hard in Canada. In the States, PC had quite a dramatic impact -- cover of national magazines, the subject of radio and TV talk shows, lawsuits, speech codes and meetings with lawyers at corporations ... It was thick in the air, and one of the big sociological events of the '90s. People were staring at this thing that was growing like Topsy in complete disbelief.

If you want to say that the simultaneous advent of PC, "respect everyone" speech codes and of young people enjoying calling each other "bitch" and "nigga" and loving scenes of degradation had nothing to do with each other, that's fine with me. But I was certainly struck by the possibility that there might be a connection.

Tatyana -- You stand up for yourself very well!

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 17, 2007 8:12 PM



MB: if there are no man on the horizon a woman is forced to takes care of herself.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 17, 2007 8:40 PM



In fact, I think PC has hit worse in Canada, in that we're so polite by nature that there hasn't been much opposition to it! (Have you tried reading Kathy Shaidle's relapsedcatholic dot com blog? She has something to say about PC in Canada...) Nobody has reacted against it in any appreciable way.

Aside from that, this is one of those cases where we actually agree with each other, after a fashion, without perhaps realising it. I still don't think there's much of a causal connection between the rise of PC and the increasing vulgarity of popular culture. The timing is out of synch: porn started to become much nastier in the late 1970s, according to any stories I've seen on the subject, while PC didn't acquire much legal or political power until the late 1980s. I can remember working in an office in 1986 as a student, and having one of the managers come up to me and graze the back of my neck with his moustache several times, in the presence of all my co-workers, before I asked him to stop (he did). No man would try something like that in public today, if he valued his job.

What I was trying to say was that the power of PC was out of proportion to the numbers of people who actually found it sympathetic, not that it had or has no power at all.

Posted by: alias clio on August 17, 2007 11:25 PM



On reflection: what is really amusing, it is how the men in this thread think of themselves as rebels, fighting a good fight with evil PC, while in reality they are just being rude bullies.

Posted by: Tatyana on August 18, 2007 7:40 AM



Clio - We're talking at cross purposes, it seems. Here's what I'm noticing. Reign of PC in the US: Late 1980s till Monica Lewinsky affair emerges (late '97/early '98). Founding of Maxim magazine in the UK: 1995. First issue of Maxim in the U.S.: 1997.

Could be a coincidence, I guess. But it seems silly not to at least take note of these sets of dates ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 18, 2007 8:59 AM



I've always enjoyed the debates here, even though I rarely participate myself, because they usually remain civilized and the hosts are unfailingly courteous. I want to respect that and stick with the issues and not engage individuals. For that reason, perhaps my earlier comment was unwise, though I still stick by it.

I think most things do not have single causes. Culture and the changes it goes through is an extremely complicated business. PC, feminism, male response to feminism, male urges, female urges, changing mores, changing fashions, adolescents' urge to defy their parents, the entertainment industry's apparent need to keep on shocking us in order to get us to keep coming to the movies, the need of advertisers to keep on getting our attention... It's all tied together. Everything influences everything else.

I think most of the illustrations posted above are charming. Only the last one makes me just a wee bit uncomfortable, more because of the expression on the girl's face than how much skin is exposed. They are relics from a bygone era. I can't say how I would have felt about them if I had been around back in the 40's and 50's. If I would have been offended at all I would like to think I would have just rolled my eyes and moved on.

Posted by: Lynn on August 18, 2007 9:58 AM



MB--

I think you misunderstood me. Remember that I'm not talking about pin-ups per se, I'm talking about the ideas that have come up in this thread (and frequently elsewhere on this blog).

You write, speaking of pin-ups, romance novels, and fashion magazines: "I'm not sure there's any getting around the fact that fantasy and objectification play important roles in this kind of stuff. Which is admittedly a dicey fact, and one that some people are going to find hard to deal with. (My reaction to them: Tough luck.)"

If this stuff were floating in a cultural vacuum, I would agree with you, but they aren't. That was my point. But actually romance novels are pure fantasy in the sense that they don't have much to do with anything in the real world--whereas pin-ups actually reflect sexual standards that woman are held to in the real world. That is what I meant by ideology. I obviously don't speak for women as a group, I was just noting that most women I actually know, whatever their political persuasions, are not comfortable with men's magazines, pornography, and the constant objectification of women in popular culture (there is no equivalent for men).

People around here like to dismiss all of this as "political correctness" as a substitute for actual argument. That's fine, but obviously I can't have a real conversation with them.

Posted by: BP on August 18, 2007 11:21 AM



I haven't seen anything but the covers of Maxim magazines, so I can't comment on them. From what I hear, they're photos are mostly just good old t and a, which doesn't really bother me.

When I said porn started to get worse in the late 1970s, I was thinking of the rise of first Penthouse, then Hustler and Screw magazines, which, I'm told, began to feature crotch shots, and then "graduated" to seriously repulsive images. Wasn't there a famous photo of a nude woman being fed into a meat grinder, or garbage truck, or some machine of that kind?

I expect that really violent porn is a minority taste, but modern porn - which I sometimes glimpse inadvertently on the Internet - features photos of every female orifice being penetrated at once, of men ejaculating on women's faces (never seen this, as it seems to happen only in movies, but I read about it often enough), and other equally explicit imagery.

That's the kind of imagery I meant (and I suspect that Moira meant) when I said that porn had to become more extreme in order to arouse, as men grew habituated to simple nudity.

Posted by: alias clio on August 18, 2007 11:39 AM



I wonder how most men would feel if women had posted male pin ups at libraries, classrooms, nursing stations, and bank teller windows in the 1950s. Would it have made them feel uncomfortable to see idealized pictures of muscles and bulging crotches? It is easy to whine about PC-ness when you haven't had to ignore erotic artwork.

Posted by: homer on August 18, 2007 11:44 AM



What a fun discussion! (Though some of you are getting/taking things a bit personally.) I can't resist adding my own 2 cents about PC and pushback. Scene: A small liberal arts college, mid-1990s, with a race-based scholarship. Two earnest, ideologically active students are sitting across from the dean. They're making the case that 1) race-based scholarships are unAmerican, and ineffective, except at adding liberal, upper-class students of color; and 2) to gain actual diversity, the school would do far better to create a need-based scholarship marketed in appropriate places (urban schools, or wherever) - so recruiting and supporting people actually in need. And, incidentally, a higher number of minority students.

Dean's reply: "Well, we value our diversity efforts. Someday, the wheel might turn and your view will be the common one, but until then..."

Moderation? Who needs moderation? Thoughtful debate about ideas? We have the tide of popularity! At least, we have, until the over-reaction catches up with us.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck down race-based scholarships.

My point: When a creed or idea holds sway and refuses thoughtful moderation, the reaction is going to be rather more severe and ugly. I don't know about the exact role this tendency has played in society, and art, but I have to observe that moderation itself is out of favor in public life - from degenerate, violent popular entertainment, to the politics of "enemy combatants".

Reads like a rant; meant more like a ramble. - Pat

Posted by: Pat on August 18, 2007 11:54 AM



I'd be inclined to think that in blaming "political correctness" for the waning popularity of the non-photographic pin-up, while at the same time soft-peddling larger, more interesting changes in culture and technology, Donald's intention is to be provocative. It's a common gambit, and sometimes works...

Posted by: Tony Comstock on August 18, 2007 12:02 PM



Wait a minute ..............Hold on............What about Greg Hildebrandt........or Don Henderson......or Howard David Johnson.............or Lorenzo Di Mauro

These are just the ones I know of..............................Let's not bury & mourn the demise of the genre just yet........OK ..................fellows.

Posted by: KMF on August 18, 2007 12:04 PM



Oh, how wonderful these are! When these days do we see such rich colors and a celebration of lush sensuality fused so well? These are not victims - these are women who are self aware, large, and definitely in charge.

Posted by: William Alexander on August 18, 2007 12:07 PM



What if, rather than a pin-up on the wall of a contemporary office, someone had one of those "Negroes eating watermelon" caricatures from the 1930s? Would the anti-PCer understand THEN why certain people might be ticked off?

For me, yeah, this is Kitsch. To be distinguished from Tacky, which is paintings-on-black-velvet.

And that gawdawful Thomas Kinsdale? Sheesh, I don't know. Smug Ghastliness is the only term that comes to mind.....

Posted by: grumpy realist on August 18, 2007 12:14 PM



1. PC is a lot worse in Canada than the U.S. Clio's right, our politeness hides it. In the U.S., Arthur Jensen and E.O. Wilson were merely harrassed; in Canada, Phillipe Rushton was nearly prosecuted for hate speech. If Steve Sailer tried to run his site from Canada, there's a good chance he'd be hauled up before the Inquisition, er, Provincial Human Rights Commission.

2. Whether or not porn or PC came first, it does seem to me that the availability of porn has made men more complacent about PC feminism at school and at the office. Feminist harrangues at work or school are just that much easier to take, if at the end of the day you can go home and watch some woman choke on a large penis. Which creates problems if, for religious or moral reasons, that just isn't an option.

Posted by: Thursday on August 18, 2007 12:34 PM



John Derbyshire has a theory on why PC is so much worse in countries like Canada and Britain than in the U.S.
http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_07_02/cover.html

Posted by: Thursday on August 18, 2007 12:37 PM



Political correctness, my ass. Pinups survive. But they're more likely to be Hustler centerfolds. Who the hell posts paintings anymore?

Posted by: shecky on August 18, 2007 12:45 PM



The majority (not all) of Pin-ups are as bad as Barbie when it comes to realistic depictions of women. Particularly, when it comes to leg length in ratio to body. If you don't mind airbrushed / photoshopped Victoria Secret models then you wont mind pin-ups.

Posted by: Gully on August 18, 2007 12:54 PM



The majority (not all) of Pin-ups are as bad as Barbie when it comes to realistic depictions of women. Particularly, when it comes to leg length in ratio to body. If you don't mind airbrushed / photoshopped Victoria Secret models then you wont mind pin-ups.

Posted by: Gully on August 18, 2007 12:55 PM



Tatayana dismisses pinups as "kitsch" -- no doubt she prefers non-objective modernism -- and then dares to criticize the anatomical accuracy of the depiction.

If realistic (or idealized) depiction of the human form is now relegated to "kitsch," that is the fault of art snobs like Tatayana. I suppose that Bouguereau is also "kitsch" in her book.

Posted by: Ali-Bubba on August 18, 2007 12:57 PM



Clio - I think she's mistaken in saying that we should expect PC to have made porn less ugly, insofar as it became taboo.

Well, no, I don't believe that PC can control the content of porn. I stated as a specific example that if pin-ups were still risqué they would still be in business; the mainstreaming of porn, not PC, gave them their pink slips. Well, gave them their pink slips and took away their pink slips, tee hee. (Sorry. That was uncalled for.) I don't believe we're in disagreement about that. I'm certainly not defending PC as an ally of common courtesy and common sense. I just think that it's more a concomitant than a cause of confused or collapsed standards, at least re sexual behavior.

Michael - If you disagree, I'm not sure how we can settle the issue.

I'm sure we'd have points of agreement - it's a complex issue - but it might be helpful if you could give specific examples instead of vague general claims about how put upon men are by this modern age. Otherwise, bless your heart, you do tend to come across as painting yourself as some sort of tragic hero for having to live in a world where women, like, have jobs and stuff. (Men can be such drama queens sometimes.) Here, I'll help: "PC, by promoting a,b,c has contributed to the rise of fatherlessness, which by processes x,y, and z, produced that Maxim-reading lout in the corner over there". Or, "PC has contributed to a dearth of public spaces where men can enjoy a strictly masculine environment, thus contributing to tension and unpleasantness in mixed-sex social space." Those have ever such more hair on their chest than "Boo hoo, my testosterone titer has plummeted because the mean ladies in my office objected to my pin-ups", which is self-indulgent and self-excusing on the face of it, and at any rate the mean ladies' objections are perfectly legitimate, so what are you whining about? You do mention the lack of masculine environments, but you just plop it down in a context where you appear to be implying that it's some sort of refutation of the ladies' objections to "men's magazine" materials in mixed-sex places - which, ya know, it ain't.

And otherwise, I have nothing to work with in terms of any kind of mutually illuminating argument. Men have always evinced "hostility and resentment" toward women asking them to clean up their act, so without specifics one can't tell if that "screw you" is business as usual or something new.

Clio - We're talking at cross purposes, it seems. Here's what I'm noticing[...]

Clio knows her sociocultural history better than you do, and notices more stuff.

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 18, 2007 1:11 PM



Oh for chrissakes. I wouldn't mind a garage that posted ANY of the images above, if the mechanics wanted to. I expect that the reason I don't see these images is that today's male finds them boring and not nearly explicit enough.

After all, none of the women above are a photograph, and certainly not a photo of a barely legal little thing with 40DDDDD surgically enhanced breasts, teased out brassy blonde hair, and bright red lips sucking on a c*ck. And since they know they can't have THAT hanging on a public wall, yeah, it's in a drawer someplace.

Vargas and his ilk were men of CLASS and TASTE. When men like that died out, so did the art.

I leave you to enjoy your Hustlers and Maxims.

Posted by: Shotrock on August 18, 2007 1:13 PM



What I'm talking about is the frat-boy/rap-derived vulgarity of the last 7 or 8 years.

Michael, did you not learn to read 'til c. 1990 or something? Or was your life so sheltered that your innocent eyes never even beheld a copy National Lampoon? Or is it just my extreme trashy tastes and smutty-mindedness that have left me with memories of avant la lettre dick-lit dating from at least the '70s?

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 18, 2007 1:41 PM



Personally I really wouldn't care if a service station or car repair shop had a pinup picture. Do you really think your local auto repair shop is so worried about "PC" that they took down all their pinups?
If they did take them down, its probably out of a desire to look professional -- I take any business more seriously if it doesn't have pictures of voluptuous ladies on the walls. Or, for that matter, any kind of non-professional decorations (an office that has tons of pictures of cute-sy animals, for example.)

Posted by: amy on August 18, 2007 1:46 PM



Once upon a time, if you were a man, it didn't matter how much of a loser you were. At the end of the day you could always go home and buck yourself up by lording it over your wife. Heck, if it made you feel better, you could beat her. It really wasn't that big a deal.

Yup--if you were a man, it was such a lovely era. For example, men enjoyed a massive affirmative action program. Instead of getting a job strictly on their own merits, strictly because they had earned the job, men got jobs because of massive job preferences and quotas. My God, it was wonderful.

Just as the white privilege of the Jim Crow era is today powerfully symbolized by an Amos 'n Andy poster, so the male privilege of the pre-feminist era is beautifully symbolized by the pin-up. Naturally, the same image, no matter how aesthetically accomplished, will disgust the thinking woman even as it warms the heart of the unthinking sexist pig. What man WOULDN'T yearn to get back all those special privileges that were so unfairly taken from him by those demon PC feminists? First they took our privileges, and now they have the audacity to speak up and say they aren't so fond of the symbol of our privileges either!

Is there no end to the oppression men must endure?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to Michael posting a lovely tribute to the minstrel show and the Jolly Nigger Bank. I'd be the first to admit that a lot of minstrelsy was in fact great art (I've seen Spike Lee's "Bamboozled").

The problem with many of the replies above is not the way men try to justify their appreciation for the pin-up. Of course all art has ideological baggage. Of course one is free to isolate the aesthetic and ignore the rest. But that's a lot harder to do when the political baggage hits close to home.

The problem with too many of the replies above is the way the way they so cavalierly dismiss women's dislike of the pin-up, as if their objections were frivolous rather than grounded in a history of a very real oppression--an oppression from which women have only recently and partially been freed. It's a bit like it might have been to hear a bunch of ex-klansmen cracking "nigger jokes" in, say, 1885. The jokes might conceivably be genuinely funny, in some aesthetic sense, but not even Michael would be so uncharitable as to dismiss the black person's refusal to laugh as mere "PC."

Posted by: eveningsun on August 18, 2007 1:51 PM



Have you tried reading Kathy Shaidle's relapsedcatholic dot com blog? She has something to say about PC in Canada...

And co-incidentally she has a pin-up up today!

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 18, 2007 1:58 PM



"On reflection: what is really amusing, it is how the men in this thread think of themselves as rebels, fighting a good fight with evil PC"

Yeah, Tatyana, that's us evil old white males rearing our ugly heads and daring--daring I say!--to express an opinion that's not in line with the Feminist Orthodoxy. *GASP* Convene the congregation of the Church of the Perpetually Indignant! There be heretics about!

Posted by: Jake on August 18, 2007 2:00 PM



Tatyana: I think what Michael meant earlier was that "You stand up for yourself very well, for a woman."

Posted by: eveningsun on August 18, 2007 2:04 PM



Zanotti pumps are still products, Tatyana. I hope it's not rude to mention that. :)

Posted by: Nortius Maximus on August 18, 2007 2:19 PM



Some persons may not consider the images above as art. They are looked upon by the art world as illustration art just as the art world sees Norman Rockwell as an illustrator and not an artist. Whether you view these images as art or not, they are not porn and they are definitely not kitsch. Look up kitsch.

Posted by: keith on August 18, 2007 2:32 PM



"political correctness" is code for something that you'd never admit about yourself...

Posted by: instafaggot on August 18, 2007 2:44 PM



My experience has been that women who rail against pics of pretty girls have either made a lot of bad choices in partners—for which they invariably blame the partner, much like the story about the fox and the scorpion—or are simply, ummm...plain, and thus resentful of attention they feel will never be directed their way.

My best advice for the 'modern' female is to deal with louts as they arise, with neither malice not pity, and let the rest of us enjoy the scenery. Liking to look at pretty girls is not mutually exclusive with respecting them as individuals.

Posted by: John on August 18, 2007 2:57 PM



Political correctness--the new fascism!

And by "fascism", I don't mean to imply that PC is a totalitarian regime. I mean to imply that PC is the new semantic bogeyman, the new comdemnatory catch-all term that no one really knows or cares exactly what it means, just that it's bad to be PC. Any behaviour that was once socially acceptable and is no longer, but that seems harmless enough in the near case, is a "victim of PC", as if there was a board somewhere issuing arbitrary edicts.

I'm reminded of the complaints of Christians who lose their pre-football-game prayer in high school thanks to a court ruling, and claiming that Christianity is under attack, as if their right to pray is infringed because their public events no longer include it. It's not enough that they can pray, it has to be run by the school. Likewise, the blowhards act like they can no longer fully enjoy pinup art just because they can't hang it on their cubicle wall.

Posted by: Justin on August 18, 2007 5:00 PM



My affection for pin-ups is based on nostalgia--not for the time in which they were created but for the time in my life when I was still capable of idealizing women in various ways, which was before I had any real experience with them.

Posted by: Jeremy Bender on August 18, 2007 6:01 PM



You know, I'd call myself a feminist and I'm not at all bothered by pinups. I think a lot of them are cute. I consider them art (not high art, but there's a lot of art that isn't such) I wouldn't hang them on my walls, but as my walls are covered in pictures of shirtless men (okay, and some actual paintings which I have managed to collect), there wouldn't be any space anyway.

I think what bothers most women about these and porn is that many men seemingly can't differentiate between the fantasy-object women in pictures like this and pornography from actual women, and behave in caddish and entirely inappropriate and demeaning ways. I'm sure if you men had to deal with disgusting old men whom you don't even know grabbing your ass and making sexual comments to you (or, at least as awkward: not to you, but about you) while you were just at the convenience store trying to buy a goddamn Red Bull, or something else fairly innocuous, you'd feel the same way. For every man I know who seemingly CAN separate women-as-sex-objects from women-as-people, I know probably at least three who seemingly can't. One of the funny things about this is that a lot of men who think it's silly when women get upset when they feel like they're being objectified are the SAME men who get all bent out of shape if they think a gay man may be objectifying them. Hypocrisy, much?

And to point out what struck me as the most sexist comment in this entire thread: "I enjoy feisty women, and would even enjoy seeing you prove me wrong." I'm not sure that Richard S. Wheeler even REALIZED this would be as offensive as it is, but it proves the entire point Tatyana is trying to make: that many men apparently just think women are there for the men to enjoy. He enjoys feisty women? I mean, REALLY, now. Maybe Richard just meant that he enjoys a good debate. If he meant that, though, it would have been better for him to state it in a less patronizing way. Just leaving the first clause off would take the sentence from something which sounds sexist to something that doesn't. I doubt Richard meant for his comment to be sexist, but it's these unintentional yet pervasive elements of sexism that are the things which continue to do damage.

I sincerely doubt the increasing vulgarization of porn and society had to do with the PC atmosphere. Society has been headed there for a long time, and has been helped along tremendously by various methods of mass communication. I think the commonness of porn greatly increased with more avenues of viewing it available, and with a wider viewing audience it naturally became a more competitive industry. And in porn, as in many things (action movies and sports drinks are two good examples here), the most competitive is usually the most extreme.

And to add a completely frivolous comment: Is it just me or does the girl in the Elvgren picture look almost exactly like Rose McGowan?

Posted by: Katie on August 19, 2007 4:46 AM



There was a German machine-parts company that used to produce an outstanding calendar every year (perhaps still does, although it's been ages since I've seen one). This particular series specialized in "older" women (maybe in their 30s) in poses that weren't necessarily revealing, but sexy as hell!

The name of the company? FAG Bearings. I kid thee not!

Posted by: Zinoviev on August 19, 2007 10:44 AM



Clio -- To go over it for the third time ... I certainly don't dispute your account of the '60s and '70s, and I think you and Moira are both making many good points about the evolution of porn. But I'm puzzled by why you seem so intent on denying any validity whatsoever to my idea -- that PC created a reaction to itself (it obviously did), and that that reaction may have played some role in the recent coarsening of sex-fantasy material. (That's obviously debatable, but it isn't a dumb idea.) Whassup with that? I'm not proposing a single explanation for the phenomenon, after all, just nominating a candidate for one possible influence. Besides, I offfer proof, or at least evidence, and you offer nothing in response. You do seem a little underaware of the history of recent magazine culture. "Lad magazines" have been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, success stories in magazines in the last 15 years. They've been quite a phenomenon, and their impact on style can be be seen these days in TV, books, music, and movies, as well as in (I'd submit) porn itself. They feature sports, crashes, drinking, a mocking tone, a jagged, hard-hitting (but playful) approach to graphics, and babes babes babes ... Loaded started publishing in 1994, the middle of the PC years, and FHM and Maxim soon followed. They were conceived-of as a reaction against two things: traditional men's magazines, and political correctness. No way of telling, of course, but it's quite possible that had there been no political correctness, there'd have been no lad magazines. Here's a decent Martin Deeson article about the early days of Loaded. (Which, FWIW, I thought was a pretty brilliant magazine at first, featuring a lot of humor, and a lot of joyful working class/punk-rock -- and very un-PC -- spirit.) Whether its impact has been for the good or the bad is for others to decide. But in any case (and of course for better or worse), the lad magazines have played a big role in turning popular-culture portrayals of sexy gals away from the coy and the idealized and towards something far more blunt and cut-to-it.

Lynn -- Always great to see you drop by! Everyone Else: Lynn is a great blogger with a fab mind, a super range of interests, and a shrewd way with the blogosphere. Visit her blog.

BP -- Then we disagree about many, many things. I'll point out, for one small thing, the fact that women don't all agree in their reactions to '40s and '50s pinups -- in fact, not all the women commenting in this thread agree that there's anything awful or disturbing about these images. For another, I'll marvel over your apparent conviction that -- while men are supposedly imposing horrendous popular-culture-influenced standards on women -- women don't hold men to any kinds of standards that are affected by popular culture. Many men I've known have been forgiving and appreciative towards women. Meanwhile, some women I've known have read too much chicklit and Cosmo and have been cruel and unforgiving towards men. Life's complicated, and both sexes do a lot of objectification, both of each other and of themselves. The women in fashion magazines, for instance, are ferociously objectified -- but not by men for the sake of men, instead by women (and gay men) for the delectation of women readers, who enjoy imagining themselves as glamorous creatures adored by the camera. In other words, while some men enjoy imagining women as pneumatic, giggly things (not my own personal taste, fwiw), many women enjoy imagining themselves as impossibly long, stylish, flawless things. (Which set of standards does more harm, btw? And, really, why should we worry too much about it?) In romance novels, men are nothing but fantasy projections -- supporting players, adoring/tormented brutes to be civilized and transformed into creatures devoted to the cause of helping the heroine live happily ever after. Meanwhile, many men love picturing themselves (ie., objectifying themselves) to themselves as rowdy, untameable, forever-boyish cowboys. Bizarrely, men like imagining themselves at the center of their story, and women like imagining themselves at the center of their story. Such is life. How men fantasize about women and how women fantasize about men -- I dunno, I find it interesting, hilarious, and occasionally hot. Now, how we take our fantasies, and how we manage them, and whether or not we let them warp too much of how we deal with other people -- those are real matters for some concern. But the fantasizing iitself -- and the whole game of objectifying/being-objectified -- isn't going away. In my view, so far as (sigh) real-life concerns go, it's generally counter-productive to get too rigid or hysterical, not to say too political about our fantasy lives and preferences. Doing so will only result in added resentment, which won't do the fantasies (or our enjoyment of them, or our lives) any good.

Homer -- Pinups on library walls and bank-teller stations? On classroom walls? What on earth are you talking about? I was around (for a bit) in the '50s and all through the '60s, and I never saw any such thing.

Pat -- Great story, thanks. And I think your point is really smart and well-put.

Tony -- We certainly aren't above playing the provocation card. Everyone Else -- Tony Comstock makes some of the most interesting (and provocative) alt-porn out there. Click on the link on his name in his comment and check it out.

KMF -- Excellent reminder. Plus: How about Olivia?

William -- You're a fan! And an eloquent one!

Grumpy - I'm really at a loss as to how to respond to someone who compares the situation of white American women in the '40s and '50s to black Americans in the 1930s. Incidentally, are you aware that there's a thriving business -- a respectable one -- in what's sometimes called "Black Americana" and at other times "Mammy Art"? Images of and about black people from the bad old days are now marketed by respectable galleries to an audience of connoisseurs -- people who have supposedly smart taste. I don't have any personal experience of this art market, but I've been told that some of the most enthusiastic collectors of Mammy Art are black people. Life is ... well, complicated, to say the least. Here's an article about the phenomenon.

Thursday -- Fun info and link, tks. I think you're right too: How can PC rule in a world where the web and email are common? How can any attempt to dictate the conversation rule in such an environment? Thank heavens, of course.

Shecky -- Well, there *are* a few pinup painters still working ... But you're right, the market for the painted pinup certainly seems to have 9/10ths evaporated.

Gully -- Barbie's a very provocative comparison, both for her proportions and for the fact that Barbie doesn't exist to turn men on, she exists for little girls to play with, and they have embraced her. Yet there she is, a favorite toy of little girls who's also kinda/sorta similar to the creatures in pinups. What to make of this? I mean, beyond "Life is complicated" ...

Ali Bubba -- Bouguereau's an interesting one to contemplate, isn't he? I think the whole question of "kitsch" is too. I have a hunch that kitschiness means very different things to Old World people than it does to New World people. In the Old World, an element of kitschiness automatically means that a work isn't serious, it isn't art. In the New World, I don't think that holds in the same automatic way. Much of American art, even of the accepted "classic" and "canon" sort, has a lot of sentimentality and kitsch in it. Kitsch just doesn't mean "evil" to us in the same way that it does to people from the Old World.

Moira -- It is a complex question, I agree. I've also given -- twice given -- a concrete example to support my contention that a reaction against PC may have helped coarsen the presentation of sex-fantasy material: the rise of lad magazines at the same instant we had PC. They had a deliberate agenda of flaunting PC, and they established a hard-hitting, blunt style of presenting sex-fantasy material that's still with us today. I'm puzzled by your mocking tone -- you're very smart and funny, but toads do seem to leap out of you when you're displeased (which I notice often seems to happen when questions about sex come up). I'm puzzled as well by your misreading of what I've said. My observation about guys no longer having the workplace as a zone where they can get away from the ladies had zero to do with my observation that PC created a reaction against itself that in turn may have helped coarsen the presentation of sex-fantasy material.

Shotrock -- The art of being a gentleman has certainly vanished, hasn't it? Seems almost like something from another cosmos ...

Eveningsun -- 1) I'll speak for myself, tks. 2) I know Tatyana and I respect her very much. She has a lot of brains, knowledge, and spirit. Do you have anything of your own to contribute here?

Keith -- Opinions about what's art and what isn't (of the "does it deserve serious intellectual consideration, and maybe even inclusion in the canon?" sort) are much more changeable than many like to think! In the last decade even Norman Rockwell has been on the receiving end of some serious intellectual consideration. I take this to mean that it's dumb to worry overmuch about the whole "serious intellectual consideration" crowd, not to mention their opinions. What's your preferred way of dealing with the whole mess?

Instafaggot -- You've got my mind tied up in a bowtie.

John -- You write "Liking to look at pretty girls is not mutually exclusive with respecting them as individuals." That's a fact, and that's the trick, isn't it?

Justin -- Other Blowhards will speak for themselves, but 1) nothing gets in the way of me enjoying pinup art, 2) I never had pinup art on my cubicle wall.

Jeremy -- Funny line!

Katie - The Elvgren gal really is a ringer for Rose McGowan, isn't she? Smart words too about the real problem being guys who can't distinguish between their sex fantasies and real women. I understand that pinups might set off feelings in some women about this. At the same time, I wonder a couple of things. 1) Isn't the "what kind of pix are these, and are they fun, and were the artists talented, etc" discussion a different one than the "is this bad or good, and does something need doing politically" discussion? I didn't notice Donald proposing a political debate. 2) As for whether PC contributed to the coarsening of popular-culture depictions of sex-fantasy material ... I offered above some information about lad magazines in support of my contention. Loaded and Maxim -- both of them (among other things) resolutely anti-PC -- weren't minor blips in the recent history of pop culture, they were real tidal waves, and their influence is to be seen today in stuff like Michael Bay movies and in other stuff like frat-boy porn sites. They may in the long run prove to have been as influential as MAD magazine was in its time. I'll offer in addition the observation that before PC, men and women didn't gather at the watercooler and talk about blowjobs. It wasn't considered polite. After PC (and thanks partly to Monica, of course), they did. Suppression often leads to that-which-was-being-suppressed growing coarser (because of the resentment that was created by the suppression) -- seems like elementary psychology and politics to me.

Zinoviev -- FAG Bearings? That's too good.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2007 1:30 AM



Incidentally, here's a fun BBC article riffing on some of the post-lad magazines. Note the female Labour MP who says that she really enjoys Playboy and Penthouse but struggles with the post-lad mags.

I offer this link in support of two of my contentions: 1) Not all women react to men's sex-fantasy material in the same way, and 2) the advent of lad magazines was a watershed in popular culture.

Look: the lad magazines now give Playboy a run for its money. A more genteel softcore erotic-entertainment-for-men is being replaced by a much more jangly and hard-hitting one. (You could say, if you wanted to, that a classier kind of softcore erotic entertainment is being replaced by a less-classy kind. I'm not sure I would, but I dont' object to it.) If I remember right, Playboy a few years ago hired an editor from one of lad magazines to bring Playboy more in line with what's now expected: more graphics, more aggression, more attitude, more flipness. And editors from the lad magazines have moved into many of the other men's magazines: GQ, Esquire, etc.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2007 1:47 AM



The one issue I've tried to take you up on, Michael, is that idea of yours that suppression makes that which it is trying to suppress coarser and uglier. As I've already said several times, the timing just doesn't seem to fit.

I'm not sure why you say that I "offer nothing" in response to your proofs. In fact, I offered an alternative chronology, one that emphasized the extremely violent and degrading images of late 1970s porn - about which you, in turn, have said nothing. Those images may have appealed to a minority of men, but they were out there - and they did much to fuel the ferocious reaction against porn by feminism in the 1980s. The reason I keep harking back to that stuff (the violent and degrading images) is that I've been using them as examples to prove that porn was pretty extreme long before "PC" came along.

On the other hand, I expect you're right and that it's only recently that porn has really become ubiquitous. And perhaps that's where the lad mags, about which I admit I know very little, come in. Incidentally, one reason I haven't paid much attention to them is that they sounded like business-as-usual where sexy imagery is concerned, and so didn't worry me. I don't actually mind that men like to look at pretty bodies, as long as they try not to be too blatant about it...

Posted by: alias clio on August 20, 2007 2:12 AM



Clio -- I've said several times that I have little trouble with your reading of the '60s and '70s, so it's strange that you say I've said nothing about it. (I'd take issue with the idea that extreme '70s porn -- which by comparison to today's porn wasn't really very extreme, btw -- created PC. It played some role, I guess, but many elements went into PC: deconstruction, identity politics, academic power wars, the feminist obsession with rape and violence ... And then PC seemed to be validated by the election of Bill Clinton ....)

But you seem to think there's one right explanation for the coarseness of much of today's sex-fantasy material, or at least you seem unable to allow for the fact that numerous factors might be involved. Look: PC gave a lot of people an excuse to carry on like braying jackasses -- Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and other shock-jocks, the Maxim/Loaded crowd, Bill Maher ... Much was even written about an anti-PC "backlash." And then there was the "is it PC or not?" stuff that came along, like the use in gangster rap of "Nigga." Famous rap group: N.W.A. -- Niggaz With Attitude. Years of activity: 1986-1991, PC central. Do we love 'em for asserting their ethnicity so proudly and defiantly? Or do we go, good lord, people didn't used to talk that way?

All sorts of vulgarity leaped to the fore during the PC years. I think that there are many reasons for this. Why not consider the notion that PC itself might have played a role in creating this situation? I mean, unless your conviction is that there was an unstoppable tide of vulgarity on its way, and that the only role PC played in the drama was in trying and failing to stop it. Which is a case that can be made, I suppose. I mean, it doesn't ring true to me. I saw too many instances of PC creating annoyance, coarseness, and anger where there was none before. But it's certainly a case that can be made. Is that what you're arguing?

I don't know how to provide justification for my suspicion that suppression often worsens what it attempts to suppress except to say that it's one of those things that life has taught me. Repression, on the other hand ... Well, so far as erotica goes, a little repression often seems to help sweeten erotica, as the French and the Japanese seem to know, and as we ought to know. But suppression? I dunno, it seems to me to almost always breed little but defiance and resentment.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2007 3:24 AM



All right, Michael. Part of my problem has been that it's hard for me to follow the thread of a single discussion in a forum like this one, where so many voices contribute. Perhaps you have the same difficulty? No, you've probably had more practise.

Anyway, yes, I think I see what you've been getting at here, this time around - especially when you make the distinction between repression and suppression. People often use the two words interchangeably. I think I got stuck on the suppression theme from the start, on the assumption that that was what you were doing.

Anyway, I'll put this to rest now.

Posted by: alias clio on August 20, 2007 7:15 AM



"I'll point out, for one small thing, the fact that women don't all agree in their reactions to '40s and '50s pinups -- in fact, not all the women commenting in this thread agree that there's anything awful or disturbing about these images."

I never said all women had the same reaction, nor did I say that any of them found anything awful or disturbing about the images. In fact I unambiguously said in every comment that I did not think there was anything awful or disturbing about them

"For another, I'll marvel over your apparent conviction that -- while men are supposedly imposing horrendous popular-culture-influenced standards on women -- women don't hold men to any kinds of standards that are affected by popular culture."

I never expressed any such conviction and wonder how it could be apparent. I never addressed the pop-culture standards for men.

"Many men I've known have been forgiving and appreciative towards women. Meanwhile, some women I've known have read too much chicklit and Cosmo and have been cruel and unforgiving towards men."

Yes, some men are nice people and some women are not. So?

"Life's complicated, and both sexes do a lot of objectification, both of each other and of themselves."

Maybe so, but our popular culture reinforces the objectification of women far more than it does the objectification of men. Go to the movies, watch commercials, look at a magazine rack. This is not really a debatable point.

"The women in fashion magazines, for instance, are ferociously objectified -- but not by men for the sake of men, instead by women (and gay men) for the delectation of women readers, who enjoy imagining themselves as glamorous creatures adored by the camera."

How do you think men tend to regard women who entirely ignore the beauty conventions set forth in these magazines?

"In other words, while some men enjoy imagining women as pneumatic, giggly things (not my own personal taste, fwiw), many women enjoy imagining themselves as impossibly long, stylish, flawless things. (Which set of standards does more harm, btw? And, really, why should we worry too much about it?)"

Since you've ignored all of the disclaimers I've included in everything I've written here, I'll have to say yet again that I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with images that imply ideas of beauty. The worry is that our culture holds women strictly to standards set by these images, and tends to regard women as having no value aside from their ability to conform to them.

"In romance novels, men are nothing but fantasy projections -- supporting players, adoring/tormented brutes to be civilized and transformed into creatures devoted to the cause of helping the heroine live happily ever after."

No actual men conform to the standard set by romance novels, and yet it does not prevent them from dating, sleeping with, and marrying women, or from total social acceptance. Compare the social attitude toward non-romance novel-type men (which is to say all of us), with the attitude toward women who deviate from the beauty ideal in even so small a way as not shaving their legs.

"Meanwhile, many men love picturing themselves (ie., objectifying themselves) to themselves as rowdy, untameable, forever-boyish cowboys."

This is by definition not objectification, because it is a description of the personality, behavior, etc. of an active subject.

"Bizarrely, men like imagining themselves at the center of their story, and women like imagining themselves at the center of their story. Such is life. How men fantasize about women and how women fantasize about men -- I dunno, I find it interesting, hilarious, and occasionally hot."

I agree with this, inasmuch as it means anything.

"Now, how we take our fantasies, and how we manage them, and whether or not we let them warp too much of how we deal with other people -- those are real matters for some concern. But the fantasizing iitself -- and the whole game of objectifying/being-objectified -- isn't going away."

See again the unambiguous disclaimers in every one of my comments. I'm not sure why I bothered.

"In my view, so far as (sigh) real-life concerns go, it's generally counter-productive to get too rigid or hysterical, not to say too political about our fantasy lives and preferences. Doing so will only result in added resentment, which won't do the fantasies (or our enjoyment of them, or our lives) any good."

This statement is so general as to be meaningless. You would readily agree that a popular culture that reinforced fantasies about raping women would be a bad thing, so your general rule obviously has limits. Moreover this discussion is not about private fantasy but about popular culture that shapes private fantasy.

I haven't read this blog as long as many here, but this response was uncharacteristic of you. You ignored most of what I said, misconstrued what you did not ignore, and spent a great deal of time addressing points that I either did not make or explicitly disavowed. I suppose I will never understand why certain subjects elicit such strong emotions around here.

Posted by: BP on August 20, 2007 10:22 AM



Clio -- The repression thing is interesting, no? I suspect we agree that a get-it-all-out-there ethos tends not to lead to a high level of civilized eroticism, at least once past the initial rush. One of the least sexy places I've ever been was a nude beach. As The Wife likes to say, until people take a little care with appearance and behavior, they're just big sides of beef.

BP -- As far as I can tell, all you're saying is that "popular culture reinforces the objectification of women far more than it does the objectification of men." I disagree completely, and I'm happy to compare notes about our opinions. Social standards and expectations for men, reinforced by popular culture, strike me as just as demanding as they are for women, if somewhat different. Given that we're a free and prosperous culture, I also don't find much of it worth taking too seriously, even if it's often fun to take note of and keep track of. Meanwhile, you proclaim that your belief is beyond debate and accuse me of excessive emotionalism. Why don't you get back to me once you're willing to have a discussion?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on August 20, 2007 3:03 PM



-- "The worry is that our culture holds women strictly to standards set by these images, and tends to regard women as having no value aside from their ability to conform to them." --

A legitimate worry but isn't it mostly women who are holding themselves to these standards? We see pictures of impossibly thin airbrushed models and we women think "that's what I should look like," and spend large amounts of money and angst on trying to look like that. If we hate these standards so much why not just ignore them?

The majority of men are not quite as picky as we think they are. They certainly like T&A but, within reasonable limits, they're pretty flexible as to its exact appearance.

Posted by: Lynn on August 20, 2007 3:36 PM



Nortius Maximus: of course they are. Just like plastic flip-flops and calendars with pretty girls' pictures. For an auctioneer or a collector - or even to the artist himself - paintings , too, are products to sell or buy. How's that connected to comparisons I made?

Katie, glad someone else noticed the "feisty woman" snort. Frankly, it made me laugh more than anything else: puffing his cheeks, pretending he's the boss. You're being more than charitable, though, extending an opportunity to explain such behavior. Too sporting, I'm afraid, too fair for our 'gentlemen' - look, f.ex, at somebody who signed his name Ali-Bubkes: no doubts he said. Atta boy. Mr. Wheeler #2. And I just love how my "Old World" deficiency was explained to him by our gracious host.

I am off to look at my Leon Bakst illustrations I'd dug up recently and have my freshly brewed Ceylon blend - too bad I've interrupted mutual back-patting of famous and fab bloggers. They're experts in kitsch, I am convinced now, and should have the field for artful fraternalising with masses all for themselves.


Posted by: Tat on August 20, 2007 10:04 PM



BP said, in part:

"...our culture holds women strictly to standards set by these images" [which imply ideas of beauty).

It's been many moons since I've encountered such blatant condescension towards women. Magnificent!

Posted by: playrink on August 21, 2007 1:44 AM



MB: I'm puzzled by your mocking tone[...]

Why? Don't be so po-faced, Michael. As you noticed, I tend to do this when you bring up matters sexual. Now, this may be, as you snidely imply (and how dare you mock me!), because of some particular sexual bugaboo of mine, or it may be because I do find (some of) what you have to say about sex silly and mockworthy. You just get so "rube at the hoochie coochie show" sometimes, when you talk about sex. "Sex fantasy material". OK, maybe that's standard publishing argot, but, dear lord, the grinding earnestness of the phrase. And nobody inveighing against PC tight-asses should ever, ever let a bespectacled, faux-German-accented pedant phrase like "...coarsen[ing] the presentation of sex-fantasy material..." slip from his keyboard.

I don't think that we have all that much of a disagreement about PC as a factor, I just think you're putting too much weight on it, and trying too hard to exclude other factors. As long as I'm at it, I do have some more toads in the sack here, if you're interested. Here's the thing: You see things in society that you don't like. So you try to comfortably apportion the causes among things you don't like (pc, feminism) while exculpating, or explaining away the influence of, things you do like (porn). (This isn't specific to you. I suspect all of us who enjoy the freedoms of liberal society make these "have my cake and eat it too" rationalizations about any number of issues.) Not that there isn't plenty of blame to go around, but you maneuvered yourself into (what I consider) the laughable claim that porn would have developed along lovelier lines if it hadn't been for PC. But porn doesn't need an excuse to get nastier and nastier, it is the nature of porn, in general, to do that. (And that's probably a testable hypothesis. How many guys enjoying Thursday's "watch[ing] some woman choke on a large penis" are really enjoying it because of that harridan they have to put up with at work? If I had to bet, I would bet that most of 'em probably never had to put up with any serious PC irritations in their lives.) Same with "ho's". Young males don't need to be made to act out disrespectfully toward women - it's what they do, absent older males around to impose anti-asshole training. (And why do you think some guy calling himself "Nigga" is the same thing as that same guy talking about other people as bitches and ho's? There was some huge anti-PC reaction by blacks against politically correct racial slurs aimed at blacks in the '90s? Whuh? Huh?)

I'm puzzled as well by your misreading of what I've said. My observation about guys no longer having the workplace as a zone where they can get away from the ladies had zero to do with my observation that PC created a reaction against itself that in turn may have helped coarsen the presentation of sex-fantasy material.

Yeah, that's why I kept wondering why you had plopped it down into the conversation without any coherent connection to the rest. I figured you must have meant something by it.

MB to BP: For another, I'll marvel over your apparent conviction that -- while men are supposedly imposing horrendous popular-culture-influenced standards on women -- women don't hold men to any kinds of standards that are affected by popular culture. Many men I've known have been forgiving and appreciative towards women. Meanwhile, some women I've known have read too much chicklit and Cosmo and have been cruel and unforgiving towards men.

Wouldn't disagree with the first sentence, but the second sentence is more interesting. Why do you reverse the arrow of causality of popular culture when the sex is switched? I.e, dick-lit is effect but chick-lit is cause? More of a feedback loop at this point, I'd guess, but if writing nastily about women is a (deplorable but understandable) reaction to something, then it's not really plausible that writing nastily about men is sui generis and merely causal.

BP: our culture holds women strictly to standards set by these images

Well, our culture must be slacking off, because they haven't had much success in making me toe the line. And if that were actually true the public parade would be significantly more svelte that it actually is. Are there women running around desperately trying to conform to these absurd and inhuman standards? Sure. People are like that. Remember what your mom told you about your friends and jumping off a cliff? Well, there ya go. Not jumping off the cliff is about character; pressure to conform is with us always.

Posted by: Moira Breen on August 21, 2007 3:28 PM






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