[Marxism] raunch culture

Sudhir Devadas sudhirdin at gmail.com
Mon Dec 5 00:25:06 MST 2005


in bushland if not ranch it's raunch culture. truly every country gets
the culture it deserves.

sudhir

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Ariel Levy on 'raunch culture'
Young women are expressing their sexuality more overtly, and
outrageously, than ever. But in her hotly debated new book, US
feminist author Ariel Levy argues that this is not liberation, it's a
betrayal. She takes us on an eye-opening tour of 'raunch culture'
The Independent   04 December 2005


A few years ago I noticed something strange. I would turn on the
television and find strippers in pasties explaining how best to
lap-dance a man to orgasm. I would flip the channel and see babes in
tight, tiny uniforms bouncing up and down on trampolines. Britney
Spears was becoming increasingly popular and increasingly unclothed,
and her undulating body ultimately became so familiar to me I felt
like we used to go out together.

In my own industry, magazines, a porny new genre called the Lad Mag,
which included titles such as Maxim, FHM, and Stuff, was hitting
stands and becoming a huge success by delivering what Playboy had only
occasionally managed to capture: greased celebrities in little scraps
of fabric humping the floor.

Some odd things were happening in my social life, too. People I knew
(female people) liked going to strip clubs (female strippers). It was
sexy and fun, they explained; it was liberating and rebellious. My
best friend from college, who used to go to Take Back the Night
marches on campus, had become captivated by porn stars. Only 30 years
(roughly my lifetime) ago, our mothers were supposedly burning their
bras and picketing Playboy, and suddenly we were getting implants and
wearing the Bunny logo as symbols of our liberation. How had the
culture shifted so drastically in such a short period of time?

What was even more surprising than the change itself were the
responses I got when I started interviewing the men and - often -
women who edit magazines like Maxim and produce television series
about strippers. This new raunch culture didn't mark the death of
feminism; it was evidence that the feminist project had already been
achieved. We'd earned the right to look at Playboy; we were empowered
enough to get Brazilian bikini waxes. Women had come so far, I
learned, we no longer needed to worry about objectification or
misogyny. Instead, it was time for us to join the wild party of pop
culture where men had been enjoying themselves all along. If male
chauvinist pigs were men who regarded women as pieces of meat, we
would beat them at their own game and be female chauvinist pigs: women
who make sex objects of other women and of ourselves.

I tried to get with the programme, but I could never make the argument
add up in my head. How is resurrecting every stereotype of female
sexuality that feminism endeavoured to banish good for women? Why is
labouring to look like Paris Hilton empowering? And how is imitating a
stripper or a porn star - a woman whose job is to imitate arousal in
the first place - going to render us sexually liberated?

There is a widespread assumption that simply because my generation of
women has the good fortune to live in a world touched by the feminist
movement, that means everything we do is magically imbued with its
agenda, but it doesn't work that way. "Raunchy" and "liberated" are
not synonyms. It is worth asking ourselves if this bawdy world of
boobs and gams we have resurrected reflects how far we've come, or how
far we have left to go.

The first stop on my tour of raunch culture was Miami, Florida, where
I accompanied a group called Girls Gone Wild on spring break (a
week-long US college recess). Late at night, infomercials show
bleeped-out snippets of Girls Gone Wild's wildly popular, utterly
plotless videos, composed entirely from footage of young women
flashing their breasts, their buttocks, or occasionally their genitals
at the camera, and usually shrieking "whoo!" while they do it. The
videos range slightly in theme - from Girls Gone Wild on Campus to
Girls Gone Wild Doggy Style (hosted by the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg) -
but the formula is steady and strong: bring cameras to amped-up
locales like Mardi Gras, hard-partying colleges, sports bars, and
spring-break destinations where young people are drinking themselves
batty, and offer T-shirts and trucker hats to the girls who flash or
the guys who induce them to. Girls Gone Wild (GGW) is so popular it is
expanding from soft-core videos to launch a clothing line, a
compilation CD and a restaurant chain. Justin Timberlake has been
photographed in a GGW hat; Brad Pitt gave out GGW videos to his Troy
cast-mates as wrap presents.

"It's a cultural phenomenon," said Bill Horn, Girls Gone Wild's
32-year-old vice president of marketing, a shaggy-haired young man
sitting on the front porch of the Chesterfield Hotel late on a balmy
Friday night. " It's like a rite of passage."

Puck, a surprisingly polite 24-year-old cameraman, was loading
equipment into their van. He wore a GGW hat and T-shirt, which seemed
to be enough to draw women to him as if by ensorcellment. Two stunning
young women approached from the street and asked Puck if they could
come along with him if they promised to take off their clothes and
make out with each other later for the camera, possibly even in a
shower. There was no room for them in the car, but Puck was
unconcerned; there would be other such offers. " It's amazing," said
GGW's tour manager Mia Leist, a smiley, guileless, 24-year-old.
"People flash for the brand." She pointed at a young woman sitting on
the other end of the porch. "Debbie got naked for a hat."

Besides her new GGW hat, 19-year-old Debbie Cope was wearing a
rhinestone Playboy bunny ring, white stilettos that laced in tight X's
up her hairless calves, and wee shorts that left the lowest part of
her rear in contact with the night air. Body glitter sparkled across
her tan shoulders and cleavage. " The body is such a beautiful thing,"
she said. "If a woman's got a pretty body and she likes her body, let
her show it off! It (omega) exudes confidence when people wear little
clothes." Cope was a tiny person who could have passed for 15. On the
preceding night she had done a "scene" for GGW, which is to say she
pulled down her shorts and masturbated for them on camera in the back
of a bar. She said she felt bad for "not doing it right" because for
some reason she couldn't achieve orgasm.

"People watch the videos and think the girls in them are real slutty,
but I'm a virgin!" Cope said proudly. "And yeah, Girls Gone Wild is
for guys to get off on, but the women are beautiful and it's... fun!
The only way I could see someone not doing this is if they were
planning a career in politics."

Everyone piled into the van and followed Crazy Debbie to a dance club
in nearby Coconut Grove, where she knew all the locals. "Fun girls,"
Cope promised. It was a vast, multilevel place and every song had a
relentless, throbbing beat. Puck and Sam, the cameramen, headed out on
to the balcony with three young women who'd volunteered to do a
"private" .

"Here we go," said Horn. He gave a little laugh. "There's some part of
me that always wants to shriek, 'Don't do it!' "

But he didn't, and they definitely did... the trio started making out
in a ravenous lump, grabbing at each other's rears and rutting around
while trying to remain upright. Ultimately, one girl fell over and
landed giggling on the floor - a typical endpoint for a GGW scene.

Later, the girl - her name was Meredith - said she was a graduate
student. " It's sad," she said, with only a slight slur. "We'll have
PhDs in three years. In anthropology."

A few weeks later, on the telephone, she was upset: "I'm not at all
bisexual... not that I have anything against that. But I'd never do
that really. It's more for show; a polite way of putting it is it's
like a reflex, " she said. "My friend I was with felt really bad, the
one who told the first girl to kiss me. Because in the beginning, I
felt so dirty about the whole thing. I hate Miami."

"It's a business," said Mia Leist. "In a perfect world, maybe we'd
stop and change things. But we know how it works. I've had discussions
with friends who were like, 'This is so degrading to females.' I feel
that if you walk up to someone all sly and say, 'Come on, get naked,
show me your box,' that's one thing. But if you have women coming up
to you begging to get on camera and they're having fun and being sexy,
then that's another story."

I asked Leist if she would ever appear in a GGW video herself. She
said, " Definitely not."

The next day at the beach, only the light was different. "We want our
picture with you!" a blonde in a bikini yelled at the crew, shaking
her digital camera in the air.

"We don't want pictures," Leist called back. "We want boobs!"

A pack of guys were drinking beer out of a funnel, and they decided
they wanted GGW hats. Badly.

"Show them your tits," one yelled at the two girls splayed on towels
next to him. "What's your problem? Just show them your tits."

Puck set up the shot and waited, camera poised, for the female
response. " No way!" The girl in the black bikini said, pouting.

"You know you want to," the funnel-wielder taunted. People started to
circle around, like seagulls sensing a family about to abandon their
lunch. "Do it," the guy said.

"Yeah, do it!" yelled a spectator.

"Show your tits!" screamed another.

"Show your ass!"

There were maybe 40 people now gathered in a circle that was
simultaneously tightening inward and expanding outward around Puck and
the girls and their " friends" with every passing second. The noise
rose in volume and pitch.

I caught myself hoping the crowd would not start throwing rocks at the
girls if they decided to keep their clothes on.

We'll never know, because after a few more minutes passed and a few
more dozen dudes joined the massive amoeba of people shouting and
standing on top of beach chairs and climbing up on each other's
shoulders to get a good view of what might happen, it happened. The
girl pulled down her black bathing suit bottoms and was rewarded by an
echoing round of shrieks that sliced the sky.

"More!" Someone yelled.

Other people pulled out cameras. The people who had cameras built into
their mobile phones flipped them open and jumped up to try and get
shots of the action over the human wall. The second girl rose up off
her towel, listened to the cheers for a moment, and then spanked her
friend to the rhythm of the hooting.

"Yo," a guy says into his phone. "This is the best beach day ever."

This is not a situation foisted upon women. Because of the feminist
movement, women today - on both sides of the Atlantic - obviously have
staggeringly different opportunities and expectations than our mothers
did: we have attained a degree of hard-won (and still threatened)
freedom in our personal lives; we are gradually penetrating the
highest levels of the work force; we get to go to college and play
sports and run for government office. But to look around, you'd think
all any of us want to do is rip off our clothes and shake it.

It no longer makes sense to just blame men. Mia Leist and plenty of
other women are behind the scenes, not just in front of the cameras,
making decisions, making money and shouting "We want boobs." Playboy
is a case in point. Playboy's image has everything to do with its
pyjama-clad, septuagenarian, babe-magnet founder, Hugh Hefner, and the
surreal world of celebrities, multiple "girlfriends" and nonstop
bikini parties he's set up around himself. But in actuality, Playboy
is a company largely run by women. Hefner's daughter Christie is the
chairman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises. The CFO is a middle-aged
mother named Linda Havard. The Playboy Foundation (which has supported
the ERA and abortion rights among other progressive causes) is run by
Cleo Wilson, an African-American former civil-rights activist. A woman
named Marilyn Grabowski produces more than half the magazine's photo
features.

"A lot of women read the magazine," Christie Hefner told me when I
went to visit her in Chicago. "We know they read it because we get
letters from them." And this was proof, she said, that "the
post-sexual-revolution, post-women's-movement generation that is now
out there in their late twenties and early thirties has just a more
grown-up, comfortable, natural attitude about sex and sexiness that is
more in line with where guys (omega) were a couple generations before.
The rabbit head symbolises sexy fun, a little bit of rebelliousness,
the same way a navel ring does... or low-rider jeans! It's an obvious
'I'm taking control of how I look and the statement I'm making' as
opposed to 'I'm embarrassed about it' or 'I'm uncomfortable with it'.
A little bit of that in-your-face... but in a fun way... frisky is a
good word."

I asked her why she supposed all these frisky, in-your-face women were
buying Playboy instead of, say, Playgirl. "To say that the gap is
closing isn't to say that the gap has closed," she replied. "You can't
put male nudity in an ad the way you can put female nudity in an ad
and have it be perfectly acceptable. I mean, we still have a
disconnect because of the attitude that men have about being
uncomfortable about being the objects of women's fantasies and gaze."

That would explain why men would be less likely than women to dream
about one day appearing in the pages of Playgirl (and why there aren't
any Boys Gone Wild). But it doesn't explain why women would be buying
the magazine, the rabbit-head merchandise, the shtick. I think that
has more to do with the current accepted wisdom that Hefner
articulated so precisely: the only alternative to enjoying Playboy (or
flashing on spring break or getting implants or ogling strippers) is
being "uncomfortable" with and " embarrassed" about your sexuality.
Raunch culture, then, isn't an entertainment option, it's a litmus
test of female uptightness.

I asked Hefner how she felt about young girls aspiring to be in
Playboy - girls like the ones she provides scholarships to through the
Committee of 200, an organisation of female executives and business
owners who provide mentoring programmes "The reason why I think it's
perfectly OK is because the way women see being in the magazine is not
as a career but as a statement," she said firmly. "It's a moment that
lets them be creative... that can be as simple as 'I just want to feel
attractive', or it can be very complicated, as has happened with a
Vicky Lamotta or a Joan Collins, saying, 'I am older and I want to
reassert the ability to be attractive now that I'm 50.' Or: 'I'm an
athlete and I don't think athleticism in women is at odds with being
sexy.' "

But the women in Playboy are never seen as themselves. They are only
ever seen spread out, in soft focus, wearing something slight and
fluffy and smiling in that gentle, wet-lipped way that suggests they
will be happy to take whatever is given to them. They are expressing
they are sexy only if sexy means obliging and well paid. If sexy means
passionate or invested in one's own fantasies and sexual proclivities,
then the pictorials don't quite do it. "When you get yourself into the
really contortionist position that you've got to hold up and your back
hurts and you've got to suck in your stomach, you've got to stick your
hips out, you've got to arch your back and you've got to stick your
butt out all at the same time and suck in and hold your breath, you
don't feel sexy. You feel pain," a model named Alex Arden, a former
Penthouse cover girl, told interviewers from VH1.

The world's top-selling adult film performer, Jenna Jameson, echoed
Arden's sentiment when she wrote about her early test shoots for men's
magazines in her best-selling memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn
Star: "I had to arch so hard that my lower back cramped. When I see
those photos now, it seems obvious that sexy pout I thought I was
giving the camera was just a poorly disguised grimace of pain."

Doesn't sound like something you would do for fun. There are some
women who are probably genuinely aroused by being photographed naked,
but I think we can safely assume that many more women appear in
Playboy for the simple reason that they are paid to. Which is fine.
But "because I was paid to" is not the same thing as "I'm taking
control of my sexuality."

Why can't we be sexy and frisky and in control without being
commodified? Why do you have to be in Playboy to express "I don't
think athleticism in women is at odds with being sexy?" (If you really
believed you were both sexy and athletic, wouldn't it be enough to
play your sport with your flawless body and your face gripped with
passion?)

That women are now doing this to ourselves isn't some kind of triumph,
it's depressing. Sexuality is inherent, it is a fundamental part of
being human, and it is a lot more complicated than we seem to be
willing to admit. Different things are attractive to different people
and sexual tastes run wide and wild. Yet somehow, we have accepted as
fact the myth that sexiness needs to be something divorced from the
everyday experience of being ourselves.

It's ironic that we think of this as "adult entertainment", because
really, reducing sexuality to bikini waxes and polyester underpants is
pretty adolescent. s

'Female Chauvinist Pigs' by Ariel Levy is out now, published by Simon
& Schuster, priced £17.99




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