sex 'n' the flag 'n' stuff (Hegel, Kant, what have you)

Greg Nowell GN842 at CNSVAX.Albany.Edu
Wed Mar 24 17:05:29 PST 1999

Actually my post, which I don't have electronically handy, metamorphosed into a discussion of what clothes are. Which has been missed in all the subsequent discussion. And yes, were one to paint a man's genitalia, red white and blue with little stars on the end, it would pose the same issues of "fucking the flag." But the image would have economic implications too, related to imperialist expansion (tumescence) and contraction (detumescence).

Hegelianly and dialectically, of course. It can be experienced by a men but only understood by women. But of course Hegel doesn't say in the Phenomenology--not at any point--that the master is incapable of understanding the slave or even what may or may not drive the slave to self-recognition. He merely says that the master's relationship with the material world is such that he meets his needs through the activity of the slave. He knows what a chair is, he knows of what it is made and what it is used for. But he may not be that good at making one himself, and so is "denied" the opportunity to recognize "self" in "thing" (transformation of the object by labor). The slave *does* have that chance, which drives the relationship between master and slave to transform--because the slave's transformed knowledge of self transforms the relationship with the master.

The Phenomenology has a weird kind of historical chronology (evolution of individual consciousness and of European society as a whole are conflated) and the "end" of slavery leads us to feudalism to exchange relationships, etc. An emancipation of a kind. Anyhow one might conclude that the master can never understand the slave but that is not really the point. The point is that the master can very well understand the slave but may not use that understanding to alter the relationship; indeed, his appreciation (like that of a Marxist working for high finance) may be quite as to the point as the slave's, the difference being that he *likes* the status quo. But that does not mean that he does not *understand* it. On the other hand, people who think that stern lectures about what ought to be morality wise might turn to Hegel's treatment of liberal reformism, a bit later in the book, translated in one version as "the frenzy of self-conceit."

Returning to sex and the flag, I suspect that even the phrase in pixels or print would, by conjuring up an impious image, offend the sensibilities of our would be amendment makers, which was another element of said posting.

And finally, I am indeed, hopelessly out of touch with contemporary culture. Although I find that SI has "crossed some kind of line" which the fashion magazines that my wife gets (from time to time) have not corssed, although I suppose it was Vanity Fair which started the trend. I dunno. I always thought SI was jocks in shorts jumping after balls in mid-air (which y'all can take any way you like). Then they started this swim suit thing. OK, horny guys with a taste for airbrushed photos. But, there still was a line between SI and the porn industry. But it looks like the line is vanishing. And, though US ads are very provocative, they are, en masse, less sexually explicit than those in France. Which I noticed to my relief after returning from a two year stint there. Because look, I'm minding my business and cogitating on the evolution of the world oil industry (my dissertation topic) at the metro, and across from me ten feet high is a seductively airbrushed bare-breasted woman offering a sip of Evian. I find that intrusive and distracting: it's not a question of opening a magazine, which I can choose not to do, or turning on the tube, which I also can avoid, but of putting right out there where only the blind are spared. Forget what it does to the models. I don't need people trying to activate my fantasy life when I've got other things to do.

In some ways sexual advertising is analogous to having a lot of food out on display. I find the gastroporn at cafes of the most luscious desserts imaginalble to be a terrible way of getting me to eat more than I want to. Nonetheless the fact is that the food display is designed to make me desire food and the food exists and I can have it. The ads are rather more perverse. They don't make me have more sex than I want to have. But they do try to make me think, often more than I would want, about sex when I might have something totally else on my mind. But the sex is not offered the way a dessert is pornographically displayed in a cafe display case. Because the sex is not to be had, not at that instant, not at any price, because in the exchange relationship there are many things for sale, but not the fantasy woman to the viewer. First, she does not exist, because she is an airbrushed super-made-up bulimic, so that even she does not live up to the standard of beauty of which she is the ostensible purveyor. She can never feel as good as she looks in the ads because she is not in fact that person. But this is a minor consideration. Everything is fake in ad world. Fewer men are bald. The cars glaeam more, the burgers are fluffy and overflowing with fresh lettuce brilliant red tomatoes rather than as they are, wrapped in tinfoil, sitting in a warmer, steamed 'n' soggy.

Second, what is in fact being sold is a beer or bottle of water, or something else (the most fascinating are bikini clad models selling power tools, I don't know what the implications are, but the genre is extrarodinary), which, whatever need it may satisfy, surely not the desire for sex which its ad evokes. Evian can sell me a bottle of water, period.

Third, the exchange relationships are not between the ad viewer and the model (as distinct from prostitution, where the exchange relationship is between prostitute and John). This is incorrect analysis. The exchange relatoinship is between the model and the advertisers/agency, on the one hand, which is contractual exchange, and ad sponsor and the agency/media outlet, on the other. The mind of the viewer is being sold to the advertiser by the agency/magazine/television station. "We will make Graduate Student Nowell stop thinking about the oil industry by putting these breasts on display and then he may buy Evian instead of Perrier." As Gavan Duffy pointed out in a terrific Master's thesis at MIT, the issue here is a Kantian one, violating the categorical imperative. Advertising is selling people and is a form of slavery. It differs from work contracts because a moment of my consciousness, which is me, has been sold without my entering into an explicit exchange relationship for my labor; the ad viewer is thus at a considerable disadvantage to the model who provides the image and has an agent negotiating terms, etc.

Viewed from this perspective, sexual advertising targeting men is not about men qua ad viewers being bad people by having their horny responses and collectively being Big Swinging Dicks who are exploiting women. Rather, the women models (qua contractual labor) are being used by (primarily male corporate owners, but also all those widows who own the stock after hubby dies and goes yonder) as a tool for the sale of men's minds (without contractual consent of any kind) to corporations.

Thus men are the victims of other men. They should be philosophizing, but no, out come those corporate propagandists and their starvling collaborationist females prancing in air-brushed demi-nudity and rob them of their private consciousness (particularity) to absorb them into the consumerist universal. No matter what consumption path we choose we can never get enough because it is not the commodity but the sex which the commodity does not provide and so, renewed search in vain, falling behind with power tools, corvettes, computers, to get faster, flashier, more important, but always falling behind, behind, behind, because no matter what we buy we don't get the Babe and the Babe, were she to be had, does not exist as represented, nearly an abstract universal, but only as a particular.

Less abstractly, one may *think* that the requisite bikini (rather than nudity) in US sex-using ads is hardly different from European displays, but in fact, US prudishness has led to a substantively less intrusive overall environment. Difficult to believe, I know, but less explicit ads, along with no-smoking in many restaurants, is one of the few benefits of living in a country with no health care system.

-gn -- Gregory P. Nowell Associate Professor Department of Political Science, Milne 100 State University of New York 135 Western Ave. Albany, New York 12222

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