Chick Palahniuk’s Beautiful You
Penny Harrigan is perfectly average and she’s never had an orgasm. She is the leading lady in Chuck Palahniuk’s latest book Beautiful You, in which C. Linus Maxwell, CEO of MicroDataCom releases a line of sex toys so potent that women literally recede from society, preferring to stay home to masturbate incessantly. Remember the 1998 episode of “Sex and the City” in which Charlotte became addicted to her rabbit vibrator? It’s like that, but global. The book is a quirky cross between a motivational anecdote about a woman’s journey to sexual empowerment, and a grim critique of dystopian industrialized society, just with painful details and boring writing.
Romantic love occupies a significant amount of space in both popular culture and, often, the human psyche. It is the muse of artists, musicians, and poets; the downfall of great characters; the impetus for sheer giddy joy, deep comfort, and the sharpest most debilitating pain. Truly, what else matters when you’re in the arms of a lover? What else is of import after a lover breaks your heart? Of course, romantic love, as conceived in the contemporary West, has an end game: marriage and/or life partnership along with the formation of a family.
This has not always been the case, and is not the case everywhere. The notion of romantic love began with knights and ladies of nobility and had nothing to do with marriage, or even sex, while arranged marriages and dowry agreements have little to do with romantic love. That is, the coupling of love with marriage is not compulsory, but culturally constructed as such. And it strikes me, when I think about it, as a bit of an odd couple. (more…)
Pharmaceutical drugs do an array of things to the body. They can affect mood, energy, blood flow, experiences of pain, and capacities for pleasure. Their increasing prevalence in the marketplace and home medicine cabinets suggests an addition to the old adage that ‘we are what we eat.’ Today, we are also what we take.
But embedded within cultural realities, pharmaceuticals do not simply do things to the body. Rather, they are the conduits through which the body becomes connected with and constituted through economies of both money and moral value. Pharmaceutical drugs are at once tools of medicinal healing and commodities of social and financial exchange. In understanding the implications of any particular pharmaceutical drug, then, it is pertinent to ask not only what it does, but what the pharmaceutical company is selling, to whom, and with what kind of trajectory. (more…)
On 25 February 1940, an officer with the San Francisco police department’s homicide detail reported a “rather suspicious business” operating in the city. At 126 Jackson Street sat an old, three-story rooming house, recently leased by Dr. Henri F. St. Pierre of the Dermic Laboratories. As Assistant Special Agent J. W. Williams later described the scene, “women had been seen entering the place from the Jackson Street side at various times of the day, subsequently leaving by … an alley at the rear of the building. Following the arrival of the women, cars would arrive with a man carrying a case resembling … a doctor’s kit. They would also enter the building for a short time, come out, and drive away. . . .” At first sight, the medical kit, the furtive departures, and the seedy locale all signaled to Williams that St. Pierre was running a “new abortion parlor.” As it turned out, however, “the so-called ‘Dr.'” was offering a somewhat different service to these women: the removal of their unwanted body hair through prolonged exposure to X rays (quoted directly from Rebecca Herzig’s Removing Roots: ‘North American Hiroshima Maidens’ and the X-Ray).
Body hair. Humans have it. Where they have it, how much they have, and what color it is, holds moral connotations tied to cultural norms of both gender and race. In the simplest sense, men should be hairy. Women should be hairless.
The good and moral woman has little to no body hair, and the body hair she does have is only on her legs, and all of those hairs are blond and fine. For those of us who fail to naturally achieve this bodied moral norm, the medical-cosmetic market offers an array of technologies to help hide, temporarily or permanently, our moral failing.
Over the summer I began supervising a student for an independent study of BDSM and Kink communities. To begin, this student created a list of academic articles, books, and blog posts relevant to the question of study. I will be reading along with the student, and am currently making my way through the blogosphere. In doing so, I’ve been struck by the prevalence of “trigger warnings” attached to blog posts, many of which deal with safety, abuse, and rape culture. Many readers are probably familiar with the trigger warning. Posted in front of potentially upsetting content, the trigger warning gives potential readers a heads up about the nature of the text, sound, or images that follow.
It is perhaps unsurprising that trigger warnings are common among bloggers writing about rape, consent, and sex-positive encounters. These are sensitive topics and the authors (the ones that my student and I have been reading) come at these topics from a conscientiously critical feminist perspective. But what about all of those trigger warnings outside of this explicitly conscientious space? Although unscientific, I’ve noticed an abundance of trigger warnings throughout my Twitter and Facebook feeds as people share content with one another. The phenomena has even spread to higher education, with students and universities calling for the integration of trigger warnings into class syllabi (though this is not without critique). (more…)
Last week, I posted a short PSA for Theorizing the Web participants regarding the word “seminal” as a metaphor for foundational ideas. I linked seminal with the masculine “semen” (i.e., sperm) and argued that its use in intellectual discourse is sexist. The backlash on the post itself, as well as on Twitter and Facebook, was quite strong. I therefore want to take this opportunity to respond to some thematic critiques and challenge those who continue to so vehemently defend the term. (more…)
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been interviewed twice about location-based dating apps. These are mobile applications that connect people with others in their geographic proximity, often in real-time. Popular examples include Tinder, Grindr (and its counterpart, Blendr), and SinglesAroundMe. The apps are largely photo based, and offer an opportunity for serendipitous meet-ups, in which users can potentially find love, sex, or general companionship.
The fact that I was invited to take part in these interviews is a bit odd, since none of my own empirical research pertains specifically to dating or dating technologies. I did, however, write a post for Cyborgology about race and online dating sites, which got some attention, and I do (obviously) maintain research interests and projects in new technologies more generally. So anyhow, I agreed to fumble my way through these two interviews, offering the interviewers caveats about my knowledge gaps. In the end, I’m glad that I did, as their questions—much of which overlapped—pushed me to think about what these applications afford, and how they intersect with the realities and politics of love, sex, and gender relations. (more…)
Confession: I watched the Apple event yesterday, and I’ve watched at least part of every product announcement for the last several years. Apple announcements are the opposite of a guilty pleasure; they are a burden that I take on with pride. They are insipid and represent everything that is wrong with Silicon Valley and yet I feel obliged to watch them because they let me stare deeply into this heaving morass of Cronenbergian lust for technology. It always feels like we’re one year away from Phil Schiller offing himself with an iGun after screaming “LONG LIVE THE NEW FLESH!” When I watch Silicon Valley spread out on the Moscone Center stage I feel prideful (to a fault perhaps) that these events just seem so… transparent. They’re so easy to read and so easy to critique they amount to social science target practice. (more…)
From an augmented perspective, technologies both reflect and affect social structures and hierarchical relations. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that theorists of science and technology have long recognized how technologies are gendered. This goes beyond probing technologies of female reproduction, or masculine tools of object manipulation. This pervades even those seemingly gender neutral technological objects, and the ways in which we talk about, use, and make sense of them.
Awhile back, I talked about the gendering of Siri. I argued that the female voice, coupled with her designation as a “personal assistant” created an environment ripe for highly sexist/sexualized personification of the iphone application, and iphones themselves. Far from Haraway’s utopic de-categorization, this melding of mechanical and organic solidified gendered meanings and strengthened interactional gender inequalities.
With this understanding, I still couldn’t contain my exasperated eye-roll when, after hooking up television in my home for the first time in almost a decade, I saw this (video after the jump): (more…)
The Today Show recently did a special on sexting, and NBC reporter Abigail Pesta wrote a piece about it, with a video link, here. Much of the piece is based around the expert opinion of Catherine Steiner-Adair, a psychologist who wrote a book on the topic based on interviews and observations with teenage students in the U.S.
In what follows, I leverage a rather harsh critique of the piece and the research that it cites. I do so because I think they show promise, but go wrong in very important ways. This critique is meant not as a fight, but as a push to researchers, policy makers, and general citizens to check their assumptions about the relationship between bodies, behaviors, and technologies. And moreover, it is an imploration to address root level issues, rather than seeking out blamable objects with naive hopes of eradicating social problems through destruction of material stuff. (more…)