Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Praise of Gauzy Coronas

At the risk of sounding like a rank fetishist, I have to say that Molly Young of n+1 has captured for all time a certain quality of Playboy centerfolds from the 1970s and 1980s:

Pubic hair is another delight to behold, appearing first in 1971 and thriving until 1997. Gauzy coronas of pubic hair, technicolor dreampubes of every shade. You forget how assertive a healthy growth of hair can look. It comes as a pleasant shock in the midst of a creamy-smooth expanse.

Pubic hair diminishes as the nineties draw to a close. Neat triangles turn to Band Aid-sized strips, which become little Hitler mustaches or nothing at all. The modern crotch is a bit prim, a bit less forthright. You'd think that depilation would lend a youthful look to the genitals but it has the opposite effect instead, making the girls look older and slightly jaded. (Intimate grooming signals forethought.) The youthful quality of the early centerfolds disappears.

Now that's what I call writing, and in this day and age, I thought I'd never see such prosaic thoughts on this subject again. Downright Updikean, I dare say, and on this matter, that's pretty high praise.

(Some thoughts of my own regarding the book under question.)

1 comment:

Finn Harvor said...

Two other women who have written well on porn (ie., the porn consumed by men) are Linda Williams and Laura Kipnis -- of HARDCORE and BOUND AND GAGGED respectively. Williams, I believe, coined the very good phrase "frenzy of the visible".

I don't know what it all means -- I mean, women writing well on a topic that is so close to the hearts -- so to speak -- of so many men. However, having written on the topic as well only to usually encounter rejection, it seems to me that one reason why is there is a residual puritanical notion of what literature is, and men writing about their own desire still upsets zones of the literati. (The primness of which Young speaks is not limited to shaving.) That's too bad -- it's almost as if at a reasonably significant percentage of literary magazines there is the idea that men writing on a largely (pun semi-intended) male cultural form is declasse.

The double irony is that the porn that interests me -- that of the 1970s -- is not all that "porny", really.... A female acquaintance at grad school once curled her lip instinctively when I mentioned my paper on looksism/evolutionary psychology included an analysis of porn. When I clarified that I meant yellowing copies of Penthouse and Oui, she said with a relieved burst, "Oh! Erotica!" A re-labelling of the cultural artifact was necessary for the artifact to become psychically tolerable.

But while women can talk and write about this kind of imagery with considerable nuance, I wonder if they can quite understand its effects. These images, after all, don't merely arouse simple pleasure, they arouse -- ah, never mind ... back to my keyboard. To makes *words* not only compete with but somehow master the eroticized image is a difficult task indeed. Nevertheless, what else are we -- we suddenly enlarged men -- to do? When we are confronted with images whose effect is sublimely, undeniably seductive, we are also confronted with the puzzle of how to articulate those experiences which don't have ready-made labels or names.