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Besides the out right absurdity of this year’s election politics, one can always easily find fatuity in abundance within and around this country’s cultural dialogs. I dare say that the most reliable fount for such falderal punditry (at least in the US) is always to be found in and around discussions of sexuality or more to the point, the organs involved with said behavior. For example, just take a glance at the March issue of Vanity Fair, where one can find an article by James Wolcott entitled The Hung And The Restless. Why am I singling out Mr. Wolcott? Because he believes that he has stumbled upon a new understanding or change in the zeitgeist within the oeuvre of American film and guess what he feels is this fresh cinematic insight? Why its the sudden emergence of the penis en masse on the big screen. Surprised, I know I was?
To put it ever so mildly, after reading this article I felt an immediate rebuff was required but where to begin with this ersatz analysis? Well…to start off with, no where in the article does Mr. Wolcott make even a passing remark on the possible root causes of America’s acidulous relationship with the penis and with sex in general. As it happens, I have written to some extent on this phenomenon of sexual neurosis and you can read my notions on this subject in an essay entitled Why Does America Hate Dick? found on this site. To be terse in my recap of that essay, it appears rather obvious that America’s puritanical foundation has everything to do with this country’s sexual hang-ups irregardless of how they manifest themselves. For Mr. Wolcott to not even mention this country’s religiosity as a factor in his analysis is more than just rhetorically negligent, it showcases Mr. Wolcott’s extreme sciolistic understanding of what he is writing about (not a first for this writer). And even more damaging to his credibility is the fact that he misses on several occasions through out the article (he does get close though) to pronounce on an actual insight of some profundity. To be fair, he does correctly sight the long history of the lack of cinematic male full-frontal nudity all the while women being found more consistently and reliably totally nude in film. What he does not register though is that due to patriarchal chauvinism, men have always felt that it was their right to objectify women sexually to suit their prurient needs. But ever since the sexual revolution of the nineteen sixties, as women gained more and more the ability to objectify men sexually, men (I should perhaps say straight men) found they did not care too much for this role reversal and disregard of patriarchal privilege.
Yet even with this declension, Mr. Wolcott does make note of the fact that it is only the flaccid penis which is making more of an appearance in main-stream American film, not erections, and this fact is really the gravamen of his argument but more on this later. He is correct when he sites that this state of affairs has a root in the endowment of penis size (or lack there of) which a man possesses. Since this is the organ we men define ourselves by, there is a slight neurotic understanding of why it should be the case that it is only limp dicks we see in films outside of Pornatopia. But again, he could have gone further by asking why is it that on the American silver screen, seeing male arousal is verboten while seeing a man torn to pieces by bullets and bombs is sanctioned to the point of banality? Why is seeing a man hit in the testicles kosher on television while seeing a man’s testicles being pleasurably stroked is deemed obscene? Why is violence accepted more readily than any manifestation of sexuality in our culture? This truly American psycho-pathology goes completely unmentioned in Mr. Wolcott’s article. Surely this is a pretty monumental detail to forgo.
Yet I am going to ask you to disregard all of these criticisms in favor of a sole critique of Mr. Wolcott’s rather odd but nonetheless original peroration. He states in his conclusion that the possible reason behind this current effusion of phallic imagery can be found in the current social and economic malaise of our republic. He writes:
“But there’s a deeper anxiety being tickled that doesn’t involve sexual qualms or identity. It’s become commonplace in postmodern studies to speak of the clothed penis as the invisible signifier of the phallus.(…)It’s phallic authority that’s being displaced by all these actual penises, male power that’s being symbolically deflated. And not just male power. I think these dopey penises are caution flags, symbolic indicators of a national power drop that encompasses politics, economics, education–the works.”
What a breathtaking non sequitur. This has to be the first time I have ever encountered an assertion that claims a connection between political economy and male sexual tumescence. Almost as absurd is the idea of penis semiotics being a so-called postmodern area of study. My my, what else could possibly be awkwardly shoved under this untenable philosophic umbrella after the admittance of phallo-symbolism? Not only do I not see a penile advent going on within American cinema as Mr. Wolcott apparently does, but the greater questions concerning this inquiry are what is ultimately left dangling at the end of his article. What is the malign and mephitic influence of religion on sexuality? Why does one not see ads like the one to the left of this text in American publications (say like Vanity Fair) yet encounters them in European magazines with out any notice or controversy? Where does the male body and masculinity actually stand, culturally speaking, among the detritus of post-feminism and so-called postmodernism? All worthy questions of inquiry for the intellectually inquisitive. That is why seeing a half-assed assay at these important questions within the pages of Vanity Fair is so disheartening. All the more so since it points to a decline in writing quality within this magazine–especially after the death of Christopher Hitchens, or at least, that’s what I think anyway.