Sunday, September 28, 2008

Judging a Book by Its Cover...

…is often a perfectly rational thing to do, of course. They put some thought into those covers, you know.

Sometimes people arguably put too much thought into them, with results like the feminist arguments over Rachel Kramer Bussel’s new books of erotica — which are ostensibly intended for female readers yet have females on the cover. The second-wave feminist complaint (more or less) is that it’s odd to have a fetishized woman on the cover if the readers are presumably mostly attracted to men. The knee-jerk third-wave feminist retort, interestingly, is essentially (if I can use that word) to say: who are you to say what should be on the cover or what women should find attractive? (This, in keeping with the third-wavers’ refusal to accept generalizations and definitions [ADDENDUM: Of course, the really relevant question, one that famed female porn producer Candida Royale also probably heard a lot, is: What makes you think it's really women who are buying these things anyway?].)

This is a fascinating example, I think, of how even if (to radically oversimplify) you’re a somewhat conservative sort who’s “rooting against” complaining second-wavers in some arguments, it’s hard to tell whether third-wavers are helpful (in an enemy-of-my-enemy way, but also in a more-flexibility-and-freedom-of-thought way) or merely more cynical/relativist (and more bisexual-on-principle, not that there’s anything wrong with that).

If the original, nineteenth-century-or-so wave of feminism in effect had as its slogan “Liberty!” and the second, mid-twentieth-century wave in effect had as its slogan “Equality!” then the third (like much of the broader culture) seems to have “Whatever!” as its battle cry. And that’s sometimes useful and even a great relief but is sometimes, y’know — well, but no, it’s cool…y’know, if that’s your thing…maybe put it on, like, a tattoo or something — whatever (maybe we can work out the philosophical details during tonight’s 8pm Debate at Lolita Bar about sex with Stephanie Sellars confronting Anna Broadway).


As for a practical publishing reason that women might still tend to grace the covers of woman-aimed erotica: as some ad person once explained to me, putting pictures of beautiful women on things is usually a win-win pattern, since women will look at beautiful women to “compare” whereas men (a small handful of gays and metrosexuals excepted, of course) just don’t care enough to check how they compare to George Clooney in his new suit — but obviously do want to see that woman from Transformers in a bikini, say (and lo! apparently she’s being considered for the role of the bikini-clad, constantly-swimming aquatic superheroine from the comic book Fathom, the artist of which, tragically, died in his thirties earlier this year).

On balance, you get more eyeballs total with a woman-picture, and I of course think only major-league genetic engineering would really alter that, making most of the feminist complaints on the matter pointless.

(And as my day job constantly reminds me, you also get more eyeballs with unscientific scare headlines than with calm, measured reassurances, so the real homerun for grabbing people’s attention is probably babes-plus-terror…as Hollywood seems to have noticed [and Troma Studios].)


And if, having read all of my Month of Sex entries, you’ve decided you’re tired of pseudo-intellectual blather on such matters and just want to be deemed attractive like the Transformers chick (purportedly named Megan Fox) — you’re in luck. It’s not often I have a beauty and cosmetics guide to recommend, but it just so happens that one of my libertarian acquaintances, Joy Bergmann, has co-written one with Carmindy Acosta, due out Tuesday, October 7: Get Positively Beautiful: The Ultimate Guide to Looking and Feeling Gorgeous.

I haven’t asked Joy her position on term limits (most libertarians like them), but October 7 is also the day we’re doing a Debate at Lolita Bar about term limits, and I still need to finalize who the anti-limits debater is. I’m not averse to a combined throw-the-bums-out/total-makeover event, but I’ll probably hear back from a more conventional activist on the topic soon (feel free to contact me!).

As for me, I have decided that the easiest route is simply to feel gorgeous without looking gorgeous. That way no one suspects anything — until it’s too late.


On a somewhat more conventional libertarian note, here’s a funny example of online truth-seeking gone awry, veiled as objectivity — a very brief, woefully inadequate attempt by the left to explain the right (but I’m staying out of it).

By contrast, here’s a new project that’s meant to aid online activists of all sorts, if you’re into that, punningly called The Websters’ Dictionary. I suspect that for all our fretting this week over sclerotic systems (like Wall Street and government), the sort of fluidity you see in social networking sites is probably the way of the future nonetheless — as the third-wavers might tend to agree — so that dictionary might prove useful.

How’s that for a brief glossing-over of an immensely complex topic? A gross injustice, but I’m busy (though it won’t stop me dropping in on 4pm readings today at Bowery Poetry Club featuring Boni Joi and others — conveniently located near our 8pm debate, if you want to make a day of it).


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