Monday, October 17, 2011

Fetishism at Comic Con, OWS, and Bernard Harcourt’s Mental Dungeon

I’m not sure which is weirdest: (A) the borderline-fetish garb I saw at New York Comic Con on Friday, (B) the topless Occupy Wall Street protester (with a fake mustache?) gracing the Upper East Side, or (C) the fetish garb on the website of Bernard Harcourt, OWS defender and head of the University of Chicago polisci department. 

•But first to Comic Con (NYCC):

The hot gossip was that, after last month’s reboot of the DC Universe, Hawkman will now have gills whereas Aquaman will have wings, in blatant disregard of established continuity.  No, I made that up, and I don’t much care anymore.

I’ve tended instead to retain a lingering curiosity about far more obscure questions like whether Grant Morrison will again reinvent the old Jack Kirby characters the New Gods.  When I was still regularly reading the stuff, I was also fond of the series Godland, which is not only the best Kirby homage I’ve seen but the only comic I’ve seen to praise real-life privatized-space-exploration hero Burt Rutan.  More overtly political – and beautiful – is Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, basically a thinly-veiled Batman and Catwoman team-up in which they fight al Qaeda cells, in barely-disguised fetish gear.  And that brings us back to our real topic...

It’s important to clarify terms, but I’m always a bit wearied by people who try sneakily to define away the controversial part of an argument through arbitrary, post hoc terminological boundaries (more or less “the real Scotsman problem” from philosophy class), and there was a speaker on Japanese “Lolita” culture – hip sci-fi fans dressing like frilly-costumed little girls, in a vaguely Victorian fashion – who tried to argue that real Lolita culture is empowering, artful, heroic, and innocent – and that all that wannabe-Lolita garb you may have seen in news stories (or for that matter, on the convention floor) is mere fetish wear, not true Lolita.  To which I can only say: for starters, you might wanna rename your subculture.

But my geekery-sampling companion Natalie Axton and I soon exited the Lolita panel for the far more manly Bigfoot hunters panel, and this may have been the least-hip-looking crowd at the whole con, with a few King of the Hill-like characters up at the front claiming they’d been a stone’s throw from Bigfoot on numerous occasions and thus his (or their) capture is surely imminent.  A pity-inducingly sincere audience member, reasonably enough, asked for an estimate of how many Bigfoot there are, and one of the panelists, unfazed, claimed there are an estimated 2,000-6,000 in North America.  So now you know.  (Reminder: All supernatural and paranormal claims, from God to extraterrestrials to horoscopes, are false.)

SteampunkKindle might’ve liked the panel that featured the co-author of a Zombies vs. Unicorns book.  Phans of Phoenix (fans of real-life superhero Phoenix Jones, that is) would have been pleased that the costumed heroes present were not being arrested for vigilantism – and that their favorite hero apparently isn’t being prosecuted. 

I’m not some loon, obviously, so I opted for the relatively subtle John Constantine outfit in which you see me above (maybe I’ll change my profile pics at long last).  Dance critic Axton couldn’t really complain about the costumed weirdoes too much, though, since she’d seen women dressed as slabs of meat dancing in the stage show Raw the night before, and that is sicker than a man dressed as a giant chicken in Boba Fett armor by far (yes, I saw the Robot Chicken panel – and thus Macaulay Culkin licking Seth Green’s head, as well as a quiet Geoff Johns arriving after ducking out of the Green Lantern panel he’d been on – priorities).

You’d see the occasional V for Vendetta mask, by the way, but probably not as many at Comic Con, ironically, as you would down at the Occupy Wall Street protests.

•You can also find traces of Occupy at numerous other locations now, of course, including up here on the Upper East Side, where the picture above of the topless...uh...protester/photographer...woman with a mustache was taken.  Regardless of the underlying message,
I’m just pleased to see someone reminding this city of the simple, libertarian fact that there is no law here against women being topless (nor should there be) and the simple, traditionalist fact that virtually no one is going to start walking around naked merely because the law permits it (a reminder most social order is not created by law). 

•As a fusionist – even admiring (to some degree) syncretic efforts like that of Michael De Dora at his new pluralist ethics blog, The Moral Perspective – I would love to see some sort of Occupy/Tea understanding achieved (better that than brawling in the streets, always).  So it was I at first read with sympathy Bernard Harcourt’s pro-Occupy piece for the Times.  But as a utilitarian – that is, someone who wants to maximize everyone’s long-term happiness – I can now spot sadists with a greater ease than I ever wanted to in years past.  And (long story short) I had a hunch Harcourt’s one of the sadists.  That would be something worth considering before buying into his narrative about how all our activities must be girded in inescapable rules and all talk of freedom is naïve.

Lo and behold!  Harcourt’s creepy online “arts journal” side project (scroll down to the bride’s dress description and the picture of people in black in restraints in particular).  Choice passage (referring to the figures in black):

Are they suspended in time? Are they in pain? Are they longing? Or trapped in a relationship? Locked in? Powerful – or powerless?

Slavoj Zizek suggests that if we define the rules of ‘proper’ sexual rapport in which partners should indulge in sex only on account of their mutual, purely sexual, attraction – excluding any ‘pathological’ factors (power, financial coercion, etc.) – we may lose the sexual attraction itself. If we subtract from sexual rapport the element of ‘asexual’ coercion – financial? physical? – which only distorts ‘pure’ sexual attraction, we may lose the charge.

And here Harcourt explains the reason for the site’s name:

Cell 43? A wedding gown? Black leather? And when exactly was it built? Michel Foucault, in the final chapter of Discipline and Punish, the one titled Le carcéral, locates the date of completion of the carceral: January 22, 1840. The official opening of Mettray, a juvenile prison qua home, school, military compound, courthouse, and factory – what Foucault brilliantly referred to as “the first training college in pure discipline” or “the carceral archipelago.”

Yeah, yeah, Foucault, whatever – a more respectable excuse for an interest in such things than doing your dissertation on Darkseid and Granny Goodness, I suppose – and I don’t really know what the man does (or to whom) in the privacy of his bedroom and/or office – but, look: Your major-league scumbags always have some philosophy that assigns to inexorable, sinister, external forces the responsibility for the horrible things they proceed to (freely choose to) do.  (The Revolution demanded blood, Allah needed a beheading, vee Germans are like hawks und zee Jews are naturally prey, etc.)

People who speak in hushed, ominous tones of the world being dominated by “power relationships” are likely just part of the relatively small portion of the human race whose brains can’t function outside of a primitive predator/prey mode – and so have failed to notice that the well-adjusted rest of us feel free to deal in an entirely civil fashion with each other (absent real threats by government or physical assailants).

Don’t let these dark, cynical pervs get away with it (no matter how much we may pity them for having psychological problems, severe or subtle).  Once you hear some feminist going on about all sex being coercive, try assuming that instead of liberating people she’s working as a dominatrix on weekends.  And the uptight-conservative version of this problem has already been thoroughly mocked in passages like this hilarious one from Hitchens’ memoir that I’ve quoted before:

[W]henever I hear some bigmouth in Washington or the Christian heartland banging on about the evils of sodomy or whatever, I mentally enter his name in my notebook and contentedly set my watch.  Sooner rather than later, he will be discovered down on his weary and well-worn old knees in some dreary motel or latrine, with an expired Visa card, having tried to pay well over the odds to be peed upon by some Apache transvestite.

Oh, and believe me, I have my suspicions about Hitchens, too (even if – or perhaps because – he was the one to out conservative Paul Johnson as a spanking fetishist).  These people love to wink and subtly signal to each other – makes them feel sophisticated, like a hellfire club.  But if we dare to say without nuance, “Hey, so you’re one of those freaks that needs, like, handcuffs to have an orgasm?” they lose a great deal of their supposed cryptic power.  And if they’re as enamored of power and pain as they seem to be, well, I strongly suggest we spoil their fun at every opportunity. 

Otherwise, if this Harcourt guy is where Occupy-type politics is headed, I suspect truly painful times lie ahead.  (And don’t get me started about Obama economic advisor Nouriel Roubini’s decadent parties.)

I stand with Daffy Duck when he says, “I don’t like pain – it hurts me.”

P.S. One reason I haven’t simply devoted myself to writing whole books about utilitarianism is that, even though it’s my own beloved philosophy, I always thought it was so intuitively obvious – hey, let's make everybody happy! – that I really didn’t need to spend a whole lot of time defending it.  But then, there was a period in my youth when I mistakenly thought the same was true of skepticism (Hey, nobody wants to get taken in by lies!  Ha Ha!  Ha!).  Maybe I will need to step up and articulate the (seemingly obvious) case for happiness at some point.

In the meantime, the last thing we need is people coyly suggesting to each other that sadism proves you’re smarter, sexier, and more intellectually profound to boot.  I’ll take down the University of Chicago, Nouriel Roubini, Opus Dei, Grand Theft Auto, the producers of the Saw movies, and the owners of the Vault club downtown if I have to in order to make that simple, wholesome point.  I just want everyone to be happy, dammit.

By contrast, I met a guy not long ago who in turn said he knows a woman who hopes her children will occasionally be beaten because she wants them to “know pain.”  That kind of inhumanity we don’t need.  (And, to combine themes, if those somewhat directionless and smelly kids protesting downtown rewatch Fight Club, all is lost, if you see what I mean.)

P.P.S. For far more sober and humane analysis of Wall Street’s ongoing crisis, you might check out Engineering the Financial Crisis: Systemic Risk and the Failure of Regulation, from Jeffrey Friedman and Wladimir Kraus (also see Friedman’s site

P.P.P.S. Meanwhile, over at George Mason University, economist Don Boudreaux wrote an amusing letter, posted online, to Rep. Barbara Lee, who says she won’t use automated check-outs at stores because they may cost workers their jobs.  Boudreaux, in his witty reductio fashion, asks her:

Do you also avoid using computerized ("automatic") elevators, riding only in those few that still use manual elevator operators?

Do you steer clear of newer automobiles equipped with technologies that enable them to go for 100,000 miles before needing a tune-up?  I'm sure I can find for you, say, a 1972 Chevy Vega that will oblige you to employ countless mechanics.

Do you shun tubeless steel-belted radial tires on your car – you know, the kind that go flat far less often than do old-fashioned tires?  No telling how many tire-repairing jobs have been destroyed by modern technology-infused tires.

...It is, alas, a disturbing trend that has been around for quite some time – since, really, the invention of the spear which destroyed the jobs of some hunters.

And only when his points have come to seem common-sensical even to kindergartners will we really stand a chance of building a humane civilization.  In the meantime, we have government and the Occupiers instead of futuristic lifestyles. 

1 comment:

Todd Seavey said...

UDPATE: The topless paparazzo explained: