The following is a review of an art show I witnessed approximately nine years ago in a gallery in Oakland, California. It was by a woman I had met at a hot springs and with whom I was attracted.
When I presented this review, she was appalled and I said that I would withhold it. However, I found it recently and decided that enough time had passed to where it was more a curiosity about how the times have changed or not, given the #MeToo! Movement and feminism, in general.
I am very curious about equality of the sexes and how women present themselves and how men seem to want them in a manner that references the veracity of their desires, as if having sexual desire was carte blanche to having sex or taking sex.
I am interested in attraction and lack of attraction, choice, and what women think mainly. Inevitably, women are the arbiters of moral authority because they are often the victims. Therefore, they get to call the shots. I am still interested in the logic of what is going on in this sphere.
A year after the show apparently, on Apr 4, 2012, a video appeared (http://www.upworthy.com/sometimes-things-are-not-what-they-seem). It depicted dancers in a red light district of Amsterdam, which ended saying, “Every year, thousands of women are promised a dance career in Western Europe… Sadly, they end up here. STOP THE TRAFFIK PEOPLE — SHOULDN’T BE BOUGHT & SOLD.”
It reminded me of artist, XX (See: XX), who introduced epileptic seizures into a striptease, which is disconcerting.
It turns out that while the gimmick is effective and layering to the experience of objectification, her playfulness and desire to be cool, alludes to a sense of superiority over the onlooker. In the end, the naivete of someone allegedly this smart, having the capacity to make light of something this serious, begs the question of being a party to the objectification.
Through XX’s exhibit, I was able to see what women saw. With her start as a strip tease dancer, where she incorporated an epileptic seizure as a kind of joke, it was not until later when she had an adverse reaction to an exposure to mercury, which poisoned her that it was no longer a joke, but a serious reality.
“Women on Cable TV,” a video by XX in her show, displayed the images from television screens. My impression of this was about the portrayal of women in the media. Is that what happens to a woman?
A Man Looking At Women is a prose-poetry book, for example, where I have tried to encompass all possible views by men of women.
My intent was to provide an eloquent rendering of even the most despicable modes of communication by a man toward a woman because I know in their heart of hearts, heterosexual men generally love women. XX’s show is tough love. “Wake-up!” she is telling men and maybe women too. The gallery owner and XX said that most women are getting it, whereas others drop in and get a quick sense of the show as another weak display by women doing what men want them to do.
It is about the power women have over men. Women don’t really have power over men. I believe there is even a backlash against women because as men and women are equalized economically, men are becoming hostile toward the idea of supporting women, for example.
There is still this glass ceiling for women. In each country, more men meant more married women, less divorce, and fewer women in the workforce.
Across all income levels, black men have dropped far behind black women professionally and educationally; women with college degrees outnumber men 2-to-1. In 1950, 64 percent of African American women were married — roughly the same percentage as white women. If women greatly outnumber men, he [Robert H. Frank, an economist at Cornell] says, social norms against casual sex will weaken. Last year, nearly twice as many single women bought homes as did single men,” (Bolick).
What I suspected before reading the article was confirmed by it: “Only 20 percent of the men (those considered to have the highest status) are having 80 percent of the sex, with only 20 percent of the women (those with the greatest sexual willingness); the remaining 80 percent, male and female, sit out the hookup dance altogether.”
This reminded me of Edward T. Hall’s description of rats in a box, (from: The Hidden Dimension, 1966) where two alpha male rats maintained a harem of female rats that they frequently engaged, whereas a second tier of male rats might have access to the harem but seldom and for short periods, there were third-tier rats that hovered in the corner without hope of ever engaging a female. Some became homosexual and others asexual; the third tier was emotionally disturbed.
In “Female Chauvinist Pigs” journalist Ariel Levy asks the question: What’s in it for us women? “How is resurrecting every stereotype of female sexuality that feminism endeavored to banish *good* for women? Levy states alarming statistics: 70 percent of women do not orgasm during intercourse. This shockingly similar attitude appears among sex workers, those women today’s pop culture wishes to emulate…
Susan Brownmiller talked about how women can make men feel better if aligned with a woman, but such alignment often implies domination by the man. No matter how you cut the mustard, men will find women, not all women, mind you, sexually attractive and they will base their lives on attracting her, over and over again, whoever she is. (See: http://www.susanbrownmiller.com/susanbrownmiller/html/femininity.html)
For men, it is about looks, for women, it is about money, safety, security, if she can have these things together, then all the better. Men don’t usually get through grad school with their bodies. XX admits that she used exotic dance to get through school and then she makes those men laugh.
In the meantime, we experience fear of rejection, that we are not good enough, we don’t know what to say, or we are self-conscious, and in fear of failure, men feel women are not interested, and the men are unsure, and think women have the power.
I think the hardest part of reviewing the show is the relationship I have with women and what the show reveals about me in the context of XX and the owner and director of the gallery, where she housed the exhibition.
I am 51, born a beautiful baby boy via a television model/commercial artist of sublime, innocent beauty and a Stanford-Yale-graduated urologist father. From cocky boy, who had no problem attracting women to feed my insatiable desires, where baby sitters would spread their 18-year-old legs wanting to play doctor, to my father’s death when all confidence left me. Further exasperating my insecurities, was a move to Honolulu, where every declaration of attraction said to a friend about girls was met with the “friend’s” pummeling of me.
Year after year, I’d get this result. The injustice shut me down. I was shy of girls given the discomfort of dirty desire and honesty. Like my mother, I didn’t really know I was attractive, until, I fell in love with, and married the most attractive woman I had ever seen.
My lack of self-confidence ended that and other serious relationships.
XX said that early on, the male gaze was usually overbearing, and this is where I should probably start with the historical installation at the gallery.
The art of XX is a bit overbearing. Upon entering, I sat down on a gold padded pew. I saw glimpses of fleshly artifacts, a breast here, and masturbatory event there. I guess it was blood poured over her from a bowl with a necklace that she drank. That was “XX 1993.”
The next video involved an exotic dancer mocking her voyeurs by introducing epileptic seizures. This was disconcerting. I was watching a woman, who I had met innocently at a hot spring about a year earlier who I was attracted to, but who was now in a make-shift box, a stage a little bigger than her body, undressing, touching her breasts through a thin top, then shaking to make her breasts move and causing me to fall into the trance of objectification. I was able to see what women saw. As she removed her top and exposed her breasts, I could sense a line had been crossed. I saw in her eyes and her actions that she could feel she was becoming naked, exposing herself, as was I, then of course, more seizures, more suggestive gestures, and more unveiling of her body. It was down to her panty, slower motions with her legs, and then she was completely naked.
I realized too that she might actually be experiencing the mercury poising while she twisted, because I didn’t know what those effects might be. She seemed to go into unconsciousness.
Knowing XX however made me think that no, she is fully conscious of every move. I remember her slipping away from me after we ate together in the restaurant at the hot spring as if she were a fleeting memory. This video apparently was made before she got sick, which was triggered by a vaccine, according to gallery owner and curator: “Her epileptic seizures were like premonitions.”
The gallery owner also said that another video artist didn’t know she had cancer, but ended up drawing a piece involving a body with a black dot. A month later she was diagnosed with Cancer and the performance seemed to indicate the preparation to fight it.
XX mentioned in an interview that she was an exotic dancer to get her through graduate school.
This was represented by the video recorded performance.
On the wall near the entrance/exit of the roomful of pews, there were two framed pieces.
I didn’t know what to make of these, where I saw people helping XX, I thought because they came from environments, where these helpers’ parents were needy or screwed up, and they spent time with her during her illness because they were captive not only because of the psychology of the caregiver but by the beauty of XX.
The information on “Pretend We’re Dead” was that XX was forced to stay on a friend’s property AKA “Pirate Island,” as she was homeless and inflicted by Environmental Illness (EI). She was threatened by allergy to chemicals in most building materials and only comfortable in a wooden guesthouse, where a high school friend, later alcoholic and mad, lived with her. Her friend kept a loaded shotgun under the bed to chase bears away.
Later, she lived in a Teepee on the property to give her some distance from the mad friend, except that the owner would drape a plastic sheet over the Teepee when it rained. The plastic caused XX to become sick.
“Women on Cable TV” displayed the images from television screens. There were 4 projected television screens across and 3 rows. You could hear audio of one screen at a time. I happened in on the 4-hour video performance of 20 minutes per screen where the audio of the image in the second row furthest to the right was playing and I heard snippets of “Victory over oppression…entrapped in poverty…300,000 women attending…light of extreme intelligence without shadow…Dad…Chaos…10 of Swords…I have AIDS…mishandled Gulf War Chemicals or pesticides…portrayal of women…I guess it would break my heart too…I love you…torture…belittle women.”
My impression of this was about the portrayal of women in the media.
Living in the Bay Area and having access to radio stations like KPFA, I am mindful of the portrayal of women in the media. But, I am also mindful having an absentee father, who died when I was ten and then being raised by a single mother and a very successful sister.
My love and awareness of women, who not only possess an equal intelligence if not greater than men, but who understand men, while having an elevated emotional range to the point of creating a positive atmosphere and environment, have this chemical and physically-alluring disposition.
So, while I understand the portrayal of women, in the media generally, as objects of beauty and cogent communicators, I see too the superficiality of portrayals of them.
Though probably not meant to demean a grief-stricken woman speaking about the incarceration of her husband on television, an interpreter laughs in the video screen in the second row, furthest right, because he cannot remember all that she said and implied in an unbroken monologue.
We feel for her as she realizes that she may have to repeat herself, but it’s the byproduct of the interpretive event, where she cannot complete a thought, but that she must interrupt them and in effect, she is undermined.
Is that what happens to a woman? We don’t know.
I think there is the same sense of humor XX feels when she introduces her seizures. It just seems natural. Nature seeks equilibrium even amid injustice.
Around the corner from the portrayal of women in the media, was the beginning of a series of what XX calls “Lookbooks,” which were modeled off “a collection of photographs compiled to show off a model, a photographer, a style, or a clothing line,” according to Wikipedia.
In XX’s case, these are actually flat panel television screens that she has formatted videos of herself with a white background as she performs various pieces.
The one that struck me the most was “Nude,” where she is wearing a nude colored bikini that she takes off and drops to the floor. The fabric makes a loud, almost lead-like thud on the floor as if by metaphorical statement about the weight of disrobing before others. It could also refer to the gravity of women’s undergarments and the consequence of their nakedness in what they give up in providing a show or engaging in sex.
XX stares into the camera, which makes it seem like she is staring at us. We feel naked looking at her nakedness. Our arousals are condemned and yet she is disrobing.
Of “Reptilian,” she writes “(Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ singing to disarm the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Monsanto, the Indestructible Military Complex, the Bilderberg Group, the Pharmaceutical Industry, Sociopaths on Wall Street…).” She is wearing leather the front of which is cut so that you can see her breasts and nipples. She has a reptilian tail.
In “Muse,” she is dancing while a stream of text announces, “She’s got great tits… Working on a new video art piece… Does that mean we’ll see your tits?”
In “Trimmer,” she is wearing a beautiful black, white and red outfit and trimming what the gallery owner said was marijuana.
Other points I would like to make is that most men are Mr. Nice Guys, sequestered by the knowledge of their unwelcome as intrusive males, who are unable to control their attractions.
But, it would seem that women are also unable to control their attractions if it can be said that a woman attracted to a man “Holds eye contact for a few seconds and smiles in a shy, loving way or keeps trying to catch his eye. Crosses her legs, sits with her breasts pointed toward him, touching and rubbing against him now and then, plays with her hair, shows more skin than usual, tries to draw attention to her lips, keeps her eyes focused on him and ignores what else is happening. If she is absorbed in his conversation, asks plenty of questions, laughs, and jokes then she is definitely interested in getting to know him better,” according to Dan Bacon, Founder of the Modern Man (See: http://www.themodernman.com/how_to_tell_if_a_woman_likes_you.html).
Most of my books deal with unrequited love.
The world is ever rendering men impotent. The assumed role of men is to support and care for women but the rich-poor gap that makes men feel disposable.
What I saw in the show in the context of my writings was the interrupted views of an otherwise perfect physical specimen, less the seizures, the blood bath, her staring back, those disconcerting aspects, was a strip-tease, a tease in every sense of the word, but also a serious confrontation of the superficiality of the male gaze.
What is good about the show is that it dates back to a time, when feminism, this assault on men’s superficiality, is now recognized, familiar, and certainly men haven’t really changed. Some that have money are just as abusive as those without, and I don’t think it has anything to do with having money. It is about the power women have over men.
XX talks about this as a cop-out. Women don’t really have power over men.
They have to get undressed and dance naked before them to go to graduate school. How is that power?
Any exotic dancer, escort, prostitute, or sex worker is a participant in their own abuse, a contributing factor in that litany. At no point can sex, unless by mutual consent, and not involving favors or money, be love, but commerce, a quickening of the perpetual inequality of the sexes, and where capitalism is the true arbiter of enslavement. And yet the needs of men, and not women, who never seem to desire sex, but who dangle it as a scarce resource, women must not contribute to the superficiality of attraction and desire but heretofore resist any temptation to participate if the wish to maintain equality is the intent. Mere love is its only reward and freedom, risk and consequence.
Response from Ava Steele: “Honestly, if you feel the need to post this, there is freedom of speech, BUUUUTTTT….. I love your idea that love and sex should be free. But let’s be real, everything is a transaction.
“So…. the way you stated it makes it sound like women are the problem, and if they didn’t offer stripping and sex at all, then men wouldn’t have it available, then it would be about love and connection… But if that was the case, then sex trafficking wouldn’t exist.
“Unfortunately, there is a demand for this transaction, to the point where men, and sometimes women, will even illegally traffic men and woman, boys and girls. There’s power in taking what you want, there’s power in paying for it.
“At least strippers get paid well, and can decide IF they want to turn tricks.
“Even healthy relationships have a basic transaction. Men: hunter gatherer, Women: nurtures.
“These roles are changing with the modern world, but there is still a need for some type of commitment.
“If you say that all men just desire love and sex, that’s great. But then there’s no commitment and what if the woman gets pregnant. Think about the financial life-long commitment of having a child,” (Steele).
I believe there is even a backlash against women because as men and women are equalized economically, men are becoming hostile toward the idea of alimony, for example. They would like to say that a woman has to pay her own way since sex might be the motivation for a man, but if it isn’t in the cards, why should he pay? But, he would never mention that because that is the reason he pays. He wants some traction, where a woman plays him in a world, where she can’t get much traction either, since as “A study by Elke Holst and Julia Schimeta by the German Institute of Economic Research in Berlin” illustrates, “in 2010 women held only 3.2% of all executive board seats in Germany’s 200 biggest non-financial firms.”
We see in XX this gaudy dancer flashing her boobs like a Girl Gone Wild. But, we also have the hint of our seeming stolen glance getting the punishment it is due. It is like we are looking at someone who is disabled and garnering sexual gratification. At what point do we wake up? Something is wrong. We must help such women who find it acceptable and even necessary to fit in by dancing naked.
There is a hidden physical qualification inherent in these presentations. Just like a man at a party who sees that he cannot compete he withdraws from the competition. Here, ladies with some sense of acceptability of their bodies, participate because they know they have a chance, but as they realize, it is only about their bodies that the belonging implies. Most are hesitant as the exposure, getting undressed to participate. There has to be a psychological consequence. But, have they actually surmised that this is how the world works. Do they know instinctively that this is all that is required by a woman in a “man’s world?”
For XX, her experience is somewhat unique. At the outset, she saw and used her beauty to get through grad school. But, when she grew sick due to mercury poising, she also became emaciated and sickly. Before XX was sick, she told me, were times when the male gaze was unwanted and overbearing, and then when she was sick, it must have seemed to disappear, and now that she is better and her figure reappears, she must get this attention.
For this reason, she has an understanding of what pretty girls experience when they get older. People don’t take them as seriously as they once did. And she must have learned from it. Either to take advantage of it more or to recognize its superficiality and explore other aspects of her person that might be more long lasting, more satisfying.
A dancer is the epitome of unrequited love. It is the male’s need to mate with the most desirable person. For him only to be able to look at her from a distance, in a roomful of other unlucky sods, he sees his ordinariness and experiences his impotence even if he doesn’t quite know what that is.
But, there is this presentation through art of the ribald woman on stage getting down to her skivvies only to control the audience through their pants. There was That Obscure Object of Desire, by Luis Buñuel (1977) and so many more examples of this tension. But, have we ever solved the problem? No matter how you cut the mustard, men will find women, not all women, mind you, sexually attractive and they will base their whole lives on attracting her, over and over again, whoever she is. And with the rich-poor gap widening even further, most men will not have her and as Bolick said, polyamory among a few choice specimens will be the state of affairs.
This is what XX’s show is about. It is about the sickly state of male and female relationships. For men, it is about looks, for women, it is about money, if either should have both then all the better. As human beings in the Edward T. Hall forest full of over-populating deer, something physiologically uncontrollable is about to explode. There will be more rape. There will be more war. We are entering into a period of extreme cultural flux. What we thought was impossible, women finding the rite of passage in a presence in a Girls Gone Wild episode, in an act to draw this kind of attention because they can tell that this is the carte blanche, noting a Pamela Anderson or a Paris Hilton sex video. It is all out in the open. Do you turn men on or do you not? And for men, it is as simple as do you have the money to support these kinds of women?
The gallery owner talked about the Spiritualism and ritual inherent in XX’s last piece, where she blesses water that will then bless her, how it took a serious regiment to begin the healing process of a poisoning that should have killed her and now remains a constant threat.
As men too, we lay our heads down on the pillows of empty beds. We work our long hours of uninspired toil and even so, there is no hope of entertaining what is required to draw our penises up and to splash in joy. We know that beauty is required. We get that money in this material world is too. But, there comes a point, when there is nothing we can do outside of committing crimes to get what we need, and there are those who will do nothing and resign themselves to the fact of their loneliness.
A Friend Without Benefits is the new motto. And in time, there will be no friends at all. Luckily, nature does seek equilibrium and all these lost souls’ subconscious energy will drive the breakthrough. It has become like a giant orgy that just a few are invited to. But, the days are ending, as with Silvio Berlusconi’s tutelage, the governments are about to fail and the terror reign. Men can’t get through grad school with their bodies. They can only use their brains.
“Misery up to the extreme point of famine and pestilence, instead of checking, tends to increase population… If the world were all in easy circumstances, the world would soon be depopulated.” — S. Liang, National Distress, 1844, p. 69.
We have our wars or occupations whipped up in our minds as necessary, when what was whipped were lies.
In our movement toward a competitive state, we have to buckle down like the Chinese in sweat shops if we are ever going to compensate for the losses we have made. It is how the rich are making the poor pull the weight, fight in wars.
I question if 9/11 wasn’t just some wag the dog. With most of the men from Saudi Arabia, that Israel has some much to gain by involving us in their protection, the cost-benefit analysis as the new-world model against the taken lives.
We don’t know who is telling the truth. Is our response to naked XX the correct one? Is it correct when she nauseates us drinking blood? Are we supposed to sit there on gold padded pews as if we were in church and worship her? There is hypocrisy on screen and in the audience. XX admits that she used exotic dance to get through school and then she makes those men laugh.
We are all naked.
No one is innocent in this society. We are all equally at fault. We have drunk the blood of the most innocent. We have adorned ourselves with the necklace of the most vulnerable. We have ritualized the sport of gawking at the flesh of another man’s daughter. There are no degrees of separation from the fact that all of us, as men and women, can create life and we can cheapen it. But, I understand this. I understand the desperation, the twisting unnaturalness of staring at someone we cannot have in reality. It is just a shared photograph we pass around. XX is a myth. She is a design, of unnatural beauty. We cannot have her and when we know her we know that is true. It is no longer lust, but intellectual discussion. Life is academic exercise, sterile, unsavory, distanced, talked about, but never enjoyed.
Sure she is the one with the power but only because we loose ourselves in the entertainment. She has taken her clothes and thrown them. She has lowered herself to a cardboard box and gyrated to music we cannot hear. She has offered herself up to the message that is painful to both of us. There is no power is there?
It is more akin to a kind of death that will avail itself as all men’s and women’s secrets are being sifted through on the Internet.
Psychologists are having a field day as we speak. The truth is laid to bare in the social networking sites, but better still is that every man looks at porn, and I can’t imagine what the sins of the women are. Perhaps, it is being the objects of porn.
Perhaps this is a good thing. At some point, we will realize that we are nothing more than dogs and women bitches, dragging ourselves down into the muddied path.
As the media tells us what to buy and enslaves us to these high material ideals, we realize we are not humans but intended to be indentured servants. We see ourselves in the onlookers of Girls Gone Wild or its next participants.
Our lives are a mobile home enclosing a circus that moves from city to city trying to resurrect some semblance of dignity that we lost when we gave blood for oil, for example. We see what must happen for a society of ours to survive. How we control the monetary system. How our soldiers occupy countries and seek to privatize the commons of others, who think we are there to help.
There are so many levels of guilt and sin that we cannot wash ourselves. Even the innocents have benefited.
In this Age of Austerity we bought houses we couldn’t afford, we never saved for retirement, we could not date because it was too expensive. We could not find love because we were too busy, too stressed, to under the weather of our struggle to survive. Most sit in abject loneliness and will never admit it. They desire from a distance, pay for on-line dating only to learn that they are lonely there too.
This is the time of the diminishment of man, where a woman will exclaim that she hates rich men, but loves her cardiac surgeons, where an ordinary man will have friends who are prostitutes, but never enjoy the benefits because in him she is seeking solace. There will be polyamory; but it will be akin to harems run by alpha men, and only the rich and uber healthy will participate.
Scarcity otherwise will rule the vast uncharted wastelands of The People. And sex will remain the great-unmet need that keeps the people at the base of the pyramid.
As Maslow said: “The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.”
Maslow studied the healthiest 1% of the college student population. Without the satisfaction of physiological needs, one cannot enjoy a sense of safety, and without safety he cannot enjoy love and belonging, without these there is no esteem and then self-actualization. We are the crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy.
What is it about the ass of the ultra feminine doll that seems to provide sustenance? Why do our mouths lick her orifice as if she were sweet? She is nothing but a color-coded female version of the animal that we are, and isn’t it true that licking an asshole can get you killed? (See: Shigella). But, we are all hungry for beauty. But the world turned out ugly. Where there were fireworks for one party, the other had only blah. There is just this disconnect between beautiful and ordinary or even ugly, financial ruin, disfigurement, and pain. Neither party can compromise on something this visceral/true. Even abstinence is nothing but a twisted recourse. It is not life but a very death of the person. But love that leads to babies is perhaps unsustainable in a world over-populated, polluted, and short on food.
The truth is not romantic. The smells of another human being are almost vile. In Donald Meltzer’s The Apprehension of Beauty, he talks about our encounter with beauty as newborns. “When we first open our eyes and gaze on mother’s face and body. For many, this sight is overwhelming, invasive, and evokes powerful impulses to surrender.
“To protect ourselves we can close our eyes, but the genitals remain in a state of excitation. It is this experience that is at the root of our hopefulness and capacity for future passion and love. However, it is not only the basic idea that is new and strange, but also the matrix in which it is embedded.” (See: http://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=apa.040.0885a)
In the meantime, we experience fear of rejection, that we are not good enough, we don’t know what to say, or we are self-conscious, and in that fear of failure, and men think women have the power.
Is it just that we eliminate the degradation of women from our pornography, as Noam Chompsky said; or is there more at work in XXt’s cathartic exercise? (See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=SNlRoaFTHuE).