Monday, August 25, 2008

Does This Image Make You Want To Rape?

I am a strong proponent of liberal expression even when it is somewhat offensive. At the same time I am sensitive to the issues surrounding the exploitation of women. American Apparel ads have served lately to cause a schism in liberal circles between those who would more value one consideration over the other.

When this ad appeared on a billboard in New York's lower east side someone eventually spray-painted it with the message "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?". I've seen the same ad on a billboard on Yonge Street in Toronto and I have to say that I didn't decide to rape anyone as a result of seeing it. Consider that this photo is a self-portrait taken by the Artist Kyung Chung. Her backside wrapped in tights is turned to the camera as she's slightly bent over. It is undoubtedly an erotically charged pose but I fail to see any exploitation. She is a strong women artist in a strongly sexual pose, completely in charge of the situation. There is no hint of compulsion within the narrative of the photo. The character is bent over suggestively and one of the reasons it is so alluring is that she is in charge of the situation and seems to be demanding the service of her imaginary lover. Chung's photo does not portray the female character to be vulnerable in any way in which she doesn't want to be.

People seem more sexually liberal in Europe where you're likely to see this kind of advertising but with even more nudity. In cultures where women are presented and represented in scant cladding we don't find them to be at higher risk of being sexually assaulted. I would argue exactly the opposite. Cultures wherein the revelation of skin is discouraged seem much more dangerous to women. If a women shows any flesh in Saudi Arabia she might be considered a slut and therefore much more likely to be raped than in Copenhagen where she can walk around (weather permitting) in next to nothing.

Someone is quoted in a newspaper article about Chung's photo saying "I don't think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I'll put this gently - anal intercourse," - What? First of all who would produce such an ad? Would it be presented by the AIAA (Anal Intercourse Association of America)? Secondly, why does penetration of one kind seem demeaning to her besides another kind. I think there are actually some people who enjoy such things and don't need to be forced to do it. Also she might want to note that that's not the the only kind of penetration possible in that position, but if your dirty mind causes you to leap to that scenario then you have to see that the model in the picture is demanding it not resisting it, so how does rape or a demeaning scenario even come into it?

What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace? It seems to me that sexual repression is more likely to lead to desperate acts of violence against women than sexual liberation. I'm sure that the critics of these ads have nothing but the best of intentions to protect women from harm but that photo of Kyung Chung can also be seen simply as a beautiful and powerful image created by a beautiful and powerful women.

As a point for comparison the story being told in the D&G ad below seems to more clearly cross the line. The narrative within this vignette clearly suggests a gang rape scenario. Even though this ad is aimed at women and even though some women may have such fantasies I can see why it may be offensive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

September 9, 2001

I was on a 23 hour bus ride from Rize Turkey to Istanbul on September 9 2001. My shiny new MP3 player was busted and the cassette Walkman I borrowed from a cousin was drained within the first hour after departure. I was seated at the very back and centre of the bus so I could see everyone's business in front of me.

The buses in Turkey have stewards working the aisles just like on airplanes and I was able to observe the hard work they put in. I wasn't sure if I would rather work with them instead of sitting for 23 hours. It was also interesting to realize that the entire trip was captained by the same driver who tried his best to exhale his cigarette smoke out of his driver's side window. He made an apologetic statement claiming that despite the smoking ban it was surely better for everyone's sake that he smoke to keep from falling asleep.

People started drifting off and after several hours of numbing boredom I was mercifully able to doze in and out for short stretches. The first few hours seemed like days and I fell into a surreal haze. The short naps made the trip seem even longer and during one of these I had one of those hyper real and frightening dreams. I was in a tall building in New York. We heard a tremendous noise and looked out the window as everything started shaking. While we wondered aloud if it was an earthquake the building directly across from us just crumbled before our eyes and disappeared to the street below.

I immediately knew what was about to happen and to our horror the walls around us started to cave in and everything went dark. I instantly knew that we weren't going to make it out of there alive. I heard a ringing bell and a very distant yet familiar bittersweet feeling started to come over me. As our building started to fall down I was transported back to recess break in my grade 4 schoolyard.

Children can play as hard as any adult can work and during some of those games we would become so entirely immersed that we would completely forget where we were, what time it was or that it would ever have to end. Only when the bell rang were we brought back to the reality that we had left completely behind. Only then were we reminded that it all had to end and only then did we experience that bittersweet feeling within which one simultaneously appreciates the value of the game just as the tragic realization of its ending sets in.