Archive for human sexuality

Why Porn Critics Got It All Wrong

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Porn critics love to say that pornography speaks so much about the misogynistic society we really live in. What they do not know is that by saying this they are masturbating harder (plus-de-jouir) than the simple innocent guys who fap (jouir) in front of their computer screens at home. Is not this “misogyny of the Other” — not the sexual act in porn itself — the ultimate fantasy offered by pornography today?

For whom is this violence staged?

For whom is sexual violence staged?

I get tired of all the sex-negative, porn-negative views that my intellectual colleagues like to prattle on, about society’s true misogyny, and so on. Frankly speaking, I have not met a single person who both watches porn and is a misogyny. All the porn consumers I know (myself included), respect women, supports feminism, is more open to the various ways women think and feel, and so on, while all the misogynists I know hates porn and constantly complains about the degradation of our society. What is going on here?

I remember telling a couple of friends a while ago that I do not believe a single bit the thesis that “porn is the theory, rape is the practice,” telling them that it is essentially a bad name that comes out of the mouths of irresponsible assaulters who are so chicken they need to put the blame on other objects for their actions that the conservative media are only too keen to appropriate for their anti-porn propaganda. Being good young adults, they argued otherwise, although they do watch porn themselves. I asked them whether they have had a single intention at all to rape a women after watching porn, and of course their answer was no.

“Then why do you still believe the theory?” I asked. One gave a perfect answer: “Well, of course, if it is us educated, well brought-up people, it is OK. But imagine how those uneducated people who have never known about sex! No doubt they would go on a raping spree!” It was an a-ha! moment for me. I realized it was not about misogyny after all. The ultimate fantasy in porn turns out to be not a sexual fantasy, but that of class struggle. It was that ancient notion of civilized people versus barbarians all over again.

(A disclaimer before we go on: first, I acknowledge the existence of cases where people gang rape young teens after watching porn, but only as much as I acknowledge young teens go on school shooting sprees after watching war movies. They are exceptional cases and I perceive the excuses as retroactive constructions. Second, I am not talking about extreme fetishes of the long tail market variation.)

Case example. So we watch a porn video of this young girl being degraded, humiliated, violated, and so on. And, to a certain extent, even female-respecting guys enjoy it — why? Precisely because we know perfectly that it is just an act, because the porn stars are getting paid well, and so on. If that fact is obvious, to whom, then, is the drama staged? To none other than he who the porn stars are looking at when they stare straight at the camera — not you or I miserable, individual guys, but the abstraction of our collective being, the Imaginary Other.

The porn critics are wrong when they criticize violence as though it is staged for the enjoyment of the empirical audience. Violence in porn is instead staged for the Other to act as an empty fantasy screen in which the audience can project their true surplus-enjoyment beyond sex (that there exists someone out there who degrades women, is a racist, and so on). This is why, even when we know a “reality porn” is fake, scripted, etc, we not only tolerate but expect the producers to claim authenticity. Appearance is all the more crucial, because when we are no longer allowed to engage ourselves in sexist, racist, etc enjoyments, we need an Other to enjoy for us.

We need an Other to enjoy, like the snowman

We need an Other to enjoy, like the snowman

We come to a paradoxical conclusion: the existence of the (staged) degradation of women in pornography reduces the degradation of women in real life. The libido is already invested out there, in pornography and all its fantasmatic space, so that we can in turn, in real life, be more open towards women.

Thus, the porn critics actually did not get it all wrong: there indeed is a repressed sexism in society (along with racism), of which pornography is a symptom in which it returns. However, precisely qua symptom, its function is to keep at bay its true, traumatic form — raw, unrepressed hatred for the Other. I would even go as far to say that violent pornography is the price we have to pay for political correctness, as the true violence that sustains it. (This is also why it is absurdly easy to find racial stereotypes in pornography, such as “monster black cocks” and “submissive asian sluts”.) To say it in another way: when we have political correctness, we face a longing for violence at its purest.

Then, my obscene advice to countries with high misogyny rates that we think ought to have a better sense of political correctness would be: make more violent porn!

Advertisements

Orgasms Without Organs

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Exiting the Orgasmatron from the 1973 movie Sleeper

Exiting the Orgasmatron (from Sleeper)

Today we are more and more familiar with the idea that someday we will have fully efficient and working orgasm pills and buttons. The common idea is that by knowing how long the pill’s effect would take to kick in, we can predict our actions before hand, make it synchronous with our activities, we will not have to fake it, etc. And of course there is the idea of the orgasmatron with which we can reach orgasm any time we want — by electronically stimulating parts of the lower spinal column, etc. — the idea being that we can easily get out from our daily boredom and use it in the office while nobody’s looking, and so on. Pleasure has never been entirely mechanized.

Is it just another mode of masturbation, simply another step after we have all those increasingly intelligent fucking machines and interactive teledildonics? There is a crucial difference we must not miss: in masturbation, fucking machines, and teledildonics, our focus is still very much the traditional notion of sex as the “carnal” pleasure. We need sensual touches. One may even say that the entire point of this kind of “roboeroticism” is not orgasm in itself, but the entire fantastic experience with all the thrills of fucking with machine others.

In the instant orgasm technologies, the perception is rather different. Sex is no longer taken as the carnal-sensual pleasure, but reduced to merely this “objective” electro-chemical neurophysiological process. Is it not the same drive that brought us the human genome project? The pervasive idea is that we can always map everything into informational patterns. Is not the fully mapped human genome of myself, one that successfully maps my every little trait, my “objective” Self without Body nor Organs? It is not the Freudian organs, for, strictly speaking, it is not our body but its data. And, obviously, it in itself lacks the Deleuzian Body, for those data in the computer are real, objective, self-contained. But objectively, it is nonetheless my self, in so far as I am conceived to be an informational biological data pattern for the android Other — the self as data-organs.

This (mis)conception of the self as fully integratable in the Symbolic with current posthuman technologies has given rise to a new discourse of sexuality — a fetishistic sexual kernel based on objective, exact scientific mappings and definitions of pleasure itself.

The Lacanian definition of sex is obviously its exact opposite — it is not a discursive construct (as Foucault would put it), but it is the domain where discursive constructs fail, and as such, gives rise to the metonymic chain of desire. Is data-organs a better discourse for sexuality? The posthuman construct of orgasm without organs, orgasm as a series of mappable electro-chemical informational patterns, orgasm in the domain of data-organs, may be merely a new fetishistic obsession of our posthuman sexuality. But with all its new mode of signification and experience, let us not underestimate its potentials to proliferate new desires of the cyborg subject.

And let us not forget its obscene unfortunate superegotistical consequences — it is now effortless, so there is no longer any reason for you not to enjoy it!

Pornography Between Pedophilia and Rape

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Airi and Meiri, Japanese pornstar twins famous for their underage look.

Airi and Meiri, Japanese legal pornstar twins famous for their deceivingly underage appeal.

Is it possible that the ban against child pornography condones violent, aggressive, and degrading behavior towards women? Surprising as this may seem, the answer may be a resounding yes.

I have never met anybody in my entire country who is as libertarian, porn-loving, and sexually-positive as myself. That being said, one may find it hard that there are some aspects of pornography that I do not agree with. For one usually accuses me of being incredibly libertarian — so libertarian, in fact, that I am ready to challenge the ban against child pornography.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, by all means I am against pedophilia. I am even ready to go as far as supporting death penalties for sexual assaults towards children. What I challenge in the ban against child pornography is instead its disuse of logic: are we not today, practically, taking the flimsy age line of 18 to decide whether we can enjoy sex or not? Of course, there are all the standard claims: there is logic behind this, it has been deeply researched, and whatnot, but is it not rather more true that we are taking this rule more as a take-it-for-granted societal taboo which does not necessitate logical reasoning? Is it not rather a rule we follow almost religiously and unquestionably in this so-called age of sexual freedom?

Disuse of logic is always harmful. Its apparent protection always serves more as a symbolic gesture with nothing more than structural usages that we do not like to admit or question — more like a neurotic symptom than clear thinking. Furthermore, as the Lacanian lesson, the fundamental promise of the law is not one that bans but one that allows (“If God exists, everything is permitted!”). What, then, does the ban against child pornography allow?

There is no better site to illustrate this than the famous TamedTeens.com (totally NSFW) website, who picture dozens of 18-year-old girls in all sorts of possible sexual degradation imaginable. The tagline says it all — “Teen initiations into porn,” and later, “by having the roughest sex they will ever have.” Another basic question gonzo pornographers today ask is of course the obvious one that tries to figure out how many dicks can go down a woman’s body at a single time, or how to make the next innovation after some hundred continuous insertions (with penises as well as bizarre foreign objects), or several dozen creampies by several dozen men — basically, how to do a better obscenely degrading circus act.

What does this have to do with the ban against child pornography? As the above mentioned website suggests, the ban does not at all say, “Do not harm children and teenagers under 18 since they are too fragile!” Instead, it promises, “Let us make a deal and pretend that we are good people who care about children, and in return you are allowed to degrade and be violent towards women over 18 in any way you like!” Is this not why child pornography is elevated as the ultimate crime in the Western culture today: because we want to continue degrading women, but we disturbingly need to continue to pretend to be an innocent nation with this flimsy, almost religious number of 18?

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

There is a porn sphere in which child pornography is highly popular and tolerated: hentai. Some hentai (from games to anime to manga) are satisfied with portraying underage-looking characters (as most of the live pornography), but some, such as Gorgeous Takarada’s Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (cover pictured right) are ready to go as far as to explicitly state that the age of the main girl character is as young as 12. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, hentai tolerates so much more of what the West — fetishist long tail notwithstanding — does not, such as incest and love). What do statistics say about the rates of rape in such free nation? Well, Japan has 20 times less rape than does the United States.

The ban against child pornography has always been a very suspicious one, but it is almost a sacred taboo today that very few dare to question it. Of course, it may be structurally impossible to live in a society without taboo, as Freud was already well aware. But when we feel better about seeing a 21-year-old getting force-penetrated by six dicks in a double-anal, double-vaginal, and double-oral scene (not to mention the bukkake and forced semen-swallow afterwards) than a 15-year-old having sex lovingly with her partner, we clearly have something wrong in our sexual libertinism. Perhaps we are censoring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

The Deontology of Sexual Relations

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The Lacanian “there is no sexual relations” realizes itself perfectly with posthumanistic technologies — with sex technologies getting better and better (cybersex, teledildonics, novelty sex toys and fucking machines, etc.), we are made to become more and more aware that enhanced sex is a lot more enjoyable than “vanilla” sex. Hence, the Lacanian notion that sex itself is nothing but masturbation with a living partner is not at all surprising to us anymore — is that not the reason why we are so seduced by gynoids, virtual or real, in science fictions?

Deontological ethics implies an inherent virtue of action, regardless of their consequences or practical functionality. For example, demarcation lines and money are deontic — they function purely in the Symbolic order and are the big Other itself. Of course, in the contemporary age we have less and less of deontology — you may have found yourself laughing at it, since it has become compulsory now to deconstruct everything, and to realize that there is no such thing as “inherent virtue”. While all this is true, we should not forget that Lacan is nonetheless correct in his psychoanalytic formulations; which is why I like to say, you can deconstruct as you may, but in the end be aware that the only deconstructable experience is the Symbolic, as deconstruction is nothing but a play on signifiers.

Of course a total deconstruction of deontological values, the Names and Nos of the Father, would result in nothing short of a social foreclusion and cultural psychosis. Which is why Žižek notes that our skepticism today is a false, ironic one — it is not that we do not believe, it is that we are afraid to believe. Thus, the true deontological ethics of today resides not in an inherent virtue of action, but in an inherent virtue of desire.

What is very strange about today’s sexuality is the sheer number of bizarre perversions proliferating online. My thesis here, what the title of this post means, is that sexual relations, far from being liberated, is instead being more and more regulated, not at the level of practice but at the level of desire: “You must enjoy sex in more and more new ways, because now (with viagra, political correctness, safe BDSM toys, online anonymity, secure cybersex, Photoshop, porn forums…) we have nothing to worry about!”

A wall, as we proceed in history to become more civilized, can be stripped down into an invisible demarcation line that nevertheless retains its social function as a wall. Gold, as we proceed in history to become more modern, can be stripped down into inherently worthless numbers on screens or papers that nevertheless retains its social function as wealth. Sex, as we proceed in history to become more politically correct, can be stripped down into mere exchange of media that nevertheless retains its social function as “let’s make each other(‘s fantasy) aroused.”

The Uncanny Valley of Non-Feminine

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Slavoj Žižek once mentioned that the true horror of confronting one’s doppelgänger (Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, etc.) is the horror of knowing that one may actually exist out there [citation needed]. This can be understood in the Humean sense, he said, that what the subject knows of himself is that he does not exist but as suppositions of the Other, an empty hole in the topology of social reality, Žižek’s “empty cogito“. Does the same not hold true for society at large when confronted with a prospect of its clones in the form of humanoid artificial intelligence subjects? The true horror of humanoid robots, Masahiro Mori’s uncanny valley, resides in the realm of realizing that we may actually exist fully objectively. It is the horror of the disappearance of lack, the horror of realizing that we may not have a lack after all.

As Katherine Hayles (1999:30) noted, although for Lacan language is not a code, for computers language is perfectly a code. Computer language recognizes symbols purely through computational models with one-to-one correspondence between the signifier and the signified. Here, lack does not have a place. Thus, the cogito of the cyborg is purely a cogito of existence, not an empty one. The uncanny valley is thus the condition in which we have to confront this horror of excessive non-humanity — a robot purely in the form of a human being, machines but existing only qua social human being.

If there exists subjects to which language is a code, we are in very deep trouble. One very certain trouble we directly run into is the Lacanian sexuation: a female AI — the gynoid — is not a barred Other, for we understand her mechanisms perfectly. If “the” woman does not exist, “the” gynoid exists qua computerized cognition. (Even, one may go as far to say that cloning and/or neurobiology will eventually make it possible to produce “the” woman.) In computer codes, we no longer have cognitive functions of x which “does not cease not to write itself”, nor the x which “ceases not to write itself” — all conditions must be preprogrammed in functions of if x then y. Coding is an act of masculine writing. The cyborg is both free of castration but not a feminine as such, for it is a phallic subject and and subject to mutation — a non-feminine. The paradox of mutation is of course the fact that although it has a function of castration, it in fact has a probability for the subject to spawn a greater phallus than the one he has just lost. The uncanny valley is the horrific gap of the experience of the non-feminine.

All this is not science fiction. There has recently been a research on the engendering of the Semantic Web — which is just one among the many gender research in new media. It is notions like these that further signify how new code languages (artificial intelligence, semantic web, etc), fundamentally different from human language and cognition, will undoubtedly trouble the sexuation of contemporary society. As Foucault was already well aware, sex is subject to historical change — only this time, the change may be so much more fundamentally so.

Stupidity and Perversion

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 13, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Quite a while back I watched the documentary Stupidity, which got me thinking again about the issue. While I don’t disagree that we generally like to see stupid people to make ourselves feel smarter, I like to be more critical — many smart people that I know nevertheless love seeing stupid YouTube videos even if they do not need further evidence that they’re a smart person. Sheer stupidity is essentially funny by definition, which is why we love them. But if we are to recall the basic formula of comedies, even since the time of Aristophanes, the funny part consist mainly of ridiculous plots, exaggerations, and sexual references (including the humongous fake penises strapped to the actors — apparently dick jokes have been around since the very start of jokes). In fact, what constitute humor is essentially ridiculous proportions, not so much a stupid mind. To take on Freudian definitions, these ill-proportions, be it of acts or in images, is always a symptom, a return of the repressed.

And as societies grow, societal symptoms change: in recent times there have been twists to humor and stupidity — it has taken on the realm of challenge, with youth exposing their tongue to electricity in MTV reality shows, and the realm of child gore, as the Happy Tree Friends (another MTV production) and Suicidal Squirrels webisodes prove. On the other hand fetishes are abound, as we are increasingly told to do wilder sex, with all those unfortunate anal beads and safe gag balls. As anyone who has ever tried out a weird sex stunt for the first time knows, let’s admit it, there is always a kind of stupid feeling inside. Then there are shock sites such as the infamous 2girls1cup, or the more recent idiotic stunt of cake farts, that people tend to watch just for the sake of the thrill. While all these need more analysis, suffice it to say for now that stupid humor is always connected with the death drive.

As I have mentioned before, the predominant way of handling the drive in the contemporary era, the predominant structure of society, is perversion. By this, we are disavowing the fact that we live in a “postmodern” world of total contingency, but secretly fearing that what we actually still secretly believe may really be true (“afraid to believe,” as Žižek put it).

The desire to watch stupidity is fundamentally a perverse one precisely because in doing so one turns oneself into an instrument of the other’s desire: stupidity only realizes itself fully under our gaze, a collective (televisional) gaze which is also ours — trip on a bucket alone in the house, and it won’t be funny, but do it in a mall, it would be hilarious. And there are also stupid acts that are only stupid when it is seen — try picking your nose and have a crowd accidentally spot you. As such, stupidity as a spectacle realizes the full element of its transgression: by watching the other’s stupid acts, we help the other to sin (and as we know, the sin is closely related to jouissance). Thus, do we, as reifications of our gaze, not take on the primary function of the pervert, by acting as an instrument of the other’s jouissance?

The Society of Perversion

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

The cultural shift from modern to postmodern is a curious one: we move away from a society concerned with discipline and routine customs and strict difference of work and home to a society with a disappearing boundary between labor and leisure plus an added bonus of a whole lot of free porn. In other words, if society at large can be seen as a person, the disciplined neurotic has now turned into an irrational pervert.

A lot of reasons should come to mind. A first obvious one would be what I have stated above — the disintegrating boundary of labor and leisure with the advent of computers, and later cyberspace. Does this disintegration not also serve as a symbolic disintegration of the big Other of the work office? Seeing the symptoms apparent in today’s society, I am tempted to claim so. This disintegration, however, both constitutes and is a part of a larger cultural phenomena — the advent of new media (for an explanation on the relationship, please refer to Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media). In other words, the changing structure of media itself changes the psychological sphere of society.

Where do we begin? Let us take the Lacanian position in regards to analyzing perversion: it is essentially the disavowal of the fact that the mother does not posses a phallus. This mother for the society at large is the mother that deep feminism has introduced to us: nature. What is nature? Nature has always been understood as some kind of mystical balance existence itself, something that can only be experienced as mediated by the ultimate big Other of its laws. But what is happening today is precisely the realization that there is no nature: Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Gödel’s incompleteness theorems, chaos theory, economic failures, etc. — the Lacanian “the big Other does not exist” suddenly emerges in most — if not all — intellectual fields. Then there is the added anxiety with our natural biological existence that comes with biotechnology and cybernetics combined — the shadow of the ultimate inefficacy of biology; the Haylesian becoming of the posthuman.

In short, the advent of the posthuman means the traumatic realization that the mother does not possess the phallus (of balanced deterministic progress, benevolence and subordination towards mankind, and so on), and the perversion prevalent in today’s society can be precisely read as a symptom of the disavowal of such realization. This can be confirmed by looking back into the previous mode of society, the neurosis — are we not precisely, by repressing sexuality, repressing our “natural, animalistic” instincts? With postmodernity, our sexuality is no longer repressed — it is let loose, but disavowed of its being a highly emotional and subjective, “uncodable” experience, for we have to treat it as an act of mere casual fun and games (I first blogged this issue here). Recall the notion of the animal signifier — being an “animal” used to be a derogatory remark, but now it means positively sexually aggressive, especially when compared to the now hip derogatory remark of being a “robot” in a relationship. (Curiously enough, the notion of “sex robots” are positive only qua an other we want to have sex with, not as).

As we are about to become near-spiritual beings with biotechnology and cybernetics, we force ourselves to have as much detached sex as possible, because we secretly fear that we could never be posthuman. We have now a perverse injunction to regard oneself as the instrument of the actual bodiless sexual relations, since the body is now a mere prostheses — a phallus of the Other apropos biological strap-on dildos.