May 26, 2024

The attractive fantasy of complete control

I've been ruminating on Susan Sontag's essay in the New York Times Magazine last Sunday, "Regarding the Torture of Others". You can read the essay here. I've been thinking a lot about the nature of fantasy--my own fantasies, the fantasies of others, the fantasies that play out in the 'privacy' of the internet when your spouse isn't home, the fantasies that play out publicly in the media. We have these photos now, that despite their specificity (a few Americans did this to a few Iraqis), have nonetheless proliferated to the edge of saturation, a point we don't like to admit.

As Sontag writes, the real horror of these photographs is not necessarily what they depict, but that the horrors they show cannot be separated from the horror that the photos were taken in the first place. Individuals use photography to capture memories in memoriam. We use cameras primarily to record events, moments, situations that we're proud of. Here's me standing beside Mount Rushmore (read: I took a vacation). Here's my son at his graduation. Here's my granddaughter. Sontag calls the photos from Abu Grahib souvenirs of a collective action, akin to people posing below the bodies of lynching victims. What could it mean to think of these photos as tourist snapshots? Certainly there isn't a soldier in Iraq who feels like he or she's on vacation, that sees palm trees and architecture and markets and thinks, "quaint." Yet the photos signal at the very least moments of relaxation. Perhaps they were letting off steam, as Limbaugh suggests. Admitting such doesn't condone their acts. Fantasies are about letting off steam, and the fantasy of having complete control over another human being might be an attractive one to soldiers in the field who are constantly in fear of being killed. Are there better ways of 'letting off steam'? Of course. That's not what I'm interested in. I'm more interested in the conditions that must be present in order for one person to completely objectify another human, to in fact turn him or her into a fantasy. I'm interested in what Lynndie England has encountered in Iraq, that she can beam so compellingly at a masturbating prisoner.

Here's an uncomfortable question: do these photos turn you on? Is the idea of complete control over another human being (both physically and sexually, just like the photos of Abu Grahib), an attractive idea for you? I'm not asking if you'd actually do what they did in real life; rather, I'm asking what sorts of fantasies we might possess in the cellar, pleasurable to imagine, morally reprehensible to act out upon an unwilling subject. Most of us make the distinction between fantasy and real life -- we enjoy certain thoughts precisely because we know it would be wrong to act them out. These photos will continue to proliferate. Soon many will be on the internet, where they'll end up as wank material, the visual heirs to a multitude of private fantasies.

Sontag's essay seems to make the common argument that pornography causes violence and sexual abuse, specifically, the home-grown pornography now common on the web.

But most of the pictures seem part of a larger confluence of torture and pornography: a young woman leading a naked man around on a leash is classic dominatrix imagery. And you wonder how much of the sexual tortures inflicted on the inmates of Abu Grahib was inspired by the vast repertory of pornographic imagery available on the Internet--and which ordinary people, by sending out Webcasts of themselves, try to emulate.
That's a rather awkward phrase. Most people do not post 'webcasts' of themselves on the internet, though they do consume amateur, voyeuristic, and fantasized images of every stripe. I disagree with the argument that the visuals cause the fantasy, because, while It's a much nicer way of looking at the human mind, I'm rather of the opinion that such fantasies already exist within the individual, and find their forms of expression in the tableaus of certain images The expansive palate of sexual imagery available on the Internet, and the photos of Abu Grahib, show not the potential of the visual image to influence us, but rather reveals the extent to which sexuality can be deployed into other spheres of expression. Sex doesn't have to be an expression of love, or even affection. Sex can be an expression of addiction, anger, sadness, evil, or fear. This burgeoning economy of sex can be liberating, or it can be horrific. That's what you get with our unfettered capitalism of sex. It's been around forever; only now, at Abu Grahib, are the photos available for download.

Posted by jason at 08:00 AM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2024

but where in all this noise am I waiting for the clouds to be blown away away away away away into the sun

Hard day alone under the gloom of the clouds (I keep waiting for a storm), kept company by poppers and porn before a last-minute bus ride downtown to wander the skyways (almost impervious to the arm-in-armed), looking for a Big Mac to drown my sorrows in, settling for a gross burrito before Kill Bill Vol. 2, then bus shelter for a few minutes with folksy Minnesotans smoking weed in baggy clothes, then the #4 home.

A day of rejections--Everyday People, a second-hand thrift store in Uptown, found nothing they could sell in my two grocery bags full of used clothes. "We're being selective right now," she said plaintively as she rejected my rejects. Back at my bike, one of the bags ripped open and embarrassing khakis and polo shirts and an ugly orange jacket from Lancashire days spilled out onto the sidewalk, where Ladies who Lunch leaving Chino Latino had to step around them on their way to their valet'd Hummers. I threw the lot away.

Also, a fight over the phone. How hard do I have to work in life before I can stop feeling so fucking alone? Confused, I lay on the couch and contemplated the confusion of maple leaves outside the windows. Not sure what's going to happen. I felt depressed and unknown, dejected.

The highlight of the day was a long talk with Glen in D.C. while I lay on my bed drinking Pilsner Urquell. I can't tell Glen I'm drinking when I call him on a Saturday night; he already has a few friends who do that. I'm slowly turning in to one of them. We discussed the various establishments we belong to and discussed the life cycle of the cicada.

What's funny is that a long time ago I refused to listen to Mirah or give her music a chance--simply out of spite. But I'm listening to her right now and I do really like it actually. It's good one a.m. music when you're on your third beer and you can't sleep so maybe she'll be in your ear as you walk around taking blurry photos of Uptown alleys. Whether or not I like Mirah, I cling to the tattered belief that there is more to me than that.

As he wrote this, Jason listened to Archipelago from the album You Think It's Like This But... by Mirah

Posted by jason at 12:51 AM | Comments (1)

May 12, 2024

mom on the phone

[mom] You had how many hot dogs?
[me] Six. Six in six hours.
[mom] Well, geez louise! How come you did that?
[me] Oh, just to do it.
[mom] Well, it's a good thing you've had your appendix out!
[me] Why do you think all those hot dogs would give me appendicitis?
[mom] Well, when your father and I lived in Chicago he once ate ten hot dogs for lunch and it made his appendix burst.

Posted by jason at 07:41 AM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2024

The Ram


Something compelled me to go to The Ram while in Chicago. I had never been there before, and the steep admittance fee to the backroom maze of gloryholes and porn booths didn't put me off. I suppose I was fraught with thought about life, relationships, wandering around chilly Wicker Park. A younger, more naive me spent a lot of time there with The Patron before he freaked out. I can't remember what street he lives on; I don't care. I'm smarter now, a little bit harder perhaps. Smarter, yeah, but with more baggage. And no one to blab it to.

I used to be an ethnographer of sorts to places like The Ram. The darkness, the stench, the men were all enchanting to me. I don't know why. Like swimming pools. Nowadays I just go there to be anonymous. Anonymous to other people. And, I realized on Friday, anonymous to myself as well. It's a stupor of frowns, hands in pockets, head down, unsmiling, meditative, medicated, wandering down the black halls. Ignoring the men who followed me plaintively: that's power, though that's all the power I feel I have. Desperate. I sat in a booth and closed the door. Some porn was playing all grainy and technicolor on a fly-spotted screen. In the next booth, I could hear two men sucking each other off, wetly. I sat and listened. I no longer learn anything from those sounds, they no longer open but instead close down like pockets of wool on my head.

I finally got off alone after about an hour and a half. I shut the door on me, and peered into the screen, and saw nothing, which was exactly what I wanted to see. At one point, just before I came, someone pushed hard on the door, and I had to use my weight to hold it shut, to keep whoever it was out.


Posted by jason at 02:42 PM | Comments (6)

May 03, 2024

Advice for Shanai

One of my favorite people in Minneapolis, Shanai, is moving to London for a few months to study Shakespeare or something. No, museums! That's it! Shanai, here's all the things you have to do [and some things you must not do under any circumstance] whilst in The Smoke.

...Go get wasted dancing to The Smiths and Nirvana at Popstarz at least once...stay away from G-A-Y unless there's some shitty boy band playing, or Will Young, and then go at all costs... Take a boat to Greenwich and walk around the parks, then take the Victorian foot tunnel under the Thames to Island Gardens and take the train back to London...Go to The Effra in Brixton, just off The Effra road; it used to be my local; live jazz six nights a week; i miss it... Go see a show at the ICA...Go to Hampstead Heath; it's lovely even if it isn't late at night and you're getting your cock sucked... or better yet, take a bottle of wine, a blanket, and a boy up to Primrose Hill and relax because you can drink in public...speaking of, nothing says 'geezer' like drinking tins of Stella on the tube into town on a Saturday night... Have a curry on Brick Lane...Go back to Brick Lane on Sunday for the market; there's a real coffee shop up past the brewery that will sustain you when you miss Minneapolis brew but learn to love the freeze-dried stuff...Spitalfields is my next favorite market, followed by Camden (only for the corduroy jackets)... Eat Hobnobs...Buy toiletries at Boots...Have lunch at the top of the Tate Modern...Go to the V & A Museum and the Whitechapel Art Gallery ...Take the bus whenever possible...Avoid any pub that advertises "Olde English Fayre," "cask-pulled ales" or "Traditional Fish and Chips"... eat a scotch egg... Do not, under any circumstance, go to the Texas Embassy... Or buy 'absinthe'... Go to Somerset House late at night and walk in the fountains... Go to Somerset House on a warm summer day and drink Pimm's... Or enjoy happy hour in Hoxton Square... Avoid EasyEverythings; they're nothing but Eurotrash whorehouses...Buy chips late at night from Dionysus on the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road...Read The Guardian...Eat Pret a Manger sandwiches but sparingly... Get lost whenever possible... Don't miss the Sloane Museum behind Holborn Tube Station... visit Jim at Gay's the Word and say hello to him for me...take the Eurostar to Paris, or get out of town to Manchester, Southend, or Edinburgh...God I'm jealous as fuck.

London: warren of my thoughts. How I miss it. Though nostalgia doth color my memories of that city. Last stint I pulled there was miserable and hard in a lot of ways. I didn't find a job for a long time, I lived in this flea-infested monk's room in Brixton, my writing did not go so well, and I spent most of my time escaping life and failure by cruising late at night in dangerous parks. I met excellent friends -- friends I feel so strongly for I almost cry each time they write me. Through them I was introduced to new poets, good champagne, and Madonna's gay masseur. Brixton was the best possible microLondon for me -- the stench, the noise, the color, the miasma of danger and the slick old cobbles and the cars kids would start on fire a block away on the council estate. A few boys, especially my first time around, as a student -- Christopher, the Pole, staying illegally in London and how he disappeared suddenly, Damian and I staying at that photograph's studio in Bayswater and doing photoshoots naked on a bed of red felt, doing E with Mike at Heaven and watching Stereolab perform and hugging each other and saying over and over "I love you man!"...Big vegetarian dinners Meghan used to make for us, Damo and his insane drives to work each morning through Regents Park, that summer I spent in Damian's flat in Lancashire, in love, accepted by his family, and the two trips we made to Greece, somehow, despite the fact that we were completely broke, the asylum seekers I taught English to, the drive through the North Yorkshire Moors as that summer waned.

...Time for work. Sigh.

Posted by jason at 09:59 PM | Comments (11)