Monday, January 27, 2014

Penis Envy, Or, I Can Haz Fluffer Plz?

Freud's famous couch.

When I was a kid I thought the concept of penis envy made no sense. I looked at boys, and I thought, "Penis? Envy? No." Why would I prefer a dangling, unpredictable, extremely vulnerable, extra body part to my attractive, self-contained, and subtle vulva? Mystifying.
When I got older and started reading porn, I still didn't envy penises, but I developed a theory about why the idea of penis envy might have gotten the traction it has. It's not that women envy penises. It's that men envy men's penises for women. I mean, men sort of wish women had penises.

I formed this idea because of the omnipresence in modern written porn of male metaphors for female sexual excitement. Clits get "huge" and "huger" the more excited women get. Women try desperately to "hold back" their orgasms, but the "force" of the pleasure is just "too strong" for them and they come anyway. When they do come, their "juices" suddenly flow out of them.

Um, guys? I hate to break this to you but that's you you're talking about, not us. OK, I'm sure there are women who have to hold back orgasm but find they cannot, since there are women of all kinds. And it's true: clits get big. But overall this is much more a description of what it's like to have sex with a man than a woman. My theory was that men want the girl, but they also want the whole external apparatus -- balls, penis, etc. -- to play with and enjoy. And in classic form they project that feeling onto us. And they call it penis envy.

But then a penis-owner explained it to me this way: it's not that men want the external apparatus itself. It's that they want the visual cues -- the evidence, if you want to put it that way -- that the woman in question is genuinely aroused, really into it. Because as we all know, it's not always clear what is going on with women. As a woman, I can tell you: it's not always clear to me what's going on with myself.

And here I'm basically with the guys: it'd be nice to have a little clarity and straightforwardness. I don't want to give up my elegant and complicated vulval apparatus, but I've come to see the appeal of having a penis of my own. Even sophisticated men -- even sophisticated women -- need instructions to locate the clitoris and make it work properly. It'd be nice to have a sex organ that works on a more basic "touch here" principle.

Penises, like the men they're attached to, have a kind of no-nonsense way of responding to the world, and I like that. It's a penile pattern of desire. The penis wants what it wants. If what you got it doesn't want: sorry, no can do. There's no negotiating, no if-only-you-cared, if-you-were-nicer, if-only-you'd-let-me. 

Of course, there is performance anxiety. But in a way that allows the penis to be even more in charge than it would be otherwise. When I'm in a reductive mood I sometimes think of how astonishing it is that the continuation of the human race depends on men getting erections. When you look at it that way, you can sort of see how it might have happened that patriarchal structures function so relentless in favor of bucking up the male ego. Gotta keep those egos bucked! The future of the humanity hangs on men being in a comfortable, reasonably confident, and unthreatened mood. That's bizarre to me, but also kind of hilarious. 

Women, of course, have a wide range of sexual performance that can take place with or without genuine desire. That's nice, in a way. You can be all super into it, or you can not be too into it and do it anyway, or you can just see how it goes and see if you get really into it later, and all that is fine. But the flip side of that is dealing with complexity. Have you been following the whole Viagra-for-women business? Obviously, this is something everyone wants to make, the new holy grail of pharmaceuticals. They haven't succeeded. The main reason they haven't succeeded is that women are really complicated. They experience desire and arousal differently, with different mechanisms, and respond to different things in different ways. All that complexity: it wears a girl out. It makes me wish I had a penis.

The appeal of having a penis crystallized for me when I learned about the concept of a fluffer. A fluffer is a person who stays out of camera range on a porn movie and does whatever's necessary to keep the guy hard in between scenes. Hand job, blow job, whatever he needs.

That there is even such a thing as a fluffer is where the penis reaches its peak of appeal for me. In this interaction, the penis is king: whatever it wants, it gets. And what it wants is so simple: a cute nice girl, or a cute nice guy, with soft hands and a warm mouth. No one asks the guy to make do with a vibrator or whatever the way you know they'd make a woman do if there were some relevantly switched situation. Because this sexual interaction needs a penis that is genuinely highly aroused -- something no one really needs from a woman, except the woman in question herself.

So I'd like to have a fluffer, and I'd like to have the penis necessary to enjoy one. Sometimes when I'm not paying attention I think I'm getting an exciting offer for one in my inbox: "pmarino," the email subject line says, "Grow Your Penis Safely and Naturally!"

And I think, "Really? OK. Sign me up!"

Monday, January 20, 2014

Our Insatiable Needs For Content, Or, What Does A Surfer Want?

Lucius Fox checks his screens

Here is a true thing about me: put me in front of a TV set with a remote control, and I will flip channels. I will flip channels even if there is something good on. I will flip channels way past the point of being bored and antsy. I will choose to flip through the channels sequentially, making sure I check out even the channels like ESPN where the odds of my being interested trend toward zero.

My propensity for flipping is a major reason I don't have a TV. Sure, "there are some good things on TV," as people always say. But you know who isn't watching them? Channel flippers. Also, while it's one thing to waste your life watching bad TV, it's a whole other thing entirely to waste your life flipping channels, and failing to actually watch anything. Talk about pathological.

I might be unusual in my extreme inability to watch actual shows. But I think the roots of my problem are widely shared, and typically manifest themselves in an inordinate preference for "what's on," "what's happening now," and "what's new."

If we're talking about "news," it makes sense: you want today's news. But much of the content people enjoy isn't news at all. It's entertainment, or art, or opinions, or whatever. For most of the websites I enjoy looking at, you could stumble on a post from a year ago and if it was dated "today" and you hadn't seen it before you'd never know.

And yet: if their favorite site doesn't update, are people like "Oh, no problem, I'll read something old"? No: it's like, "Where's My Today Thing?! I need Today's Thing, the Thing for Today!"

Even when it comes to something like the New York Times crossword puzzle -- where, honestly, how is there a reason to prefer "today's" puzzle to any other puzzle you haven't yet done -- one from last year, say? There isn't any. And yet, prefer today's puzzle I do, by a gulf as wide as the difference between doing a puzzle and chucking the whole project for some less challenging one like looking at cats on the internet.

Recently on his WTF podcast Marc Maron mentioned our insatiable needs for content -- the way no matter how much an entertainer produces, the next day there's a clamor for more. What you got now? Got something now? Is that a twitter fight you're having! Yay, twitter fight! You got some new comedy for us now? How about now?

I got thinking that in one way it is odd: the amount of available content is vast, beyond anyone's wildest imagination, whoever your favorite entertainer or comedian is, I'm there there are immense reserves of youtube videos and other things that are by people similar enough that you would be entertained. But that's not what people want, I think. They don't want generic "content." They want something else -- not just something they haven't seen, but something that is "what's happening now."

I really have no idea what the deal is, but here are two theories -- one warm and fuzzy, the other depressing and awful.

The warm and fuzzy theory is that people want what's "happening now" because that's actually a way of connecting, indirectly, to other people, and we humans -- well, we're nothing if not beings who want to stay in touch. One pleasing thing about doing "today's puzzle" is that everyone else is doing "today's puzzle." Even if you never talk to those people about it, you can know that across the world, people are shaking their heads at "gam" as the answer to "bit of cheesecake" (Monday, January 6, 2014).

When you're watching "what's on," lots of other people are too. You're having a shared experience, even if you never see or engage with those people and even if you would be annoyed and irritated at actually talking to them about anything. When you watch what's on, the world watches with you. It's nice.

The depressing and awful theory is that people want what's new because they are, way more than they even realize, deeply dissatisfied with what's available, and want something completely different, and the new -- well, the new has not YET proven itself to be dissatisfying.

This, I think, explains the endless channel flipping, the people who stay up late to surf the internet even though they're actually bored, and the people dying for Marc Maron to get into a twitter feud. Even if we don't realize it consciously, what we're really after is something else. What we want is: NOT THIS.

The depressing theory explains the addictive nature of so many content habits. If what you want is something different, and what you get is more of the same, it's no mystery why you're still sitting there, flipping, clicking, surfing, poking around, trying to find the thing that will give you the feeling you want, a feeling you're never going to have anyway.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Our Simplicity Fetish

Theo van Doesburg, Dessin Arithmétique IV, via Wikimedia Commons
You might not have noticed, what with all the other crazy shit going on in the world these days, but we humans seriously fetishize simplicity. It's like the whole idea that things are complicated is somehow suspect, like if you're thinking about things, then sorry, either you're some kind of evil obfuscator or YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG.

Everyone acts like they're the brilliant sword cutting through the Gordian Knot of everyone else's ignorance.

I'm sure it was always thus, but with the whole internet thing giving us so much more information about one another than we ever wanted, you get to see it all the time. I feel like every time I try to read a comment thread -- even a moderated one rising above the level of vicious abuse -- there's this relentless rhetoric where people think they're slicing through the bullshit with their brave and uncompromising pronouncements.

 If there's ever a tiny minority of poor souls raising relevant issues or pointing to aspects of a situation or, god forbid, asking questions -- there are always these voices of authority proclaiming some simple principle as the f-ing gospel.

"U Can't Do That Because Freedomz!"

"Was Ur Choice So No Can Complain."
"World Needz Moar Kindness Only."
"U R Too Negative"

and if these aren't relevant there's the always popular

"Why You Haz Opinion?"

"Who R U to Say?"

Good lord.

And now that "arts" have become "entertainment," just forget it. To be financially feasible, movies and TV shows have to appeal to vast numbers of people -- and so must not alienate or disturb even the stupidest viewers. The inevitable result is a cascade of moral simplicity: Look mom, there are Good Guys and there are Bad Guys! I think they're going to fight! [Gasp] I think the Good Guys are going to win!

I heard a movie director talking recently on a podcast about his love for a certain kind of science fiction movie and basically the whole explanation was that in those movies, there are Good Guys, and there are Bad Guys, and he found this kind of moral simplicity profoundly attractive.

I wanted to say: "Sure it's attractive." It's attractive in the same way as the Tooth Fairy or the The Secret. Like, "comfy, nice, but not true." Sorry, but normally we reserve those things for people under ten years old.

I wouldn't mind the desire for simplicity in fantasy-land, but I feel like engagement with simplicity influences how people deal with the actually complex world around them, so that complex decisions are treated as if of course there's some simple application of some simple principle, the question is just which one.

For instance, I think the fetish for simplicity has helped to prop up the "what could go wrong?" theory of foreign policy. It's like, "democracy is good" so ... we'll just send bombs and drones to weed out the problem people and then we'll run elections and poof!

Sometimes people make fun of economists for "physics envy," the idea being that they improperly modeled their science to mimic one with simple elegant mathematics and simple unifying equations when economic reality just can't be modeled that way.

As I see it, physics envy is way broader, and seems to infect the world at large. People already have a kind of natural love for the idea of deep harmony in the world, even when no such harmony really exists. The fact that physicists were able to come up with elegant simple equations just buttressed this already problematic way of thinking.

It's like everyone saw those equations and thought "OMG there really is deep harmony in the world! All we have to do is find the right simple thoughts and apply them! "World Needs Moar Kindness Only! U R Too Negative!!" Spread the gospel!

Monday, January 6, 2014

People As Lawn Furniture And Other Matters

Some Tiepolo angels

Did you happen to read this story in The New Yorker in 2012 by George Saunders? "The "Semplica-Girl Diaries?"

If not you should read it, because it's great, because it's philosophical, and because it's funny and sad. Basically it's about a guy in the near future who turns forty and gets a diary and tries to write stuff down. He's lazy and forgetful about it, like we are. He's got kids and a job and things are sort of tough financially and the kids can't keep up, nice-things-wise, with the other kids at school, which makes our hero very unhappy.

Then some things happen and he gets a little bit of money, and it's just before the birthday of one of his daughters so he decides to surprise her by redoing their whole yard in the nicest, trendiest, most sophisticated way, so they can have a party there, and all her friends will be impressed and think she's cool.

The twist is this: in the near future, the trendiest most sophisticated lawn furniture is people.

They're Semplica Girls, to be precise. Science has found a way to wire up real people as decorations. The girls -- of course they are girls -- are dressed up as angels, and spend 24 hours a day three feet up, their white smocks blowing in the breeze. Naturally, the girls themselves come from poor countries where the money they make as Semplica Girls is sent home to feed and clothe starving siblings etc. etc. 

One of the best things about the story is how realistic the presentation is, with moral hand-wringing and the inevitable rationalization about the good that comes about and the fact that the girls "chose" their situation. The idea of "human girls as permanent lawn decoration" is brilliant, because in one way it's crazy awful and in another way it's an apt parallel for so much of our own craziness. Crazy consumers of the future, they're just like us!

I often think about the SGs, hanging in the moonlight, quietly chatting, as the family sleeps inside. It's easy to think that the main problem with SGs is the simple one: people just aren't decorations. You can't just use a person as a piece of lawn furniture. The moral of the story would be that applying market values to people is the direction we're headed in and is wrong.

But honestly, I think it's more complicated than that. Just to start, there's the obvious parallel with exploited workers in poor countries now -- and they're not decorations, they're working. So it's not as simple as the problem of what they are doing.

Also, I think that when you get away from problematic contexts, you can use people as pieces of lawn furniture or other decorations and it's not really a problem. In a society of abundance and rough economic and social equality and no sexism and other bullshit, if you wanted to pay -- or barter for -- some good looking people to come lie around your pool?  Or if you took turns being Pageant of the Masters for each others' parties? Whatever.

To me, what makes the SGs a horrific twist on a current reality is less the furniture aspect and more the HAVE NO LIFE aspect. I mean, they're up there all the time. They don't do anything else. They don't have meals with friends or hang out with their families or dance or go on dates or have children or anything. Being SGs is their whole life. That fact, of course, is made super double extra creepy by the fact that they're out there on the front lawn. Yikes.

If that's right, the relevance to our current situation is broader than the whole using-a-person-as-a-piece of furniture business, because we are rapidly becoming a society in which many people have no lives outside of work: people have to work several jobs, or they have to work all the time in order not to get fired, or they have to work all the time to even be on the lowest rung of some career ladder.

In this interpretation, the SGs aren't just a metaphor for the slaves, sex workers, and poorest people of the world. They are also a metaphor for us.