Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Whoring for Peace

I have written written previously about the plight of the Wren Cross, the gold cross formerly to be found on the altar in the Wren Chapel at the College of William and Mary. W&M’s new president, Gene Nichol, ordered the cross removed from its accustomed place and locked in a closet until such time as the two or three remaining Christians on campus might gather in His name and desire to have it returned to the altar.

The removal of the Wren Cross

There has been a big stink about the incident, with a website, a petition, and a lot of alumni outrage. As a result, as reported in today’s The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the cross is to be returned to the Wren Chapel.

But it’s only a partial victory for its defenders: the cross will be displayed in a glass case as a historical artifact. Which, I suppose, is an appropriate outcome, given the current condition of the Episcopal Church, which nominally presides over the Wren Chapel.

But there has recently been a delicious counterpoint to all the brouhaha over the Wren Cross on the William and Mary campus. I held off posting about it until my mole at W&M (namely, the future Baron Bodissey) had supplied me with all the links to the local Williamsburg reportage and background material.

We’ll start with a Fox News report from February 23rd:

College of William and Mary Hosts Sex Worker Show on Campus

The same college that recently removed a traditional cross from the campus chapel allowed a controversial sex workers’ show to come give students an event complete with stripteases, feather boas and sex toys.

The College of William and Mary in Virginia last week hosted a Sex Workers’ Art Show for a crowd of more than 400 in an auditorium in the University Center, reported The Virginia Gazette. Another 300 people were turned away.

The goal of the show, which was sponsored and hosted by a number of student groups, was to empower the actors by portraying the realities of their careers, according to the Gazette. Money to host the event came out of student activity fees.

For example, Jo Weldon shared her story of how a stripper job helped pay her way through college and graduate school. But other performances were more risqué, reported the Gazette.

A woman named Dirty Martini, who weighed more than 200 pounds, did a striptease in a G-string and pasties, while a woman named Cono Snatch Zubobinskaya gave an anti-war performance that included a dildo shaped like a gun, the newspaper said.

Now, this is the kind of transgressive antinomian empowerment that you expect from a top-of-the line state college. It makes me proud to pay my son’s Student Activities Fees when I know they go to fund such worthy causes.

Unfortunately, one of the professors must have missed his mandatory diversity training courses, because he didn’t approve:

“I think it’s a totally inappropriate use of student funds,” Ken Petzinger, a physics professor, told the Gazette. “It’s in conflict with other values the college has.”

I guess his intransigence is understandable, given that he’s in the patriarchal gender-oppressive School of Sciences, and not in the School of Arts.

President Nichol, of course, had his say:

President Gene Nichol issued a statement saying: “I don’t like this kind of show and I don’t like having it here … But it’s not the practice and province of universities to censor or cancel performances because they are controversial.”

Makes complete sense to me. After all, the cross in the chapel was controversial because it offended people — well, one person, according to President Nichol — so it had to go. But a 200-pound (90 kilos, for our European readers) stripper in a G-string and pasties — why, no one could possibly be offended by that! Ask the Muslim Students Association — I’ll bet they really dig that sort of thing.

But you need to go to The Virginia Gazette (requires registration) for the full story on this important event:
- - - - - - - - - -
Senior Sean Barker, a black studies major, led the effort [to host the show]. He felt it important to bring back such a unique perspective to college students.

“Last year’s successful event was a big part of it,” he said. “The walls didn’t come crashing down.”

Barker felt the provocative performances and crass anecdotes don’t encourage promiscuity or promote sexual activity.

“It serves to deconstruct some of the assumptions we may have about sex workers,” he said. “It’s just exposure to a different world.”

Ah, “deconstruct”! Now we’re into the keywords that indicate that this is an important postmodern academic event.

Virginia Walters, who helped Barker organize the event, wanted to clarify a few things for those who didn’t attend.

“A really important aspect of this particular show is that it’s not pornography,” she said. “People also confuse ‘sex positivity’ with sex all the time, and that’s not what this is about. It’s about making your own choices.”

A woman’s right to choose… to sell her body. OK, we’re cool with that.

“Sure, there are folks who are quite sensitive to this matter,” said W&M provost Geoffrey Feiss. “It is controversial, but universities exist to evaluate and deal with controversy. If we aren’t doing that, then we probably aren’t doing our job.”

We university administrators can deal just fine with controversy, so long as it doesn’t involve — ick — Christians.

Feiss also explained that the administrators consulted with other universities that had hosted the event in the past. They wanted to understand the goal of the show and the content. The college also checked in with the attorney general to see what was legally permissible.

We’re here, we’re legal, get used to it!

And the opposition?

A 75-year-old man, who wouldn’t give his name, was in attendance with a group of people accompanied by a faculty member. He was bothered by what he saw.

“It’s shocking they had this type of event for impressionable young people,” the man said.

Aw, Gramps, hobble on back to assisted care where you belong. We don’t need your kind here.

The W&M student newspaper, The Flat Hat, put out a “news” story on February 8th lauding the upcoming event:

Student organizers Sean Barker and Virginia Walters, both seniors, are looking to spark discussion about sex-related issues on campus. In light of recent sexual assaults, Barker and Walters hope that the show will shed a positive light on relevant and pervasive issues.

Annie OakleyBarker collaborated with junior Constance Sisk last year to bring the Sex Workers’ Art Show to campus for the first time. They were contacted through unsolicited e-mails from the Sex Workers’ Art Show founder, director and self-described “den mom” Annie Oakley, whose pseudonym is a nod to a female sharp shooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, circa 1885. According to Barker, the modern day Oakley (pictured at left) was surprised and impressed with the overwhelming feedback from the College community last year. After the show, students responded with supportive essays, letters and e-mails hailing the forum for the discussion that the show sparked.

Ms. Oakley is a “den mom”, eh? A Cub Scout den? A den of iniquity?

How’d you like to have a mom like that, eh? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say-no-more!

Besides your tax dollars and my student activities fees, who was backing this epochal event?

Seven student organizations collaborated in sponsoring the event: Lambda Alliance, VOX, From the Margin, Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Initiative, Meridian Coffee House and Students for a Democratic Society

I did a double-take on that last one. The SDS?? Are they still alive?

Not quite. The iconic Sixties organization has been exhumed and resuscitated as an anti-globalist green anti-war… Well, you know the drill. Go look at the SDS website.

And this wasn’t just entertainment; it was educational. In fact, it was required viewing for certain students:

Several professors are requiring students in their classes to attend the show. All students enrolled in Introduction to Women’s Studies and in music professor Sophia Serghi’s Performance Art Ensemble are among at least 100 students required to attend the show.

The appeal of the show is that it creates a forum for students to embrace the idea of sexual art forms and dismiss any qualms about the topic. “It’s a sex-positive event — pro-woman, pro-queer — and it brings sex issues to the forefront,” Barker said.

Pro-woman and pro-queer — no one can argue against that, can they?

Those last quotes were from the “news” story. Now we come to the actual Flat Hat opinion. Consider the editorial that came out after the show:

I am appalled at some of the reactions I’ve seen regarding last week’s successful Sex Worker’s Art Show. The performance has not only been described as obscene, degrading, pornographic and immoral, but its mere presence has been used to further slander President Nichol’s name and reputation. I am truly at a loss.

To begin, the only people who could possibly categorize the Sex Worker’s Art Show in such simplistic, negative terms are those who did not attend the performance. Yes, there was nudity. There were suggestive costumes, burlesque performances and lots of pasties. But could we please take a moment to give the 400 students in attendance, the 300 more students who were turned away at the door, the dedicated organizers, the supportive faculty members and the performers themselves the benefit of the doubt and consider the possibility that the Sex Worker’s Art Show might have some positive messages?

As a feminist and women’s studies major, I very easily understand the moral opposition to pornography. I certainly do not condone the type of oppressive, demeaning pornography that occupies much of the mainstream industry, and I care very deeply about the atrocities committed around the globe involving child prostitution and sex trafficking. In fact, I find many representations of women in the mainstream media wholly degrading and sexist: female sexual submission, women depicted solely as sex objects and the strict ideals of feminine beauty. These are extremely significant issues in my life, both personally and politically, and I do not take them lightly.

To hear such outrageous attacks on the Sex Worker’s Art Show, then, offends me in a very deep and personal way. Yes, the content of this performance is controversial, and I would certainly not persuade anyone to attend who expressed discomfort. I myself was made uncomfortable by some of the performers’ messages and artistic pieces. But this show, unlike anything else I’ve come across, actually makes an effort to render sex workers visible — no longer faceless and silent.

Now, here is where we come to the nitty-gritty of the issue. The unexamined premise is that it is a positive social good to make visible those things which had been previously frowned upon and kept out of sight.

Why is that? Why are we obligated to expose to the public eye all the sordid, demeaning, and degraded things that people do? What’s the rationale? Where is the demonstrable benefit?

One could say the same about excrement. But this show, unlike anything else I’ve come across, actually makes an effort to render turds visible — no longer faceless and silent and hidden in the toilet.

Yes, I know. Don’t tell me. I’m sure there is an academic discipline based on that exact premise.

There’s plenty more in this editorial, all very predictable and depressing, given that this is a student newspaper in one of the finest institutions of higher education in our country.

But one more quote:

For too long, the mainstream sex industry has created a culture of sexual domination and submission, sex modeled on rape and sexual objectification. The Sex Worker’s Art Show seemed to fly in the face of such gross contortions of sexual agency and desire. For once, the women (and men) in the sex industry had a voice and could share their experiences, both good and bad.

Now there’s the rub. I didn’t see it, but I did some digging — with the help of the Future Baron — into the background of the show and its performers. And, based on evidence widely available on the web, “sexual domination and submission, sex modeled on rape and sexual objectification” are definitely the stock in trade for the people who promote this gig. It may be a pig gussied up in a transgressive silk dress with postmodern lipstick, but it’s most emphatically still a pig.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

WARNING: Any links from here until the end of the post should be considered NSFW. And also not safe for homeschoolers. The Headmistress herself may want to avert her gaze, and maybe even the Headmaster.

Whore CultureThe Sex Workers’ Art Show is part of a genre that is known as “Whore Culture”. If you start researching it, and follow the links wherever they lead, you’ll find a limitless supply of grotesquely prurient material.

But it’s not simply the naked-babes-and-faceless-coupling of your standard porn. It’s not even the fetishes, the bondage, the degradation, etc. The whole shtick is overlaid with an academic superstructure and then iced with a sticky sweet layer of political ideology. It’s skin-flicks, self-righteousness, and leftist ideology, all wrapped up into a big throbbing sexual package.

I felt like I needed to take a shower after browsing the various websites.

But Whore Culture isn’t hobbled by such antiquated and benighted inhibitions. It even has a mission statement:

“boa: new whore culture” is in search of the next generation of sex worker artists, activists, and provocateurs.

Our aim is to showcase sharp cultural critique, provoking first-person lit, & multimedia and visual works that speak to emerging sex worker communities, with a focus on whore-driven arts & culture.

boa is for and by sex workers of all trades, and of diverse identities.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Mr. Square Hidebound Jones! Power to the people!

A subgroup of boa is called Come in Peace:

Queer, trans, and sex worker activists come together in the name of a little bit of peace, lust, and radical understanding.

Come in Peace is a collective of anti-war, pro-peace, sex-positive activists and artists. We began meeting in March 2003, soon after the war in Iraq began. We are a non-profit organization, fiscally sponsored by ARISE for Social Justice in Springfield, MA.

Whips, Bondage, Sodomy, Peace, and Justice! A heady combination, indeed.

Then there’s a young woman whose site is called “Objectify Me”. Echo Transgression, as she is known, stars in pornographic films which feature faceless coupling, degrading treatment, and humiliation. All for the sake of transgressive empowerment, and all to be celebrated.

A review of her work shows that you can’t parody this stuff:

In each scene, Echo evolves into a nihilist masochist famished by her own pitiless self-denigration for an ultimate, transcendental self-affirmation that never occurs…

I hate to say it, but I don’t think the writer wrote this piece tongue-in-cheek. At least not in his own.

The Sex Workers’ Art Show, needless to say, has its own promotional website, with all the usual features — an introduction, links, bios — check out the CV on some of these people!

Then there’s the press release, ready to hand out to the media:

The show includes people from all areas of the sex industry: strippers, prostitutes, dommes, film stars, phone sex operators, internet models, etc. It smashes traditional stereotypes and moves beyond “positive” and “negative” into a fuller articulation of the complicated ways sex workers experience their jobs and their lives. The Sex Workers’ Art Show entertains, arouses, and amazes while simultaneously offering scathing and insightful commentary on notions of class, race, gender, labor and sexuality!

Think of it: this is a feminist issue. Objectifying women and celebrating their degradation has somehow become evidence of their liberation.

Last, but not least, there are the sponsors: Rutgers, Barnard, Columbia, NYU, and CUNY among others.

And now we come to the heart of the matter. All this transgression, all this postmodern empowerment and sexual articulation, all the giving voice to the marginal, all the academic claptrap, built out of tired buzzwords and shoved down throats of America’s college students — all of it is paid for by your tax dollars and the fees you are required to pony up in order to insert your children into this wonderful educational environment.

It warms your heart, doesn’t it? It makes you want to get out the checkbook and write a big check with lots of zeroes to your dear old alma mater, right?

What? It doesn’t?

Well, no problem. Everything’s cool. Uncle Sam will take up the slack.

15 comments:

A Menken Moment said...

What is this, a college or a lunatic asylum? Or is there a difference anymore?

Dymphna said...

Just like the abortion industry "forgets" to tell young women of the high risk of breast cancer associated with the BRCA genes and an abortion performed on a woman who has failed to carry a pregnancy to term, the sex workers also neglect to tell their audiences of the risks inherent in their chosen way of life.

Some risk behaviors that have been linked to the transmission of HPV include unprotected sexual intercourse, coitus at an early age, sex with a promiscuous partner, and multiple sexual partners over one’s lifetime. One particular study indicated that the risk for HPV infection nearly tripled among women with more than five sexual partners over their lifetime in comparison to women with only one sex partner.

Recent studies support this, indicating that the likelihood of detecting HPV DNA increased with the number of sexual partners.

OTOH, lifetime monogamy, full term pregnancy, and breast feeding are all protective factors for women vis a vis cancers of the reproductive organs.

My favorite freak-speak neologism in this post?

"Sex positivity".

All of which is to say that your grandmother and George Orwell were right -- i.e., the admonition to keep your legs together, and that words can be used to cover all manner of slime.

I can't wait till the fB gets out of that place. Its sophistry and liberal shallow thinking is a toxic environment, especially for the young.

PapaBear said...

It sounds like a stage of cult programming. Take a teenager who is away from home for possibly the first time, and put him into an environment where everything he learned from his parents is judged to be wrong. Cut all the anchors of his personality. Then while he is adrift re-construct his personality according to the values of his new leadership

PapaBear said...

As an aside, it seems blogger.com has switched things so that https (secure http) is used on the "Leave Your Comment" page.

The result on Internet Explorer is that you get a popup saying "This page contains both secure and non-secure items. Do you wish to display the non-secure items?", and you have to hit "Yes" before the word verification image appears

My version of the Firefox browser does not give this popup message -- it just fails to show the verification image, with the result that I was unable to post until I decided to try IE instead.

If you're seeing fewer comments than you used to, this might be a contributing factor

Baron Bodissey said...

PapaBear,

Well, it figures. Par for the course with blooger.

And you know what those "insecure" items are? They're the little photos of people's avatars, the ones that appear alongside their comments, from the various image servers.

Sheesh.

gun-totin-wacko said...

You know,I'm of mixed mind on "porn as empowerment". I guess there's something to it if a woman does it by choice, and yes there are those men that sit and drool, which I suppose is a form of "submission" to her femininity. But still, as a friend put it, one has to ask "are your parents proud of you?"

I dunno. This whole thing at W&M just seems so disgusting. Sex is by nature biological and yes, even emotional, in the context of love/marriage and so on. But sitting on a stage masturbating as an attempt at political or social change just seems morally wrong and disgusting.

Wally Ballou said...

Well, I am pretty sure I would have attended the show as a young college student, even if I didn't buy the leftist posturing. Just to take in the view.

As the Baron points out, these groups are uniformly smug and self-righteous. That's what is so grating. They aren't satisfied to be sleazy - they rattle off their buzzwords and demand that their sleaze be redefined as revolutionary virtue and virtue as bourgeouis vice.

That sanctimnony was what annoyed me most of all about Carter as president. There was actually quite a lot of corruption and scandal in his White House (although everyone seems to have forgotten it now) but hovering over it all was the big stinky fog of sanctimonious sleaze. The man worshipped himself, and his wife was just as bad.

Whoops - OT digression. Oh well.

K said...

Hello, this is Echo Transgression. I just wanted to leave a comment in response. I think you are barely skimming the surface of the whore culture phenomenon. The result of women taking full control over images of themselves that at one time may have been seen as degrading (the fact that you still see a female's sexual fantasy being not so unlike a man's as degrading demonstrates your bias) is empowering. And the fact that this topic does generate debate makes it a naturally viable subject of academia.

That said the subject is still in its infancy and there is room for skepticism about certain aspects of whore culture (something with which I am grappling, and with which my emerging work deals). My current work deals with the question, "what next?" So the taboos are shattered, and you've taken control of your image as a sexual object - now what? I'm heading toward a more mature approach, I think, and I agree with the poster who likened the subject to the experience of a teen being on their own for the first time. For this reason it should be an active topic of discussion in academia and beyond. It needs a chance to develop into something of yet more substance.

It is a fascinating subject and I've devoted my entire art practice to it. The review you quote was of my Graduate thesis project almost five years ago. Once we all get over the initial reaction (whether it be disgust or arousal), we can have deeper responses to the products of whore culture (art, writing, etc.) in general.

Baron Bodissey said...

Echo Transgression, welcome!

As you may have been able to tell from my essay, my objection is not to the content of the show (though I find that distasteful), but the fact that Student Activity Fees and tax dollars are used to stage and promote it.

I'm a libertarian -- what goes on between consenting adults in private is none of my business.

But I don't see why I should have to pay for such a public spectacle. Let the audience pay -- did you notice that the tickets were free? A lot of unwilling financial backers for this particular extravaganza.

Archonix said...

Ahhhhhh, it works again!

Papabear et al, no need to switch to IE. View your cookies, search them with the string "blogg" and delete any cookies that appear. It'll all come back again. Apparently it was a borked session cookie or something similar from when they made their changes... which, I have to say, I don't like very much.

Anyhoo... I can understand your position, Baron. Our GV tax goes to fund some equally bizare and distasteful things, with the added bonus of being put in prison if we don't pay it. I assume you have to pay the fees lest the junion baron be kicked out of the school?

Darrin said...

from the bio page:
"His dissertation is examining unprotected sex with non-paid casual partners among Internet based male sex workers in New York City."

eh?, is this like examining the event histories of navel fluff?, how does this pass for academic study?

Dymphna said...

Archonix asked

I assume you have to pay the fees lest the junion baron be kicked out of the school?

Yep, he'd be drop kicked over the fence. As the head of his dept said to him once, in another context, in a fair world you wouldn't have to tolerate this. But college is not fair to students. You have no voice...

Or words to that effect.

Nilk said...

I checked out some of the links here, and I noticed that one, Ana Voog (I won't link) is considered a 'pioneer' in the use of webcams.

This woman has been around for around 10 years now with her webcam. I found it boring in 1998, I'm sure I would find it boring today.

As for the concept of women objectifying themselves being empowering, I don't agree.

While a woman who does so will no doubt have her coterie of like-minded supporters, she will also have an audience of people who see her as nothing but a sex-object, and no doubt less than a 'normal' woman.

I am aware that my tone may come across as insulting, but I find women objectifying women even more offensive than men doing so.

Years ago I looked into the possibility of making short exploitation films to but on the net with a couple of other friends in the industry. No nudity, no sex, just pure exploitation and aggression. (Girls beating up on guys - there is a huge market for horrid stuff like this).

After some serious discussion, we agreed not to do so. We had the studio, all the equipment and the know-how. We even had actors lined up.

In the end, I felt that even if I was behind the camera, I could not justify participating in something that is so wrong.

Even though I no longer call myself a feminist, there is something profoundly revolting about volunteering to degrade yourself in order for someone else to get sexual gratification.

While it may be in line with what 'feminists' and those of their ilk declare all the go, I do not see anything of value in this whore culture.

pick said...

Hi Baron,
Couple of things...
Does it bother you at all to hold such a virulent opinion on a show that neither you nor your progeny have ever actually SEEN? Are you really content to let fox news tell you what it was all about, and then make your decisions from there?

How is it at all feminist for you to compare women to turds? You claim to be so opposed to the degradation of women, but you say that sex workers and turds are both distasteful things that need to be kept out of the public eye. How is calling women shit not degrading?

If you don't think you should have to pay for shows on campus that you disagree with, what about people who don't care for football, or ballet, or visual arts, or choir concerts? Should those be abolished on campus as well? Clearly your truck is with the actual content of the show, not with the fact that you had to 'pay' for it, otherwise you would not support funds for any arts and recreation. The complaint about funding is just a distraction from the fact that you support censorship, which is highly un-American.

By the by, your links are all messed up. You conflate the SWAS with the sex work matters conference, referring to one at the beginning of a sentence and then linking to the bios of the other.

I hope you'll consider what it is that REALLY threatens you about the idea that sex workers might be able to make decisions for themselves, and might have something worthwhile to say.

Baron Bodissey said...

Pick –

Does it bother you at all to hold such a virulent opinion on a show that neither you nor your progeny have ever actually SEEN? Are you really content to let fox news tell you what it was all about, and then make your decisions from there?

No and yes, respectively. The argument that one can’t judge something that one hasn’t witnessed is a fallacious one. That logic would prevent me from offering an opinion on the Gettysburg Address or the Holocaust.

If one has sufficient information, it’s possible to offer an opinion on an event without being present. There was a large amount of detailed information on the show available in various news articles.

How is it at all feminist for you to compare women to turds? You claim to be so opposed to the degradation of women, but you say that sex workers and turds are both distasteful things that need to be kept out of the public eye. How is calling women shit not degrading?

I didn’t say that I was a feminist. And I didn’t compare women with turds. I question the validity of the unexamined premise that it’s a good idea to air everything public, no matter how vulgar, inappropriate, or distasteful most people find the material. No one has ever offered a convincing argument to support that premise.

If you don't think you should have to pay for shows on campus that you disagree with, what about people who don't care for football, or ballet, or visual arts, or choir concerts? Should those be abolished on campus as well?

If the vast majority of the people who actually pay for them disapprove of them, then, yes, they should be abolished – or, rather, de-funded. Let the interested people who comprise the audience be the ones to pay for them.

Clearly your truck is with the actual content of the show, not with the fact that you had to 'pay' for it, otherwise you would not support funds for any arts and recreation.

My “truck” is that people are forced to pay for something that the vast majority don’t approve of. That’s all.

The complaint about funding is just a distraction from the fact that you support censorship, which is highly un-American.

The assertion that a refusal to fund an activity is tantamount to censorship is an old one, but it is not true. Censorship occurs when expression is forbidden by law.

By the by, your links are all messed up. You conflate the SWAS with the sex work matters conference, referring to one at the beginning of a sentence and then linking to the bios of the other.

I followed links within these groups which clearly indicated that all were associated with one another. They shared a link base, just as Gates of Vienna does with Jihad Watch. I don’t mind if you conflate us with Jihad Watch; it’s appropriate.

I hope you'll consider what it is that REALLY threatens you about the idea that sex workers might be able to make decisions for themselves, and might have something worthwhile to say.

The vast majority of “sex workers” are exploited drug addicts, many of them underage. A huge trafficking of them goes on, especially in Europe. It is to the eternal shame of the Left and the feminists that they have turned a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence of the immense harm done to young women by sex trafficking. Calling it a “choice” for these underage refugees is an Orwellian use of the language.