Ariel Levy on current day “sexiness” in Female Chauvinist Pigs

Quoted from pg. 29-31.

“If the rise of raunch seems counterintuitive because we hear so much about being in a conservative moment, it actually makes perfect sense when we think about it. Raunch culture is not essentially progressive, it is essentially commercial. By going to strip clubs and flashing on spring break and ogling our Olympians in Playboy, it’s not as though we are embracing something liberal-this isn’t Free Love. Raunch culture isn’t about opening our minds to the possibilities and mysteries of sexuality. It’s about endlessly reiterating one particular-and particularly commercial-shorthand for sexiness.

There is a disconnect between sexiness or hotness and sex itself. As Paris Hilton, the breathing embodiment of our current, prurient, collective fixations-blondeness, hotness, richness, anti-intellectualism-told Rolling Stone reporter Vanessa Grigoriadis, ‘my boyfriends always tell me I’m not sexual. Sexy, but not sexual.’ Any fourteen-year-old who has downloaded her sex tapes can tell you that Hilton looks excited when she is posing for the camera, bored when she is engaged in actual sex. (In one tape, Hilton took a cell phone call during intercourse.) She is the perfect sexual celebrity for this moment, because our interest is in the appearance of sexiness, not the existence of sexual pleasure. (Before Paris Hilton we had Britney Spears and Jessica Simpson to drool over: two shiny, waxy blondes who used to tell us over and over again that sex was something they sang about, not something they actually engaged in.)

Sex appeal has become a synecdoche for all appeal: People refer to a new restaurant or job as ‘sexy’ when they mean hip or powerful. A U.S. Army general was quoted in the The New Yorker regarding an air raid on the Taliban as saying ‘it was sexy stuff,’ for instance; the New York Times ran a piece on the energy industry subheadlined ‘After Enron, Deregulation is Looking Less Sexy.’ For something to be noteworthy is must be ‘sexy.’ Sexiness is no longer just about being aroused or alluring, it’s about being worthwhile.

Passion isn’t the point. The glossy, overheated thumping of sexuality in our culture is less about connection than consumption. Hotness has become our cultural currency, and a lot people spend a lot of time and a lot of regular, green currency trying to acquire it. Hotness is not the same thing as beauty, which has been valued throughout history. Hot can mean popular. Hot can mean talked about. But when it pertains to women, hot means two things in particular: fuckable and salable. The literal job criteria for our role models, the stars of the sex industry.”

Media, status anxiety and advertising (history)

“The burgeoning of the mass media from the late nineteenth century helped to raise expectations even higher. At his newspaper’s launch in 1896, Alfred Harmsworth, the founder of Britain’s Daily Mail candidly characterised his ideal reader as a man in the street ‘worth one hundred pounds per annum’ who could be enticed to dream of being ‘tomorrow’s thousand pound man.’ In America, meanwhile, the Ladies’ Home Journal (first published in 1883), Cosmopolitan (1886), Munsey’s (1889) and Vogue (1892) brought an expensive life within the imaginative reach of all. Readers of fin de si├Ęcle American Vogue, for example, were told who had been aboard Nourmahal, John Jacob Astor’s yacht, after the America’s Cup race, what the most fashionable young ladies were wearing at boarding school, who threw the best parties in Newport and Southampton and what to serve with caviar at dinner (potato and sour cream).

The opportunity to study the lives of people of higher status and forge a connection with them was also increased by the development of radio, film and television. By the 1930s, Americans were collectively spending some 150 million hours per week at the cinema and almost a billion hours listening to the radio. In 1946, 0.02 percent of American households owned television sets; by 2000, the figure stood at 98 percent.

The new media created longings not only through their content but also through the advertisements they imposed on their audiences. From its amateurish beginnings in the United States in the 1830s, advertising had by the end of the nineteenth century grown into a business worth $500 million a year. In 1900, a giant Coca-Cola sign was erected on one side of Niagara Falls, while an advert for Mennen’s Toilet Powder was suspended over the gorge.”