Apr 072011

Gloria Brame has posted a startling image of a group of les femmes tondues, or shaved women. In post-WWII France, certain women, sometimes but not always prostitutes, were singled out for ritualized public humiliation for alleged “horizontal collaboration” with fascists. These women had their heads shaved, and this particular group seems to have been stripped naked and painted with a black substance (tar?), and are giving a fascist salute, more likely ironic than defiant.

I post this as an example of the kind of ritualized display of power that can evolve over time into sadomasochistic fantasy.

Oct 172010

Fussell, Paul. Uniforms: Why we are what we wear Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

Fussel is a snob, a crank and a square (he refers to “skate-board enthusiasts and other pseudo-degenerates”), and he would probably agree with all those adjectives assessments. He fully admits that his book is about surface impressions, but that’s what a uniform is: a surface, a membrane between the world and the self. It covers up the flawed individual and makes the wearer represent an ideal. Fussell contends that, despite the status accorded to individualism, people like wearing uniforms, even lowly ones. However, one of the first thing people do when given uniforms is to customize them for comfort, utility or style. In extreme cases, this produces the paradox of the unique uniform; WWII-era leaders, like MacArthur, Patton, Montgomery, Hitler and Eisenhower, had distinctive uniforms made for them.

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Jul 012010

Via BoingBoing, I found a gallery of North Korean propaganda art and photos. These include variations on the standard “woman threatened by male aggression” theme, with American soldiers as the aggressors and Koreans in traditional dress as the victims.

Some of them hint at a sexual content. One shows a bare-breasted Korean woman tied to the back of a cow, being dragged by US soldiers. Another shows American soldiers using pliers to extract teeth from a contemptuously defiant Korean woman in traditional dress.

Obviously, “virtue in distress” is a strategy that can be applied to just about any conflict, international or domestic.

Jun 272010

BoingBoing.net has a small collection of “monster carrying of woman” images.

It’s interesting to me that this image has proven highly applicable to a variety of different conflicts, both open warfare and internal cultural stress: the Franco-Prussian war, WWI, the American civil rights struggle, the Cold War. It was particularly prevalent in Hollywood films of the 1930s: Frankenstein, King Kong, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Murders on the Rue Morgue, etc. Any sense of cultural anxiety can be reflected in the image of an unconscious white woman swooning in the arms of a dark/unclean/hypermasculine figure, and in terms of rape. This ties into the failed seduction idea discussed in Sex Drives.

One of the commenters says:

I did a whole lecture on the “monsters carrying off our women” meme once. Its history in western art goes back at least as far as Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women from 1582.

It was a staple of 20th century sci-fi posters pretty much until the late 70s, when Ripley proved it was possible for a lady to defeat the big scary monster all by her lonesome.

Below is the sculpture mentioned:

If this is the ur-instance of the “monsters carry off our women” image, it’s interesting that unlike the other examples, there are three figures: the female victim, the male aggressor, and the usurped male. They are entangled together, a complicated triad. Perhaps this is the root of cuckold fantasy as well, with the third figure being the one who observes the first two coupling.

May 142008

Frost, Laura Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism, Cornel University Press, 2002

I once interviewed an elderly French woman who had been a courier for the Resistance in occupied France. In Paris, she was captured by the Milice, French fascist collaborators, tortured without divulging anything and held prisoner for months. A Milice officer named Cornet would visit her cell and point her out, saying, “That one didn’t talk. She has courage.”

One night, Cornet and she drove to a nightclub for Miliciens and German soldiers, the Green Parrot, which she soon realized was also a brothel.

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Sep 062007

Oh, this is interesting. From Fleshbot:

…there’s few examples of the collusion between porn, popular culture, and history stranger or more disturbing than the series of pornographic comics produced in Isreal during the early 1960s known as “Stalags”, in which testimonies of Holocaust survivors were used as the inspiration for graphic tales of hot female Nazis, sadism and sexual torture.

Filmmaker Ari Libsker drew from his own exposure to these works for a new documentary film that examines this “distinctly Israeli genre” of porn: “I realized that the first Holocaust pictures I saw, as one who grew up here, were of naked women … We were in elementary school. I remember how embarrassed we were.” While they were ostensibly based on actual first-person accounts by survivors of concentration camps, Libsker contends that the stalags were a “popular extension” of works by the writer who gave the first account of the Holocaust in Hebrew…

This ties in well with the thesis that what is taboo becomes eroticized: slavery, domestic service, fear of AIDS. I wonder what the aftermath of the Iraq war or 9/11 will produce?

There are plenty of interesting links at the bottom of the article.