Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Culture Industry vs. The History of Sexuality

"Precisely because it must never take place, everything centers upon copulation. In films it is more strictly forbidden for an illegitimate relationship to be admitted without the parties being punished than for a millionaire's future son-in-law to be active in the labor movement."

Here Adorno and Horkheimer are making note of an example that demonstrates one of Foucault's points in the History of Sexuality: sexual "repression" as an explosion of discourse on sex. Sex is not allowed to be seen in general-audience films, so that is where all the juicy drama comes from. I'm thinking now also about daytime TV -- soap operas, anyone? Sex can't take place on these television shows, but all of these shows keep people coming back by constantly creating kerfuffles about who is fucking whom, who they used to fuck, why they shouldn't have fucked them, and the horrible consequences that will take place if anyone finds out that so-and-so fucked whats-her-name, and actually little Jimmy isn't really whats-his-face's kid.


Allyn Benintendi said...

For some reason, this makes me want to talk a little bit about the times changing. I recently watched a movie called Sex Tape that was supposed to be pretty popular. It boasted actors Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz. A brief overview- the two (married) had a seemingly declining sex life and decided to make a sex tape to add some excitement to their intimacy. However, this was filmed on their iPad, and the video was uploaded to the cloud. This movie, albeit bad (got 1 star on rotten tomatoes), was pleasingly provocative. Regardless, the movie grossed $63,163,342, which was a loss. I think that if sex was a discussion in the media, if it weren't underground, so to speak, it would lose its power over our attention, it may potentially dislodge patriarchy, it could destigmatize sex for women. God forbid that happen! (sarcasm). The wiser in me believes that the media has traditionally used sex to both put men on a pedestal and criticize women. Enough about that, like I said, the times are changing and movies (even the bad) are offering a more objective approach to sex that is ultimately continuing to capture our attention without lodging stereotypes that hinder gender equality.

Yiming Huang said...

The word "culture" itself is pretty big... so I think we all should take it seriously and be more critical on it.

I myself did not really understand what you want to express in your precis, but I think your contrast between culture and sex is fairly interesting. Return to your precis. So what if sex scenes could not appear on daytime TV shows or G rated movies? This exactly explained how the whole cultural system run. Not everything should be considered as culture, so a precise censorship system is necessary(of course not the North Korean style one). Think about the topic of censorship, then I think you will find the contradiction appeared in your arguments reasonable.

Jo Hodaly said...

I don't know if Adorno and Horkheimer are making judgments about the worth of sexuality and labor activism in populist entertainment, nor if Foucault would necessarily refer to the authors as merely producers in the web of discourses of sexuality. For me it seems that Adorno and Horkheimer are reading sexuality as a discursive subject, however slight it seems in the shadow of Foucault's project. I think, in this case, their distinction between those two sorts of films serves more to seriously consider what is at stake for filmmakers/producers. Film has always been a populist art form, one that attracts people who do labor. Maybe in the context of Klein, we can see a film about an "unholy" union as engaging viewers in and producing notions of an "unholy sexuality", while the millionaire-activist story disengages its viewers by trivializing a labor movement?

J Seagull said...

Hi Yiming,
First, I just want to point out that this is not a precis, it was just something I noticed and decided might be fun to make an additional post about. But to get on to your actual comments... I wasn't trying to contrast culture and sex, and I don't see a contradiction here. The reason for my post was to consider one of the basic ideas that Foucault put forward in his History of Sexuality -- the idea that what appeared historically to be a repression, or hiding away, of sex, could actually be viewed as an explosion of discourse on sex in other forms, such as medical and scientific discourse. The example I pulled from Adorno and Horkheimer isn't an example that Foucault himself gave, but it seemed to be operating in a somewhat similar way. In TV and Film, sex is hidden, it is not allowed to be shown. But what we see instead is a whole lot of maneuvering to dance around the topic of sex, which itself produces ideas about sex that are implicitly communicated instead. For example, if an "illegitimate relationship" occurs, we aren't shown the sex scenes, but it becomes a big deal anyway, since those who engaged in the illegitimate act, which was not supposed to happen, must be punished and suffer the consequences. This in itself broadcasts messages about sex through this media format.

To Jo:
I wasn't trying to suggest that Foucault would name Adorno and Horkheimer as people who are contributing to the web of discourses on sex. I don't know if he would. As you said, seen in one way, "we can see a film about an 'unholy' union as engaging viewers in and producing notions of an 'unholy sexuality'" -- this is basically all I was trying to say. That through these media, we see what Foucault describes happening in a different way -- sexual "repression" being something that is actually the production of discourse about sex.