commodified-porn-everything in militarized society

also posted on my tumblr blog in case you ever venture toward that part of the internet…

i really do hate the attachment of the word “-porn” to describe everything from scandalously photographed food to filtered images of galaxies and photos of cute animals, etc. i do have exceptions to my rule here — if we think of pornography in a very basic sense, of women being turned into dehumanized sexual commodities, i don’t think it’s a gross exaggeration to discuss how other forms of violence are commodified by the media that also largely affect women more than men globally.

these problems that the system creates are often marketed as a form of pornography too, even if the gaze isn’t always set on women. admittedly this use is more of a colloquialism than anything i’ve found fully fleshed out; in any case even well-meaning westerners often engage with porn-like images of death, poverty, and rioting. and if their magical intentions are not so well-meaning, it’s often from an assumed seat of superiority whether consciously realized or not — aren’t you glad we don’t have it that bad? what is it that drives “these people” to do these things to each other?

what feminists have called softer versions of pornography, such as Playboy, Hustler (is that one really softer? idk, i haven’t really taken a good look lately, or ever), and other publications, have their images now fairly well imbued in the mainstream now. advertisements, television, cinema (which all seem to be one long ad anymore in any case), etc. nothing new of course for the last, 20 years or so? this media-fueled expectation of course affects women in more ways than just what they think they should wear. it normalizes the chauvinism that gets leveled at women daily in all their activities with each individual woman’s experience varying due to different interesecting, oppressive axes. in other words, this is a similar form of superiority to judge people whose idealized images have been commodified.

from a vantage point of superiority, men exercise power over those who are presented as subordinate in society. it’s not enough to call it “imagined” or paint them as victims who are somehow as “equally” economically limited as women — men, white men more so when speaking in their relation to all proletarian women, have concrete, material advantages in a patriarchal society. i doubt anyone taking the time to read this would have an argument here. where i think there needs to be more discussion is how mainstream pornography intersects with our very militarized society.

to discuss the every day acceptance of this requires an examination of how “the 99%”‘s bodies fuel the military machine that works solely for imperialists at a very basic level. that is, how many are going in regularly, for what purposes, and how they are recruited. in addition to this, it’s important to keep in mind how the high rate of sexual assault and rape works in context within not only the military environment, but also in decreasingly “civilian” life, in the US and abroad. often we see this extricated in left liberal press as an issue to battle, as it were, in itself, as if the american military is not at the root cause!

now, with pornography in the mainstream, the militarization of society, and left liberal press in mind, let me illustrate little thought experiment here which is really more of my own larger writing prompt:

  • ThinkProgress, the liberal online publication, claims that it is an outlet which inspires progressive thought to address society’s problems.
  • with my own observation of the site since around 2006, i posit that it has not done anything substantial to inspire a larger movement to affect material change.
  • rather, it updates to such a rapid degree with information presented in fragmented form that it is more of a distraction to those who are honestly working toward societal or systemic change.
  • i propose that ThinkProgress is more methodologically aligned with pornography-as-mainstream that requires a mindset allowing one to shift from one decontextualized issue to the next friendly to a militarized society.

my last bullet point there is a broad claim. my point here is not that they never provide any compelling information. there is going to be worthwhile information from any number of sources that are yet politically or ideologically motivated to a degree that doesn’t allow for those more salient pieces to amount to much of anything, however. so i would like to look at the basic facts of ThinkProgress’s inception.

i think it is appropriate to note here very quickly what think tanks actually serve to accomplish under what has been theorized as the singular-elite system by which the US is governed: to put forward competing ideas from individuals or groups of individuals in the top ranks that still allow the ruling class to retain power. it should not be assumed that these individuals always share a set of strictly cohesive ideas, but rather that they are very “class conscious” in how they strategize to stay in power. as for the Center for American Progress, here are a couple of links highlighting their involvement and enmeshment with the Obama administration as well as its financing.

now back to my own frustration with ThinkProgress and how i typically see it posted on Facebook or Twitter: ABORTION OH MY GOD ABORTION DID YOU KNOW THEY WANT TO END ABORTION. yes, i know. yes, this personally affects me and larger all (mostly poor or working class) women in the US in that regressive legislation typically leads to less funding for women’s health care clinics. once a medical center attending to reproductive, hormonal therapy, cancer, and menopausal care is labeled as “abortion clinic”, you can be sure that further state codified demonization of the people who use it isn’t far behind.

i’m quite sure that within ThinkProgress’s bountiful search results for abortion, one can find just that kind of analysis. i used to pay attention to most of this news regularly. i used to sign the petitions. i used to post them as much as i could, even after long days. check what’s worse, seethe, post, repeat. worrying and watching my bodily autonomy discussed, dissected, and analyzed. increasingly i became annoyed by the commodification of the headlines themselves and “doing something” via change dot org or its variants that i was seeing no return on, and that was definitely not lending to greater solidarity with other women in my area who were facing similar struggles.

if anything, this sort of atomization conditioned by clicks with the superficial feel of collecting more signatures lends to liberal co-option of legitimate anger. in turn, this fuels the mere political legitimization of these progressive outlets’ staying power. the inaction and atomization are more or less automatically filtered to those who have more activist cred and privilege in any given community using these safer, more uncontroversial platforms for their talking points.

in this mainstream-pornography society where women’s bodies are commodified it follows that their labor is devalued as well by the virtue that they are the ones who are performing it. certainly, cynical boutique activists who step in to use a popular platform are channeling anger from below. the “issues” that make good headlines to convince people they are doing something by even paying attention are built on that labor as well — this includes what women do at the grassroots level for themselves and their fellow travelers in addition to what their clicking and ad revenue do for online outlets at the base level (not to mention the emotional involvement this requires of the women in all these aspects).

i don’t mean to use professional activism (or even marginally successful activism) as pure metaphor here for another level of mainstream pornography we can discern in society. as a good left has read countless times, “nothing exists in a vacuum”. and it is not possible to disentangle singular issues from how these different cultural and societal elements work with and against each other.

with the expectation of different leaders in a community taking cues from larger outlets, hierarchies form whether explicitly set in motion or not. this is easy to determine in my experience: those who stick closest to the original platform and ideas are calling the shots. examination of hierarchies by themselves, outside of the political context in which we find ourselves, is not really germane to my discussion right now. instead i would like to now explore how this could be viewed as manifesting from, no matter how spontaneous their formations may seem, the militarized state we live in.

under military dot com’s recruiting tab, one will find the following claim:

Each year, about 180,000 young Americans enlist for active duty service in the Armed Forces. A number of myths have been perpetuated about those young people who volunteer to serve. The information herein is intended to dispel such myths.

Myth: Military recruits are less educated and of lower aptitude than American youth.

Fact: The opposite is true. Over 90 percent of military recruits have a high school diploma – a credential held by only about 75 percent of their peers. A traditional high school diploma is the best single predictor of “stick-to-it-iveness” and successful adjustment to the military. Recruits with a high school diploma have a 70-percent probability of completing a three-year term of enlistment, compared with a 50-percent likelihood for non-graduates.

according to these statistics, half of a tenth of a percent of the american population sign up for the military each year and most make it through high school. perhaps one reason for boasting the high graduation rate is due to the unprecedented access military recruiters have had thanks to NCLB legislation. in one rural K-8 school i once had practicum hours at, administration was already handing over students’ information who hadn’t “opted out” — there was typically nothing substantial in the way of informed consent that i knew of, or that was made more apparent as much as the recruitment itself was. essentially children are being tracked and presumably groomed or further inculcated, outside of the blaring cultural messages they receive about heroism in service, into a fascist hierarchy where privileges are bestowed on them for accepting this power structure. in turn, they act out the barbarity on those caricatured as undeserving others.

and certainly the military’s combating of their “flawed image”, being filled with “dumb recruits”, is an effective campaign tool. the Heritage Foundation is eager to show evidence of the percentage of recruits who come from higher income brackets than what is often assumed. one might ask if this trend follows more economic freedom granted to those families they come from. i can think of a few families off the top of my head whose entire livelihoods stem from defense contracts in some way — the breadth and complexities that these cover are nearly unimaginable to the uninitiated — that make their businesses run and whose children serve. these are the questions that need exploration to know what we are facing at the material level that affect the ideological.

in recent years the increasing number of sexual assault in the military has made headlines. despite portrayals of a more inclusive, diverse force, the Pentagon has released stats that account for a 43% increase in sexual assault from 2011 to mid 2013 alone. this PolicyMic piece presents the problem as one of “military justice” that senators are making strides against. even within this extremely biased framework gesturing toward doling out such illusory justice, as Col. Ann Wright has documented, senators including McCaskill have backed down when top brass have been threatened for carrying on relationships with soldiers who also tie in with cover-ups of sexual assault and rape. and the reason is simple and material — who will fund the pork-barrel projects to legitimize Democratic senators’ images of doing something for “the people”? to hear Wright speak on this issue specifically along with the other projects she is working on, subscribers to Boiling Frogs Post can listen to an interview here. if not or unable to support them, the Truthdig link will provide some insight.

the popularization in online discourse of the term “rape culture” is one that i see leads to more questions than answers, which isn’t itself a bad thing, but to use it alongside alarming statistics seems to be the answer without further questions asked. many tweets i see on twitter that mention it name problems within society or attach images and then attribute it to “rape culture”. i don’t find this satisfactory as it is often couched in rhetoric which reaffirms the person posting it in that “they don’t owe anyone an education”. indeed, they don’t, but i don’t think it is enough for those employing this pro-feminist propaganda to stop there.

indeed i think there is a lot to unpack with regard to “rape culture”‘s origin and use. that is another post entirely. i mention it because its extrication, along with other societal phenomena, lends to liberal co-option that, again, is the raison d’etre of ultimately ineffective progressive outlets (for the downtrodden people they presume to speak for, mind) to begin with. take for instance this intro line from a HuffPo piece on military sexual assault statistics:

More than 70 members of the US Military encounter coerced and abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault or are raped every day. That’s three every hour.”

this is a mind-numbing statistic, and the facts this goes on to state present further horror of the racialized class relations within the military ranks themselves. at no point is there a suggestion of a push for a decrease in military spending let alone a call for its abolition. perhaps this is too much to ask from a HuffPo contributor, but she openly admits that the military has never been a bastion of anything coming close to justice for survivors of assault and rape. and if we scratch just past the surface of the Military Justice Improvement Act’s supporters, it is likely we will find deals struck with those this may affect negatively.

male soldiers believe in the rape myths of victims asking for it, etc, but these are not presented as myth to people who exercise this power over those they have been trained to believe are weaker and less deserving. their carrying out of societally accepted terror is obviously not an accident of them doing it because they can due to amorphous notions of entitlement. these are barbaric practices that are not only carried out as weapons of war, but that are also used to quell any chance at mutiny within from those with less class leverage.

in spite of my complaints, this is a strong piece that has an ability to open up much more discussion that radical lefts could take further or even champion such legislation themselves as a project to change dialog in among co-opted left liberal groups, working toward more dramatic ends that seek to abolish the empire’s ability to feed off the “99%”. shifts in public thought have not been unheard of in recent history with regard to americans being “war weary” that liberal-left establishment cynically uses for its own gain; acceptance of marijuana however wrongly subverted toward “legalization” and not toward the simplicity of removing unjust laws; marked decrease in support for the death penalty but without rigorous anti-racist analysis at the fore — these are a few examples of co-option of issues that all interrelate but that are segmented with the ruling class still in place. to be able to more seamlessly stitch the fragments back together through further exploration is to swell radical thought.

let me reiterate that this is one piece from the deluge of progressive media that is published every day. in an everything-porn culture where individuals unthinkingly accept that their “faves” are also commodified in this way, then what is not up for such commodification? to pull back from reacting that is itself now an ideological stronghold to ensnare lefts, to hone in on the flashes of insight among the information flood that serves as a distraction with bodies on display to inspire specific emotions that keeps it all running — these are necessary considerations to begin to be able to determine what the wafts may be, even, in front of the smoke screens.

regardless, i find these intersections helpful to keep in mind while making my way through all the information out there that serves to remind us of “impending doom!” even when there may not have to be if we ask different questions than those that are posed to us by the media. the ones that get asked are often false from the get-go with the presumed answers never being up for our debate in the first place. i hope i have satisfactorily gotten my own thought process across as i think through these things as well.

  1. class consciousness | kariflack

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