Monday 18 August 2014

The Social Significance of Ian Botham's Penis

Ho, ho, ho, now we know why they call him "Beefy". Yes, regardless of all the horrors scarring the world there's nothing quite like a celebrity dick pic to set social media a-flapping. When Ian Botham tweeted a picture purportedly to be his "old man" this morning, Twitter had one of its periodic meltdowns. Botham himself denies all knowledge:
Sure you were hacked, Ian. The just-visible chin of said willy-wafter bears no resemblance to yours at all. No awkward questions from Lady Botham then.

Perhaps his 1994 autobiography was sub-titled Don't Tell Kath for a reason.

A couple of points of interest. First, the celeb angle. The internet groans under the weight of celebrities who've got their bits out. Whether freeze frames from mainstream film and TV, wardrobe malfunctions, long-lens shots, and the invasive upskirt picture, there's a ready trade in such fare. Some, okay, a lot of this is sexual. The celebrity system exploits sex appeal after all, whether consciously or not. Celeb nudity is the next logical step. It allows the aura of fantasy surrounding them to be pushed even further. Yes, believe it or not, there will be those who have enjoyed Botham's faux pas in an altogether different way. But this kind of aura is increasingly old hat. It belongs to a bygone age where celebrities were more distant, where there was a certain deference. Now we live with an everyday tabloid sensibility. Whereas the media once made celebrity sacred, reality television and social media have coloured them profane. While it is useful to be famous for a talent, it's no longer a prerequisite. The growth of celebrity culture, the websites, blogs, magazines and ents sections demands an infinite procession of famous people to build up and knock down. Celebrity nudity is just so much disposable fodder for the machine. Lucrative fodder, it has to be said. Even mainstream sites like The Huffington Post have top tens of full-frontal nudity. If a "leaked" sex tape, a scene, papped nakedness or whatever hits the internet it's clickbait for the few who get hold of it first. They also get to hog the search engines for the related keywords too. The greater the number of celebrities, the greater the likelihood someone else in the public eye will get their bits and bobs out.

From the perspective of the one-handed internet wanderer, the interchangeability of celebrity segues seamlessly into the disposability of porn. As some pour over drug issues, relationship problems, outrageous behaviour and the rest, so others skip from naked celeb to naked celeb. There is no difference between people who get their kicks from celebrities who parade their lives as opposed to those who get off on their bodies. For both, there is something about exposure that captures their imagination, be it erotic or otherwise. The laying bare of bodies and lives, the thrill of peering at things that shouldn't be seen or known, it removes what's left of a celebrity aura and repositions them as everyday people one may gossip or secretly/not-so-secretly fantasise about. It constitutes a simulacra of familiarity, and illusion of an easily-accessed personal and sexual closeness.

Also, Botham's tweet says something about sexuality in the media age. His is not the first celebrity John Thomas to be tweeted, nor will it be the last. It seems to be a cultural thing. I have heard women complain about getting cock shots from complete strangers on dating sites, yet none of my male friends have ever mentioned the appearance of a random vagina in their inbox. So why men (not all men)? Some of it comes from a dark place - of the tawdry, creepy thrill of harassing women knowing there's vanishingly little chance of a comeback. For others it's a case of masculine projection. Who needs a fancy sports car when all you require is a camera to show you've got a big dick? Conditioning both is a stunted sexuality focused almost entirely on genitalia. It's easy to blame porn for this, with its gratuitous crotch shots and close ups of the action. Yet I think this is more symptom than cause, and is rooted in the indissociable relationship between masculinity and sexuality. 

Dipping your wick, as it were, remains a key marker of straight manliness among men. It's the notches on the bedpost, a quantifying of desirability and being a lad that matters. Women are passive bodies, objects whose own agency has to be overcome for the all-important conquest. Women's sexual pleasure is secondary to their incorporation into a narcissistic project of self. If this is the sexual culture many men are socialised into, it conditions intimacy in particular ways. There is the (gendered) separation between love and sex, waxed over by relationship experts, agony aunts and uncles and Mars/Venus-style life coaches. More importantly for the cock shots, there is a failure of erotic imagination. Because genital heterosexuality is about gratifying and impressing other men, men are left ill-equipped to establish a rapport with women. So, instead, they go with what a woman has to do to turn them on, but reverses it. For example, if a woman sends them a message with a pic of her genitals and the line "come and get me" they know it would work for them. So why wouldn't sending a dick pic have the same effect? Especially as porn and your Lothario mates show women are gagging for it just as much. It projects one's sexual outlook onto others and makes assumptions about women's motivations, precisely because genital sexuality positions them without agency. Hence when these kinds of online advances are spurned, it's either because the woman is frigid or fussy. Not because sending a photo of your penis is entirely inappropriate.

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