Bad Subjects Considers Its Objects

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In this issue, we've whipped up a variety of articles about sexual fetishism, the kind which we fin-de-siecle, disenchanted hipster-cum-alienated intellectual types are all too well known for.
Joel Schalit and Matt Wray, Issue Editors

Issue #41, December 1998


When we sat down and discussed doing an issue devoted to "Fetish," the first thing that came up was how many Bad Writers would choose to write about their innermost sexual fantasies. Being the wannabe hard-nose faux social theorist that he is, Joel immediately became contentious. "If that happens, it'll look too postmodern," he said to Matt. "I want essays about the magical qualities of everyday life, about how we fetishize those things which we we produce and consume." "Don't worry Joel," replied Matt, "That's exactly what I had in mind as well" As always, Joel needed a sympathetic ear for his perennial complaints. Sensing that he had one, he continued "It's not that I mean to tow some old fashioned Orthodox Marxist line, warning against the baleful influences of postmodernism again and again. I'm just so sick of leftists writing about sex without any reference to the social world that politicizes it." "I know what you mean," Matt replied reassuringly, "Whenever you open up a topic like fetishism for popular discussion amidst a group of writers like this, you make it possible for them to disclose their most private and intimately held fantasies of transgression."

The problem is, of course, that it can make such great reading. And sometimes it's even interesting to boot! In this issue, we've whipped up a variety of articles. We do indeed speak about sexual fetishism, the kind which we fin-de-siecle, disenchanted hipster-cum-alienated intellectual types are all too well known for. First-time contributor Soupy Sennett starts the balls rolling with a tell-all tale about how he secretly fetishizes images of women having pies smashed in their faces. Not one to shy away from critical self-analysis in the process of detailing his creamy preoccupation, Soupy explains this particular obsession of his by introducing us to a like-minded online group which shares his enthusiasm for this particularly sweet form of humiliation. Soupy argues that "pieing," as it is called, is a kind of humiliation which, like many others, can be experienced as form of empowerment, one which can make an individual feel both attractive and sexually potent.

In "Retouching the Schoolkids," John Smith explains that the value of such forms of humilation has to do with the breaking of traditional sexual taboos associated with commonly held notions of beauty. By way of discussing his manipulation of images of naked children, those he has "retouched," to erase all supposed traces of gender, Smith argues that sexual transgression does nothing to eliminate the dualities of gender. Rather, he concludes that the violation of sexual boundaries often ends up only reinforcing the need to break them again because it provides the fetishist with access to a certain kind of beauty not found anywhere else. The similarly graphics-minded piece by Mike Mosher, "Teledildonic Temptations," explains how individuals have tried to use computer technology to overcome their sexual alienation from one another, beginning with a history of the early use of the Internet and virtual reality technologies as an attempt to create a utopia of sex without organs and concluding with a description of how the commercial use of the Internet to sell sex has constrained cyberspace's original utopian sexual impulses.

However, the discussion of sex stops there, and we proceed to its strange bed-fellow, death. Jeremy Russell's "Suicidal Idols," is a meditation on how many of us try to understand the personalities and actions of those who kill themselves. One point of Jeremy's argument is that many of us fetishize those who take their lives because we tend to treat their suicides as communicative acts: suicide becomes a metaphor for the ability to be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood and the extreme consequences of that choice. We idolize suicide as a way of remaining eternally immune from corruption by the world. Not incidentally, Jeremy concludes, this kind of death also establishes the permanent authenticity of the commodity form which popular artistic figures need to retain in order to fulfill the economic function they once served as cultural producers.

Next are two contributions which explore the cultural workings of music. In "Sample My Privates," Joel Schalit and Jonathan Sterne discuss the current fetishism of private musical property relations, arguing that the rise of digital audio reproduction technologies has created the basis for an obession with transgressing traditional cultural property relations legally forbidden by market definitions of private ownership. Schalit and Sterne conclude that the only way to read debates over such issues as musical copyright infringement is to look at them as cultural metaphors for political discussions about the legitimacy of private property in general. We fetishize transgressing cultural property relations because we lack the ability to do so with real physical property. The next essay explores the "audio fetishism" of The Haters, a San Francisco noise band that practices a kind of creative destruction. In an interview with John Brady, Hater bandmember G.X. Jupitter-Larsen delves into the pleasures of destroying the things we love to hate.

In their musings on a recent TV commercial and the controversies surrounding it, the Shaws (daughter and father) analyze the uses and abuses of past historical traumas. They dissect the corporate marketing strategies which would attempt to profit from the collective tragedy of the Vietnam War and they expose the ways that the current fetishism of communications technology leads to distortions of past realities. The essay is remarkable for the cross-generational perspectives the authors provide.

In the final essay, "Fetishizing the Fetish," Matt Wray provides some reflections on the various uses of the analytical concept of fetishism as offered up by cultural theorists. He compares Marx's and Freud's uses of the term and explores some of the similarities and differences between them. Noting that the psycho-sexual definition of fetishism dominates public discourse to the exclusion of the fetishism of Marxist political economy, he argues for finding ways to make fetishism less about sex and more about capitalism.

Copyright © 1998 by Joel Schalit and Matt Wray. All rights reserved.

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