Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lost Girls, Part 1: Dorothy and the Lion

Since the advent of the camera, pornography has been able to get away with being arguably less than imaginative. Anything you want to see need only be set-up, dressed and made up, and there you have it, a “real” flesh and blood human being in whatever pose or disguise your heart, (or something less romantic) desires. In turn, artists seeking to engage with sexual fantasy have frequently adopted many of the motifs of pornography to illustrate their point – I’m a big fan of Dave LaChapelle so I’ll use him to illustrate my point.

But sex and sexual fantasy are two extremely distinct and different things. Sex is real bodies, fluids, squelches, embarrassments, giggles, extreme tenderness and extreme vulgarity. Sexual fantasy is much more murky, indistinct, abstract, cold and controllable, and that’s precisely where its power lies.

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls’ use of alternately delicate, frothy and surreal artwork, dolled up in a monumental confection of pastel colours, bound hardback and coy covering moves pornography away from the merely representational, and back into the realm of fantasy, possibility and play. In it, very little actual, real-time sex is represented. Instead, a significant part of the narrative focuses on the retelling of sexual experiences and/or childhood sexual fantasies (the boundaries between these two categories are deliberately blurred), which, as they are told, reveal themselves to be the well-known exploits of three of children’s literature’s greatest characters, Alice (in Wonderland), Wendy (Peter Pan) and Dorothy (Oz).
From now on, whenever I have a dull week and there isn’t a children’s book worth writing about (as will now be the main focus of this blog – it runs my life, it may as well run my blog) I’ll write about Lost Girls, mainly because I could write about it for ever. There’s so much to say, about sex, class, pornography, art, feminism, power, history, war, fantasy, literature, literary parody, the form of comic books….blah blah blah, I could go on, and indeed, over time I shall.

But tonight I’m tired. So I’ll start with a very straightforward fantasy, which I think Lost Girls delivers beautifully. It is arguably, the great romantic female fantasy, typified by Elizabeth Bennett’s Mr Darcy and Bridget Jones’s Mark Darcy; the woman whose love has the capacity to ennoble her man, to transform him, to better him. In Book Two of Lost Girls, this classic romantic tale is gently, sweetly applied to Dorothy’s taming of the lion in her personal Oz.

Sexually frustrated, down on the farm, in the deep south, Dorothy is obliged to work her way through the farmhands. One she describes as a ‘big, gruff guy’, whose crude catcalling and brutish sexual teasing she immediately recognises as cocky sexual posturing. If anything, she finds his attempts to intimidate her slightly pathetic, explaining; ‘I weren’t scared o’ him, in fact, the way I reckoned, he was more’n likely scared of me, else why raise all that dust'. Her precocious self-possession thus gives the young Dorothy all the benefit of hindsight that scores of women wish they had at that age. In fact, I think this story is partially for every thirteen year old girl subjected to the playground-slut-myths or kiss-and-tells that used to characterise the Monday after the Friday disco, at my school, and many like it. Dorothy’s self-awareness and sexual intuition gives her instant power over this boy – like every great romantic heroine before her, she knows what her man needs before he does, and in her infinite wisdom, she is able to redeem him.

In Dorothy’s sexual fantasy, she approaches the farmhand and with immense control
and confidence, offers herself, admitting that 'once I saw how scared he was, it sorta made me hot'. It’s quite clear, both visually, and in Dorothy's speech, that the farmhand is not attractive. Instead, she is moved to act through vanity. Her beauty, her undressing, is more central to the fantasy than his active involvement;
'Lookin’ at him, what got me hot was thinkin’ how excited he was, lookin’ back at me. Not his body, but how he wanted mine.'
Throughout the fantasy, Dorothy describes the boy in purely animal terms, with her seduction comparable to throwing a dog a bone. It is quite clear that she is training him. Physically, he is much bigger than her, a bear with a muzzle for a mouth and a large, rough tongue, and Dorothy revels in the fact that she, ‘some little girl’ has full mastery over him. But it’s not his submission that acts as an aphrodisiac for Dorothy, but her own power that she finds so exciting; ‘I made him scared. I made him tame. Hell, by the end, I’d even made him brave.’

I made him. I did it. Look, mum, no hands! Get me! etc etc

Following their little tryst, the farmhand is the perfect gentleman. He holds her, kisses her, tells her she is beautiful. In fact, Dorothy gets the full courtly love treatment, except of course, their love isn’t really all that courtly, at least not in the classic troubadour sense. However, in giving herself to this wretched, crude, unattractive boy, Dorothy transforms him. She is touched by his gratitude, and enjoys witnessing the impact her love has had, as she watches him blossom into something of a ‘dandy', with ‘the courage to ask women out instead o’ leering at ‘em cross the street.’ In lowering herself, by bestowing her love on him, Dorothy elevates the boy’s status and soul, like some benign, generous angel, by giving him ‘somethin’ more than just a place to stick his thing.’ Through her girlish charms she manages to do what pretty much every romantic heroine strives for – she changes her man. She gives her lion his courage. She makes him a better man.

Where Alan and Melinda score extra points however, is in locating this fantasy’s true power. The woman is less interested in the outcome of this changed, charming man – hence why Dorothy is quite happy to move on to her next strapping young buck and no one cares what happens to Liz and Darcy once married. The thing that really excites women is the conceptualisation of their own sexual power, their agency, their influence, their borderline divinity. The Mr Darcy transformation is little more than a girly power-trip – Look what I did, see how great I am – the inevitable product of a woman’s response to an idea of female sexuality perpetually skewed and shaped by the male gaze. When Dorothy tames her lion, she has to place herself in the position of the beast, and work out the best way to calm him. To her delight, she realizes that the very aspects of her that he so outwardly scorns are her greatest weapons.
By way of reply to SashaGoblin’s comment on my last post, I love the lion story for the same reasons I love Under My Thumb. It treats the love object as little more than a plaything who proves your own power. Under My Thumb works lyrically by forcing me into the position of the subjugated female – which, let’s face it, is where we’re put in most pop songs written by men. I just love that this one’s a bit more honest, and therefore, I find it almost naïve and oddly touching. Like Dorothy giving her lion courage, the fantasy is strictly isolated to the teller (down to me – me, me, me).
It has nothing to do with the person you’ve changed, and everything to do with the dizzy rush of your own power. And everybody, no matter what they say, wants to be King (or Queen) for a day.


At 04 May, 2008 09:39 , OpenID sashagoblin said...

Mmm. this may be too intimate a commnt, and more bc ihave too much to say about Lost Girls than not enough, but your Under My thumb comment - yes, i cxan see that. And i think a lot of my recent sex life has been experimenting with what can/is it like when it's more about me than about the connection between us, which may bvery well be healthy but is permanently undercut by the fact that i'm so aware it's *so* much better when it is an us...

I suppose the upshot of it all is that fantasy - and by extension, pornography - is one of the loneliest things in the world.

At 06 May, 2008 21:36 , Blogger darling vicarage said...

aww, goblin, that's a bit bleak :(. i'd say there's a time and a place for sharing your sexuality, and yes, that's probably the "ideal" time and place, but for a considerable part of our lives, we probably won't have someone by our which case that hardly means we stop being sexual beings. so although it might be a lonelier situation, it's no less important, non? (hugs, hugs, hugs btw)

At 06 May, 2008 23:42 , Blogger paddington said...

I haven't read Lost Girls (yet), but what seems really interesting here is that the female fantasy is at the heart of the porno narrative. Maybe this explains your suggestion that in LG porn moves towards a more playful, fantastical stance.

In male-oriented porn, "play" and "fantasy" do not go hand in glove. The fantasy which porn produces and feeds off is one of perfection: all those embarrassments (in your words) and psychic impotences (in Freud's) which constitute real sex disappear in porn, replaced by a narrative where Man performs perfectly and thereby satisfies / vanquishes Woman. This isn't play, it's sadism.

This seems similar to what you say about Dorothy - the eroticism derives from her own powers of seduction in LG, in the man's own powers in conventional porn. But obviously porn doesn't exist in a vacuum - it reflects social attitudes towards sex and the role of men and women in sexual relationships. Male-oriented porn is sadistic, because men are expected to be quietly sadistic in heterosexual relationships. I look forward to the antidote.

Sorry for waffling etc...

PS: a question - when you say that Dorothy "makes him a better man" - for whom?

At 07 May, 2008 12:16 , Blogger darling vicarage said...

Hi bear. Dorothy makes the farmhand a better man for the women of Kansas, by boosting his sexual confidence and, in doing so, calming his sexual frustration and latent misogny.

I wouldn't say LG is purely structured around female sexual fantasy though. It's too much to put in a comment box, so maybe this will be my next post...


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