Buying Underwear Is Not Spiritual Growth

Jockey is running an add campaign where for a limited time you get a free pair of underwear in exchange for your soul and $22.50. Understanding your reaction to the commercial might make you a better person.  We’ll also talk about what has more broadly become known as body-work in therapy.

 

Ignore the music and most of what she says.  Her dancing in her knickers, playing with firefighting equipment and the emotions displayed only make sense in terms of a relationship to someone who is watching.  Not in terms of the audience, but in terms of in whose watchful presence would her actions and emotions make sense?  My answer is of course her boyfriend, or more specifically, someone who represents the loving gaze of a father who is proud of his exuberant daughter innocently enjoying her body through play.

Which is exactly what body positivity is all about, and exactly how people become ashamed of their bodies and sexuality (i.e. sensual pleasure you feel bad about) in the first place.  Jockey is selling freedom from shame, which unfortunately comes from somebody else, not you, and not Jockey.  They are selling the lie of positive attention, which the knickers will help you imagine for a while and then experience as a loss.  Because, after all, a product is not a relationship.  

Freud first identified that most over-stuffed of terms, libido, as early as 1894.  While the concept morphed throughout the years it is best understood as that embodied, enlivening sense of warm buzzing sensual pleasure which has been popularly understood as explicitly sexual.  Freud and his concepts of neurosis, hysterical symptoms, the preceding generations neurasthenias, and the modern day notion of psycho-somatic symptoms trace their lineage of the embodied nature of emotion and its suppression.

The libidinous enjoyment of ones body was expanded by psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (Freud-Sadger-Reich lineage) and his Orgone Energy.  It was later carried on by the bodywork therapy of his analysand and trainee Alexander Lowen.  It grew to more broadly influence the work of somatic therapeutic modalities such as Rolfing (with Fritz Pearls), the Alexander Method for musicians and actors, Hannah Somatics, and the somatic method of Moshe Feldenkrais. Recent neurological trauma oriented therapies such as Peter Levine’s Trauma Releasing Exercises and David Bercelli’s work broadly incorporate similar incites:  Healthy, happy people experience themselves, their emotions, and their body as one virbrant holistic embodied experience – not as diffuse disconnected stimuli.   Emotional problems, when they occur, always manifest in physical symptoms because emotions themselves are physical.

For a brief experiment on this yourself pick two objects – one you consider important, the other you consider unimportant.  Find some quiet private time for this and then hold and observe the objects in turn.  Attend to the feelings in your body, whatever they may be, and consider the koan “How do i know this is important and this is not?”  You will notice the body pattern of whatever emotions you have associated with the object.  It may include warmth, buzzing, tension or relaxation feelings.  There is some way you know, experientially, that one object is important and the other.

This is the beginning of the bodywork approach to dealing with psychology – trying to locate, experience more intensely, and understand.

Primitive original emotions, called affects, are experienced by infants and even animals to some degree.  The best modern writers on this subject are Joseph Lichtenberg, Silvin Tomkins and a curious volume by Joseph M. Jones called Affect as Process which among other things considers primitive emotions as a form of non-verbal communication, later subsumed by language to greater or lesser degrees of success.  Your body is a system of language and physical emotions which represents the external world, lines of reasoning which match well with Lacan, but to the best of my knowledge have not been explored elsewhere.  To the intersubjectivists this means that our emotional affects communicate directly to the neurology of other humans in our presence through the tonus of our nervous system in a way that, contra Freud, is not purely imaginary.  It’s the language of the unconscious.

Show ’em what’s underneath is a clever double entendre. It’s about exposure of the self through exposure of the body – the validation of the one being inseparable from the validation of the other.  I would assert that feeling sexy means the sense of being secure experiencing bodily pleasure and joy in the gaze of another. * In the case of this actress, it is her father (by metaphor).  Do you really think it is a coincidence that the marketers chose to cast someone speaking about her father?

What prevents their targeted customer from experiencing this desirable feeling of vicarious love is a sense of shame – the painful withdrawal of the desire for recognition –  which of course, belonged to most girls fathers who at some point became uncomfortable with their daughters and experienced shame in their presence which they could not talk about (and indeed may not even consciously be aware of).

In a metaphor, the relationship with the father was no longer a safe place to feel sensual pleasure (the enjoyment of ones free play, and the feeling that it brought joy to others).  The way this happens is that young children naturally enjoy the embodied (emotional and phsyical well being) experience of sensual pleasure – feeling at home in ones body.  Adults identify with this experience (by which I literally mean feel the same pleasure in their body through the process of empathy) and infer or project, depending on your philosophy, even if only unconsciously, that children are experiencing sexual pleasure.  The difference between “sensual” and “sexual” is of course one word…shame.  This empathy produces shame in the adult which they then take out on the child in a variety of ways.  Mostly this occurs as shaming them for enjoying touch or being naked.  The tragic part is that nobody  can talk about it and thus nobody knows what happened or how to find a new home for the feeling.

To whit:  Jockey hopes that the affect the actress is feeling will trigger an emotional resonance with potential customers that will convince them unconsciously they can have access to these feelings, too:  Pride – the safe sense of being the positive center of attention.

Notice the girl is a “safe” bet in this fashion:  Pretty, but not a model – blue collar, yet with an “heroic” occupation.  She is a safe person to admire to without triggering jealousy, which would ruin the whole game.

The real money for viewers is if this commercial makes you feel resentful of her, Jockey, women in general, the media, or anything else.   You should consider this possibly as a rejection of the pride she is demonstrating.  This could be your own shame, it’s what happens to adults with their children, and it is what unconsciously ruins your life because everyone else who sees you with this reaction already knows the truth about you.  What’s going on is not ok with you because you are not ok with it.  Blaming the media ignores the reality which is that you are still not enjoying the show and it’s their fault that you are not ok.

If you really want better relationships you have to get to the place where you can enjoy watching someone who is happy to have your positive attention.  

Don’t make them hide from you.

 

*Note:  My definition ignores the role of aggression, which is traditionally considered part of this dynamic, but which I consider a later, common but unnecessary development reaction.

 

The Trophy Generation Revisited

Consider that the rise of the Trophy Generation mentality has coincided perfectly with the repression of conflict between children as evidenced by anti-bullying and the expansion of gender and racial equality campaigns.

Maybe you have to use trophies the way the Romans used bread and circuses.  The purpose of trophy giving is not to make everyone a winner. It’s to keep anyone from feeling like a loser.  This is important because resentment is the root of violence.

The healthy loser becomes motivated by admiration for excellence and is at best a booster for the establishment.  This move, however, requires a transcendental perspective which elevates interpersonal relationships beyond the present moment, such as religion.  Most less successful individuals historically resent other people, segregating into separate groups and classes and rejecting the values and cultural practices of others by developing preferences of their own – work with your hands instead of your mind (or vice-versa depending on your historical epoch), or become scholastic if sports aren’t your thing, mutatis-mutandis.

Affect research and theorists such as Jones (Affect as Process) and Lichtenberg (Motivational Systems Theory) have pointed out that the human motivation for hierarchy and competition occurs most powerfully in latency children (~5 years to puberty), at exactly that time period during which the trophy phenomenon is most pronounced.  Could it be that the discomfort adults feel with competition is causing them to disrupt a developmental milestone?

The best criticism of this factor, adult narcissism projected onto children, is of course made by the now dormant thelastpsychiatrist.com.  His critiques, however, often result in blaming baby-boomers for the problems  they themselves blame “kids-today” for.

I think a deeper perspective can be gleaned by considering that the other-hatred and powerful identifications of the latency period go underground if not allowed to develop naturally, turning into the narcissism of adults who either deny (and project) or symptomatically over-express (and deny) those most natural of human emotions – interpersonal present-moment hatred, jealousy and resentment.

The only rejoinders to this position of accepting “crass” emotions I see are the religious one, for which gods get the credit, or the neo-liberal one – for which you get a trophy.

 

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Sucks – Also, why Black Artists Don’t Win More Awards

Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife, Murillo

 

With Harper Lee’s passing the web has been a buzz about her work.  I consider To Kill a Mockingbird (TKMB hereafter) to be symptomatic of the endemic monotonous narrative of victimology, and the megalomaniacal righteousness which accompanies it.

One should expect some psychosubterfuge because as Flannery O’Conner once noted

“It’s interesting that all the folks that are buying it don’t know they are buying a children’s book.”

The con of TKMB is that which the existence of the story conceals, not that which is revealed through the narration.  A story is first and foremost a justification.   The narration proposes that young Scout, Atticus the plastic saint, and a small cohort of scooby-doo-gooders are the only ones who witness a travesty of scapegoating qua racism.  Their valiant efforts to see justice done fail under the overwhelming caprice and indifference of the masses.

This on the surface is quite intoxicating, until you consider that the masses love the story, as evidenced by the 30 million book sales and rating of the book as second to the Bible in moral influence in American lives.  The perspective which is portrayed as rare is actually the norm, feeding the narcissism of the reader.  Which is fine for children, but adults?

The true victims of scapegoating by TKMB as opposed to in it are working class white people.  The narration contrasts the educated Finch and his precious family as the ones virtuous enough to face the truth.  The likes of the Ewell Family, Mayella and Bob – a lying slut and the town drunk, are the fictional scapegoats of the narrative.  The reader thinks these people exist, everywhere, and most importantly that the reader doesn’t do the same thing.   The fact that the reader does the very same thing all the time is what is concealed by the narrative, which is why TKMB remains so immensely reassuring as a children’s story.  It reminds you of your comparative innocence and your right to judge.

Affluent white liberals use racism like a dog-whistle to conceal their contemptuous bigotry toward working class whites. (Archdruidreport).

The myth of innocent childhood has always been in service of the vanity of adults who in this case can’t differentiate the ponderous “empathy” of Atticus finch from the turgid ecstasy of embracing  the projective identifications of an underclass.

As defense for my position, I suggest the question:  What does it take to convince a child that someone deserves to die?  It takes a saccharin moral fable. Bob Ewell, after all, perishes in the conflict against Boo Radley and the children.  It is not he who we feel sorry for.  After all, he had it coming.  Nobody really killed Bob Ewell – that’s the lie which hides the fact that ultimately the narrator (as narrator, not character) killed Bob Ewell, and you liked it.  This intrusion of the author into the story parallels the often criticized narrative of the story – Lee couldn’t keep straight whether scout was an innocent and naive child or a wise and reflecting adult voice.  Innocence is a work, fabricated by the creation of a monster.  It is belief in the reality of such caricatures, the exaggeration of their prevalence, and the complete dismissal of balanced or redeeming qualities which make them fit for sacrifice.  It is their death which ends a cycle of blame and violence and restores peace.

Consider that the role of the scapegoat serves to symbolically relieve tension within a community.  It is not the death of Tom Robinson which relieves the tension of the community, but Bob Ewell.  The reason Tom Robinson has to die is to cover the crime of the author.  If after all, Tom Robinson was released and said “I’m glad that lying bastard Bob Ewell is dead.  He had it coming.”  We suddenly would not be left with much of a moral tale because we would be at risk of identifying with these sentiments, those which the story is designed to conceal.  The story would now be:  Everybody scapegoats and disparages other peoples character as a justification, the Ewells were just bad at it because #RACIST.  It is more effective to conceal your motives with claims to virtue

This kind of hypothetical conclusion of direct or mediated vengeance was much more common of the classical period and lasted (as identified both by Nietzsche and Girard) until the ubiquitous expansion of Christian morality and the accompanying identification with the victim.  As an example when Potiphar’s Wife was shamed by Joseph’s rejection she transferred it back on him.  The moral of that story was that Joseph’s shame was undone by later being lifted above and exonerated by a powerful Other.  We don’t bother with that anymore.  Now we just kill the accusers.  Also, in TKMB and to modern SJW’s, it is educated white people who get to play the role of the powerful Other.  Thus, moral megalomania.

(As an aside, the irony of the Christian turn, and the pox of resentment culture, is that one major impact of Christianity and later Islam has been the scapegoating of the Jews – mutatis mutandis – the creation of a victim to justify resentment and violence.)

The best that can be said of TKMB is that it reveals to us James Gilligan’s compelling thesis:  Shame is the root of all violence.  Shame is an inevitable byproduct of being part of an underclass, and the resentments born of the desire to rise above leads to a denial of the vulnerable need to fit in and be safe in the community, subsumed as it is in by the role of victim – one who has been made low.  Always, this perspective of entitlement to moral vengeance makes each crime a solipsistic restitution. 

What is restored in and by TKMB is an uneasy truce between blacks and a certain class of whites – all it takes is the sacrifice of a certain kind of white people.

This childish story remains popular based on its reassuring banality, but another kind remains decidedly unpopular:  The corollary story told by black artists of how hard it is to be black.  This will never rise to the same level of popularity because if there is one thing black artists will not accept is white folks identifying with their characters.  “That is so like me!”  If you’re telling a story in which this feeling is not possible for your audience then you may not be telling a story, but rather covering one up.

This applies in the same way to art which explores sex and gender issues.  Angels In America won the Pullitzer and the Tony, after all.  It can be done if you’re willing to step beyond resentment to vulnerability.  Despite my criticisms, Jenner has done a decent job of this, despite an inability to speak the language of desire vs materiality.  To some large extent this is one challenge of the trans community.  It is after all one’s desires that allow people to understand you.  For artists it amounts to an admission that it’s hard, but not that hard to be me.  Like not so hard that nobody else can relate.  And for stories of the hard knock life it means being a minority may not be as hard as being poor or living in a bad neighborhood.  But it’s hard to tell a story about that because the knee jerk rejoinder to “work harder and move” seems an awful lot like the horror movie shtick of “don’t go into the basement.”

The lesson for artists is that resentment can be viewed as refused identification. The stigma, the sign of the scapegoat, is a symbol of refused identification.   And the author of a victim tale always refuses first…