One of the more interesting ideas to come out of the twin celebrity deaths of late last week, Blondie and Jacko, was that they represented the end of an era, and not that of easy access to hospice-strength pharmaceuticals, either. The passing of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson is the end of consensus.
To say they don’t make sex symbols like Farrah Fawcett anymore isn’t so much a comment on Fawcett as a comment on “they.” Because they — Hollywood, the media, whoever it is that makes “sex symbols” — can no longer manufacture consensus.
The explosion of choice for your leisure hours, first on cable and then the internet, democratized and splintered the market. We no longer had three TV channels, we had 300. In 300 channels, and 300 million more websites, everyone gets a pinup that pushes their very specific buttons. And now for a transition I’ve been waiting my whole life to write:
Nowhere do we see this more than in pornography.
The other day I surfed past “The House Bunny,” a slight little movie that came out last year. The scene I watched featured the animated corpse of Hugh Hefner telling Anna Faris to come back to the Playboy Mansion and get ready for her Miss November photo shoot, after which they’d send her on a multi-city publicity tour, blah blah blah, and I actually laughed. It was such a joke, the idea that a barely breathing skin magazine could even interest a basement-dwelling blogger, much less an editor, in their Miss November. No one has cared about a Playmate of the Month since Farrah Fawcett was still selling posters.
The other day Roy linked, playfully, to a magazine called Black Tail, and yes, that link is probably NSFW, although it’s not that bad. What interested me was the scroll-down material, the other exciting titles under the Jiffy Fulfillment umbrella — Big Butt, Big Black Butt (for those who find Black Tail too scrawny, perhaps), Juggs, Panty Play, Over 40, Over 50 (!!!) and we’re not even getting into the gay titles, Inches, Black Inches, Latin Inches, Torso, and so on.
Of course, Leg Show is among them. Dian Hanson edits Leg Show, or did. She’s the thinking man’s dirty-magazine editor — note the Leg Show poster in the back room at the Bada Bing on “The Sopranos,” a nice little shout-out to one’s life’s work — and once dated Robert Crumb, who called her the Albert Schweitzer to pathetic foot-suckers. I know I’ve linked to this profile of her in the past, but here it is again, fascinating stuff:
Fetishes are narrow, even brittle, phenomena. There are men who need to see women’s toes but not heels, or heels but not toes; men who need to see women in leg casts; men who need to see a specific kind of woman’s shoe pushing a specific kind of car’s accelerator. “That’s not at all an isolated fetish,” says Dian Hanson, the most cerebral pornographer in America. “There’s an entire club called Pedal Pumpers. The first man who called me about it could only be satisfied with a 1959 Corvette and white pumps. It had to be white pumps. He’d bring hookers home and take them to the garage.”
I don’t want to dwell on porno, but you see my point. We’ve all become fetishists of a sort, or at least specialists. Once, heavy metal was heavy metal. Now it’s Death, Slash, Industrial and 15 other modifiers of Metal. (Sometimes I think the sole qualification for being a pop-music writer is how confidently you can sling those modifiers around.) Country — alt, mainstream or traditional? Even pop — short for “popular,” the very definition of wide appeal — has fractured. There’s power pop, ballad pop, teen pop, soccer-mom pop. For all of Simon Cowell’s attempts to carnival-barker a national consensus on “American Idol,” he must surely know that much of his audience wouldn’t be caught dead actually buying a record by any of those sad-sack tools, and only watch to monitor their over/under bets on when Paula will cry.
It’s staggering, today, to imagine a world where a single artist could sell 120 million records, or 12 million posters. Who could tear us away from YouTube that long? (Speaking of which, how’s that Susan Boyle phenom holding up? Yeah.) Who, or what, could unite the multitudes even long enough to dig $12 out of their pocket for something everyone else has?
The thing about fragmentation is, it satisfies only part of the audience experience. Yes, it is exactly what you want, but it can be lonely. (Of course, the other great thing about the internet is, it connects you with your other fanboys and girls. I still recall the thrill of finding my fellow Warren Zevon fans on AOL.) Maybe “American Idol” works in part because it satisfies our need for at least one bit of shared experience to discuss with our co-workers.
Or maybe this is just the pendulum’s furthest distance from the center, that something else is coming that we will all freak for. And then we can have the strange collective experience of building it up and tearing it down together. Destruction of humanity! Now that’s entertainment.
Have a good holiday, all. Grill many meats and vegetables. The wondrous taste of charred things — that’s something we can all agree on, eh?