Ariel Levy on Raunch Culture: “Women Are Not Just Sudsy Bunnies”

Ariel Levy on "The Colbert Report"

“What’s in it for you?” Ariel Levy, reporter at The New Yorker, was curious. The interviewee in question, a “Girl Gone Wild,” had just finished french-kissing another young woman in front of a camera-wielding entourage.

“It’s like a reflex.”

This was one of many encounters Levy had with girls who flashed their breasts (or, for the puritans among them, a breast) for the $40 million a year franchise which sells videos of girls, well, going “wild.”

“It occurred to me that something weird is going on,” Levy said, speaking to a full house in Dana Auditorium this evening. “There was always a show on TV with strippers.”

Her research eventually led to the 2005 book Female Chauvinist Pigs, in which she argues that, with cardio striptease workouts, online pornographic streams, and harem television shows (“The Girl Next Door,” “Flavor of Love,” “Rock of Love”) as ubiquitous presences in modern pop culture, a new female identity of “raunch” has become, well, “a reflex.” More and more, famous women are being birthed in the image of Playboy’s “sudsy bunnies.”

And if the stars of this new raunch culture are sex workers whose jobs are “to fake lust,” then normal women will be merely trying to “imitate imitations,” Levy warned.

So to seem sexy has become more important than to feel sexy in itself. Women are performing, a point reiterated by rampant MySpace camera angles on Facebook profiles.

I’ll admit, I’ve chanced upon the occasional porno. Here is where the overwhelmingly monolithic view of what a girl should look like and act like (sorry bro, she’s not really a random girl getting into the car – she’s a paid actress) is most obvious – as Levy describes, an “unapologetically synthetic” bimbo aesthetic in which “women look almost like anime.” Not sexy. I’m almost expecting Jenna Jameson to transform into a robot and shoot out fireballs.

In all, the speech was great. I especially liked that Levy was tuned into pop phenomena, and not merely theorizing from afar. Discussions included Tina Fey (“funny and intelligent…pretty, but not dripping with hotness”), Sarah Palin (“dangerous” for “rebranding the working woman as traditional”), Cosmo (“liberating,” but also supporting a “contest of accumulation”), and our Twilightian obsession with virginity (“very patriarchal…in that the only way that sexuality is okay is marriage”). I haven’t read her book, but after hearing her virtuosic handle of language (sudsy bunnies, of course, is one example; outslutting describes, uh, sluts competing; imaginary lingerie inferno refers to bra burning – a myth, by the way), I’ve been convinced to pick it up.

You can listen to an excerpt from Levy’s talk below:

If you want to read more about Ariel Levy, as well as the introduction of Female Chauvinist Pigs, check out her website.

What are your thoughts on the raunch culture? There are certainly raunch culture’s supporters, but there are also its ironic depictions and satires as well – do they succeed in highlighting how ridiculous our society is, or do they just confuse my impatient libido even more? Where do we draw the line between liberated and lecherous? Make your comments known!

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