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- Question Number One
- Written in the 1980s, Spanish poet Ana Rossetti’s poem, “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers”, belongs to post-modernism as it relates to elements of classic works from the Renaissance through irony and parody. Called intertextuality, the concept allows for differences and similarities between the earlier, influential texts and the later, influenced texts to be drawn. By comparing the poem, an example of sexually-driven consumerism now commonly seen in contemporary times, to the popular sexual anime series of the mecha genre called Star Driver (2010 to 2011), the evolution of standards, such as the meaning of male beauty, due to temporal and spatial changes becomes prominent.
- That is not to say that no desirable traits have continuously been linked with the defining of male beauty, though. For instance, in Rossetti’s poem, which imitates the lofty, flowery language used by poets to elevate their love-objects, usually a particular woman, to a plane of perfection through appraisal of their virtues, the subject uses imagery of white which invokes the concept of purity, as seen in wedding dresses and in how the lily symbolizes the Virgin Mary (“Lily”). Said images, which also entail the envelopment of rigid materials within softer substances (“If only I … could tauten myself / around your youthful turgidity”) thus ironically alludes to sexual intercourse, where the penis is the enclosed, sturdy element. The speaker implies firmness of body is desired by woman (the speaker’s wistful tone attests) and holds masculine connotations as it is reminds of man’s traditional role of being a provider/protector.
- A similar instance occurs in Star Driver when a villain utilizes her mecha’s x-ray vision while fighting the main protagonist, Tsunashi Takuto, and squeals about “his sculpted chest”. In that particular scene, which is seen from her perspective, and in “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers”, the male is evaluated as being sexually desirable due to his honed body and thus qualifies to be an idealistic embodiment of male beauty, which differs from the Renaissance due to the position of the assessed and the assessor.
- Even then, there are variations to what “muscled”, a trait imputed to attractiveness in males, means. To elaborate, the addressed male in Rossetti’s poem is attributed as turgid, which implies a bloated, bulky physique. In contrast, Tsunashi is called the Ginga Bishounen, which means the “Galactic Pretty Boy”. The term bishounen refers to a beautiful, androgynous young man who has seemingly little fat and muscle (Levi 10). Since the villain admires Tsunashi’s “slim waist [and] collarbones”, Tsunashi evidently is slender yet toned. (It is interesting to note how the effeminate Tsunashi Takuto, is characterized as an attractive male character and how bishounen refers to a specific attractive found in adolescents. Once the man is over the age of twenty, the term referring to said man and the connotations with the term changes). This difference in values is due to the times (gorging has been characterized as peasant behavior. A slender, toned body now suggests one has the wealth to stay in shape and to always be able to afford food) and location (bishounen characters are now normal in Japanese and Korean fiction if the media in question is driving towards any kind of cross-demographic audience; for example, bishounen characters in an action series can entice both female and male audiences).
- There are also differences in the extent of the focus of the male’s physical exterior. In “Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse”, Kaja Silverman quotes J.C. Flugel who stated that “in men the libido is more definitely concentrated upon the genital zone”. This is observed in “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers” in how the speaker uses parallelism to overly emphasize the man’s “waist… groin… thighs”. However, in that same episode of Star Driver, the villain stares at Tsunashi’s arms, neck, and collarbones. The attention has become more distributed as a result of the idealization.
- Reactions to portrayal of male sexuality have also changed over time. The poem was thought startling since explicit display of the body was unknown in the 80’s due to censoring. Meanwhile, Star Driver, aired when Tokyo was pushing for a ban on anime, manga, and games, featured moments of Camp, rashly associated with homosexual males, as seen in the slim fit, mid-rift exposing wear, the reality-defying transformation sequences belonging in a magical girl series, and the manner in which a particular mecha prances around like an egotistical ballet dancer while battling. Tsunashi Takuto wears such an outfit, transforms in such a way, and pilots the mecha with the giant heeled shoes—almost like masculine beauty has been feminized.
- Works Cited
- Allen, Linda E. "Consider the Lily." AuthorsDen. AuthorsDen, 2 Apr. 2009. Web. 09 Oct. 2011.
- Levi, Antonia. Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese
- Animation. Chicago: Open Court, 1996.
- Question Number 3
- In Ana Rossetti’s poem, “Calvin Klein, Underdrawers”, the subject proclaims, “If only I were a soft cloth case, molding of caresses, / and could tauten myself / around your youthful turgidity.” The quote in question provides the definition of female desire, which is centralized around penis envy, and reveals the speaker’s aspiration to be idealized and to bond with the penis which she lacks.
- Recognizing that the visible, striking, well-proportioned penis is superior to her own small, concealed organ, the little girl develops penis envy, according to Freud in Some Physical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes. That is not to say she wants the organ itself; she wants the associated power, “the narcissistic and social advantages linked with the possession of a penis” since she notices that men receive better treatment compared to women (Horney). Of course, the organ will never physically belong to her body. Her desire, the manifestation of her libido, is thus never directly sated.
- Since the desire of penis, and thus power, is not quelled, the girl constantly looks for other means to achieve her “goal”, such as through clothing. In Fragments of a Fashionable Discourse, Kaja Silverman observes that, “conventional male dress…has effaced everything about the male body but the genital zone”, which has led to modesty of dress. In contrast, females have experienced intensification in dress via frills, dynamically- cut clothes, vivid patterns and colorful accessories. The elaborateness of female dress, then, seemingly overpowers the discreetness of male clothing in a manner similar to how the male organ is more visible than the female organ. However, the very ornateness actually emphasizes the woman’s role of demonstrating her husband’s wealth and her dependence on said husband through her manner of dress, which means she still holds an inferior, or at least subservient, position.
- This leads to woman wanting to be “qualified” for man, causing woman to utilize cosmetics and clothing in an attempt to rise to this plane of assumed superiority where man is situated. This can be seen in the quote above, where the speaker wistfully wishes to be wrapped around the addressed male’s stomach, to be the soft object enveloping his swollen hardness, to have sexual intercourse for she yearns to become one with the addressed man as it connects her to the sought after penis, the embodiment of the power she wants. It should be mentioned that “if only” gives off a sound of fruitlessness, as if it is vain of her to even think of doing so because it is not her place since she is not “eligible”. Since this poem was written in the post-modernist era, however, the artwork references elements of classical texts from the Renaissance, as seen in the white images which make up the majority of the piece, only to subvert it through the unexpected line, “if only I were, Calvin Klein”. The white imagery implies chastity, as seen in wedding dresses and in how the color white itself is the visual absence of color and thus unadulterated, which makes the fact that the object embracing the man’s genitals is (likely) colored white interesting to note. This could be read as being symbolic: man desires a virgin as that guarantees the woman in question is not promiscuous or deceitful and gives them a sense of pride knowing he was able to leave his mark before anyone else. Therefore the woman’s strength of her want could actually preventing her from the artificial fulfillment of her desire as she could be seen as uninhibited and “unchaste”, which is unwanted.
- Works Cited
- Freud, Sigmund. (1908c). Some psychical consequences of the anatomical distinction between the
- sexes. SE, 19: 241-258.
- Horney, Karen. (1967). Feminine psychology. New York: W.W. Norton. (Original work published
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