It was difficult to determine the right cover for this special issue. The purpose of the issue was to encourage new ways of thinking about the phallus, and the aim was to find an image that did just this—ask people to wonder what the image is telling us. What does it represent? What is the story? It is perhaps ironic that the image we found most appealing is a device designed to prevent a penis from functioning. In the late nineteenth century, masturbation was believed to cause mental illness, and solo ejaculation was considered a form of sexual dysfunction, and this is one example of many, often brutal, devices created to physically prevent erections and masturbation. Sitting over modern blue jeans, however, the image is erotic and evokes BDSM or kink culture. The old and the new, repression and eroticism, are one and the same.
Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power
Guillaume Dustan and the Poetics of Materialization
French writer Guillaume Dustan sparked rampant controversy in the 1990s and early 2000s because of his views on barebacking—practicing unprotected sex—as an irresistible prohibition and a duty to his serostatus. In Oeuvres I, a collection of three novels, all published between 1996 and 1998, Dustan explores his seropositivity through a text engorged with pleasure, sadomasochism, and desire. I contend that, in the encounter with the phallic text, the reader engages in an act of linguistic barebacking, taking in the author’s raw language as it becomes a site for erotic power and reproductive seropositivity. I will consider the seropositive text as a body that resists the latex, that cruises an unidentified reader, and that unapologetically penetrates them with the erotic qualities of its language.
New Understandings of the Phallus
Andrea Waling and Jennifer Power
This special issue brings together interdisciplinary work exploring the relationship between bodies, masculinity, and the penis or phallus. The symbolism, significance, and meaning of the phallus or penis has varied historically and across disciplines. In the psychoanalytic tradition, “the subject…can only assume its identity through the adoption of a sexed identity, and the subject can only take up a sexed identity with reference to the phallus, for ‘the phallus is the privileged signifier’” (Segal 2007: 85). Jacques Lacan’s work has inspired feminist critiques of “phallocentrism” in high and popular cultural texts since the 1970s (Segal 2007). Elizabeth Stephens (2007) describes the ancient Greek ideal of small penises as indexing self-control and rationality, while the Romans celebrated virility and power, which they associated with a large penis. Other scholarship has explored the racialization of penis size, such as the stereotype of Black men as possessing large penises, indexing hypersexuality and often depicted in racist terms as representing aggression or lack of civility (Lehman 2006).
Vittorio Gallese and Michele Guerra
In the last decades, the contribution of cognitive neuroscience to film studies has been invested in at least three different lines of research. The first one has to do with film theory and history: the new attention, inspired by cognitive neuroscience, to the viewer’s brain-body, the sensorimotor basis of film cognition, and the forms of embodied simulation elicited by the cinematic experience has stimulated a profound rethinking of a relevant part of the theoretical discourse on cinema, from the very beginning of the twentieth century to the most recent reflections within cognitive film studies and the phenomenology of film. The second line has to do with the intersubjective relationship between the movie—its style, rhythm, characters, and narrative—and the viewer, and it is characterized by an empirical approach that yields very interesting results, useful for rethinking and problematizing our ideas about editing, camera movements, and film reception. The third line concerns a possible experimental approach to the new life of film, focusing on the digital image, the innovative forms of technological mediation, and the inscription of a new film spectatorship within a completely different medial frame. The goal of this special issue is to offer insights across these lines of research.
Authenticity, the Alt-Self, and New Understandings of the Phallus
Chris Ashford and Gareth Longstaff
Law arguably shapes contemporary culture and phallic politics. In England and Wales, like much of the Global North, the second half of the twentieth century and early twenty-first century saw a general shift from a criminal legal framework that understood sexuality as sexual acts to a civil law framework that seeks to privilege institutions - notably marriage - and lifestyle as signifiers of sexuality. This article contributes to legal and cultural understandings of the phallus, specifically the “raw dick,” as key to understanding the self-representational spaces of “authentic” and “alt” selves on social media. It situates the “raw dick” as the locus of this cultural, legal, and social exchange in which the legal outlaw of male phallic desire has been incorporated into queer citizenship. We argue that the aesthetics of the alt-self provides us with new and important ways to understand the phallus and its relationship to sex and sexuality.
Andrew J. Ball
The final issue of Screen Bodies Volume 6 offers readers an ideal combination of the diverse kinds of work we feature, from a macroscopic theory that proposes a new discipline, to a set of articles that rigorously examine a small number of artworks with respect to a shared topic, to a piece of curatorial criticism on a recent media arts exhibition. The articles collected here offer a fitting cross section of the topics and media we cover, discussing such varied subjects as prehistoric art, Pink Film, artificial intelligence, and video art.
The Female Reception of Oshima Nagisa's International Co-Productions
Oshima Nagisa's international co-productions, which include the pornographic film In the Realm of the Senses and the war drama with homoerotic themes Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, were noted as the emergence of his female audience. How did this reported demographic change of the audience from male-centered to female-oriented relate to sexualized bodies on screen? In their roundtable discussion about sexual liberation, feminists found emancipatory power from patriarchal society in the face of the actor who played Abe Sada. Girls praised queerness that disrupted heteronormativity in David Bowie's performance in their film reviews. Focusing on the reception of the films within feminists’ discourse and girls’ culture, this article argues that the female audience created political significance of the films by interpreting the bodies as embodied liberation.
This image, Challenging Masculine Constructs by Oliver, is part of a photovoice project (see the article by Phillip Joy, Matthew Numer, Sara F. L. Kirk, and Megan Aston, Embracing a New Day: Exploring the Connections of Culture, Masculinities, Bodies, and Health for Gay Men through Photovoice, this issue) that explored the way culture and society shape the beliefs, values, and practices about food and bodies for gay men. Taken by the participant, this image is his way to challenge what he believes are limiting gender ideas for men and how masculine bodies should be dressed and presented to others. He disrupts these social constructs by dressing and presenting his body in ways he believed moved beyond typical masculine notions and by doing so reveals alternative gender expressions and new possibilities of living.
Exploring the Connections of Culture, Masculinities, Bodies, and Health for Gay Men through Photovoice
Phillip Joy, Matthew Numer, Sara F. L. Kirk, and Megan Aston
The construction of masculinities is an important component of the bodies and lives of gay men. The role of gay culture on body standards, body dissatisfaction, and the health of gay men was explored using poststructuralism and queer theory within an arts-based framework. Nine gay men were recruited within the city of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Participants were asked to photograph their beliefs, values, and practices relating to their bodies and food. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, using the photographs as guides. Data were analyzed by critical discourse analysis and resulted in three overarching threads of discourse including: (1) Muscles: The Bigger the Better, (2) The Silence of Hegemonic Masculinity, and (3) Embracing a New Day. Participants believed that challenging hegemonic masculinity was a way to work through body image tension.
Normalization, Concerns, and Sexual Opportunities
Ryan Scoats, Eric Anderson, and Adam J. White
Although there is abundant research regarding group sex between men, much of the current literature constructs group sex as homogenous and overlooks the nuance of how and why men engage in particular sexual behaviors. Accordingly, this research expands our understanding of group sex by focusing on a specific type of sex: the threesome. The results demonstrate how perspectives on threesomes may develop over time; at first appearing exciting before becoming relatively normalized and indistinct from dyadic sex. Encounters and exposure are fostered through the sexual opportunities available, in particular, geo-social networking apps. Despite their normalization, threesomes are not necessarily viewed as risk free. Thus, this research offers insight and understanding into how gay men engage in group sex and the contextual factors which make it possible.