Gaga at the go-go
Philip Slater wrote a lot about money and sex in his 1970 book, “The Pursuit of Loneliness.” In the chapter, “Putting pleasure to work,” he describes how we eroticize anything that can be sold – cars, potato chips, toothpaste, etc – for economic reasons. “The gross national product will reach its highest point when a material object can be interpolated between every itch and its scratch,” Slater wrote.
But for the model to work, stimulation has to be ramped up constantly. Mass media is how it gets done. Every TV show, magazine, advertisement, movie, billboard, etc., has to be sexier than the last. At the same time, we have to clamp down on gratification. Otherwise, no sale. So Justin Timberlake can sing about bringing sexy back, but he can’t show us Janet Jackson’s nipples. That gets uncomfortably close to gratification.
According to P. Slater, the job of the economy and our culture is to generate “esoteric erotic itches that cannot be scratched.” We buy things hoping for relief, get none, and buy more. The Charlie Brown/Lucy metaphor applies – we never get to kick the football, but we never stop trying.
That fact that maximum stimulation and minimum gratification drives us all crazy is an unfortunate side effect – at least the economy is functioning. Sort of.
Of course, Slater was writing all this before cable television, rap music, video games, the Internet, sexting, etc. etc. etc. He had no idea how sexy we could make everything.
Last weekend, I saw the touring version of Hair and was struck by two things. One, the nudity is now handled very discreetly. Dim, dappled lighting disguised it almost completely. Were the actors really naked at the end of Act 1? Hard to tell from where I was sitting.
On the other hand, the show was packed with fully clothed pantomimed sex. How do you like it – doggy-style, reverse cowgirl, missionary, DP? They had it all, and none of it seemed particularly offensive.
In the 1970s, it was the opposite. The actors were naked and brightly lit, but you couldn’t do all that sex stuff on stage. It’s okay these days, because we’re all stimulation junkies. But naked bodies gets too close to gratification, and we’re bigger prudes about that sort of thing now. Or so I claim.
The second thing I noticed was this: showtunes were the earliest forms of rap and hip-hop. Seriously.
Here’s why. Except for ballads, most showtunes are just about slinging a lot of rhymes over a good beat. “They’ll be gaga at the go-go, when they see me in my toga??” What the hell? Nobody said “gaga” in the 70s. Nobody went to “the go-go.” And this was before Animal House. We did not wear togas. Doesn’t matter. The words sorta rhyme, so just keep going. Case closed. Don’t like rap music? Blame Broadway.
The earliest known rap song: "Hair"
Posted in Music