I try to be very careful and selective about discussing “gender issues.” As a pseudo-celibate heterosexual male, I think most people would consider me little qualified to contribute anything valuable, and I would tend to agree. There are experts on these sorts of things; I am not one of them.
That doesn’t stop me from saying stupid things. Based on self-knowledge of my judgment, a straw feminist would probably say I’m a sexist; most, that I’m a little naive but mean well. It could well be either.
Anyway, given my categorically generic, culturally dominant profile, I usually keep my empathy to myself knowing that it will sound patronizing and hollow, no matter how much I insist otherwise. But because I’m in a patronizing mood today, that’s where I’m headed.
Here in 2011, I’m surprised that we’re still arguing about the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue; I expect in 2111, we’ll still be arguing about it in some form, whether sims walk among us or our last 10,000 are wandering in bands, subsisting on crickets. Given the ubiquity of traditions and institutions that seem to exploit or *cringe* objectify women, it’s a little weird that this one still gets so much attention. Compared to the alternatives, it almost seems quaint.
A few weeks ago, I sucked myself into a short Facebook exchange with a former high school acquaintance who teaches a college course on these things. She sent me a video of a Jean Kilbourne lecture from about ten years ago, and the one theme that’s been especially stuck in my head ever since is the roboticization of women in advertising. Anecdotally, in the years since the lecture, this trend has only increased, and I would guess it will continue to do so for some time. As our computer-generated facsimiles become more and more lifelike (barring climate and energy apocalypse—a necessary caveat for just about any discussion of the future these days), the idea that women—and men—will increasingly feel pressure to compete with standards established by CGI and robots is nothing to scoff at, and I’m not sure that we want to egg this on. Brian Christian would probably agree, though I haven’t read his book and will probably never get around to it (not for lack of desire but for lack of literacy).
From the pure fetish angle, roboticized images seem no different than other objects of fantasy (oops—I used that word again) in that they blend the sexually stimulating with the mythical to make an artistic statement—merits of which notwithstanding—and to attract an audience inclined to a particular idiosyncratic preference. Whereas, however, the Lady of the Lake probably won’t be coming to life anytime soon, a robot might one day take your job.
Following the Brian Christian logic, it could be that things like the Swimsuit Issue will be more accepted and celebrated in the future, a happy consequence of which may be that the audience demands greater “purity”—no food restriction, no photo touch-ups—because this “humanity” will be harder to mimic with CGI and robots. If current trends continue and our ability to simulate humanity continues to advance while the future of actual humans grows more perilous, we may come to see our genetic lotto winners more as our champions than our adversaries. I hope.
Or, just as likely, we’ll go on competing with the robots and each other, as divided and exploitative as ever.
[FYI: I started this post with a related but much different thought in mind, but I lost it around paragraph three. To go there now would be forced and awkward, and I’m already over my self-imposed hour limit. Expect a similar post soon.]