Monday, November 29, 2010

Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 9) [NSFW]



Today I'm finishing my series exploring the pin-up in American culture. I'm taking my facts from the in-depth examination of the pin-up by Maria Elena Buszek's book Pin-Up Grrrls: Feminism, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, so all the quotes are from her book.

The Post-War Pin-Up: Playboy vs. Bettie Page

Doris Day via SMH.com

When WW2 was over and the men came back home to resume their lives, working women were quickly shunted out of their industries to make way for them. Suddenly, a strong, aggressive woman was no longer the ideal. In fact, the backlash against this ideal "began the 1950s era of the 'eternal virgin' and 'dizzy blonde bombshell,' in which popular culture reinscribed the ideal female according to nothing sort of a Victorian duality: desirable either for her asexuality and domestic potential or for her naive, yet overt, sexuality." Complicated, confident women were no longer wanted.

Marilyn Monroe via Starpulse.com
Whether reflected in the Doris Day/Marilyn Monroe binary that dominated Hollywood pin-ups during these years, or the illustrated pin-ups of postwar artists like Art Frahm...women's sexual simplicity, and even humiliation was suddenly sexy... As journalist Susan Faludi would later write of this "undeclared war against American women," in the postwar era the independent woman of World War II, who had flaunted her political, social, and sexual agency, was viewed as an outdated construction that "provoked and sustained the antifeminist furor [of the 1950s, and] heightened cultural fantasies of the compliant homebody and playmate."
Art Frahm Pin-Up via LILEKS

Suddenly, many "ladies clubs" were concerned about the morality of the pin-ups shown in Esquire and Life that could be viewed by children and ladies. Due to the change in public opinion, pin-ups started disappearing from popular culture, but Hugh Hefner, former Esquire employee, was there to fill in the void with his new magazine, Playboy. He stressed that his magazine was FOR MEN ONLY, saying in his publisher's statement: "If you're somebody's sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to the Ladies' Home Companion."
Instead of idealizing contemporary womanhood as complex and independent, Hefner believed that the Playmate should rather reflect the compliant and accessible girl next door with a 'seduction-is-immanent' look that addressed not the subject's but the male viewer's sexual desire... the attraction of the Playmate was the absence of threat... there was nothing to be feared from seducing them.
Vargas Pin-Up for Playboy via Pin-UpGallery.com

Hefner hired Vargas to draw illustrations, which were nudes, unlike his earlier work. Hollywood pin-ups changed too, featuring their actresses "home lives" including domestic chores rather than grand adventures. All of these images focused on the simple, serving, compliant ideal of womanhood that was popular, but it wasn't what everyone wanted. Specialty pin-up publications like Fantastique, High Heels and Bizarre, instead showed sexually dominant women, featuring work from freelance photographers, like the brother-sister team Irving and Paula Klaw, who offered photographic alternatives to the docile pin-up.

Klaw photo of Bettie Page via AngelFire
While the Klaws deserve credit for generally promoting the sexually aggressive pin-up in the postwar era, they are today far more famous for launching the career of pin-up model Bettie Page, among the first women to gain national renown for her wok in the genre alone... Page's unique style gained such crossover popularity among pin-up aficionados in the 1950s that by 1955, Page was hailed on national television as "Miss Pin-Up Girl of the World," had magazines dedicated solely to her pin-ups, and, with a now-legendary photograph taken by female pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager, landed the year's Christmas centerfold in Playboy. (Hugh Hefner apparently found the model's unique style powerful enough to not only waive the all-unknowns policy he initiated after the magazine's first centerfold... but he also stated his distaste for the "difficult" woman.)...

Bettie Page for Playboy via Thought Experiment

Page's most relevant contribution to the pin-up genre was not her successful crossover appeal as a dominating woman in the era of the demure playmate. Her brazen over-the-top poses and pointedly lighthearted approach to performing as a pin-up served to expose the very construction of the genre, revealing both its artificiality and performative nature, as well as its potential as an expressive medium for the woman so represented....

At once a celebration and parody of the genre itself, Page's destabilization of the pin-up throughout her brief but unbelievably prolific career would later provide one of the most imitated models for feminist appropriations of the genre.
Klaw photo of Bettie Page via AngelFire

I know for me personally, Bettie was the woman who first let me feel connected to the pin-up as a source of power for the woman in it, not the person viewing it. After meeting Matt (who I quickly learned was into handcuffs & Bettie Page the first time I went to his house), she was my only mental image for a while of BDSM culture, which those of you who've been reading for a while know is a fairly significant part of my life at this point. (As an interesting aside: it turns out the bondage proclivity is one that runs in my family, on both sides, as an informal survey of my extended family has revealed.)

Anyway, this is where I will end my story of the pin-up. There is LOADS more information and examples in Pin-Up Grrrls if you're interested in learning more.

What would you say are the continuing effects of Playboy and Bettie Page in our culture's view of sexuality? What about on your views? What kind of woman would you say is the current feminine ideal?

Related posts:
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 1)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 2)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 3)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 4)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 5)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 6)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 7)
Erotic Power & the Pin-Up (Part 8)

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1 comment:

Dayana Stockdale said...

I love what you say about Bettie, that she shows power for herself, not necessarily for the viewer. I always liked her photos, but never really analyzed that before. She looks like she is genuinely comfortable and having fun. She looks very free.