Apparently, we are seeing the end of Puritan America. Only in 2016 can a small bimbo eruption in the form of a potential First Lady’s nude, lesbian-themed photos make the cover of the New York Post.
I found the photos remarkably pedestrian. There is no hint of real sex in them, merely two women being the medium through which photographer Jarl Ale de Basseville wrote his sexual fantasies. The photos are stylized to absurdity. Many men who paint or draw the female nude either romanticize, stylize or desexualize the female form in this way. In the timeless words of women through history: “Men! What can you do?”
I spent a few years doing a body of work about misogyny and the powerlessness of women. My model, Michelle Long, is in fact a very strong, intelligent woman. I wanted to create something that spoke of the real state of women in this world, and she was game enough to work with me. Read anything else into those paintings and you’re projecting your own issues.
Perhaps this background colors my opinion about Melania Trump’s photos. However, they do speak to a bigger issue in sexual politics. Melania Trump’s dilemma was that even brilliant women have a hard time breaking out of a concrete housing block in Slovenia. A young lad from the Dominican Republic can escape poverty by utilizing his body to throw a baseball. Women don’t have that option.
This morning I was reading about a famous 19th century courtesan, Marie Duplessis. She was the inspiration for Verdi’s Violetta in La Traviata and the younger Dumas’ Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux Camélias, but her life story is hardly heroic.
Marie was, in fact, a severely-damaged girl of a type we moderns know all too well. Born Rose-Alphonsine Plessis, she was the daughter of impoverished Norman peasants. Her alcoholic father savagely beat her mother, who died when the girl was seven. Her father abandoned her the following year, reappearing periodically after she turned 11 to try to sell her to strangers. When she was 14, he made a deal for her with a notorious debaucher. She ended up abandoned in Paris, where she took up work as a laundress and shop-girl.
Consider the girl’s dilemma: she could continue to work six days a week, 13 hours a day for 22 francs a month, until she was destroyed by hard work. Or, she could accept an offer of a furnished flat and 3000 francs to do the one thing she had been trained for: sex.
Duplessis was a celebrity, thanks in part to her string of famous paramours, who included both Dumas and Franz Liszt.
She was grasping, intelligent and hedonistic, qualities admired in men and despised in women. “Monsieur le baron, I realize that mine is a sordid profession, but I must let you know that my favors cost a great deal of money. My protector must be extremely rich to cover my household expenses and satisfy my caprices,” she wrote to a suitor.
She also, in part, set the Victorian standard for pale, ethereal beauty. Of course, this was tuberculosis, which killed her at age 23.
She was a frenetic party girl. Her coachman reported that “at the end she drank nothing but Champagne.”
“I’ve always felt that I’ll come back to life,” she told her maid.
Non-marital sexuality is, too often, about power and influence. No, I don’t want my daughters showing up nude in the New York Post, but hopefully we have prepared them for better things than that.
I realize that sometimes it’s a fine line, but there is a difference between used and user. The latter should be censured; the former pitied.