What can maybe be said to connect or preoccupy us all – regardless of where we are in the world, what culture we’re raised in, what race we feel we belong to or the differences in identity – is a feeling and acknowledgement of the want/need to be noticed by others. Now this isn’t a cynical comment about obtaining a sense of self-gratification but that of not being lonely, of being apart of a community and a reciprocation of identity formation.
And of course, this desire to be noticed manifests itself differently relative to the level of culture, community and individual identity itself. And while this post will refer exclusively to where I am situated in (England) and where I am enveloped in (America), I wanted to take the opportunity to semi-seriously make note on the preoccupation of the desire to be noticed, as emphasized on the media I am involved with, which in my opinion is characterized as the desire to be seen as Sexy. (and what I can extrapolate out of the seemingly trivial subject of sexiness)
This is not what is sexy but how.
There is no being sexy – in the same way as there is no being sincere – as it suggests intent on doing and artificially constructing a mode of being or doing and of being seen that is not true to itself (in other words, inauthentic). It is what is presumably what happens to you, without your acknowledged doing. Except, as we will come to see, such a basis for authenticity, sincerity and even sexiness is through the process of ideological cynicism and a performance for an other and oneself.
Authenticity is one of the primary and fundamental criterion for any being – having the capabilities of possessing and carrying out what could be described as Attitude – to be seen as sexy. As such, authenticity suggests a being for oneself which instigates confidence (another criterion of sexiness).
Confidence is the link between performer and spectator, an exuberance that can be spotted, if not, called for from the performer. Ideological cynicism is what allows a performer of sexiness to both act as if one were sexy and, as a result, be sexy from such action. Any act of sincerity performed enough times inevitably puts oneself into a position of sincerity (even if only from an on-looker. Yet if both performer and spectator believe in the existence of either sexiness or sincerity, does it matter at all?).
It is not only authenticity and confidence needed to be sexy, and such a rigid and well kempt definition surely goes against the lure of sexiness itself, but here is to my mind, a litany of sexiness: appeal, charm, allure, seduction, concealment/secrecy, allusion, teasing, eroticism, contentedness, and the spectacle etc.
One begins the act of sexiness by first being dishonest, insincere, inauthentic, and incomplete. Sexiness is a reenactment, a construction or playing out of being, a productivity, an action, a performative rhetoric. By literally doing the actions of sexy, one tricks oneself into believing and thus invariably become sexy (but of course, one must know what sexiness is in order to perform it, yet, in my opinion, it is not so much what is performed as it is the performance itself that is sexy. Which is to say, there is no being one way or another, there is only being).
This acting or Performative (Procedural) Rhetoric is nicely described by Levi Bryant on an idea thought by Ian Bogost as to how we learn through playing video games such as SIMS. “A Performative Rhetoric is a rhetoric that persuades not through language, but through situating an audience in an activity. The audiences understanding is transformed through the activity of doing. In this regard, games are a form of rhetoric. They change us through their play.” Interestingly, the audience described here is the one playing the game, in other words, the actor performing or ‘playing’ the role of sexiness. Yet because such an act of sexiness is characterized by its being an act for an audience, a spectator, then a second audience exists and can be said to also posses the understanding of sexiness – the receiving of pleasure – by being put, as well putting themselves through, the act of doing, the act of being a part of a spectacle or an audience.
This Performative rhetoric can also be considered along the lines of Ideological Cynicism, following the procedure of belief. The difference is, where or to who the feeling of sexiness exists, in the performer or its audience? The rhetoric allows for oneself to believe in oneself, effectively tricking oneself into becoming, in order to finally become, so others too can witness it. Ideological cynicism, on the other hand, allows oneself (the audience) for the option of having the potential to see, witness and experience sexiness where ever it may not ‘actually’, or intend to, exist.
The similarity is in a shared truism: Fake it til’ you make it! Zizek has a lot to say about Cynicism, and so I will go through two ways in which I can appropriate him for my own cause (without just referring you to him).
The first is in the way such an actor produces for themselves a sense of authority confirmed by their apparentness, attitude, confidence and supposed authenticity (to the eyes of others). This authority plays a crucial role in Lacan’s symbolic order, whereby we treat the subject of authority only with regards to their authority irrespective of what they are like without it. As Zizek says, this takes the form of a fetishistic disavowal: “I know very well that things are the way I see them /that this person is a corrupt weakling, but I nonetheless treat him respectfully, since he wears the insignia of a judge, so that when he speaks, it is the Law itself which speaks through him”. Sexiness, then, replaces the Judge. Regardless if one is actually or truly sexy, the confidence and performance with which the subject is enacting, takes the role of authority, receives from it all the gratification and acceptance of its audience for whom can only believe that it is a sexiness irrespective to how they actually feel.
Another example of fetishistic disavowal is, as described in one of Zizeks stories, how one can perform the same lucky ritual or superstition even if one disbelieves in it, and have its effects still ‘work’. “seeing a horse-shoe on his door, the surprised visitor said that he doesn’t believe in the superstition that it brings luck, to what Bohr snapped back: “I also do not believe in it; I have it there because I was told that it works also if one does not believe in it!”” It could be said that if only one believed what one hoped to see or experience, one would end up experiencing that very thing, if not only a fiction produced via ones own imagination. Its how the dirty mind sees sex everywhere!
Sexiness is a technique of seduction, not in search for a partner to fill the gap of sexual inadequacy or to confirm its (sexiness) existence, but of acquiring an audience. Sexiness is a play of the spectacle, set up as an Amphitheater home to an all-seeing audience competing among each other over the cause of sexiness and over the acquisition of the experience of sexiness itself. It is also this competition that further emphasizes, even rarefies such a feeling of sexiness to both performer and audience.
If one were to pinpoint the sexy in the subject, one would come away empty handed and exhausted. For what we can only find is the reflection of our own idiosyncratic eccentricities and fetishistic desires that transposes the sexy from the performer into the mind of the spectator.
In his book Mythologies, Roland Barthes describes Wrestling as a spectacle of excessive, exaggerated and most importantly, grandiloquent gestures. Yet these gestures are nothing without its audience, for what makes of wrestling without them? Two people limply fighting, unconvinced of their own performance? This is to say that sexiness – and wrestling – is a direct relationship between performance and audience.
I’m inclined to say that it is with the apprehension of never being able to achieve, attain, or gain full satisfaction from the object of sexy is what constitutes sexiness itself. It is a never full-filling eroticism that goes beyond the mere illusion or caricature of sex appeal. Yet what constitutes the erotic? Barthes asks, “Is not the most erotic portion of a body where the garment gapes? In perversion (which is the realm of textual pleasure) there are no “erogenous zones” (a foolish expression, besides); it is intermittence, as psychoanalysis has so rightly stated, which is erotic: the intermittence of skin flashing between two articles of clothing (trousers and sweater), between two edges (the open-necked shirt, the glove and the sleeve); it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance.” The slow reveal of the clothing (or obstructive toy) that masquerades the object of sexy.
This disappearance is the curiosity a spectator feels that is diminished through an eagerness to see more – such as the trouser leg raising beyond the ankle, exposing too much, yet not enough – and yet what is more is not what is there, as it is what is not there is what we actually want. The libidinal intensification one now feels is a result of now having endured the prolonging of sexual teasing.
Paradoxically, after all, there is no audience a performer of sexiness can/does perform to directly, as if the performer were just as aware of the audience as they were of the performer. Except, one performs believing such an audience exists, even if not to be watching. Which is to say that sexiness is as much for an audience as it is for oneself.