Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — This month’s issue of Pulp magazine features the band Sud, gazing directly at the potential reader on the set of what appears to be an amateur porn flick; there are lights and a large boom mic in the background, one member holding a Super 8 film camera, another smoking a cigar, and two sets of female legs brushing playfully against each other, panties being removed in a prelude to sex. “Your Pleasure Is Their Mission,” reads the cover line that accompanies the image, yet the local online music community has articulated its vehement displeasure with the cover and with its equally derogatory centerfold (which features the band awkwardly filming two women engaged in an overtly sexualized act of fondling). This is not unfamiliar iconography, and yet that is exactly what drew the ire of the crowd. How could this have been approved in 2016? Who thought this was a good idea?
Sex has always been a popular subject, yet there are more tasteful ways of dealing with the topic. There appears to be a fundamental issue with this particular cover: It propagates negative stereotypes and is blind to the history of exploitation and violence brought on by centuries of misogyny and the fetishizing of the female body, reducing it to an object, discounting the unique, individual consciousness that inhabits the body. One could even argue that it unintentionally romanticizes or promotes the abuse of women; choice is eradicated from the participants in the sexual act, as they are pressured to perform for the male gaze. There has been talk of the potential satirical nature behind the image in question, yet there are no signs within the image itself that point the audience in this direction. As it stands, it perpetuates the culture of the dominant alpha male, subduing the female and capitalizing on her sex appeal.
The women in these photographs are not being treated as people, but there are real people who are going to suffer the real repercussions of the nationwide distribution of this image — and the subsequent defense of the image — and this is the unfortunate reality behind the response of a different individuals online.
Let us examine the picture once more and look into its structure. There are male voyeurs filming the women’s evidently constructed display of affection for each other, which is performed for the benefit of more male voyeurs, vastly outnumbering the two women; there is a sense of violation, an invasion of an intimate space, which is unfortunately only meant to generate capital. The female figure is monetized and marketed, rendered here as a commodity; this photograph presents lesbianism not as a product of the entire mystery of human sexuality but as a product to be consumed by a predominantly male demographic. The problems of the cover photo and centerfold extend themselves outwardly and double as the problems of the decision of the magazine as a whole. It is alleged that the female body here is being presented as an object of worship, yet it remains an object nonetheless. The women in these photographs are not being treated as people, but there are real people who are going to suffer the real repercussions of the nationwide distribution of this image (and the subsequent defense of the image), and this is the unfortunate reality behind the response of different individuals online. People have had to deal with issues like this for years, and they are tired of the same old exploitative marketing strategies, the same old tired responses to legitimate concerns, and as a man, I cannot even begin to imagine the fear.
Images are powerful, containing the potential to shape how people view the world at large, and that is exactly why thought must be put into their construction. It is possible that the extent of the collateral damage brought about by the these photographs currently under severe scrutiny did not affect the parties involved, and that is why they must be challenged.
The artist and the audience are in a constant state of negotiation for the artist does not hold exclusive rights to the meaning generated by their work.
The image, the text, and the music do not exist in a vacuum; they have been thrown into the world to be interpreted through a variety of different lenses (with material bases), and it is the responsibility of the artist — the distributor of images — to consider all the possible interpretations of their work. It is not absolute, and it is going to be subject to criticism no matter what. A great number of people have become a lot more critical of the status quo, refusing to passively accept what calls itself the norm, and in an age where all responses are immediate, we must continue to question everything, especially images and ideas that promote social ills like sexism and prejudice, whether intentionally or not. The artist and the audience are in a constant state of negotiation for the artist does not hold exclusive rights to the meaning generated by their work. The outcry must be answered accordingly. Everyone’s a critic, listen.