Evolution of the visual language of sex appeal
October 8, 2011 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend books/articles on the history of the visual representation of sexuality in popular culture?

I'm not sure about my phrasing, probably my lack of accurate search terms is hindering my online quest.

I would like to find something that compares and contrasts the representation of men and women as sexual objects/creatures throughout the 20th century. Something that has to do with images only, not literature for instance, but looking at the visual languages that are established and how they evolved.

I'm curious how the portrayal of men and women may have influenced one another or have taken differing paths. I recently read that nude male photos were initially distributed under the auspices of fitness magazines, so of course they featured beefy dudes doing athletic stuff. Stuff like that- beefcakes and pinups, compare and contrast- a history of imagery strung together somehow.

Is there something like this out there?

This sort of thing has been on my mind lately, but was brought into foucs by this
posted by abirdinthehand to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's a little specific, but Patricia Badir's book Maudlin Impressions--about the nature of representation and early modern print culture in realtionship to Magdalene might be interesting.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:29 PM on October 8, 2011

My boyfriend (a sociologist) suggests "The social construction of sexuality" and "Condom Nation."
posted by ChuraChura at 6:33 PM on October 8, 2011

Check out Bodywatching (Desmond Morris)... long out of print though but with lots of photos and text.
posted by crapmatic at 6:38 PM on October 8, 2011

The catalogue for the exhibition Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture

Your question title mentions "evolution"... which makes me think of George Hersey's amazing book The Evolution of Allure: Sexual Selection from the Medici Venus to the Incredible Hulk. He uses the idea of evolution as a way to explain sexual attraction, and it has lots of images.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 6:42 PM on October 8, 2011

Maybe try the Museum of Sex. I would be willing to be that MoSex has had some exhibits that dealt with this issue.
posted by AlliKat75 at 3:20 AM on October 9, 2011

My info is probably a bit out of date and not specific enough - but as a starting point you could try searching for the "male gaze" or "representing feminity" / "masculinity".

There's a summary of some of Laura Mulvey's theories here - intended for A level students, so may be a bit too basic for you. Her work is mainly on cinema but is relevant to still photography too.

Here's an article on feminist film theory wch talks about the work of theorists like Teresa de Lauretis.

James Elkins has an essay online about the theory of the gaze.

Books you could try include Carol Mavor's Pleasures Taken, Stuart Hall's Representation and Lindsay Smith's The Politics of Focus.

There's a wikipedia article on the history of erotic photography.
posted by paduasoy at 4:54 AM on October 9, 2011

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