Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Visibility of Desire: Sex Shop Facades, Pornography, Times Square 1995 and the Body

This essay was written in 1995 and describes a world that no longer exists. This piece is about nostalgia and how the center of New York City was reconfigured into a giant tourist mall. I thought it was worth a dust off and perhaps may spark some interest. The pictures are merely documents, not great photographs. When I took them in ‘95 I had to do it on the sly as I was threatened several times by various store owners.

Since the 1970’s, there has existed a conceptual and physical attempt to “revitalize” Times Square and West Forty-Second Street in New York City (now accomplished), particularly through the efforts of the 42nd Redevelopment Project which was launched in 1981. The concentration of sex-related businesses in Times Square and on West 42nd Street, in addition to crime and drugs. has been understood by both the Project as well as other redevelopment studies to be a central impediment to this “rejuvenation”.

Within these various studies, the pornography business is described as contributing to the “blight” and “decay” of the area. They are a virus which has infected this urban space and caused its decline from former greatness. This language of disease indicates that these reports deploy a traditional model of the city which posits an isomorphic relationship between the body and the urban space. Times Square and West Forty-Second Street are conceptualized as diseased and blighted portions of the body/city which in the discourse of the redevelopment undertaking need to be “revitalized” and made “healthy” and “alive”.

This somatic description of Times Square seems particularly resonant in relation to the porn stores operating in this zone of the city which in a very general sense engage in the production of bodies to be manipulated, consumed and purchased by their patrons. The coding of the “body” as decaying and diseased directly parallels the socially sanctions bodily practices, for example, same-sex desire and sado-masochism which achieve visibility within the sex shop and on its exterior. Such practices are routinely devalued and pathologized in our culture of complusory heterosexuality.

While the production of the body occurs in the products of the sex store such as magazines, videos, peep booths, live nude shows and replicas of body parts, it also transpires on the glittering, flashing facade of this type of establishment. Indeed, the porn shop facade becomes a written geography of the body through its external neon and printed signage which maps not only the spaces of the body itself, but also the sexual desires and behavior of that very body.

This essay will explore the somatic mapping of the sex shop facade and consider the function of this corporeal geography in the context of Times Square as well as in production of the body within postmodern urban society and culture. Does the sex shop facade represent a horizontaling of the body and its sexual practices which disrupts complusory heterosexuality and its concomitant hierarchy of desire? In this way, does the facade participate in the production of Times Square as a liminal space which enables the practice of desires and identities which are socially devalued and negated elsewhere? Who is allowed to participate within the liminality of this space? Is this liminality only available to men, both gay and straight?

And if Times Square is a space of restriction and exclusion, does it function then not as a liminal space, but as a space in which the body and sexuality can be not only produced, but also supervised and monitored? Does the sex emporium exterior operate as a site of surveillance paralleling the larger space of Times Square? Therefore, does the porn storefront reassert and secure the heterosexual hierarchy of desire and the body, rather than disrupt it? Moreover, does this “simulation” of the body within the contemporary urban environment of Times Square in which the porn facade participates “articulate a totalitarian politics of surveillance and control, or its opposite, a subversive dynamic that trespasses boundaries and hierarchies.” (Celeste Olalquiaga, Megalopolis, p. 1)

The consideration of these questions is based on the examination of nine facades of sex shops, randomly chosen, which are located on West 42nd Street and in the Times Square area. Whether it is the elaborate seedy opulence of Peep-O-Rama and Peepland with



their two storey facades and profusion of lights and neon or the more innocuous and more modest single level storefronts of Super Video and the Adult Video store, the sex shop facade shares many common features.Timessquare3 The facade is characterized by both a degree of opacity and extreme visibility produced by the cacophonous nature of the flashing lights and neon. One rarely see into these establishments except through an open door. Portions of the facade usually the windows reflect the possible patron like a mirror as at Peep-O-Rama.



This opaque surface encapsulates the simultaneous, yet primary functions of the facade in terms of concealment and revelation. While serving to insure customer privacy, its opacity enables the facade to act as a screen of information. Instead of images (the main products of these stores), the facade is composed of words in neon or printed letters which are inscribed on the surface of the building. It becomes a blank slate on which information is written (of course pornographic images could not be displayed) in order to announce to potential customers in an optically dynamic fashion the merchandise and services offered by the establishment.


This information includes types of products such as videos, magazines and sex toys, the “bargain” prices of such products and the hours of operation. The storefront also includes details about the services of the emporium such as peep booths and their features such as number of available channels, price and the availability to see your peep booth neighbor in gay “Buddy Booths”, the presentation of live shows of nude girls and the presence of special male sections for gay men.




Although the nine facades examined contain this information, the listing of different categories of videos available for both purchase and individual viewing in a peep booth appears to be the most prominent and consistent feature of the storefronts. A brief description of Peep-O-Rama will serve as a model to illustrate this point. In addition, this description will begin a discussion of the sex storefront as a kind of textual corporeal geography.


The street level facade of Peep-O-Rama consists of a large projecting awning, two windows incorporating neon, an entrance and several other areas containing signage both above, below and to the side of the windows as well as around the doorway. A white sign with red and blue letters located to the left of the windows insures the viewer of getting a good bargain on the latest videos available. It also list three types of video: “Male (meaning gay), Anal and Bondage”.

The window next to the entrance lists four classifications in green,Timessquare1C red and blue neon: “European, Bisexual, Male, S&M”. This list ends with an “etc.” suggesting that the store holds an infinite variety of sexual choices. This suggestion is underlined by the left window which advertises the “64 selections” obtainable in the store’s peep booths.

The narrow blue and white sign running the length above the windows and the entrance promotes again the competitive pricingTimessquare1B of the store and the continuing availability of new video products and describes four kind of videos in stock: “European, Oriental, Spanish, Amateure (sic)”.

The white signs with the red and blue lettering located on the right of


the doorway like the others continue to exhort the bargain prices and new selections offered by the store as well as registering various video subjects such as “European, Japanese, Oriental, Big Boobs, Male and She Male”. The other storefronts examined contain some of the categories found on the facade of Peep-O-Rama as well as others such as “Brazil, Lesbian, Gay, Hardcore, Female, Danish, French, Sweden, Straight, Kinky, Fetish.”

Timessquare3 Timessquare4B Timessquare5AOn the (almost) flat surface of the sex shop facade the geography of space suggested by the designations “European, Spanish, Japanese, Oriental” is metaphorically flattened and conflated with the geography of the body. This conflation transpires through the inscription of specific body parts (Big Boobs, Anal), distinct corporeal structures (She Male, Male, Bisexual) as well as different erotic actions practiced by these structures and specific behaviors involving the body (Bondage, S&M) which in turn produces other body types and evokes somatic areas beyond the genitals.

However, the sex shop facade does not map a single, unified body with a distinguishable sex, gender and desire, but rather it produces a series of separate, although interrelated bodies all which exist on the plane of the storefront. The flatness of the building face maps the body, yet simultaneously it fragments this body into a myriad of parts, desires and identities producing many bodies. Indeed, the 64 selections available at Peep-O-Rama, the 32 selections at Peep Show Center, the 84 selectionsTimessquare6B at Peepland or the 128 selections at The Playground suggest an infinite production of different bodies, acts and desires.

Similarly the consistent emphasis on new releases found on all the facades further underlines this notion of fragmentation through an endless production of ever “new” bodies, practices and desires. Moreover, the use of “etc” at the end of a list of video categories serves to stress the inexhaustible supply of bodies, behaviors and desires which can be produced and needs to be produced by pornography and its architectural manifestation on the sex shop facade.

One could suggest that this infinite multiplication of bodies, practices and desires precipitates a horizontalization of sexuality, replacing a hierarchy of identity and desire with a flat and boundless plane on which all positions can exist simultaneously without value or privilege. The formal elements of the facade appear to support such a contention. No hierarchy can be determined from the placement of sexual classifications on the storefront. The signage is not distinguished in any noticeable or qualitative way in relation to size, shape or color neon or print lettering which would produce a coherent system of value. For instance, the facade of Peep-O-Rama possesses a piecemeal quality which disrupts any notion of judgment or value-laden ordering.

Similarly, albeit in a more orderly format Super Video displays Timessquare3 the bodies and pleasures of its video categories in its main sign and awning in a uniform and decidedly horizontal format which negates any attempt to privilege one body or practice over another. Any body, desire or act can be consumed for $3.99 per video of 25 cents for approximately 30 seconds of viewing time. Hence, the porn facade can be understood as undermining a system of sexuality in which heterosexuality comprises the standard that defines and devalues every other sexual position.

The multiple bodies and pleasures inscribed on the facade of the sex emporium can be enumerated in terms of Jean Baudrillard’s concept of transsexuality. For Baudrillard, transsexuality serves as a model for postmodern sexuality itself and not a discrete individual who exchanges one set of genitals for another. Explaining the concept of transsexuality, he states:

The transsexual is based on artifice whether it is a question of anatomy (changing sex) or a question of variations of dress, gestural or morphological codes which are characteristics of transvestites. In all cases, whether it is a surgical process or transvestism, it is a question of artifice. Today the destiny of the body is to become a prosthesis; it is therefore logical that the model of sexuality may become transsexuality and that transsexuality becomes everywhere the place and space of seduction. (Jean Baudrillard, Jean Baudrillard: The Disappearance of Art and Politics, p. 20.)

The bodies offered by the sex shop facade become in the sense of Baudrillard a series of prostheses which a potential customer/viewer can exchange in an inexhaustible play of desire just as the transvestite can wear a piece of clothing or the transsexual can change his/her anatomy. The textual bodies of the exterior and the video bodies of the interior are artificial corporeal parts that one can wear like clothing and continually exchange into infinity.

The notion of circulation implicit in Baudrillard’s model of transsexuality resonates with the multiple channels available within the peep booths of the sex emporium and the external advertisement of this feature. The multi-channel peep booth suggests a fluid sexuality of movement. A decisive social and historical event for Baudrillard in the progression towards a sexuality of circulation and transsexuality is the sexual revolution. He states:

The sexual revolution, by liberating all the virtualities of desire leads to this fundamental interrogation: Am I a man or a woman?…The liberation of sex will have the effect of sending everybody on a quest for their “gender”, their generic and sexual identity, with fewer and fewer possible answers given the circulation of signs and the multiplicity of pleasures. It is thus that we suddenly become transsexuals. (Jean Baudrillard, p. 21.)

For Baudrillard, sexual liberation enabled a profusion of sexual identities to exist which had previously been socially sanctioned through the medical and legal system. Yet, the abundance of designations produced, the ever increasing “multiplicity of pleasures” and the ever greater splitting of sexual distinctions has had the effect according to Baudrillard of collapsing the stability and boundaries of any sexual identity, thereby denying the ability of anyone to occupy one position. It is in the sense that we are all transsexuals.

Thus, the delineation of discrete bodies and pleasures of the porn facade cannot secure sexual boundaries and hierarchies. Rather it subverts them by the multiplication of these desires and bodies- the neon “etc” of Peep-O-Rama. Similarly, on the endless peep booth channels, one can fluidity circulate through the somatic pleasures and their practionners on display become a Baudrillardian transsexual.

Furthermore, some peep booths possess the so-called “Quad System” in which patron can view four different videos at the Timessquare8A same time. One image is the size of a medium television screen and the three remaining images are small postcard size insets located on the side of the main screen. The spectator can switch


back and forth between the images in order to enlarge one or continue to move through the remaining number of channels. Whatever his choice, the viewer will always see four different images simultaneously. Such a system like the facade conceptualizes the model of transsexuality in which a viewer can freely circulate between bodies and pleasures without ever remaining in one position.

Although the transsexual model of postmodern sexuality advanced by Baudrillard is strategically useful in discussing the production and display of the body and pleasure on the sex shop facade as a disruption of the heterosexual hierarchy of desire, this concept simultaneously denies social and cultural forces which maintain and continually reassert this very hierarchy. The transsexual model must be considered a utopian project because it does not acknowledge the actual lived experiences of those individuals who practice a desire outside of the heterosexual paradigm and the sometimes punishment which is ensured by such behavior.

One could also argue that this regulation of the public sphere is distinctly masculine in character and functions to restrict movement of women within the urban space. Times Square and its sex shops are distinctly a space of male desire, both gay and straight, which excludes the presence of women through their objectification in pornography. Who possesses the privilege to become a transsexual? Who holds the privilege to subvert sexual boundaries and the heterosexual hierarchy of desire, only to resecure these boundaries and the dominance of heterosexuality after their transsexual journey?

To answer these questions, I again want to examine the discourse on Times Square and sex shops found within four reports which called for the revitalization of this urban area. I want to suggest that these reports maintain the boundaries of sexuality and the heterosexual hierarchy of desire. These four reports reassert heterosexual mastery within the Times Square area and urban space in general by deploying an isomorphic discourse between the body and the city. This isomorphic relation is expressed through a model of disease in which sex-related businesses are conceptualized as a type of virus which has defiled Times Square. According to these studies, the redevelopment and subsequent removal of pornography establishments will render the area healthy once again.

In her essay “Bodies/Cities”, Elizabeth Grosz formulates two important criticisms of this parallelism between the body and the city which are useful in discussing the redevelopment “disease” discourse of Times Square, in addition to the function of sex shops and their facades within that discourse as well as in this urban space.

Grosz asks if the city is like a body, then what is the sex of that body? Not surprisingly, she concludes that the is body is indeed a male body. I would add that this body is also heterosexual. Such a conception of the body of the city is clearly illustrated in a large mural surrounded by flashing lights which comprises the upper register of the facade of Fun City. Against a midnight blueTimessquare7B sky with white stars and a yellow crescent moon, a schematic rendering of the New York skyline is drawn in white. ThreeTimessquare7A architectural landmarks are easily recognizable in the drawing: the Empire State Building, the Citicorp building and the Chrysler building while the other building are more generic urban structures.

A dark haired woman who wears a pink bathing suit and high-heeled shoes is perched on the yellow crescent moon. With her arms behind her buttocks causing her large breasts to be thrust forward, she exhibits a decidedly sexual posture of female availability and passivity. Her posture and her placement on the curving shape of the crescent moon stands in strong contrast to the masculine, phallic nature of the skyscrapers and the other buildings whose myriad of windows seem like a thousand male eyes gazing at this lunar woman. This image asserts a traditional notion of women as passive, as nature to the active, cultural (architectural) activity of men.

A 1978 City University of New York Graduate School study of West Forty-Second Street and by association Times Square entitled West 42nd Street: The Bright Light Zone acknowledged directly the male heterosexual character of this area. In the study the area is described as “largely a male territory…a man’s world of sex shops, action movies and retail stores which cater to primarily male tastes”(p. 24.) According to the report, however, it was first and foremost pornography which maintained the masculinity of the area and kept women form entering this space in large numbers. It states. “Women avoid the blatant female exploitation so evident along Forty-Second Street and Eighth Avenue” (p. 3.) In order to equalize this imbalance, the study advocated a renewal of the area which would replace the sex shops with “forms of legitimate entertainment.”(p. 3.)

Such a solution seems to replace a visible form of male heterosexual hegemony (porn shops) with a more opaque form of male heterosexual control of urban space. Perhaps a better, albeit fantastical solution to this problem would be for women to begin to participate in and be allowed to partake in the sex trade of Times Square and West Forty-Second Street.

Such actions would be more disruptive of our entire gender and sexuality precipitating the subversion of traditional notions of women, femininity and sex. Such a conclusion is supported by the observations of filmmaker Bette Gordon regarding her visits to porn shops. She states:

I’d go into a (porn) store, walk down an aisle where there were a lot of magazines and only male customers. The minute that I physically inhabited the same space as them in the porn store, the guys moved away from me. They couldn’t deal with a woman except as an object on the page. It was interesting because I felt a kind of bizarre power. That my presence made these guys uncomfortable gave me satisfaction. (Bette Gordon and Karyn Kay in Dirty Looks: Women, Pornography, Power, p. 93.)

By intervening in the male space of the sex emporium Gordon is able to disrupt the seamless discourse of male heterosexual supremacy produced within pornography as well as the heterosexual dominance of the public sphere.

The second criticism of the body/city parallelism posited by Grosz concerns its political function. She contends:

It (the body/city parallelism) serves to provide a justification for various forms of “ideal” government and social organization through a process of “naturalization”: the human body is a natural form of organization which functions not only for the good of each organ but primarily for the good of the whole. Similarly, the body politic, whatever form it may take, justifies and naturalizes itself with reference to some form of hierarchical organization modeled on the (presumed and projected) structure of the body.(Grosz, p. 247.)

The process of naturalization occurs in the redevelopment discourse of Times Square and West Forty-Second Street through its model of disease. Within this discourse, pornography and its consumers are understood as a type of infection which has invaded a once vital and central part of the city and like a diseased organ it threatens the body/city as a whole. The site of the virus is the sex shop and it elimination will render not only the area of Times Square healthy, but also the entire city. In order to precipitate its own justification and naturalization this discourse refers to the heterosexual hierarchy of desire in which the very bodies of the individuals who practice non-heterosexual desire are pathologized and characterized to be the embodiment of disease. This understanding is particularly virulent since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. The discourse of AIDS has continually conflated the disease with male same-sex practice as if the (homosexual) body was constitutive of the very disease itself.

The implicit use of the heterosexual hierarchy of desire in conjunction with the explicit deployment of the disease model within the redevelopment discourse additionally serves to secure the paradigm of heterosexuality. One could suggest that this naturalization is a function of the sex shop emporium facade. Out of the nine stores examined only one store, Peep Show Center, lists “straight” as a category on its exterior.

In a sense, the other facades by listing sexual behaviors and pleasures outside of heterosexuality only serve to confirm the normalcy, naturalness and invisibility of heterosexuality. The center can only exist if it continually defines its margins. The storefront of the porn store takes part in this continual definition of heterosexuality by its very absence. Such a conclusion is further underlined by the understanding of Times Square and West Forty-Second Street as a sex zone, a separate sphere where “deviant” sexualities are allowed to exist allow under constant scrutiny and attack. The production of a public sphere of illicit sexuality with defined borders only serves to secure the dominance of heterosexuality in other parts of the city.

The naturalization of heterosexuality that I contend occurs on the porn emporium facade and the support of this naturalization through the discourse of redevelopment counters Baudrillard’s concept of transsexuality in which the proliferation of classifications of desire and sexual identities produces a horizontalization of the dominant hierarchy of desire. For Baudrillard all positions possess equal value and thus no value. Everything is flat, available for 25 cents for thirty seconds or $3.99 for an hour long video.

In contrast to Baudrillard, the French philosopher Michel Foucault has interpreted the proliferation of sexual positions and pleasures and the targeting of those positions and pleasures as sites of investigation for the medical establishment as a kind of prop which enables the centrality of heterosexuality. He argues that new sexualities such as homosexuality which were produced in a sense by nineteenth century medical discourse was:

not so much the enemy as a support; it may have been designated as the evil to be eliminated, but the extraordinary effort that went into the task that was bound to fail leads one to suspect that what was demanded of it was to persevere, to proliferate to the limits of the visible and invisible, rather than disappear for good. Always relying on this support, power advanced, multiplied its relays and effects while its target expanded, subdivided, and branched out, penetrating further into reality at the same pace. (Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, p. 42.)

The examination and codification of “deviant” sexual identities by the medical establishment in the late nineteenth century served to naturalize the privileged position of heterosexuality. Repression and elimination (though with real life consequences) were never the goal of these efforts, but rather ever expanding proliferation. Within the discourse of sexuality, heterosexuality was and still remains the invisible term which never requires explanation or definition because it is supposedly natural, self-evident and ahistorical.

Sex shops maintain this invisibility through the codification and reification of the fringes of desire by literally writing this desire onto their exterior. Thus, S&M, Fetish, Kinky, Male (Gay), and Lesbian are inscribed on the storefront surface. Although absent, heterosexuality is always, everywhere present through its production of these “perverse” sexualities. Paradoxically, the sex zone of Times Square and the porn facade are both the site of male heterosexual “transsexuality” as well as the structure which confirms his desire and gives him the privilege of a fluid sexuality.

Therefore, the control of sexuality by the repressive measures (in a sense false, yet with very real consequences) of the medical and legal establishment has been replaced by pornography, the images beyond the facade, which become as Foucault states, “a form of control by stimulation.” (Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge, p. 56.) One site of this stimulation is the facade of the porn store with its flashing lights, glittering neon andTimessquare2C tantalizing menu of the internal pleasures available to the (male heterosexual) customer. The storefront serves to exclude women through its spectacular display and confirmation of male desire and female objectification as in the Fun City mural. It reinforces the masculinity of public space and reasserts traditional notions of the woman as a site of sexual consumption rather than as a participant within that very consumption.

The work of Celeste Olalquiaga in her book Megalopolis on the nature of the contemporary urban experience offers a further perspective on the two poles of interpretation which I have offered regarding the signification of the sex emporium facade: the transsexuality of Baudrillard and the control by stimulation of Foucault. Olalquiaga’s notions of contemporary city life problematize both of these interpretations and suggests that the facade of the porn shop and the images which lie beyond it perhaps shift between these positions.

Olalquiaga characterizes current urban life as increasingly pervaded by technology oscillating between a simulative mode of experience and a referential mode. In the referential mode, signification is produced through indexicality. Signs achieve meaning from a clearly defined system of categories and hierarchies.

On the other hand, in simulation meaning is attained through the media which negates any categorical or hierarchical distinctions. One needs only to consider how the proliferation and rapid dissemination of images and texts has collapsed temporal, geographical and even physical distinctions. Pornography is a primary example of this collapse. To an even greater extent the body fuses with the technology of pornography mainly in terms of video, but also with phone and computer sex. The body looks to its own representation for meaning rather than to actual bodies. Therefore, in contrast to reference, in simulation signs derive their signification from one another. In other words, “rather than pointing to first degree references (objects/events) simulation looks at representations of them (images/text) for verisimilitude.”(Olalquiaga, pp. xix, 6.)

In addition to understanding the media of pornography as a form of simulation, a referential loss in terms of the body, Olalquiaga also perceives contemporary urban architecture and space as manifesting this loss in terms of temporal and spatial perception. Describing the experience of this architecture and its setting, she states:

Casting a hologramlike aesthetic, contemporary architecture displays an urban continuum where buildings are seen to disappear behind reflections of the sky or merge into one another…Any sense of freedom gained by the absence of the clearly marked boundaries, however, is soon lost to the reproduction ad infinitum of space- a hall of mirrors in which passersby are dizzied into total oblivion.(Olalquiaga, p. 2.)

The facade of the porn establishment, I believe, fuses both the referential loss of architecture described by Olalquiaga and the same loss of the body found within pornography particularly within the setting of Times Square which itself can be considered aTimessquare10 paradigm of simulation. Times Square is indeed a space of images. As on the facade of the porn store, the body is mapped by the fashion images of this urban area providing false and ideal corporeal models for its spectators. Moreover,


the images of Times Square self-reflexively concern the replication and manufacture of even more pictures and sounds in ads for film and sound recording for an ever expanding play of


intertexuality. Indeed, the centerpiece of this urban space is a large video screen. Within this urban space, technology fuses with the body precipitating its absence.



This somatic vanishing act occurs not only in the external space of Times Square, but also in the interior of the porn emporium as the spectator watches a video screen. Corporeal absence results from the very dynamic of pornographic spectatorship. Simulation in general for Olalquiaga possesses this dynamic in that “the boundaries between what is being watched and who is watching barely exist: performance and spectator fuse into one.”(Olalquiaga, p. 6.) This dynamic of referential loss and the dissolution of boundaries so that one’s identity is effaced appears to be at work on the exterior surface of the porn shop. On one level, somatic absence occurs on the facade as the body is fragmented and displaced by a series of words and positions which splinter identity into ever narrower meanings: Fetish, Kinky, S&M, Bondage, Bisexual so that such meanings have no value as is argued by Baudrillard.

This fragmentation is also precipitated by the reflective surfaces of the porn storefront. As one looks at the neon or printed signs of desire and practice in the windows of the porn store, one is Timessquare1C struck by the reflective, mirror-like nature of this experience. The body of the spectator becomes an image in the reflective glass of the sex emporium. This image is offered desires and behaviors which splinter his/her identity as the viewer moves through the various spaces of pleasure on the facade.


However, a qualification must be made to this conclusion. The facades are mainly composed of words instead of images. More than images, language possesses the ability to fix meaning, produce stable categories and secure hierarchies. Therefore, does the use of language on the porn facade instead of images control boundaries or support heterosexuality as suggested by Foucault? Or does the reflective nature of the facade, its collapsing of corporeal image and text disrupt borders of desire producing the Baudrillardian transsexual? Yet, even if this transsexual possibility exists, is it ultimately negated by the presence of the female body on the facade which stabilizes identity in male heterosexual subject and female object, and refusing the free play of transsexuality?


Furthermore, the facade concretizes the voyeuristic character of pornography. If the pornographic performance and the viewer merge together, which is the object and who is the subject? In a sense, both oscillate back and forth between these two positions. This movement between subject and object, between spectator and image is localized in the eye which appears on numerous sex shop storefronts. By association one could consider the 25 centsTimessquare6C symbol inscribed in a circle (usually in neon), a standard feature of all sex stores which have peep shows as a metaphoric eye or as an indexical sign, the site through which the eye can “peep” as in a keyhole for a modest fee.

Indeed such a correlation is supported by the facade of Peep Show where the red 25 cents neon sign is placed within a yellow neon eye. Does this eye, both symbolic and representational, simulate the eye of the viewer as he “peeps” at the pornographic image? Or is it the “eye” of pornography whichTimessquare9 sees the viewer providing sexual positions which efface his/her identity? Ultimately, does the eye express the “control by stimulation” as a sign of surveillance which monitors perverse sexuality in order to insure the command of heterosexuality?

The questions I have proposed above do not possess definite answers. If pressed to chose one side or another of the debate, I would be inclined to agree with Foucault and see the facades as a site which stabilizes heterosexuality. Yet, there exists I believe a potential for intervention of the kind advanced by filmmaker Bette Gordon which reveals an inherent instability of this subject/object dynamic.

Additionally, one might consider the role of “Male Sections” within the sex emporium and its advertisement on the facade. These sections challenge male heterosexuality, while simultaneously its separation enforces this position. It does nothing to change public urban space as the site of exclusive male desire. In the end perhaps, real intervention and disruption can only be attained through other pornographic mediums such as phone and computer sex where the complete absence of the body enables one to become a transsexual.

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