Does my bum look big enough in this?

Kim on cover of 'Paper' Magazine

 

The objectification of women as sexual objects is a subject that has generated a fair few hundred miles of column inches over the centuries. Nothing seems more calculated then, to raise the hackles of feminists, than the Royal Academy’s recently opened retrospective by 60’s artist Allen Jones. Jones took the objectification of women to a whole new level by portraying them as pieces of domestic furniture with distinctly erotic overtones.

'Table' - by Allen Jones

‘Table’ – by Allen Jones.

'Chair' - by Allen Jones

‘Chair’ – by Allen Jones

'Hatstand' - by Allen Jones

‘Hatstand’ – by Allen Jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, you can come up with all the arty-farty rationales you like (and Jones did, describing himself, without a hint of irony, as a ‘feminist’), but when you get down to ground zero, these artworks are a blatant appeal to the most basic sexual desire lurking at the heart of every man’s DNA. Men don’t buy The Sun for the quality of its journalism. I would bet that for every visitor to the Royal Academy admiring Jones’ sculptures for their conceptual import, there will be a hundred voyeurs enjoying a sexual thrill.

Controversy has always stalked erotic art. Manet’s Olympia – a full frontal painting of a naked prostitute reclining on a chaise longue – caused an uproar when it was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1865. But that was tame compared to Courbet’s The Origin of the World, exhibited the following year. Courbet’s close-up portrait of the genitals of a reclining woman with her legs spread wide would raise eyebrows even today. So perhaps we shouldn’t view the Allen Jones retrospective through the lens of our politically-correct modern zeitgeist, but as part of a much older and venerable tradition. Jones was after all painting in the ‘Swinging Sixties’ when political correctness hadn’t yet been invented.

While we’re on the subject, it can’t have escaped anyone’s attention that one particular lady’s appendages have loomed larger than most over the past fortnight. To feminists’ chagrin the world over, there’s hardly been a web page without a picture of Kim Kardashian’s prominent figure begging men to click and explore.

In her now famous attempt to ‘Break the Internet’, Kardashian recently appeared on the cover of Paper magazine balancing a glass of champagne on her shelf-like butt. A few days later she was photographed in probably the tightest plastic dress this side of Mars Attacks, as she stepped out to promote her new fragrance at the Spice Market in Melbourne. Of course, we all know the thing that Kardashian was really promoting was herself. Or to put it more accurately, the figure on which her fame and fortune has been built.

Kim balancing bubbly on her butt

Writing for Time magazine, pop-culture junkie Brian Moylan described Kim’s butt as an ‘empty promise’. At the end of the day, he argues, she’s just a walking backside. A fairly handsome one, true, depending on your persuasion, but just a pair of buttocks. Which makes the frenzy she is able to create just by flaunting it in our faces worthy of comment. Men, it seems, are just prisoners of our DNA. We can’t help ourselves. “We fall for the trap every damn time.”

Kardashian’s rear has been provoking a mixed response in the media. The New York Times, in a column entitled “Fear of Kim Kardashian’s Derriere,” joked that it had gone more viral than the ice-bucket challenge, raising the terrifying spectre of copycat asses spreading like a virus as impressionable women lined up outside cosmetic surgeons to pick their ass from a brochure. “I’ll have the Kim.” It conjured up dystopian visions of pedestrians being barged off futuristic sidewalks by big-butted behemoths, under the wheels of passing juggernauts. Maybe we’ll need special ‘Butt lanes’ painting on our pavements soon.

Vanity Fair meanwhile, reported how one enterprising company which produced prep materials for schoolkids studying maths, incorporated questions about Kim’s perfectly rotund rear end into a geometry-related test paper. Way to go.

Kim’s ass apparently even spawned a new word, the ‘belfie’, when she took a picture of it in a mirror on her cell phone, and nearly took down Twitter in the process. Rumour has it she’s going to have an artistic mould made of it, as a gift to her man, luckiest dude on the planet Kayne West.

Kim in a pink plastic dress

 

Coming full circle, can I leave you to ponder this troubling thought? That Kim Kardashian’s ass may be the 21st Century equivalent of a work of modern art. That was a question also floated by BBC art critic Will Gompertz in his blog. When you compare the image of Kim balancing a flute of bubbly on her booty to Allen Jones’ ‘Table’ of 1969, the notion isn’t as far-fetched as it seems. Maybe, like Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, Kim Kardashian is really an artistic genius. She knows exactly what she’s doing. Men are her audience, and she knows how to work us. We should know better but we can’t help ourselves. Perhaps I should leave almost the last word to Moylan:

“Kim Kardashian’s butt is the biological equivalent of click-bait. We can’t help but pay attention to it, but we’re always upset by the lack of substance. We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not. Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.” I’ll drink to that.

In fact, to honour Kim’s awesome ass, I wrote this poem, called ‘Does my bum look big enough in this?’ Hope you like it.

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Free poem, on the house

Free poem, on the house

Here’s a poem I first published in 2012, called I.E.D., which is short for Improvised Explosive Device.

It’s about how men are often rendered powerless by a woman’s beauty.

It’s based on an actual woman I saw one lunchtime, in the car park of my local Sainsbury’s.

The war had been raging in Afghanistan for over a decade, and IED’s had become a part of the common language.

Combining those two things – the power of a woman’s beauty, and the improvised explosive device – both capable of taking a man down in their different ways, gave me the idea for the poem.

Hope you like it, here it is:

I.E.D.

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Bad day at the office 6

Bad day at the office 6

 

“Why should I let the toad work

Squat on my life?”

 

The opening couplet from Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Toads’ never fails to bring a smile of recognition to my face, as I suspect it does to millions of other readers stuck in jobs they hate, feeling their lives ebbing away like sand in an hour-glass. I was thinking about it today as I stared out the window in a meeting at Cash Cowboy Towers, trying to tune out the assertive ‘presentation’ voice of my boss Norman Shylock, who heads up our Online Marketing Bullshit Division. Shylock was taking us through his Q4 plans to advertise our new General Insurance offer in the digital space. Online, to you and me. Banner ads. Cheap and tacky ones. Nothing fancy like rich media, god forbid, with its hefty agency price tag. Mostly just four or five static frames apiece with OTT branding and a logo as big as the moon. The campaign, if that’s not stretching it, which had begun life as a suite of tightly-written humorous banners, skyscrapers and MPUs based around the theme of ‘shit happens’, had been metamorphosed into corporate wallpaper by Shylock and his boss Dick Holder, our Chief Marketing Officer. As usual Dick had personally ‘re-crafted’ the copy (i.e. dipped it in a cesspit of liquefied human turds), building in just about every tired insurance cliché and pun from the hackneyed handbook of crap copywriting. The ads blowed so hard that all my guys in the Studio now disowned ever having anything to do with them.

That’s how it goes at UK Cash Cowboys. Good creatives create great creative then corporate assholes like Dick suck all the life out of it, until it’s DOA. It pays the mortgage but slowly poisons the soul of any self-respecting copywriter. Most of our good ones walk out after six months. Zola, the latest to go, only lasted three. I came back to my desk after lunch last week and found a post-it note stuck to my screen saying “I resign, bye!” That was her resignation letter, in fluorescent pink, three inches square. Kinda classy exit, I thought. Fucked up Dick’s and Shylock’s day no end, which made it doubly awesome as far as I was concerned. Go Zola.

As Shylock fired up his deck on the wall monitor, taking the meeting through every frame of every ad, I opened my notebook and began writing a poem. I often do this in office meetings at UKCC. It helps block out the asphyxiating sense of claustrophobia I feel as life ticks by in a room of eager-to-impress corporate toadies trotting out mindless business prattle about the square root of jack shit. In fact I think some of my best poetry has begun its life in these daily planning and production meetings. The company thinks it owns my ass because it pushes me around from 9 to 5, but these secret little victories are my way of giving it the finger behind its back. Big time. Up yours Cleopatra LeGrande, and your tawdry little sweat shop of rip-off financial products that go by the name of UK Cash Cowboys. Eat my shorts.

The trick to writing fiction on the company’s time is to glance up every couple of minutes to make it look as if you’re taking notes. Ask the occasional question so they think you’re listening to the alien business-jarg gushing from their oh so earnest mouths. Pretty soon I had the bare bones of a five-verse lament on the theme of how work sucks. When I was done I scribbled the title across the top, ‘Bad day at the office 6’. In case you’re wondering, it shares the same title with 5 other poems. It’s a real fun place to work, here at the Cowboys. Here it is, anyway. It’s still pretty rough, but I think there’s something I could work on:

 

Bad day at the office 6

 

Is this it? Is this all there is?

All life has to offer?

9 to 5, Monday to Friday

From sixteen to sixty-five?

 

Ordered around by a bunch of jerks

Who can’t get an erection

Unless they’re squashing someone’s face

Under their corporate jackboot?

 

Being stuck in the wrong job, is like

Being stuck in the wrong relationship

A waste of a life

And you only get the one of those

 

God really screwed up when he made this species

Every other creature in nature is free

We’re the only ones

Who have voluntarily enslaved ourselves

 

Human beings are supposed to be

Earth’s most advanced life-form

Come and work at UK Cash Cowboys for a few days

And tell me you believe that

 

Okay, it needs work, and it’s a bit negative I’ll confess. Yes I know I’m supposed to offer an uplifting alternative like telling your boss where to shove his job and walking out and becoming a free spirit, but I wanted to keep it real. Reality for most people means they can’t afford to chuck their livelihoods because capitalism has them by the balls.

This thought brought to mind another famous poem of Philip Larkin’s, called ‘This Be The Verse’. It’s the one everybody knows. The one which opens with the immortal line, “They fuck you up, your mum and dad”. The poem laments how each generation is doomed to repeat the mistakes of their forebears. The final verse, ostensibly a rejection of parenthood – perhaps of life itself – can also be read as a rejection of the rat race and the sense of emasculation that comes from having to conform to societal norms like working the 9 to 5, getting a mortgage, raising a family etc. It’s the trade-off we all make to fit in, the tab society makes us pay to afford the lifestyles we crave, even though it enslaves us, robbing us of the time to enjoy them.

 

“Man hands on misery to man

It deepens like a coastal shelf

Get out as early as you can

And don’t have any kids yourself”

 

I suspect Larkin would never have written that last line about ‘kids’ if he’d had any. I used to think like that until my own son came along. The experience was like a light being switched on in my life, and I discovered a new level of love I never even knew existed. Nothing could even come close to the happiness my son has brought into my life. I suspect most parents feel the same. You’d die for your kids, you really would. They add to your life, not take away from it. Your children become the most important thing in your world, the reason you keep going when times get tough. Which I guess is Larkin’s point, because kids also bring responsibilities. You need a house they can call home, there are bills to pay, mouths to feed. Hence we all end up breaking rocks for psychotic corporate despots like Cleopatra LeGrande, at chain-gangs like UK Cash Cowboys. To get to heaven you have to go through hell.

Anyhow, I’d say that pretty much sums up where I’m at in the job satisfaction stakes right now. Screwed. To get the whole lowdown on how awful it is to work at a slave-labour joint like the Cowboys you’d need to read a few of the stories and poems in my collected fiction, Sex on the Brain. As a taster, here’s the opening page or two from ‘The Blonde Bombshell’, a short story about meeting Marilyn Monroe which begins with a few reflections about life at the Cowboys. Hope you enjoy it. If you do you can catch the whole story and many more like it in Sex on the Brain, at Amazon or Smashwords.

 

Excerpt from ‘The Blonde Bombshell’ by Frank Bukowski

“Dick’s the name. Dick Draper. Campaign Manager, UK Cash Cowboys. When I tell people I work in advertising their reaction is always the same. That must be fun. Sure, I say, if it wasn’t for all the corporate fuckwits with egos the size of their salaries who think they’re advertising geniuses. Take my boss Dick Holder, the Chief Marketing Officer. Yeah, another Dick. UK Cash Cowboys is full of dicks. Corporate dicks. Dick Holder is the Chief Dick. Oh sorry, Chief Marketing Dick. I use the term advisedly. He personally wrote one of our company straplines: Saddled with debt? Call UK Cash Cowboys. Genius. Really he’s an accountant who sucked the CEO’s dick until she gave him the Marketing function. That’s right, Cleopatra LeGrande, our CEO. She’s a woman, and she has a dick. Go figure. Two dicks. Her own dick, and Dick Holder. Two-Dicks LeGrande. She’s got more dicks than a man.

Dick Holder’s critique of an ad usually goes something like this.

1. How big’s the logo? The logo is our penis. Small ones suck.

2. Are our telephone number and URL large enough to be read by the legally blind, from outer space?

3. Are we making any outrageously extravagant product claims? If not, why not?

Getting a handle on Dick yet? The guy’s a walking ego, just like LeGrande. He’s a corporate cliché in a suit, she’s a cyborg. Dick wouldn’t know a decent ad if it climbed inside his pin-stripe pants and blew a tune on his custard cannon. His average day is like one big Morris dance of spreadsheets, decks, matrixes, committee meetings, compliance meetings, crisis meets, fire-storming, conf calls, shrink tanks, drainstorms, blame-storms, table-bang sessions, envelope-pushes, grey-sky meetings, meetings to discuss the agendas of future meetings, meetings to review the minutes of previous meetings. That’s why the UK economy is so fucked. Too many dicks. Nothing ever gets done. They’re too busy having meetings. Nobody can make a decision any more. Nobody dare. Send an email instead. Sit on the fence. Get a second opinion. Run it by a think tank. Put it out to research. Get the buy-in of key stakeholders. What does the CEO think? Set up a meeting. Better still, a committee!

Me and my marketing buddy Frank Bukowski often play bullshit bingo in these jolly gatherings, see who can check off the most ‘Holderisms’. A Holderism is complete and utter corporate bollocks. Dick Holder talks it all the time. Here’s my list from yesterday’s grey-sky. Rain-check… understand the deliverables… prioritise categories… I’m in a place where… co-ordinate our team-driven mindshare… test the paradigm shift… is it backwards-compatible… let’s put it into research… due diligence… accountability is paramount… the need to monetize… can we operationalize it… ducks in a row… the bottom line…

Yeah, advertising is fun all right. So funny I want to kill myself.

It’s easy to lose a sense of life’s purpose when you work for people like Dick and Two-Dicks LeGrande, at a dump like UK Cash Cowboys. When all you seem to do is drag your ass out of bed, go to work, take it up the chocolate starfish all day then limp home to sleep. Week in, week out, year after year. Especially in the north where winter rations the daylight to a few measly hours. The nine to five. And you do it every day until you retire. Then you die. Simples. No wonder old people go insane.

Nietzsche had this theory that madness is rare in individuals, but in groups, in cities, nations and political systems, it is the rule. He should come and work at UK Cash Cowboys for a week. My own personal sanity regime involves swimming. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday lunchtime I escape down the local pool. It’s not much, but it stops me taking out a shotgun licence. I put in twenty, sometimes thirty lengths, working my arms, legs, lungs, every muscle I got. If you get the breathing right you slip into this rhythm. It’s like, an almost meditative experience. Ying yang. Bing bong. Elemental shit. As far away from my desk as the moon. I sometimes think swimming pools would be almost spiritual places if it wasn’t for the women. It only takes two or three good looking ones in there and I go back to work more fucked up than I left.

I took up the cycling last spring. My friend Peggy gave me a mountain bike he won in a competition. He got a phone call from outer space. They said he’d won a prize. It might be a Caribbean cruise. A mountain bike. Or a nickel plated corkscrew. All he had to do was call the number and stay on the line pushing buttons and answering questions for fifteen years and they’d tell him which prize. It was too bad for Peggy. He got the mountain bike. Dick, he says, take the frickin thing, what am I gonna do with a mountain bike, I’ve only got one leg.

It’s not hard to get hooked on cycling. All that fresh air and exercise. Okay, it’s not swimming, but it whacks pounding the treadmill in a sweaty gym surrounded by all those lycra-clad thighs and boobs. Not to mention all the ripped guys with their Buzz Lightyear chins and Popeye the Sailor vests, making their moves in front of the mirrors. Cracking their pub minder necks. Bulging with rivers of steroids through inch-high veins, oiled and glistening like something from a porno film. Cycling don’t got none of that shit. It’s just you and the road. The sun on your face. The rain reminding you you’re alive. A crow wending across the horizon. A fox emerging from a wood at dusk. Ointment for the soul, my friend. Whoever said the city was an asphalt jungle sure got that right. My last girlfriend had this theory over my fucked upness. She put my big sex drive down to this connection I have with the animals. She’s like, when you fuck me, it’s like you turn into this dog. And I’m like, and? She looked it up in a book, said it was some weird shit called atavism. This buzz you get from being around nature, like some witchdoctor shaman deal. Apparently it goes back to our ancient ancestors. Cave time. When they didn’t got no cars or churches or microwave ovens. No income tax returns to fill in. No printer cartridges to change. No barbed wire. No anthrax or Zyclon B. All they did was eat and drink and have sex pretty much non-stop. I feel a strong connection coming through from that world. It’s like, how did we fuck that one up?

So, I was out on my early morning cycle ride. I was running late. I’d overslept and was peddling like a maniac through the village of Docking. I had fifty minutes to get back home, shower and drive in to work. Suddenly there she was, standing in the gravel driveway of this house, talking to a neighbour over the fence. You couldn’t miss her. She was like a traffic light. Her breasts lifted her tee shirt six inches from her body. The kind of breasts that stopped traffic. She had on these riding britches that looked so tight they had to be sewn on. When she turned in my direction I was like, no fucking way.

You know that saying that goes, ‘she looked just like so and so’? Well this lady didn’t look like nobody. She wasn’t even anyone’s identical twin sister. She WAS Marilyn Monroe. Oh hi, she said, in that trademark babydoll voice as I rode past, giving me the famous Hollywood smile.

If you’d like to read the rest of ‘The Blonde Bombshell’, or any of the other stories or poems from Sex on the Brain, you can pick up a copy for hardly more than the price of a coffee at Amazon or Smashwords.

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