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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fifty Shades of Cultural Attitudes

My original idea for this blog was more about the advertising aspect of having an entire magazine dedicated to the Fifty Shades media phenomenon. Put out, this month, by Topix Media Lab, it’s kind of a glitzy one-off that has the “feel” of “Cosmopolitan” when Helen Gurley Brown was running the show.

And then I saw the timeline on page 18 that identified a “tiny ivory statuette with over-sized breasts and an exaggerated vulva” as a Naughty Neanderthal’s crafting of the first piece of prehistoric pornography.
I think I’m allowed to say vulva, here. I’m not on the Michigan statehouse floor where Rep. Lisa Brown has been banned from speaking because she uttered the word vagina and offended the men who were trying to legislate hers and everyone other woman's in that state. You don’t have to stop reading. I have a tiny soapbox and I’m onto another subject—sort of.

Trust me; I’m very happy that erotic romance has become a topic of conversation because of the popularity of E. L. James’, Fifty Shades of Grey novel but the magazine's attempt to identify the tiny, ivory statuette as a naughty Neanderthal’s first attempt at prehistoric pornography had me shaking my head.

The truth is, the ivory statuette is just as likely to be representative of a respectfully worshiped symbol of a female deity. Not a pornographic representation of the female form. Someone from some long ago, Paleolithic civilization might very well have carved the statuette with as much reverence as later, male-deity worshipers carved a Christian cross.

While researching this subject, I came across a 2009 Discovery News article; written by Jennifer Viegas, that I think might have been where the Fifty Shades magazine contributors gleaned the data for their assumption. According to the article, Nicholas Conard, who reported the find and led the project where the Venus of Hohle Fels (the statuette pictured in the article, listed below) was found, remarked that nothing had changed in 40,000 years. Dr. Paul Mellars, who according to the 2009 article; was at the time a University of Cambridge archaeologist at Stony Brook University’s Turkana Basin Institute, is quoted as saying that he assumed a guy had carved it-- “...perhaps representing his girlfriend”.

It seems Dr. Mellars couldn’t help but be struck by the very sexually explicit depiction of a woman and seems to be comparing the figurine to a Paleolithic Playboy. See the entire article here:

Author, Merlin Stone, in her 1976 book When God Was A Woman, gives the people during the Paleolithic period a little more credit and proposes a different picture. Women during this period were revered as the givers of life and recognized for their fertility but they were also warriors, sages, judges, healers and anything else they wanted to be. They didn’t need to ask for permission or wait for it to be bestowed upon them. 

The text in the Fifty Shades of Grey magazine identifying the ‘Naughty Neanderthal’ carving as pornographic was probably meant to be cute but the assumptions put forth by these men in the academic world makes me wonder if their two-thousand year-old, culturally ingrained attitudes didn’t influence their judgment.

What do you think?


Cindy Spencer Pape said...

Arrgh. Or it could have been a portrait of a beloved wife... I hate when people pretend to see inside the minds of other civilizations and immediately leap to the worst conclusion.

Paris said...

It is a peculiar mindset and one that has always puzzled me. Judging an ancient civilization by an modern code of conduct is just bizarre.

Tina Donahue said...

Granted I haven't read "50 Shades of Gray" - however, I am mystified as to why it's getting so much attention. I mean, women have been writing erotic romances and erotica for a really long time. No one seemed to notice it before now. Weird.

Paris said...

I haven't read the book either but I'm stunned at all of the attention its received. The reviews I've seen haven't been encouraging but my small town librarian had so many requests that we now have it in our library.

Katalina Leon said...

The 50 Shades phenomenon has me puzzled. No comment there.
But why do some some people see pornography where it does not exist?
I can likely imagine that ivory figurine was a talisman of protection or fertility most likely shared between female relatives.
In hard times with no medical support, death was ever present at a birth both for the mother and child. I would think these robust female figures were there as tokens of maternal protection and not pornography.
I'm not trying to place my mind in an ancient culture's mindset, but similar practices are common throughout the world today. This seems to be a human thing. When the going gets tough-women offer any type of support they can to each other.

Paris said...

Great minds think alike:) There are times when I think we could be twins, lol!

jean hart stewart said...

All very interesting. I don't think anyone had the right to say what some artist ages ago was thinking when he produced the statue. What arrogance!

Paris said...

I agree. The statue was probably an artistic expression based on whatever was going on in that culture at the time.

Jami Gold said...

Interesting! And a great observation about how current mindsets can affect our interpretation of history. Thanks for pointing it out!

As for why that book is so popular? Don't get me started. (I've written WAY too many blog posts about it.) :)

The short version: Take a popular book (Twilight), add a sex-based fan fiction (Master of the Universe--the free fanfic version of Fifty Shades) with its own huge following willing to post tons of Amazon reviews to manufacture a buzz, add one fanfic author willing to publish work that includes characters that don't belong to her (the simple name change she did) and utilize her mega-marketing background and connections (to a Today show producer and a popular NYC mommy blog) to land the original Today show spot, and voila! A seemingly from-the-ground-up-but-really-a-carefully-created-media-attack bestseller. Once it reached a tipping point, it was popular BECAUSE it was popular. :)

Paris said...


I knew about the fanfic thing but I didn't connect the Amazon buzz it created to the fact that it utilized an existing fan base. Interesting. Thanks for explaining this!

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