As part of an ongoing series I have been thinking about words that I hear in everyday speech and writing, and I think about how they have a specific location in our contemporary context, both in terms of being located in the English langauge, and being as signifiers of things in our time and that I hope one day will look like a bit of a commentary of our society (and its decline). I’ve talked about unnecessary words in the past, so….
Using ‘man’ as a prefix (or, the man-portmanteau)
(advisory: mention of eating disorders)
For some reason I found the show Will and Grace on tv the other day. I remember thinking how edgy it used to be with all the gay culture allusions and how edgy it was with all the double-entendres. But then I realised when I watched it I was an impressionable teenaged girl and many things seemed edgy when they actually weren’t. I remember recently watching this particular episode where the character Jack appeared to be sad about a relationship breakup, and said something to the effect that he was a manorexic. I then felt very icky about how I used to like the show and how deeply troubling it was to make a gag like that.
I often hear uses of the word -man used in a portmanteau fashion. A portmanteau is is a combination of words that don’t conventionally go together. Usually this is as a way of trying to show some significance of the newness of a combination, or it may be affectionate, or it is an ad-hoc way of trying to explicate what one means. Some portmanteaus however have gained common currency and are recognised beyond an ad hoc usage, like ‘chillax’.
The man-portmanteau (see what I did there?) is often used as a diminutive variation of an already existent word, or something that triest to make a phenomenon more masculine. ‘Manorexic’ is sometimes used in a demeaning way to look at anorexia, sometimes it is used in a non-serious way and in a growing usage acknowledging male eating disorders, it is sometimes used in a serious way. Other examples of using a man-prefix/man-portmanteau include:
- Man cave
- Man flu
- Man bag
The use of these prefixes seem to communicate quite different things. Something like man-scaping, mankini or man- bag tries to communicate something that is by the distinction of having association with maleness, unusual. Other terms like man cave and mancession have very specific meanings. Man cave is usually associated with a cultural symbol of a boorish anti-domestic type or indulgent. Mancession refers to the way that economic conditions have influenced male dating behaviour and its effect on women looking for men. Much of these prefixed terms seem to communicate different aspects of masculinity: vain, boorish, immature or lackadaisical. I am ambivalent however as to whether these ascriptions are wholly negative.
Porn as an adjective
I’m trying to think a little bit systematically. I’ve heard the term ‘porn’ used as a descriptor and it makes me reflect one what pornography signifies if it is to be linked in a suffix way to other words. Examples of what I mean are:
- Property porn – the phenomena of admiring property ownership and the upward mobility associated with it
- Inspirational porn – A term used by Ouch Podcast presenter Liz Carr to describe the Paralympics and its irrelevance to the lives of many disabled people in the UK
- Food porn – the subject of many tumblrs, Pinterest boards and television shows valorising glamorous food
Michael once made the point that a Kantian perspective would deny that gastronomy could be a thing of art, because we eat it. In doing so we have an interested perspective about its consumption. It is relevant to our appetitive interests to crave foods, even the unhealthy kinds. However the idea of food porn seems apt to me, because it is (fitting to the analogy of pornography) skirting between the respectability of being artistic in some ways, to just appealing to our craving of it. The aspiration of food is also a distinctly class-based issue and one of the modern signifiers of class, cultural capital and what Veblen would call a pecuniary interest. The use of porn to describe food seems very apt to me.
Thinking about property porn and inspirational porn. I think there is something deeply political about making them analogous to pornography. Pornography generally portrays a world that doesn’t really exist, but represents fantasies that most people can’t have access to. In a world where wages don’t get to make ends meet and a gamut of other forms of economic instability, the presence of programmes valorising home ownership and a ‘quality of life’ in living in an x bedroom house with water features and close to the city reflects lots of deeply held and I think covertly socially stratified based attitudes. With ‘inspirational porn’ to describe the paralympics, I think the point was to point out how elite athletes who happen to be disabled is a bit of an irrelevance to the reality of many disabled people, who are living in increasingly intolerable conditions with the introduction of things like the PIP its exceptionally stringent conditions. We see the ugly side of aspiration: we must aspire but we cannot have. We are told what we ought to have and how we ought to behave, but with little possibility of fulfilling it. That is a sick society and reminds me of how Marx described religion: as a spiritual gin. Of course, spiritual gin is a bit of an obscure reference, where one syllable will do: porn.