Fetishizing the Body and Selling the Process as Empowerment
University Ahmed Draia Adrar (Algeria)
Abstract: Erin Louis’ latest book Expose Yourself: How to Take Risks, Question Everything, and Find Yourself claims the facilitation of youth empowerment by encouraging a confrontational stance vis-à-vis society and its pillars. In targeting the past (religion), it overlooks the sources of the ill of modern society which are largely attributed to the false omnipresent, capitalism. The rampant postmodernist biases in the book thrive on relativizing moral codes leading to a generalized pornocracy. This essay proceeds via presenting the central thesis of the book, offering a synopsis regarding the chapters’ overall content. Eventually, the discussion propounds a critique rooted in how misplaced attacks on the past remain counterproductive. The conclusion warns against the claims that champion critical thinking only to reverse critical thinking and permeate stupidity.
Keywords: under-sexualization, pornocracy, fetishization, disempowerment, critical thinking
Erin Louis’ Expose Yourself: How to Take Risks, Question Everything, and Find Yourself promises to guide the youth out of their pampered self-enclosure, shed their lack of confidence all for the sake of becoming ever ready in facing the challenges of the real world. The author is a retired stripper and the present book reworks whatever “insights” she comes up with in: Dirty Money: Memoire of a Stripper (2017), soon followed by: Think You Want to be a Stripper? (2018). It teaches in accessible language (interspersed with profanities occasionally) and through twenty-three chapters the wisdom of not only surviving from day-to-day, but even thriving in the brave new world. The author has been an activist in a society called the “Freedom from Religion Foundation.”
Louis claims that her career in stripping and erotic dancing has somehow magically fostered an aura of sophistication and liberation from the inhibitions attributed to her birth into the Catholic faith. Hence, how she feels entitled to procure life-saving lessons (not just tips) in critical thinking via nursing the habit of questioning everything. Her basic argument is that religion and morality are codifications that end in slavery; and the more one sheds the faith (any faith), the better one enhances his or her chances for improved remunerations. The method is simple: Louis’ style is mostly anecdotal (though it can be sometimes serious) and it gravitates around the abundantly free, but doubtful, publicity that stripping as an economic activity pays handsomely. In a context where more and more people with shining qualifications do find it challenging to make a living, the magic formula comes from Louis: self-exposure, a byword for breaking all ethical standards, hence the title: Expose Yourself. The title has the music of an adage but the way it pertains to the questioning of everything remains a face-saving manoeuvre at best.
The book lies in twenty-three chapters. Chapters one and two begin rather boldly, loudly announcing that the wisdom the volume proffers is gathered from a career in the adult industry, exactly, from a lifetime in stripping, making it crystal clear that the wisdom correlates against what the author takes for granted as a morally-degenerate society. Louis capitalizes on the shock effect, insisting that the wisdom she is about to impart stands at odds with a society, which contrary to facile portrayals, remains lacking and degenerate. Such introductory announcements pave the argumentative line, and attentive readers cannot overlook how the author assumes the disbarment of audience members in order to be receptive to her message. Chapters three to five harden the initial resolve to challenge society by singing the praises of disconformity. Certain that members of the select audience have been won to the cause of exposure, Louis’ real focus in chapters six to twenty alternates between attacks morality and the empowerment that presumably follow from those attacks. The last three chapters enforce the ‘wisdom’ gained by again relativizing society-sanctioned codes, drawing boundaries when socializing and enumerating the expected advantages from taking risks. The author’s line of reasoning suggests how difficult experiences follow logically from an uncritical fixation on the already dead past, usually emitting from one useless moral code or another. According to the author, the practical way (not a practical way) to surmount present challenges is to shed the ways of the past and adhere to the dictates of self-exposure by literally taking pride in breaking the old morality.
Theoretically considered, and within the perspective of a peasants’ brand of Catholicism, a stripper recalls the figure of la femme adultère or the adulteress who came under the protection of Christ from the morally condemning and degenerate Jews. As such, no one has the right to judge Louis or ask her to fix her own life before extending unsolicited advice that would tend to others. In suspecting the self-righteous’ sense of certainty, the figure of the prostitute becomes a practical reminder that no one has the monopoly over right and wrong. Therefore, her voluptuousness and eroticism are, in pure abstraction, a life-giving force and in any social entity, that role has to be championed since it is revolutionary, and that is how it achieves freedom from restrictive and coercive religion. In theory, still, a healthy community has to tolerate those members whose ethical standards remain diametrically opposed to those commonly held and practised for the purpose of generating an open temporality: tarrying with the negative of the predominate ethical code generates the auto-movement of history. But in practice, Louis’ project, far from enflaming any subversive reverberations or revolutionary character, can only end in regression.
Methodologically considered, that liberal extension of Christian charity has limits. For the biblical femme adultère never brandishes her moral choices or seeks to monetize them in the form of a toolkit wisdom or philosophy. What is troublesome in the book is how Louis participates in a capitalistic drive that over-sexualizes less human desire as such, but the desire for desire. On the surface of the phenomenon of stripping, the world is formally over-sexualized. But as far as the essence of love goes, the world is substantially under-sexualized. Stripping and by extension exposing oneself testify that sex is no longer a multiplication of two souls seeking the infinite. Rather, the act of love—if indeed it can be qualified so—is an arithmetical annexation of two lost individuals seeking to distress, a force of thanatos in a generalized pornocracy. Always one recalls that stripping accelerates the fantasy less for copulation as such but – worse – for masturbation. When closely examined, the over-sexualization takes a horizontal level only. Because it is impaired, that is denied a vertical dimension, it remains an under-sexualization with regressive and exceptionally taxing consequences.
Behind a curtain in a VIP room, lap-dancing sells, little but the fantasy of freedom. At one point Louis feels obliged to state that she remains “faithful” to her husband and attached to family values, though under a secular banner. “In the course of a lap dance, I always have a choice. I can quit anytime I want to. But when money is at stake, it does not always feel like a choice” (141). In the name of basic human sensibility (no spirituality or religion involved), Louis stays evasive how she strips for a living and is still able to maintain self-respect and fidelity for family. Louise claims she loves her husband and that her husband perfectly understands and supports her choices taken under the pressure from the market economy. It does not need a lot of intelligence to note how such a narrative smack of gaps. Leaving aside her husband, one cannot engage in eros and still expects pay as a result. Sexuality cannot be healthy when measured against the law of value. Tolerating that degradation for once simply eases the constant ontological fetishization of oneself. But Louis in this book engages in banalizing the depreciation claiming that in order to make ends meet, one still has to consider stripping, selling intimate pieces of oneself. Instead of uncovering the socio-economic mode of production and how that mode fetishizes human life, Louis sings the praises of the very system that strips her, and millions in her shoes, of the right of and destiny for dignity. There are moments near the end of the book (mostly in chapters 17 and 18) where stripping becomes a metaphor, specifying what the wretched of the earth—according to her circumlocutory logic—have to do if they want to survive.
That is the main reason why the repeated attempts at capitalizing on Nietzsche’s adage of “God is dead” becomes a cognitive dissonance. Insights such as “praying is found to be more of a positive thinking than divine intervention: a Placebo effect than a miraculous recovery” (145) certainly do not open the door for a world free from slavery. Quite the opposite, the reification of the body through stripping (both literal and metaphorical) just enforce slavery. Likewise, the apparent over-sexualization or that pretension to empower the youth (as with Chapter 19: where going topless in the strip club is supposed to leave lascivious eyes disarmed) via eroticizing social life horizontally simply pales in comparison with a vertical sexualization. The latter is a true encounter with the beloved, ensuring a radical luminosity and the gate towards true empowerment and universality. Nevertheless, turning people into objects for sadistic pleasure with an equally lost soul who happens to be consuming through masturbation his or her emptiness but paying handsomely in the VIP room, one will be intensifying pathology. The reduction of the body into flesh-for-sale fires back in terms of disengagement from the world, thanatos, never eros. Even when they are never hard-pressed, Louis’ audiences are encouraged to approach their bodies as ITM machines, ever ready for consumption to the highest bidder.
For nowhere in the book does Louis acknowledge that she truly enjoys what she is doing as a stripper or that she will keep doing it even in the absence of a paycheck. By receiving her dubious “wisdom,” readers will be undergoing whatever it takes to make a living, all in consequence of the merciless dictates of the market economy. What else could the world’s capitalists want? Here, the project seeks to engineer a slave, who never complains or resists his or her black misery. In Expose Yourself, one will never reflect back on these dictates of the market, and in consequence, will stay condemned into slavery in the form of generalized prostitution. As to what cost that liberation from the moral code that religion, any religion, formalizes, Louis does not specify. Thoughtful readers will note that the cost is freedom from freedom which is a category of experience that tarries with the negativity that ontological slavery captures.
In closing and deep-down, Louis registers that no matter how much glamorized, stripping outlines an engagement at odds with even the ABCs of empowerment. Nevertheless, she insists on generalizing pornocracy so that she starts feeling a little better about her self-worth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fouad Mami: is a scholar from Algeria. He teaches Contemporary African Literature and Literary Theory at the Department of English, University of Adrar. His works have appeared in several reputable academic journals such as Postcolonial Studies, The Journal of North African Studies, and Democratization among others. More on his reading can be found by clicking on: https://sites.google.com/view/fouadmami/book-reviews?authuser=0
 Please refer to Engels, The Peasant War in Germany.