Friday, December 07, 2007

It's like Swift making an Irish roast...

I started to write a post on the article from Pyschology Today that Kevin wrote about here, but I just couldn't do it. His post is great, and I left a comment about the hair color thing, and if you want to annoy yourself, you can read the original article.

Instead, I want to talk about baby221's post about the unborn baby ornaments. You can see the original ad for the ornament on

Baby221 originally didn't realize that the item was intended as satire when she wrote the first half of her post. Later, she updated once she realized the intent, but raised an interesting question about our readings of various texts. Basically, she wonders whether knowing that this was intended as satire excuses it:

does “knowing” that it’s satire make it any better? I mean, it makes me feel loads better if a bit stupid, but what kind of interpretation can we be expected to make without context? i.e., if you went into someone’s house and saw it on the mantle, or on the tree?

And what kind of contribution does this make on the representation, the “life” of the fetus as we know it? Is it as subversive as it thinks it is, or does it play into the hands of pro-lifers by working within their frames?

I kinda get the idea that if I left these at my mother’s parish they’d be taken home and displayed quite proudly, without a hint of irony. Maybe this is just me trying to save face, but it seems too easy to strip them from their ironic intent; all you have to do is take it out of the box, away from its website and the rest of its context. And then all you’ve got left is this disturbing image of a little man in space (Petchesky’s Fetal Images: The Power of Visual Culture in the Politics of Reproduction — read her, if you haven’t) … with a gun.

I have a response there, too, but I'm going to expand on it, here.

My general feeling is that this item should be pretty easily read as satire, in the same way that "A Modest Proposal" is. If you're a reasonable person, the sight of a fetus carrying a submachinegun or a rifle ought to strike you as, at the very least, odd. I'd go a bit further, and say that it should probably creep you out, make you laugh, or disturb you, depending on the context that you're seeing it.

I think that baby221 raises a good point, though- as it currently stands, a lot of people "missed the joke" as it were. As much as it distresses me, a lot of people read this item as "real", in the sense that it was read as not being a "joke" item (as opposed to it being fictional, or not actually for sale, which would be untrue).

The distressing thing to me isn't the item itself, though, it's what the item says about the current state of our world. If you can see a fetus carrying a rifle and wearing a military backpack, trapped in a plastic bubble, and think that it's actually intended as a piece of pro-life "culture of life" pride, it says a lot about the state of the debate. If we can read that as serious, it suggests to me that some of the arguments that are actually intended as serious must be really outlandish.

In order for us to read this item as "real", it must have seemed plausible that pro-lifers would actually do something like this- that they'd see this as an appropriate way of expressing the "culture of life." If we can read the description- "Protect our troops - from the womb to the war. What if the fetus you were going to abort would grow up to be a soldier bringing democracy to a godless dictatorship" and "If only a womb were this safe, attractive, and reasonably priced... that you support the 'culture of life' by buying and proudly displaying one of these patriotic unborn Americans" without realizing that it's a joke/satire, then I think that maybe we need to consider how screwed up the actual arguments we're dealing with must be.

Baby221 goes so far as to point out that members of her mother's parish would probably display these proudly, stripped of the context of the joke. I think that is troubling. If we've reached the point where pro-lifers think that a fetus carrying a gun is anything but a joke or disturbing, then I think we're reaching a point of absurdity that I'm not sure what to do about.

It's tantamount to people nodding their heads and saying "You know, he's right. I bet an Irish kid would be pretty tasty with some gravy and mashed potatoes."


The more I look at the picture of the ornament, the more I realize that I could probably make those. The "fetus" and the weapons are both available at the local dollar stores. The only thing would figuring out how to get them inside of the bubble. my guess is that the bubble is actually just a clamshell style bulb that you seal with transparent glue, but I don't see a seam in the picture, so I can't be sure.


Ravenfire said...

Hey, I came over from Feministing and wanted to let you know that I loved the letter you wrote in response to the Psychology Today article.

I'm working on the first issue of a new feminist oriented e-zine right now and was wondering if I could use your letter, with proper credit to you of course. It does such a wonderful job countering each point in the article and I think it would be a wonderful thing for people to get to read alongside the original article.

Roy said...

As flattered as I am, and as much as I wish I could take credit, the person you're probably looking for is Fiz. The "posted by" on feministing appears below a line under the comment you made. It's a heck of a response, though, isn't it?

Ravenfire said...

Oops, I've always looked at the name above the post, hehe. It is a wonderful response!

schrödinger's cat said...

This puts a new spin on the term "child soldier".

Would it be hypocritical to buy one of those bubbles, ironic or not, while claiming to be against putting children in the army? Probably not. My visceral response, though, is to take the "ironic" pro-bubblers and the "patriotic" ones and bang their heads together.

alejna said...

Hi, Roy. I wanted to let you know that I nominated a post of yours to the November Just Posts, a monthly collection of posts on topics of social justice. (I actually sent in a couple of your posts for the past two months, too, but was either too shy or too lazy to mention it to you before.)

As for the ornament, it is pretty disturbing that the images it uses are close enough to those of the subculture being satirized that people don't realize the satire. I guess that makes it good satire. (And I have to say the picture made me laugh. Not that I'm likely to buy one.)

collecting tokens

Jender said...

I think you're exactly right about the ornament.

baby221 said...

Yeah, it is a rather sad reflection on the state of the debate, isn't it? I mean, they've moved the extremes so far right that even the middle ground looks outlandish when you stick the posts in a more reasonable position. Gah.

baby221 said...

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it -- you can just call me Sara. baby221's just my login name, but I figure the blog says "sara speaking" right there in the title, it seems a bit silly to not ... you know, use my name ... which I'm guilty of doing myself but I'm trying to get over it :p