A certain amount of this discussion centered on the eternal question of why it's amusing and kind of sexy when David Bowie grabs his crotch, and really disturbing when Michael Jackson does it. (Even back in the days when Jackson was far less objectively scary than Bowie. And there's a sort of persona cosine thing going on there that doesn't bear too much inspection.)
Anyway, what we figured out, after some discussion, is that--not to put too fine a point on it--it's about the meta.
I mentioned, when watching the Vitas concert videos, that what really delighted me about them was that, even among all the pomp and spectacle, he was inviting the audience into the joke. Yes, this is camp, yes this is a bit silly, yes, we're here to play a game. But it's a fun game. A delightful game. You break the fourth wall, at a certain point, and invite the audience in to the joke.
You let them know, in other words, that you are not a pompous, humorless twit, and that you're neither taking your posturing seriously, nor trying to put one over on them.
The trick is, for this to work, you also have to be serious about the art. The crotch-grabbing, in other words, has to serve a purpose. If you're just grabbing your crotch because you think it looks sexy, or to shock, or exploit the fact that you have a crotch (or because or you are getting pinched and don't feel like toughing it out through another split) , it loses its charm. You have to deconstruct the crotch-grab while you perform it, in other words. (Billy Idol and Bruce Springsteen have both perfected this maneuver. Tina Turner does a pretty good job of the distaff version.)
This ties into a bunch of stuff. The thing I've been talking about a bit recently, about the need not to duck from writing unpleasant scenes, even though they are unpleasant. (The duty of the artist is never to avert his eyes, quoth Kurosawa. That means from beauty as well as terror, guys.) So yeah, I will write the not-con erotic asphyxiation scene because the book needs it, and I will take that scene quite seriously, and its impact on the story, and its meaning to the characters.
What I can't do is take the writing of the scene seriously. Because it is a performance, and I know it, and you know it, and if I'm going to grab my crotch for you on stage it's going to be for a reason, and the I-know you-know I-knows become part of the performance. Self-honesty is part of honesty to the audience.
Art is a distillation of experience. Sex and violence are part of experience, and closely related to power. These are therefor all legitimate subjects for artistic discourse.
Crotch-grabbing without an understanding of a relationship with your audience is masturbation, whether we're talking about sex or art.
And furthermore, it's part of the contract with the reader. Which does not mean, as it is sometimes abused to mean, that the writer owes the reader something for the reader's seven bucks.What it means is that the author (performer) has entered into a relationship with the reader (audience) and has the responsibility not to abandon that relationship. I don't get to lie to my readers. I am expected to tell them a story.
They don't get to decide what story I'm telling them, though, or how I tell it. (This is why beginning writers are lousy readers; they bloody back-seat drive all the goddamned time.) That is part of the contract, too. If I'm up here dancing like a spaz and making a fool of myself, then they have agreed to trust me regarding whether or not that particular microphone stand needs to be humped at this point in time.
Which is not to say I'm always right. I'm sure I've humped (or failed to hump) a few microphone stands when the other choice might have been better.
Which is why we have the wink and the nod and the agreement, between us, that this is a performance. It's a relationship. I will do my best for them and they will do their best for me.
I can't lie, but I can deceive them. There are rules. I can't cheat, but I can be sly. I can misdirect them, play games with their attention. I can grab my crotch with one hand while I pull a dove from my sleeve with the other. I can pull a dove from my sleeve while I grab my crotch.
If I show you something ugly, sexy, stunning, beautiful, raw, sharp, soft, comforting, humane--it's because I thought you needed to see it. I grab my crotch for the same reason that I turn and give you a wink, or a grin, or slap your shoulder, or toss a bucket of mud.
The crotch-grab is a tool of art. And eventually, if you master it, if you do it well, the audience will figure out whether you are grabbing your crotch to be grabbing your crotch, or grabbing your crotch because there's something more going on.
(Which would be, oh, the difference between David Bowie and Axl Rose.)
It was at this point that I issued the statement more or less immortalized in the icon above. (or to the left, depending on your setup.)
And that is what David Bowie's Area has to do with making art.
truepenny also says some interesting things over here.
Pursuant to that conversation, I made this icon for truepenny, and it came out so well, I kept a copy.
I reserve the right to fuck my microphone, as shall seem good to me.
pecunium has a few words on the efficacy of torture, here.
If there were only something between us other than our clothes.
ETA: Further to the discussion, a glass_cats post.