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Despite what memes keep telling us, reading is not sexy
June 10, 2013 1:09 PM   Subscribe

These images of cisgendered, scantily-clad females reclining salaciously with books with quotes touting ownership do very little to promote reading and much more to bolster sexism and classism.
posted by josher71 (189 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is this actually a thing?
posted by Naberius at 1:14 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The vote is in and reading is now a Patriarchy-Approved™ way to Ensnare a Man (and prove you’re rich and smart, too!).

I don't disagree that reading is patriachy approved and also classist, but I think the people making these memes are not trying to ensnare men. I think they are telling men they find reading sexy so men need to engage in patriachy approved classist behavior to get with them.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


*cancels naked shelving day*

/bookstore employee
posted by jonmc at 1:15 PM on June 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


READING IS NOT SEXY

Well, it depends what you're reading.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:16 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


At my house, EVERY day is naked shelving day.
posted by Madamina at 1:17 PM on June 10, 2013 [19 favorites]


Well, it depends what you're reading.

RTFA
posted by shakespeherian at 1:18 PM on June 10, 2013


The author doesn't remember the unironic mudflap girl silhouette, does she?
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:20 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I found the point about male gaze interesting, since I've taken these bumperstickers to be parodies of pin ups, and pin ups are pretty much male gaze items by definition. So on one hand, yes, you have the male gaze thing going on, but is that still an issue when it's male-gaze-by-parody?
posted by MoonOrb at 1:21 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


How do we know they're cis-gendered?
posted by grouse at 1:22 PM on June 10, 2013 [43 favorites]


I don't disagree that reading is patriachy approved and also classist

WTF? Reading is classist? What complete crap. Writing off the working class as hopeless illiterates is classist; reading is not.

And let me just ask, if women ran the world, would reading be discouraged? No? Then what is this "patriarchy-approved" bullshit?
posted by Dasein at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2013 [71 favorites]


Well, it depends what you're reading.

RTFA


spoiler: I read the fucking article and it said that reading (appropriately responsive to the readers' mood) fucking articles was sexy.
posted by ambrosen at 1:23 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


this comes to mind.

99% of everything made to look cool ever has involved a bit of sex and materialism. If there's a sexy-literate-woman trope spreading around, I'm for it. If aspiring to own a giant library suggests crass materialism, I'm a crass materialist. I really don't think it does, tho.
posted by es_de_bah at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


man I really wanna drag the word "cisgendered" out to a dark alley and beat it senseless

Meh. It's a fine word. Not the least bit relevant to the article, however; it's weird that it appears there at all. Plus, like, cisnormative much? Those could totally be trans women. I suppose the author might think cisgendered means hyperfeminine or somesuch?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2013 [23 favorites]


but is that still an issue when it's male-gaze-by-parody?

Yeah, while I truthfully haven't encountered a lot of these Reading Is Sexy pinup things in the real world, the one's I've seen tend to fall into the general trope of 50s kitsch subversion (example). This does not necessarily mean that they aren't feeding into the patriarchy, but I do think it may be more complicated than as laid out.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:25 PM on June 10, 2013


How do we know they're cis-gendered?

Came in here to say this. Saying cis-gendered seemed unnecessary to me...
posted by capnsue at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


cisgendered

How do you know they're cisgendered?

Also, I learned on Metafilter that "transgendered" is considered offensive and the correct term is "transgender". Is "cisgendered" similarly offensive?
posted by The Tensor at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm more convinced by the sexism argument than the classism one. Sarah Brown mentions the John Waters quote "iIf you go home with someone and they don't have books, don't fuck 'em". Her response " Never mind the more than 16,000 public libraries nationwide -– book ownership is what counts here. A shelf heavy with books in your home really is the perfect way to display social status. With a well-chosen collection of first editions..."

But she's reading things into the Waters quote that aren't necessarily there. Waters doesn't say "if they don't own loads of books, don't fuck 'em", he says "if they don't have books...". They could be library books. They could be charity books. He didn't say anything about owning first editions or having a large library - the point is that the person reads at all.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:27 PM on June 10, 2013 [61 favorites]


Bah, curse this slow smartphone keyboard!
posted by The Tensor at 1:27 PM on June 10, 2013


Granted, I'm no cis-gendered female, but this copy of Tony Judt's memoir nestled on my hirsute gut, dipping down toward my boxer shorts as I doze off, only to jerk upward with a start, plunging me into and yanking me again out of a thoughtful consideration of mitteleuropäische intellectual history is, if I do say so, pretty fucking hot.
posted by R. Schlock at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2013 [26 favorites]


How do we know they're cis-gendered?

Just look at them, they're a bunch of cissies!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:28 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Cisgendered" seems altogether too hip, too fashionable to be useful. "Syngendered" or "allogendered" on the other hand.....
posted by temporicide at 1:30 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


And after decades of American anti-intellectualism led by beer-drinking good ol’ boys and ditzy valley girls bred jock culture to a fever pitch, the revenge of the nerds has been a balm to wounded bookworms’ souls everywhere. Gaming, reading, and general brainery have all taken their rightful places atop the cultural Pedestal of Coolness.

Writing an article to challenge sexism and classism, great. Doing that by using and reinforcing other tired old stereotypes? Counterproductive.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Once again, reality unwittingly catches up to satire.
posted by kewb at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks, probably okay to not have yet another big ol' hoe-down about the word cisgendered in here.]
posted by cortex at 1:33 PM on June 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


I'm pretty sure John Waters wasn't making any insinuations about the circumstances under which you should fuck or not fuck a woman.
posted by Apropos of Something at 1:35 PM on June 10, 2013 [21 favorites]


Can I bitch about the word "meme". This is not a "meme".
posted by thelonius at 1:35 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Googling the phrase "big ol' hoe-down about the word cisgendered in here" produces a link to this MetaFilter thread and nothing else.

I am 1) not surprised nobody has ever written that before and 2) surprised Google indexes MetaFilter that fast!

posted by Celsius1414 at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Whenever I read articles like this I imagine that the author resembles Edmund Blackadder's dour, humourless, sexless, joyless relatives in the episode Beer.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:37 PM on June 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


I hate the "reading is sexy" meme--not because I disagree, necessarily, but because I resent the implication that we should be doing things to be sexy, or choosing our activities based on their perceived sexiness. I appreciate that it wants to be a reminder that hey, women can be smart and sexy, but...well, the one-to-one correlation of reading::smart is problematic, and not everything we do needs to be defined by its sexiness.

While I don't necessarily agree with the entirety of the article (not seeing the classism, for example), I do think that she's making a sound point--these images are a very specific subset of femaleness, and the use of those images is an implicit reminder that Hey, ladies, reading is sexy--as long as you look like me when you're doing it! Which is kinda gross and problematic, even if that's not what they're meaning to promote. But having other women--butch women, visibly trans or queer women, fat women, women of color--could, unfortunately, make the whole thing read as--well, as almost a reminder that Hey, ladies, don't read too much or take your booklearning too seriously, or you could end up like this! ('Cause, you know, no one wants to date dykesalot mclardo. [disclaimer: dykesalot mclardo is me.])

All of which is to say, I guess, is that hello, welcome to woman: you're screwed no matter what you do.
posted by MeghanC at 1:40 PM on June 10, 2013 [38 favorites]


Yeah, this is kind of like... what's it called when you pretend you're taking an unpopular stand, when it's really incredibly popular? You know, like the Mr. Rogers comment.

Reading is incredibly popular. From "50 Shades" to "Harry Potter" to Proust, everyone does it and only the most lamebrained minority thinks it's "uncool." There is no real battle to fight here.

And I love John Waters, but fuck whoever you want regardless of what is or isn't in their house.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:42 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Naked Girls Reading the real-life version of this? I admit I've never been to any of their events - it seems so gaze-y in a way that makes me not want to go.
posted by cadge at 1:43 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


dykesalot mclardo

Sockpuppet.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:44 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is like those special energy bars made for Teh Laydeeeez.

You can't just enjoy something because you like it. You have to do it in a special ladylike way. Hence all the people pinning that stupid meme about "walk-in library".

This also reminds me a lot of the Breast Cancer Awareness campaigns that use slogans like I <3 Boobs and Save The Boobs.
posted by Sara C. at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


The act of reading, in and of itself, may not be sexy, but being capable of carrying on conversations with more depth than "Do you remember that episode of friends where...." definitely is.

Yeah, yeah, correlation does not imply causation. Whatever.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2013


I guess I always read those yellow "Reading is Sexy" bumper stickers (which are pretty ubiquitous round these parts) as being a reversal of the traditional pin-up girl thing, like "No, it's not your body that makes you sexy, it's your brain." And I guess I never felt they were targeted specifically toward women either, just more generally of the 'nerds are sexy' thing, which, I mean, like that's cool, right?

I dunno. Sometimes it feels damned if you do damned if you don't.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:45 PM on June 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


I am a happily married straight man and I do things just to be sexy all the time. Granted, my wife keeps telling me to knock it off, but I know she secretly likes it. And really, don't people everywhere do all manner of funny things to be sexy, or cool, or to label themselves as insiders in some group or another?

And Waters was totally right. When I was single women went straight to my bookshelf and slept with me based on my heavily-annotated copy of Orientalism alone.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:47 PM on June 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Waters doesn't say "if they don't own loads of books, don't fuck 'em", he says "if they don't have books..."..

It seems dumb to me, at least these days when an insanely large library can be neatly out of sight in someone's phone. Homes large enough to store physical books, in many parts of the world is becoming a classism, if it ever wasn't.
posted by anonymisc at 1:48 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Illiterates need love, too, you know.
posted by jonmc at 1:48 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Naked Girls Reading the real-life version of this?

wtf is this
posted by shakespeherian at 1:50 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"...a well-chosen collection of first editions..."

...is not the sign of a reader. A bibliophile, maybe an investor, maybe a simple poser. A first edition book is not one that is read.

Huge leatherbound collections of Shakespeare are a dead giveaway of a non-reader. Rows of Penguins or Signet Classics with the spines all cracked is what you're looking for. A reader may get special edition of favourite works, but by no means is that the focus of their collection.

Just sayin'.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


Writing an article to challenge sexism and classism, great. Doing that by using and reinforcing other tired old stereotypes? Counterproductive.

This was my thought. If you want to be this sensitive to sexism (and I consider this very, very, very sensitive), you have to score extremely high on the self-checking, and that includes not taking gratuitous potshots at your own cultural bogeypersons.

I don't know. It's fine not to care about being sexy. It's also fine to care about being sexy. One woman saying "I like to read and I consider an image of a woman reading to be sexy" doesn't mean "the only reason to read is that it's sexy," "women should only read if they want to be sexy," or "women reading is about the male gaze." As one of my friends is fond of saying, I can think more than one thing. Honestly, as a straight lady, I do find intellectualism in men sexy, but that doesn't mean I think it's the only reason men should read, or that I expect men to read to please me, or that I'm reducing men to shirtless book-reading meatbags. I think a measure of feminism in men is sexy, quite frankly, but the fact that it's sexy to me is way down low on the list of its merits. Because I can think more than one thing.

I think pathologizing the desire to feel attractive is kind of unfair, no matter who you are and no matter who you want to attract. These are pinup parodies, meant to upend traditional ideas that when you see a woman presented in an overtly "sexy" manner, she's unlikely to be doing anything at all, let alone reading. It does not mean it's the only reason to read, and it does not mean you should only do things to be sexy. I think cooking is sexy too, but that doesn't mean it's the only reason to do it.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:51 PM on June 10, 2013 [44 favorites]


Oh shit. Am I now a classist oppressor because we have about 20 bookshelves in our house?

(Rough count in my head, not counting cookbook shelving in kitchen).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


wtf is this

It's a bunch of girls who desperately, desperately want people to look at them asking people to look at them. But if you look at them outside of that context it's naughty.

Very, very naughty.

Personally, I have no use for that.
posted by Madamina at 1:52 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Reading is Sexy." Three words...catchy little slogan. Generally harmless.
But the author seems to be interpreting it as, alternately and depending what axe she's grinding:
1. The one and only positive aspect of reading is making yourself desirable to men.
2. If you want to be sexy then you can only read and do nothing else.
3. Any activity other than reading is unsexy.
4. Reading is the only only sexy activity available to women. Men are free to enjoy other sexy pursuits.
5. Being sexy or desiring to be sexy is mandatory for all women.
6. Only sexy women, or women who want to be sexy, are allowed to read.
7. You can only be sexy if you buy and own lots of books and display them prominently.
8. The patriarchy wants you to buy and read books.
posted by rocket88 at 1:54 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I see John Waters around Baltimore, I am going to show him some of the criticism of his quote here. Legitimately curious as to what he would say.
posted by josher71 at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It just occurred to me that every time I recommended, loaned, or given somebody a book I may have been oppressing them. Unless they were also a member of the patriarchy, then I'm safe I guess.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is Naked Girls Reading the real-life version of this?

wtf is this


See, I have several friends who participate in this regularly. They are of the hippy liberal sort. I am of two minds about it. One the one hand, it's kind of fun, and there's this (perhaps faux) aura of liberation and post-body-shame or whatever about it.

On the other hand, it kind of makes me roll my eyes and wonder how many ostensibly "intellectual" and "enlightened" ways Portland can come up with to look at each other naked.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2013 [13 favorites]


Metafilter: shirtless book-reading meatbags

Heh.

For the record, I simply read, and I hope that others read because they love the new worlds that open up, new thoughts, new ways of seeing other people, new everything. I never considered sexiness or lack thereof to be inherent in the act of reading.
posted by droplet at 1:58 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't get it. It's women that put these bumper stickers up, right? If my wife feels sexy when she's reading isn't that her prerogative and nobody else's?
posted by Talez at 2:00 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I resent the implication that the additional attraction that I share with my wife over our mutual love of books oppresses anyone.
posted by poe at 2:00 PM on June 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's really disappointing when people who are so apparently concerned about oppression understand it so poorly, and end up indiscriminately throwing out inflammatory statements such as the bizarrely accusatory assertion that the women pictured are cisgendered, or that promoting reading is classist. This is what happens when people learn everything they know about oppression from tumblr.
posted by clockzero at 2:01 PM on June 10, 2013 [25 favorites]


If my wife feels sexy when she's reading isn't that her prerogative and nobody else's?

No. Her private enjoyment materially harms the working classes, transgendered and queer folks, and women who don't want to feel obliged to be sexy.

Haven't you been paying attention?
posted by R. Schlock at 2:02 PM on June 10, 2013 [18 favorites]


If I see John Waters around Baltimore, I am going to show him some of the criticism of his quote here. Legitimately curious as to what he would say.

"It's the times. They are a-changin'. Something's blowing in the wind. Fetch me my diet pills, would you, Hon?"
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:02 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think it's also a good example of what some people refer to derogatorily as the oppression olympics: when you're over-eager to perceive systemic biases, you can unintentionally cheapen its observation by valuing the demonstration of oppression above critical thought about oppression.
posted by clockzero at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The article suffers from the common failing of a lot of would be social justice commentators to want to address all possible failings. Had it limited itself to criticising the sexism in the "reading is sexy" message, it would've been much better. The classicism isn't really there. Books aren't luxury items and the author has to work to read a classist undertone in that John Waters quote.

There's a long and proud tradition of working class literacy, of working class autodidaction and one of its symbols was indeed owning books, as well as creating shared libraries for your own community.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Hmmm. I think reading is sexy. Not owning lots of books, but reading. One dog-eared paperback by the bed will do it. And not because it makes you all know-it-all, but because if you are reading something then you are interested in something, and people being interested in something is always sexy. Someone talking about what they like, when their face comes alive - that's sexy. That's a way in, to communicate, to share, to display, to argue. All good!
posted by alasdair at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [11 favorites]


I thought the sexism part of the argument was fairly well thought out and it made me think. I suspect the "reading is sexy" slogan is meant more for young people. Those folks who are still pretty ham-handed on gender and displays thereof. In the real world the fight between either being pretty or smart seems to dissolve away in the face of adult responsibilities and relationships. But, it is sort of problematic to showcase scantily clad women whenever we market to young people.

And are there male "reading is sexy" images out there? A cursory search didn't turn up anything that seemed on par.
posted by amanda at 2:04 PM on June 10, 2013


So I generally agree with the author although she mostly skips over (not completely) the one thing that bothers me the most.

There's this weird post-feminism move where being sexy is the pinnacle of all things that a woman can be - to the exclusion of almost everything else. The response to a perceived "you can't do activity X and be sexy" somehow went from "you can do activity X and be sexy" to "activity X is sexy" to "activity X is sexy and that's all that matters about activity X."

I think the aforementioned hysterical literature was the worst of the bunch. It's not just the pornification of reading, but a weird desire to remove everything from reading except porn. Books have been stripped of content and become nothing more then ways to make women sexy. Progress!

I get that it can be oppressive to be told that one's preferred activities are grounds from exclusion of the world of sexiness. But seriously, we're veering somewhere weird.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:05 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


It’s got to be tough when your livelihood depends on creating link bait and you really don’t have much to say.

What would be allowable to call "sexy" under the criteria proposed?
posted by bongo_x at 2:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


> WTF? Reading is classist? What complete crap. Writing off the working class as hopeless illiterates is classist; reading is not.

Reading/books as social display has a lot of class baggage, really. Book clubs and "classics" collections come up in discussions of middlebrow culture because they're one of the big examples from the 30s/40s: they got sold as a kind of virtuous, self-elevating totem to folks in the middle of the american class system who didn't have the cultural background you get from an upper middle class education. And while loudly hating on middlebrow culture has way more class issues than middlebrow culture itself, books in this particular context are not just books. They're kind of drab peacock feathers.

Not quite where the author's coming from, I suppose, since she specifically cites bound first editions as a positive class marker. She's right about the sexism though.

On preview: what Capt. Renault said.
posted by postcommunism at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


makes me think of John Baldesarri's Learn to Read (2003) poster.
posted by snaparapans at 2:08 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh jeez. Putting the pretty damn chaste "Reading is Sexy" product line from Buyolympia.com (a mom-and-pop-sized shop that's the only place making them, I'm pretty sure) in the same league as "voluptuously-drawn pinup" imagery is beyond absurd. The bookstore where I work sells the stickers, I should add, and there's no way those particular items promote the message that "reading is a pursuit that is pleasurable only if it pleases others." That's ridiculous.

(I do wish they made them with a sexy glasses guy, too, though.)
posted by mediareport at 2:10 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


"or that I'm reducing men to shirtless book-reading meatbags."

Reducing me to a shirtless book-reading meatbag is pretty much every weekend.
posted by klangklangston at 2:11 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


The author spends the whole article addressing why it might not be beneficial to call reading sexy, especially when pairing that notion with pictures of scantily-clad women.

She never even attempts to address whether or not reading is actually sexy.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:12 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reducing me to a shirtless book-reading meatbag is pretty much every weekend.

Hey, you do you.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:15 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Actually, although I think the author's right to point out the sexism here I'd definitely be sympathetic to a take like Lutoslawski's, that this is a reaction the against smart woman = unattractive woman trope. I don't have the lived experience in that direction to say.
posted by postcommunism at 2:16 PM on June 10, 2013


I resent the implication that the additional attraction that I share with my wife over our mutual love of books oppresses anyone.

The linked article is sorta thin, and doesn't really support its premise (the author's editor probably should have bounced it back for another take, but then, you can't really argue with the traffic it's generating), but that's not really implied by the argument, mostly because the argument doesn't explore the meaning or mechanics of oppression in any depth.

That said, there may be a whole host of ways your and your wife's shared enjoyment oppresses others, starting perhaps with the existence of deeply exploitative labor practices in various places along the book value chain, maybe the disproportionate leisure time you and your wife enjoy relative to other strata, and continuing on up through the possibly oppressive ideological assumptions perpetuated by the texts you read, and maybe sideways to include gender-inflected relationship imbalances reflected in the choice of books to read together.
posted by notyou at 2:17 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"That said, there may be a whole host of ways your and your wife's shared enjoyment oppresses others, starting perhaps with the existence of deeply exploitative labor practices in various places along the book value chain, maybe the disproportionate leisure time you and your wife enjoy relative to other strata, and continuing on up through the possibly oppressive ideological assumptions perpetuated by the texts you read, and maybe sideways to include gender-inflected relationship imbalances reflected in the choice of books to read together." he wrote on a consumer electronic device assembled in China, in response to words written by another author on a different consumer electronic device also assembled in China.
posted by R. Schlock at 2:21 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


And are there male "reading is sexy" images out there?

Anecdotally judging by what is posted in my facebook circles, these kinds of self-affirmation image-slogans in general (eg about character or appeal or worth or happiness or meaning or judginess etc) have a big gender gap. The gap disappears with image-slogans on other topics.
posted by anonymisc at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2013


Reading/books as social display has a lot of class baggage, really.

Certain types of reading as social display can certainly be classist but that no more makes reading classist than the fact that $250 per head tasting menus at michelin starred restaurants exist makes eating food classist.

"Reading is classist" is pernicious and false. Reading is one of the great class equalizers. That's one reason why serfs and slaves were kept illiterate. Tell all the people who learned to read in secret to avoid punishment by their oppressors that reading is classist.
posted by Justinian at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2013 [28 favorites]


inflammatory statements such as the bizarrely accusatory assertion that the women pictured are cisgendered

To be honest, the idea that the people who create quasi-cute "ironic" fifties pinup styled art like the examples in the article think seriously about whether or not their creations are cis or trans gendered?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 PM on June 10, 2013


It binds us all, R. Schlock.
posted by notyou at 2:29 PM on June 10, 2013


I don't disagree that reading is patriachy approved and also classist

This is just about the craziest thing I've ever read on Metafilter.
posted by Aizkolari at 2:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [15 favorites]


I dunno, it's pretty crazy but "craziest thing ever on Metafilter" is a high bar!
posted by Justinian at 2:32 PM on June 10, 2013 [28 favorites]


I think I would be happier with this article if the writer just came out and said "pinning/sharing/upvoting dumb slogan image glurge is dumb, so stop doing it."

Like, I don't really have anything to say about the assertion of the bumper stickers (whether reading is sexy or not), and even less to say about the article's take (the existence of these memes is sexist). But there is a gender differential in spreading these memes, and I'm very curious about why that is and what it says about the state of feminism. Like, you never see dudes sharing slogan macro thingies that say READING IS MANLY AS FUCK with a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book. Why is that?
posted by Sara C. at 2:35 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not that I don't disagree that reading is not patriarchy disapproved and also not non-classist. There is only one possible post-structuralist response:

fffmfm mfm mfmfmfmfffmfm. fmffffmfm fmf m fffmf fm mfmfmfmfmffmf.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not that I don't disagree that reading is not patriarchy disapproved and also not non-classist.

What is that, a quadruple negative? Can you diagram this sentence for us?
posted by Justinian at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Hey, I didn't say I agreed, I said I don't disagree. I am willing to entertain the notion that reading is classist. I mean, how many books do I have in my invisible backpack.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:38 PM on June 10, 2013


> Like, you never see dudes sharing slogan macro thingies that say READING IS MANLY AS FUCK with a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book. Why is that?

It could be that we have more ground to cover with boys who think reading is for uncool kids who suck at sports. Reading has been closer to an expected pass time for girls than it has been for mainstream boys. Ron Swanson would make for a great spokescharacter for a campaign to encourage boys to read, actually.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:41 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ron Swanson would make for a great spokescharacter for a campaign to encourage boys to read, actually.

Yeah - he's such a transgressive figure of masculinity. It's why Mr. T telling me to stay in school worked so well. Same goes for Jose Canseco. Is there no message that hyper-masculine men who openly disdain everything feminine can't sell?
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:45 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The act of reading, in and of itself, may not be sexy, but being capable of carrying on conversations with more depth than "Do you remember that episode of friends where...." definitely is.

Why can't you do both? Friends is OK. "MY SANDWICH?" "PIVOT!" "Could I BE wearing any more clothes?"

AND I read.
posted by sweetkid at 2:46 PM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm guessing the meme is mostly about female readers asserting their own sexyness. Because, in fact, people want to be sexy.
Like, you never see dudes sharing slogan macro thingies that say READING IS MANLY AS FUCK with a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book. Why is that?
Well, I'm sure there are guys who think being well read will make them more attractive to women. I don't know if they post memes about it, since the more male dominated places to post memes are not exactly very literate.
posted by delmoi at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2013


Like, you never see dudes sharing slogan macro thingies that say READING IS MANLY AS FUCK with a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book. Why is that?

If someone made this I would totally pass this around.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:47 PM on June 10, 2013 [14 favorites]


yea me too this thing you describe sounds awesome
posted by sweetkid at 2:48 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


You might be able to get a manly version out of Henry Rollins (although that linked bit mostly demonstrates one way women readers = sexy can be problematic).
posted by postcommunism at 2:50 PM on June 10, 2013


It could be that we have more ground to cover with boys who think reading is for uncool kids who suck at sports

But by that logic, all the memes WOULD be that reading is a cool dudely pastime. I mean, nobody puts a bumper sticker on their car that says "the sky is blue." You know?
posted by Sara C. at 2:51 PM on June 10, 2013


Ugh I'm already on the hook to make another meme/macro/pinterest quote thingy so sure why not... I have the stupidest work fire to put out first though.
posted by Sara C. at 2:52 PM on June 10, 2013


Manly.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:55 PM on June 10, 2013


Couldn't find Ron Swanson but I believe this is just as good.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Guys, I've run into a slight hitch.

Can't find a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book.

Actual photoshop may need to take place.
posted by Sara C. at 2:57 PM on June 10, 2013


Searching for Ron Swanson bookshelf brought me to a post about Ron Swanson paper dolls. Abort mission.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:59 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


I mean, how many books do I have in my invisible backpack.

Are the books also invisible? If so they may not be much good to you.
posted by Aizkolari at 3:00 PM on June 10, 2013


Can't find a picture of Ron Swanson holding a book.

Ron Swanson doesn't hold books. Ron Swanson carves books whole out of reclaimed tree of knowledge.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:02 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Sexy reading doesn't seem to be limited to women (Very NSFW)
posted by Invisible Hand at 3:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Apropos of nothing
posted by shakespeherian at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't watch an episode now, but doesn't he read out loud to the girls he babysits? His girlfriend's daughters?
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2013


I liked the original better: Reading Is Fundamental

Sara C: You could probably find a picture of Ron Swanson holding a menu.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sexy reading doesn't seem to be limited to women

I am already in my bunk!
posted by jessamyn at 3:17 PM on June 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


People who think reading isn't sexy may just be reading the wrong books.

“What holds the world together, as I have learned from bitter experience, is sexual intercourse.”
― Henry Miller
posted by ishrinkmajeans at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


The idea that some folk are putting forward in here that just the act of reading is classist and/or sexist bothers me greatly, because I consider reading to be a great leveler. And because my love of books and reading can't be considered either. Boo to these people. Make them read only Gor books from now on.
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Voracious reading is the one of the reasons I escaped my sub-working class origins. You people who assume it's all useless pretense? You're coasting on your privilege.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


Yeah, also not buying that reading and owning books is for the better classes. Tell that to my 1991 poor as shit family and their WALL of books. When I was growing up, we were on food stamps, but my ability to check 20 books at a time out of the library was excellent. I also got as many (up to three) books as I wanted for every birthday AND new year. You should have seen how many books my broke-ass immigrant self maintained.

The "fancy books are for fancy people" thing is really specific to America, also. Intellectualism is emphatically not synonymous with wealth in Russia.
posted by prefpara at 3:26 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm a cisgender female, older, work in a bookstore, have one of those bumperstickers* - which, look, even though I live in the bluest town in North Carolina it's still North Carolina, where mudflap girls are often still not at all ironic and I think every little thing helps, besides I like bumperstickers and I like the anarchist bookstore where I got it - and I read the whole article but I am still having a lot of trouble parsing why any of this is problematic. I mean, please, getting people to read, however it is done, is by my lights a Good Thing, even if they then turn to evil books and I have to bite my tongue when I check them out. If I owned the bookstore we wouldn't sell Glenn Beck but there you have it and I still, classist that I am, think even Glenn Beck or a Christian romance paperback or even, urgh, Gor, is better for the brain than Honey Boo Boo.

Oh and sexy reading images aren't limited to women anyway.

* previously linked by mediareport, another oppressed bookstore clerk from North Carolina
posted by mygothlaundry at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


Glenn Danzig came into my bookstore. He's a short dude.
posted by jonmc at 3:30 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


I thought sexy guys reading books were what tumblr was /for/.
posted by corb at 3:31 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's a lot to rightly criticize in the piece, but reflexively shallow mockery of a feminist critique is just as stupid in this thread as it is everywhere else.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


My reading frequency dropped off a cliff once I had a full-time job and a kid. You need time and peace and quiet (and the ability to stay awake when you have those) to get any decent reading done. Of course any blanket condemnation of reading as inherently classist is ridiculous, but one's literature-appreciation bona fides can be deployed as such, in an "I have leisure time and I choose to spend it by enriching myself with the latest brick from Jonathan Franzen" kinda way.

Also, this? From the end of the article?

And not everything a woman does has to be sexy.

I kinda took that to be the point and I can see how patronizing it could seem.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Okay I am back after having RTFA. The author says that Waters has been misquoted in his oft-memed "If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them!" quote. But... Film Threat says this is what he said. So now I am even more confused.

The classism thing, even though I know what she's getting at, is a reach, as is the jump from "Reading is sexy" to "You have to have an impressive bookshelf at home to be hawt" It just seems concern-trolly. I know plenty of middle/lower class folks with books at home. And anyone can read stuff from the library.

I usually like what xojane's writers have to say but maybe that's because usually I am learning something from them, not having them tell me about something I know much more about than they could possibly imagine.
posted by jessamyn at 3:37 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


HAMBURGER
"Reading is Sexy"* literally turns a book** into a barbed-phallus and libraries into underfunded strip-clubs. Literacy is the tool of the oppressor, so join me, my negi-gendered sisters and cast off the chains of the patriarch and declare your independence by giving up literacy all together and proclaiming "jdkd djdjd sjsjsj soeisldkdndkdkd"
/HAMBURGER

* "reading is sexy" was created by well know feminist Sarah Utter. She is an artist and musician living in Olympia and plays guitar and sings for Bangs.

So for this whole thing to be deconstructed really implies that there is no room for snark / irony in feminism.

** magazines are the equivalent of a whistle or catcall
posted by wcfields at 3:39 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah, also not buying that reading and owning books is for the better classes.

How can the ownership and display of something that costs money not be at least a little classist? Books cost money, there's an economic threshold below which the ownership (not talking about libraries obviously) of books is hard, having space to keep them is expensive, too. Fetishizing having a book collection (which is pretty common around these parts) is inherently a bit classist because not everyone can afford a big book collection. The fact that some poor people are able to find money for it doesn't really change that fact which is pretty much just based on math.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 3:51 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


Strikes me that the article is more condescending to women than the 'meme'. Some folks like to be sexy some of the time; if the struggling book industry wants to try to promote buying books by trying to convince any of those people that , hey, there's no shame in being seen in a bookstore, or in lounging with a book, some people find that a turn-on, then that seems like a thing that any member of the target audience can either buy into or ignore.
Making it into an issue, gender-wise or class-wise just seems to miss the fact that it's marketing, and marketing taps into all sorts of semiotic signifiers to get the job done, reading being among the more harmless.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:51 PM on June 10, 2013


READING
IS VERY
GLAMOROUS

posted by Sys Rq at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could not read the article after seeing the opening photo. You can't "ironically" have it both ways.


Also, there is a thing of people talking about reading more than actual reading. Maybe she mentions this and I would have known that had I actually read the article.
posted by latkes at 3:56 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Pahahhaa I'm glad MeFi is taking a moment to critically examine its identity as a haven for sexy librarians and their admirers!
posted by zscore at 3:59 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


[Folks, probably okay to not have yet another big ol' hoe-down about the word cisgendered in here.]

But what if it's in the form of a Laura Hall-backed Whose Line hoe-down?
posted by jason_steakums at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could not read the article after seeing the opening photo. You can't "ironically" have it both ways.

Forget "irony", the words "disingenuous" and "insincere" come to mind.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:00 PM on June 10, 2013 [4 favorites]


zscore: "Pahahhaa I'm glad MeFi is taking a moment to critically examine its identity as a haven for sexy librarians and their admirers!"

I like my female librarians like I like my books: over 100 years old with broken spines, and smelling of mothballs.
posted by wcfields at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Fetishizing having a book collection (which is pretty common around these parts) is inherently a bit classist because not everyone can afford a big book collection.

I don't have a big book collection; I have three IKEA shelves full, and a kindle. I had more when I was a kid, and my mom was on welfare; this was via library used book sales, rummage sales, flea markets, and library borrowing. Later, I began to buy used books from the Internet.

Saying that books and reading are classist is... not even wrong. Convincing people that only "their betters" read is one of the enforcement mechanisms of class distinctions. If you can afford the time and money for a big-screen television and a Playstation 3, you can afford the time and money to read; and plenty of poor people do afford TVs and video game consoles. The association of reading with "boring pretentious rich-people stuff" prevents a lot of people from learning things that might help them develop a little bit of social mobility.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2013 [10 favorites]


Forget "irony", the words "disingenuous" and "insincere" come to mind.

"Irony" suffices just fine, and I'm not sure why the author choosing an ironic self-presentation for a photo accompanying the article would make her argument disingenuous or insincere.
posted by prize bull octorok at 4:08 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I should hope that anyone leveling the "classist!" charge against reading is distinguishing between the very skill of literacy (a great leveler) and the cultural baggage associated with why people read and what they read.

I don't subscribe to the theory that every tome cracked is meant as cognitive fodder as one scales Bloom's taxonomy of learning, and I don't think every reader should approach every single book they read with the rigor suggested by Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren in How to Read a Book.

But there are folks out there who freight their own reading -- or someone else's -- with all sorts of class and status signifiers. I see nothing wrong with examining how those social perceptions color the basic skill of literacy and confer merit based on old-school privilege. And I look forward to enjoying any piece that calls out the biased perceptions attached to what someone likes to read. Alas, it's not this one.
posted by sobell at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


"reading is sexy" was created by well known feminist Sarah Utter.

Yeah, that's what annoys me most, I think; the author of the article is lumping what I'm pretty sure is the original, fun, geek- and girl-positive, un-pin-up version and conflating it with the knock-off sexist male gaze versions that almost certainly came along later. Unfair doesn't begin to describe it. Deliberately misleading, sophomoric and/or obtuse comes closer, I think.
posted by mediareport at 4:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


The idea that some folk are putting forward in here that just the act of reading is classist and/or sexist bothers me greatly

I'm not one of those people, but I do think that if you are going to judge people on their reading (as has been suggested), then you need to be aware that many or most of the most visible signs (ie things you can feed into your judgement) are influenced by factors like class and involve stereotyping people, with the usual risks of prejudices being wrong at the individual level.
posted by anonymisc at 4:11 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


READ
MOTHERFUCKING
BOOKS!
ALL DAMN DAY

posted by kittensofthenight at 4:26 PM on June 10, 2013


Maybe this is what they mean? Stoya reads from Necrophilia Variations.
posted by Justinian at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2013


I also think that reading from-a-book being given a different and separate status from reading from-the-internet, seems suspiciously more like a generational and cultural artifact than something based purely on inherent merit.

When I was a child, books were magic. To some extent they still are. That colors my prejudices in myriad ways that don't stand up to serious scrutiny.
posted by anonymisc at 4:30 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Better get this on CafePress before someone else does...
 ________________________________
|   [ neckbeard ]   Reading      |
|   [   photo   ] is repugnant™  |
 --------------------------------

posted by wcfields at 4:40 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


How can the ownership and display of something that costs money not be at least a little classist? ... The fact that some poor people are able to find money for it doesn't really change that fact which is pretty much just based on math.

Because classism isn't "based on math". Classism is about who owns the means of production; who are wage workers; how people's jobs and their abilities to reproduce themselves exist within power structures. Why is it that someone works desperately to live another month, and someone else doesn't have to lift a finger for the rest of their lives?

Otherwise, everything that costs money would be classist. Coffee is classist! TVs are classists! Cell phones are classist! MP3 players are classist! Shoes are classist! The internet is classist! Movies are classist! etc..
posted by suedehead at 4:43 PM on June 10, 2013 [9 favorites]


Metafilter is classist etc
posted by KokuRyu at 4:51 PM on June 10, 2013


Judging for not having those things is indeed classist. We wouldn't have this conversation if someone said "don't fuck people without TVs." For the most part we like books around here so it blinds people to the fact that judging people for their ability to buy property is inherently class based.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 4:54 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ask and ye shall receive. Ron Swanson required reading from flavorwire
posted by oomny at 5:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


But what does it say about a person who argues about the letter of a sentiment rather than its spirit? Things seem to have taken a pedantic turn here.
posted by mr. digits at 5:07 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This really looks like a meme that is by women and for women and is utterly harmless. Nothing in these images suggests that this is in any way exclusively for hetero or cis women. Maybe the author and I have associated with different trans and queer women, but I've known more than one to be rather pro on the question of vintage pinup imagery, even women who do not personally apply 1940s beauty standards to themselves. Appropriation of old images of femininity, domesticity, and sexuality for promotion of feminism is old-hat and really should be past controversy at this point. Don't let some dour marxist tell you her feminism is better than yours. This is nothing but leftist puritanism.
posted by keratacon at 5:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Don't fuck people without generation skipping trusts.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm reclining naked on the sofa reading Finnegans Wake right now. And that's about as sexy as I get.
posted by Decani at 5:48 PM on June 10, 2013


I wish I could remember the name of the woman, and I"m having a hard time searching for her. She had a BBC show, I think, about animal sexuality. It involved people in animal costumes. She was once interviewed by David Byrne for the Believer. Her life sounds way to interesting for me to not know her name. And this quote (paraphrased) is even better, and quite pertinent, I think:

"When I see someone making dazzling conversation at a party, sometimes I imagine a halo of peacock feathers gleaming above their heads."

Of course our tendency to art and intellectualism is tied to our sexuality and sexual representation. How wonderful that human sexuality is so complex and so complexly woven into our larger lives. No reason to slut-shame big sexy brains, tho.
posted by es_de_bah at 5:49 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


But what does it say about a person who argues about the letter of a sentiment rather than its spirit?

It just seems to me that though the intent might be good, either the sentiment is kind of trite ("don't fuck people who choose to be dumbasses") or it's wrong ("books are a dumbass filter"), while at the same time the self-backpatty ego-massage (of implying that book people are better people) makes it more likely to be received warmly without proper reflection.

It's not really about the letter of it, it's the self-congratulatory and judgy nature of the sentiment that raised flags for me.

Ok, to be fair I partially take it back - "don't fuck people who choose to be dumbasses" is fair advice for anyone not already following it.
posted by anonymisc at 5:50 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Biblioklept's women reading tag sort of puts this meme into an art-historical perspective. Many of the images and maybe the collection are subject to issues raised by TFA (I don't recall anything salacious, but the masculine gaze, classism/elitism, etc. are theoretically on point), and the fact that so many of them are nonetheless amazing would make their critique fun to read. In contrast to that possibility, TFA feels mean and simple for targeting instead an extremely minor species of kitsch I associate with women just being (or trying to be) happy with themselves.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reading is for drunks.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:07 PM on June 10, 2013


"Irony" suffices just fine, and I'm not sure why the author choosing an ironic self-presentation for a photo accompanying the article would make her argument disingenuous or insincere.

Because she says it’s OK and ironic when she does it, but not OK and failed irony when someone else does, because of all her righteousness. The other people are obviously less righteous, and doing it wrong.
posted by bongo_x at 6:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the class argument is less about specific wrangling around how many more books a wealthy person might have than a poor person, what the specific capacity differential is there, etc., than about critiquing the fundamental concept that personality or worth is tied to possession of specific consumer objects.

I love books-- but they are consumer commodities, unless we're talking about zines or homemade codices, and I don't think we mostly are. There's something fundamentally capitalistic about judging someone's bookishness by the amount of books physically present for you to assess.
posted by threeants at 6:09 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Of course reading is classist and a tool of the Patriarchy. It also gives those who can read an unfair advantage against those who cannot read. Therefore it should be obvious that we won't have a truly egalitarian, multicultural and tolerant society until we ban reading. That's why I'm lobbying the local school board to remove reading from the elementary school curriculum. We need to start with the children to build our better tomorrow.
posted by happyroach at 6:24 PM on June 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I dunno, I think Ron Swanson likes to respect women, especially the strong ones. Plus he'll play with little girls....Erm, not in the bad way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:26 PM on June 10, 2013


The weird idea here that rich people have a lot of books and they flaunt them to poor people is bizarre notion that I can only assume comes from watching too many bad movies. I regularly visit many moderately high (single millions) and moderately low (single thousands) income people’s houses. Most people I’ve met with books belong to the lower end of that scale.

Books are a consumer item, but they're $.99 or free all over the place. If you show up at a poor persons house do you give them shit about the DVD’s they own, and how they have pretensions of High Class and are looking down on you? Would you do it with books? But if a person with money likes books it’s because they want you to feel bad. You can the books and the DVD’s at the Goodwill.

I ate a lot of potatoes growing up, and didn’t always wear store bought clothes, not because someone was feeling especially crafty in their spare time. I read a lot, and at some point my parents bought a new set of encyclopedias for us. Looking back I can’t imagine what a sacrifice that was, but maybe I should tell them what elitist assholes they were.
posted by bongo_x at 6:38 PM on June 10, 2013 [8 favorites]


I bet John Waters thought he'd heard it all.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is 2013. I'll take a tweeted list of academic PDFs and media links over bookcases full of dumbed-down mass-market pablum any day of the week.
posted by doreur at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Because she says it’s OK and ironic when she does it, but not OK and failed irony when someone else does, because of all her righteousness. The other people are obviously less righteous, and doing it wrong."

It's not intent, it's how it functions. Included ironically in a piece critical of such messaging, it doesn't function in the way that she's criticizing. Out in the world with no context, it can and it does. This isn't rocket science.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2013


When I'm in a stage of my life where I'm fucking strangers, we're past the point of no return if I'm already in their apartment to see their lack of books, but a plethora of books or a handful of good books is a great sign of relationship/friendship potential and IS sexy.

I hate the kindle because it makes it so much harder to judge people based on their tastes (and because I haven't learned how to pirate books and comics to my various devices)
posted by elr at 6:43 PM on June 10, 2013


As of yet, my own bookshelf only works to woo the dudes my roommate brings home, and they only like me for my comics, never my biographies. Men are pigs.
posted by elr at 6:46 PM on June 10, 2013


bongo_x, I don't disagree with any of those specific contentions, but my point was that a focus on the physical presence of specific consumer objects (books) as representation of knowledge or bookishness plays into a larger discourse of capitalism which valorizes object ownership in and of itself.
posted by threeants at 6:46 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


(My judgement, by the way, is systemic rather than personal. I mean, I just posted an AskMe about buying shoes.)
posted by threeants at 7:19 PM on June 10, 2013


The weird idea here that rich people have a lot of books and they flaunt them to poor people is bizarre notion that I can only assume comes from watching too many bad movies.

Rich people don't flaunt things to poor people, they flaunt them to other rich people; why would rich people give a damn what poor people think of them? They're rich.

Also, my argument (I won't speak for others, but I imagine it's something like their argument as well), is not that owning, reading, or loving books is elitist or classist in and of itself or that someone owning a large number of books is trying to make you feel bad. It's that owning large numbers of books is something that is far easier for the rich than the poor. When you judge someone positively for owning large numbers of books, you're making it easier for a person who is well off to earn your esteem because you're judging them for their ability to own a consumer item.

My point was mostly about the privileged place of owned physical books proudly displayed in people's homes and judging other people for not doing the same. No one is an elitist for buying books, if you go into other poor people's house and look down your nose at them for not having any/enough? That might be a different story.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:24 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The real "class" element of books these days comes from the fact that we consume books on expensive e-readers. People pull out the damn things and read the most worthless trash, but it's the e-reader that counts as yet another consumer accessory. At least they torrent the books for free, right?


Can't even go to a used bookstore now - you need a computer with an internet connection and a credit card to browse books on Abebooks.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:31 PM on June 10, 2013


I think that your argument Bulgaroktonos is that having too much STUFF is classist. It doesn't have to be books, it could be anything: cars, dogs, action figures, whatever. It's all about showing off how much useless stuff one has.

But books themselves are inherently problematic for a properly utopian egalitarian society. So isn't it time we repurposed firemen?
posted by happyroach at 7:36 PM on June 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


es_de_bah, could it be Isabella Rossellini?
posted by gentian at 7:37 PM on June 10, 2013


"We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are"
She's reading that while being sexy. That there's irony.


I think sex is really good for you, physically, mentally, emotionally. And I think you shouldn’t avoid sex if you want it.

But if you’re going to have a risky sexual encounter, you should consider the safest possible practices such as dust jackets, filament tape, and acrylic based adhesive before inserting the butt plugs.
WIITWR.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:45 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Other things that I find are bigger factors than literacy and reading on noticeable book ownership:

- Whether the person is someone with a house and/or stable career, vs someone who has to pick up and move a lot (following the jobs). After a few moves in the space of a couple of years, even the most fervent book lover is fighting to get rid of them.
- A home large enough to devote significant space to storing bulky unnecessary stuff.

This is also a generational thing - the modern economy far more rarely offers the 20+year jobs my parent's generation knew. More people are living on the move. On top of that, fewer can afford home ownership. On top of that, digital books renders the old bulky stacks of paper less and less necessary.
posted by anonymisc at 7:45 PM on June 10, 2013


Extreme case of a private collection of books as marker of privilege (and insecurity). Also fictional. But I have a lot of unread books on my shelves. I used to have a compulsive online shopping problem (which I licked a few years back), but books were a big part of what I would buy. And who knows, maybe I'll live to be 150 and read them all. But not likely. In the meantime, they do look nice, and I wish I could somehow get back the dollars I spent on about 90% of them.

By contrast, when I was a kid, my mom took me and my brother to the library every week, maxed out our borrowing ability, and took us back again the next week; we never bought books, but we read a lot of them.
posted by JimInLoganSquare at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2013


It's not intent, it's how it functions. Included ironically in a piece critical of such messaging, it doesn't function in the way that she's criticizing. Out in the world with no context, it can and it does. This isn't rocket science.

People in the real world are too dumb to understand irony or make their own decisions about what’s offensive to them, but when she does it and explains it for them they’ll get it because she’s so good at it? Or, it’s not bad when I do it because of the righteousness. It may not be rocket science, but someone isn’t getting it.

This sounds like "I punched that guy to make a point about violence".
posted by bongo_x at 8:02 PM on June 10, 2013


slept with me based on my heavily-annotated copy of Orientalism alone.

Kevin? Is that you?
posted by small_ruminant at 8:14 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't judge them on the size of their book collection. Judge them on how worn their library card is.

Judge them especially harshly if they have no library card.
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:00 PM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Capt. Renault: "Huge leatherbound collections of Shakespeare are a dead giveaway of a non-reader."

My mom has those. Not only is she a voracious reader, she was an American lit teacher. She has fancy books like that which never get opened as decoration in the house. The paperbacks are read and go in the garage, where an entire wall is shelving, but she stopped collecting books long ago and bought and sold whatever she was reading at used bookstores. However, more often than not these days her books are either on her Kindle or audiobooks on tape or CD.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:02 PM on June 10, 2013


Thanks to this thread I have now wasted about an hour googling and rating various spunkrats with books. Daniel Craig was disappointing, but the young Gregory Peck is full of win.
posted by arha at 12:01 AM on June 11, 2013


So do I have to say "cisgendered" every time I mention someone who isn't transexual? By the way, I'm a non-Polish non-Astronaut who doesn't live in Surrey.
posted by w0mbat at 12:52 AM on June 11, 2013 [4 favorites]


I guess I always read those yellow "Reading is Sexy" bumper stickers (which are pretty ubiquitous round these parts) as being a reversal of the traditional pin-up girl thing, like "No, it's not your body that makes you sexy, it's your brain."

Then why all the pictures/silhouettes of traditionally sexy bodies? If it's the reading that's sexy, what's all the cleavage about?


Also, I learned on Metafilter that "transgendered" is considered offensive and the correct term is "transgender".

Not for me it isn't. "I am transgender" sounds incredibly stupid and grammatically broken to me, whereas "I am transgendered" does not.
posted by Dysk at 12:54 AM on June 11, 2013


So do I have to say "cisgendered" every time I mention someone who isn't transexual? By the way, I'm a non-Polish non-Astronaut who doesn't live in Surrey.

Disingenuous - that would be equivalent to using 'non-trans' all the time, not to using 'cis'. You're [nationality] [occupcation] who lives in [place of residence]. You would mention all of those things if they were relevant, yes.
posted by Dysk at 12:56 AM on June 11, 2013


It makes sense to bring up specific personal demographics in a situation where that demographic is under discussion. It doesn't make sense to say, "I'm a Democrat and I love sweater vests" in answer to "what's your favorite fashion accessory?" but it's a reasonable distinction to make if someone says, "only Republicans wear sweater vests."

In discussions about whether something is gender normative / heteronormative, it makes sense to employ the terms for describing those differences.
posted by taz at 1:53 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Reading is classist" is what gets libraries shut down. Bit of an own goal, that, surely?
posted by aesop at 3:05 AM on June 11, 2013


[No, Dennett! No!]
posted by aesop at 3:07 AM on June 11, 2013


Relevant historical backstory? In the late 18th and early 19thC when there was a massive explosion of print media in the Western world, and silent reading - particularly silent reading of fiction - was on the increase, the idea that 'reading is sexy' was used to limit women's access to books. Books, especially novels, were considered dangerous for women, because they would incite dangerous and inappropriate passions, which might in turn derange their reproductive abilities and would certainly encourage immodest behaviour. Correspondingly, the woman reader was a frequent subject of erotic art.
posted by melisande at 3:18 AM on June 11, 2013 [9 favorites]


Because I don't watch Parks and Rec, I was thinking of Ron Burgundy until I Googled Ron Swanson. I think Burgundy would work too. I remember a poster hanging in the junior high library featuring Bo Jackson - Bo Knows Reading.

Although I can understand the basis of the argument, 'reading is / books are classist', it doesn't sit well with me anecdotally. Out of all the consumer shit I've acquired over the years, my books probably took the least amount of money (although the most time). Gathered from friends, family, eBay, Amazon, libraries, bookstores, swaps, and even strangers from the internet (looking at you, Theora55!), my collection no longer fits on the shelves I have in my apartment. Even though it's a pain in the ass to move books, there are many I won't ever get rid of. They're a wonderfully tactile way of expressing all the bits and bobs that make up my intelllectual self. Oh well... Maybe that is classist, but I'll take it.

As far as reading being sexy, I used to date this Russian guy. We spent many weekends spent in various states of undress, lounging and reading. I'm hard pressed to think of a sexier time in my life.
posted by youngergirl44 at 6:08 AM on June 11, 2013


Then why all the pictures/silhouettes of traditionally sexy bodies? If it's the reading that's sexy, what's all the cleavage about? Did you look at the yellow Reading is Sexy stickers in question? They don't show any part of the body. Well, the head. And one hand.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:35 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Besides that image, if you type "reading is sexy" into Google Images it's not like every other pic is breasts and books, and more along the lines of less than 10% in some form or another. Oddly i saw more pics of guys with books, which apparently she has never seen. Her "casual sampling" method seems to consist of a couple of images she saw once or twice.

This is essay is really sophomoric, problematically framed, and totally unsupported.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 6:50 AM on June 11, 2013 [6 favorites]


I don't know if I want to go so far as to say that owning books (or lots of book, or first editions of books) is classist, but anecdotally, when money got tight around my house after marrying mr. jennaratrix and taking on his three kids, plus a dog and cats and a mortgage and car payments, new books were one of the first casualties. Books are freaking expensive, and when you're faced with $4/gallon gas and $150 weekly grocery bills, $25 for a book is hard to justify (or even $7-10 for a paperback). I do read and reread and reread books, so it wasn't a tragedy, but I am only now able to think about buying new books. Of course there is the library, but there's a big difference between borrowing books from the library and owning brand-new books that you are the first person to crack open. I would argue that new books are or can be a luxury item (depending on your personal priorities), but I would not argue that reading in and of itself is classist. I think that argument in the article is a stretch, if that is in fact the argument the author is making. It's a little unclear.

As for the sexism angle, I do think that women are often exhorted to be sexy no matter what; why does reading have to be sexy? If you think it is, great, but can't it just be reading and still be admirable? Women are still often taught to believe that their physical attractiveness is their most important trait; you can be smart, but then smart has to also be sexy. I get that the "reading is sexy" idea is an attempt to turn this on it's head, but I guess I'd rather see a trend away from women HAVING to be sexy all the time as opposed to implying that what is an admirable trait (literacy or intelligence) is only acceptable because hey, it's sexy too! If that makes sense.
posted by jennaratrix at 7:00 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think that if some people in this thread really want to understand why some other people might throw around "classist", they'd do well to consider the difference between "reading or owning books is classist" (which nobody said) and "glorifying books over other media is a traditional method of valuing the trappings of learning, which come with class, over actual learning." I'm not sure that I have an opinion, or at least not one easily reducible to classist/not terms, but I see that fundamental misunderstanding in all of the "nuh-uh" comments above.
posted by nathan v at 7:21 AM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


To be honest with you, I enjoy the trappings of learning since it often signifies actual learning.
posted by josher71 at 7:34 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would argue that new books are or can be a luxury item (depending on your personal priorities), but I would not argue that reading in and of itself is classist. I think that argument in the article is a stretch, if that is in fact the argument the author is making. It's a little unclear.

No I think you've gotten the really pivotal point in the article. There's a sort of merging together of three ideas

- Reading a book is sexy, it is sexy to be seen reading because of $REASONS. This is likely not classist any more than literacy is classist (which is pretty debatable in the US but a very open question elsewhere) but calling anything appealing "sexy" is problematic for reasons people have mentioned above. That said, some people don't find this problematic at all.
- People who have a lot of books in their house are (or should be?) more appealing than people who don't because of $REASONS. This may be classist.
- You can judge things about people who have a lot of books in their house (because you see things about them and possibly what they believe and understand a bit about what they want to display and can see the type of books they have) and this sort of snap judgement is, or can be, classist.

Any of which would be an interesting topic for discussion but mushing them all together leaves the article with less focus than it could have and makes the writer just seem more crabby about this topic than learned. But I am a snob and still hung up on the John Waters quote, so there is no pleasing me.
posted by jessamyn at 7:58 AM on June 11, 2013


I'm also hung up on the John Waters quote.

In the original article, the author says
Bibliophile and director John Waters is often taken out of context and quoted on various memetic images as saying, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!” Never mind the more than 16,000 public libraries nationwide -– book ownership is what counts here.
yet the Film Threat article states
In similar Waters fashion, “This Filthy World” even notes our lack of interest in reading: “We need to make books cool again,” Waters says onstage. “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them!” (emphasis mine)
It would appear that the author takes issue with an out-of-context interpretation of a partial quote and then ascribes her own out-of-context interpretation to the partial quote. It's quite a leap to go from "We need to make books cool again." to "...book ownership is what counts here."

It's unfair to infer motivation to John Waters without verifying the quote.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:38 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


There’s an amazing amount of straw man arguments going on here to try and justify attacking an imaginary foe that needs to be brought down, the invisible classist from the article.
posted by bongo_x at 8:53 AM on June 11, 2013


I think that if some people in this thread really want to understand why some other people might throw around "classist", they'd do well to consider the difference between "reading or owning books is classist" (which nobody said) and "glorifying books over other media is a traditional method of valuing the trappings of learning, which come with class, over actual learning."

Actually, you might want to look at the article again because she clearly makes the distinction of connecting class with ownership. If she wanted to make an argument about successful moral entrepreneurs and how they come from a priveledged socioeconomic knowledge class then she should have come at this from a vastly different angle.

Sure, there is something to be said about the conflict with intertwining the two constructs of "reading" and "sexy" and the presentation of that, but the author seemed to be more upset about some specific imagery rather than delving into the deeper problems.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 8:57 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a facile article. Unfortunately, that's resulted in any legitimate concerns of the author to be dismissed as foolish and stupid. Which, I know, is the way of things. It's why you don't want foolish and stupid people acting as spokespeople for, say, feminism.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:03 AM on June 11, 2013


> I like my female librarians like I like my books: over 100 years old with broken spines, and smelling of mothballs

Foxy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:04 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Room 641-A: " It's unfair to infer motivation to John Waters without verifying the quote."

The article is axe-gridiny dribble.

It's been established that "Reading is Sexy" was created by a feminist (from Olympia, Washington! perhaps one of the most learned places on feminist theory) and trying to assign John Waters of all people as being classist shows a basic misunderstanding of who he is, the content of his films, and ascribing the act of book ownership as something it's not.
posted by wcfields at 9:21 AM on June 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


that's resulted in any legitimate concerns of the author to be dismissed as foolish and stupid.

I'm curious what you mean by this, because I think most people seem to have a problem with the article because she failed to actually produce a legitimate concern, or at least legitimatize her concerns. It's one thing to show something as problematic, which she failed at even doing that, but it's a whole 'nother ball game to prove something is a problem.
posted by Rocket Surgeon at 9:52 AM on June 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Since no one else has done it:
Reading: Manly as Fuck

Disclaimer: I make no judgments as to whether Ron Swanson is a good male role model, whether this is analogous to the "reading is sexy" images, whether Ron Swanson is sexy, et cetera. Image borrowed from oomny's Flavorwire link.
posted by ashirys at 12:06 PM on June 11, 2013 [3 favorites]


Actually, you might want to look at the article again because she clearly makes the distinction of connecting class with ownership.

Thanks; on review, you're right.
posted by nathan v at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2013


I was in a courthouse okay, with a zillion other potential jurors, and we were all reading. Books, magazines, phones, tablets...one guy had a Green Lantern comic. We were all ages, all colors, goodness knows what combination of gender and sexuality. And there we sat, reading, waiting to do our civic duty. It was decidedly unsexy.
posted by Biblio at 2:46 PM on June 11, 2013


It was decidedly unsexy.

To you.
posted by bongo_x at 9:24 AM on June 12, 2013


Yeah, that's totally going to be the 2198 version of today's Regency bodice-rippers.

Amongst a zillion others, Thad sat on the hard wooden bench, failing to concentrate on his crossword. Did "bureaucracy" have an "o" or not? He lost all sense of grammar each time he looked over at DeShawn, a comic-book-reading specimen of dark, delicious manhood in devastatingly gray dress slacks.

Across the chipped linoleum, Madison crossed and uncrossed her legs, the jeggings failing to contain her ardor. And no wonder: her white-haired seatmate Roger looked like he could singlehandedly bring back Members Only windbreakers, and she would be first in line at Kohls when that day came around.

Mmmm, khaki.

Civic duty had never seemed so... arousing.

posted by Madamina at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whew, is it getting warm in here?
posted by bongo_x at 1:26 PM on June 12, 2013


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