Seminar 3: Collaborative Text: Bodies in Pharmacopornographic Capitalism

In our final seminar, we created a collaborative text. Below, is my own final edited version of the text…

Bodies in Pharmacopornographic Capitalism

As a prominent artist and contemporary writer, Paul B Preciado specialised in topics regarding gender identity, pornography and sexuality. Preciado decided to take Testogel, however not for a transsexualism purpose. As Preciado states in their book, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics: “Foil what society wanted to make of me, so that I can write, fuck, feel a form of pleasure that is postpornographic, add a molecular prostheses to my low-tech transgender identity composed of dildos, texts, and moving images; I do it to avenge your death.” Various themes are discussed within this book, such as the control and release of chemicals which have become of common fixture within modern day society.

Taking influence from writers such as Foucault and Deleuze, Preciado introduces the concept of a society where chemicals and sexuality are now just relevant commodities, that were founded in an industrial age. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics explores societal models that transform the way in which we perversely define bodies. This abandons the gender binary, as Preciado seeks to depart from the binary logic of sexual and gender representation. Introduced in the book, the term pharmacopornographic discusses the process of biopower; the semiotic technical government of sexual subjectivity; and how advancements have affected our everyday culture.

Biopower is a concept created by Michel Foucault. It refers to the control of other bodies through numerous methods of power, including reproductive practices, and customary regulations and habits. A prime example of biopower includes any conception of the state as a whole, and the use of state-power as an essential factor to its ‘life’. This contrasts against the well-known,  traditional form of power, based on the threat of imprisonment or death from the sovereign. In the current era, it is irrational to think that this concept of the sovereign power still applies, and that the threat of death is still the source of power and control. Foucault proposes this, whilst also outlining that biopower emphasises the protection of life and the preservation of the species. Anything that can be considered as a threat to any living thing on Earth can be eradicated with impunity. This power over other bodies is biopower: “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations” (Foucault, History of Sexuality, Vol.I, p.140).

The effects of biopower can be seen anywhere in the modern society. For example, within the LGBT community.  Through this example it can be pointed out that in history, biopower was introduced after the war. For example, surgeries that were traditionally used for soldiers are now being used in cosmetics, such as plastic surgery. For many willing transgender individuals, the development within these procedures have become life-changing. Scientific developments and advances have aided the fight against stigmas surrounding transgenderism, transsexuality, and homosexuality. The stereotype surrounding the objectification of women is also being fought against. A recent example of this is the Women’s March, which was triggered by President Trump’s bill to illegalise abortion, amongst his plea to cut female contraception.

Discussing regimes of power, biopolitics examines the strategies and mechanisms through which the development of human life is managed under regimes of authority. In History of Sexuality, Foucault theorizes liberalism as a practice and as a critique of the government. Foucault argues that the rise of this is inseparable from the rise of biopolitical technologies of governance. Through a transferral of sovereign power to ‘biopower’, these biopolitical technologies of governance have extended political control and power over all major processes of life It is biopower which explores the technologies and techniques which govern human social and biological development.

In 17/8th century Europe, there was a shift from theology to scientific based truth. Religion was not the main source of power, as science and reason were beginning to become more dominant. As a result, this began a shift from sovereign, necro-political power to bio-power. Necro-political power is associated with the power of giving death. Foucault defines as, “the right to take life or let live”. On the other hand, bio-power is more concerned with “taking charge of life, more than the threat of death, that gave power its access even to the body”. Therefore, biopower focuses more on idea of reproduction, the control of sexuality and the power in the ways that our bodies are administered. Necropolitics can be associated with masculinity, and biopower as associated with femininity.

This new technology of power deals not with society, but with the population as a body itself: “It is a new body, a multiple body, a body with so many heads that, while they might not be infinite in number, cannot necessarily be counted.” The massification of individuals allows figures in power to control what has the potential to compromise their position, people. Mechanisms employed aim to achieve an “overall regularity”. Therefore, biopolitics deals with issues only relevant at a mass level, such as birth and death rates, illness and insurance. These problems are unpredictable and ungovernable on an individual level.

Many advances that have shaped the world that we live in today are of military origin. War is an effect of politics. The hierarchy of the Military enabled human life to be managed under regimes of authority and power, therefore creating an effective biopolitical platform. For centuries, the extreme demands of war have driven medical advancement and innovation. Medical research advances, were often directed at addressing the problems encountered by deployed military forces. Examples of this include: vaccines or drugs for soldiers; medical evacuation systems; drinking water chlorination, and skin grafts for injuries. Many of these have since proved a higher importance than the military considerations that inspired them. An example of a development from military research is the advancements of skin grafts. Recent advances have developed a bioprinted 3D skin that heals burn wounds. This development also helped progress plastic surgery techniques. Plastic surgery, originally created as purely for medical procedures has since been redefined as a desired commodity.

Within our everyday lives, a vast majority of our cultural developments originated from the military. Psychotropic drugs are used on a daily basis. These drugs were originally developed for Psychotropic induced torture. Thus techniques affected the mental activity, mood and behaviour of the individual. The military used these drugs as a torture techniques to aid interrogation during the Cold War. They identified the main chemicals that affect the brain psychotropically, and utilised this to their advantage. Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical commercialized a type of this in the form of Methadone, which is used to treat mainly heroin addictions. In a similar way, Secobarbital was originally intended for medical purposes but was used recreationally during the 1960’s underground rock scene for its hypnotic traits. In many cases, advancements within the military have since been infiltrated within our everyday lives and into mainstream society.

Technological advancements emerged from the military, and soon became popular across many nations, especially in the United States. Preciado’s technologies can be traced back to technological and pharmaceutical advancements which emerged from the military. With time, these advancements moved from being solely in the military to becoming available for the general population’s use. Preciado claims that “After World War II, the somatopolitcal context of the production of subjectivity seems dominated by a series of new technologies of the body (which include biotechnology, surgery, endocrinology, and so forth) and representation (photography, cinema, television, cybernetics, videogames, and so forth) that infiltrate and penetrate daily life like never before.”

Furthermore, the Cold War established the Soviet Union and the United States as two ‘superpowers’ with political differences. The emergence of pornography further cemented these differences, especially with the establishment of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy. In December 1953, Marilyn Monroe became the face of the first North American porn magazine. She sexualised herself through her body yet allowed it to be viewed as acceptable; inspiring women with the idea that you can be sexualised without being shamed. The rise of pornography in popular culture and women becoming a sexualised commodity forced a rise in plastic surgery operations and procedures as many started to seek the “ideal” body. As bodies were becoming more glamorized with rising concerns regarding appearance, the modification technology of plastic surgery increased sexual objectification. However, in more recent years plastic surgery has had a more accepting view regarding gender expression, for example a rise of procedures attached with transsexuality.

Moreover, the contraceptive pill, initially produced in 1961 for married women only, became available to women in different forms worldwide. The pill suppresses women’s fertility using the hormones progestogen or oestrogen, or both. It was available to married women only, but availability was extended in 1967. In the past, relationships and sex were all rooted surrounding reproduction. Males were viewed as sperm producers, and females were seen as uterus carriers. The contraceptive pill offered protection during intercourse, but for many it also removed the idea that sexual intercourse was viewed solely as a reproductive purpose. Similarly, the mass production of the porn industry introduced an emotional disconnection between male and female relationships, and sex became more about pleasure and fantasy. With sexuality no longer being so closely attached to reproduction, homosexuality slowly became more accepted in society.

Sexuality was becoming separate from reproduction, due to the pill and the mass pornographic industry. However, pornography was also seen to be changing since anybody who owns a webcam can be involved in the industry. With the introduction of the internet, pornography companies such as Playboy, are no longer holding dominance within the sex industry. Accessibilty aided by the internet has meant anyone can access or even upload their own content at any time. This can be referred to as Post-Fordism.

As Post-Fordism expresses the idea that mass production is becoming more dominated by the individual, it can be connected to immaterial labour. Immaterial labour explores work outside of a wage-based labour. It is work developed within our society and is theorised through the changes in the mode of capitalist production known as Post-Fordism.  Immaterial labour has two main aspects: the manipulations of symbols, and/or the manipulation of affects. The manipulation of symbols relate to the production of general knowledge and problem-solving, and its ‘informational content’. Whereas, the manipulation of affects is the production of emotions. It is the activities that are normally not recognised as ‘work’. For example, the kinds of activities that are involved in defining and fixing cultural and artistic standards: fashions, tastes, consumer norms, and more strategically, public opinion.

In relation to immaterial labour, the theory of Post-Fordism is evident because it explores the idea that production redirecting from a mass audience, and is becoming more individual, personal and available to everyone. Similarly, the technological change and the development of computerisation within the industry has also had an impact. This is shown within the pornographic industry. Since porn is no longer solely a mass developed industry owned by companies, such as Playboy; Hotvideo; Dorcel; and Hustle,  anybody with internet and a webcam can now be part of it. Simply by owning a webcam you are involved in capitalism, because as a society we have the knowledge, information, power and social relationships for this to occur. This highlights that cyberpornography has begun to “sabotage a monopoly”. As a result, there is a division between work and personal life as this influences and produces society.

Modes of production are subsequently illustrated through the ideas of reproduction. As a society, we are no longer purely procreating through reproduction, we are creating new individuals. It is through developing and growing, changing and adapting that we are seen to reproduce creating new people. The concept that we are born into labour reproduction is subsequently illustrated, with the idea that every instant of our life is labour power or potential labour power. We are continually changing an individual’s actions, and consequently we can go on to change culture and the production line in which we live by. This relates to “biopolitical production” which explores the idea of neo-techniques of producing and managing life. It is through reproduction that we manage society and our own lives.

As a result, the changes within the pornography industry illustrate how within our personal life divisions are shifting, and we are reproducing. This is shown through biocapitalism, as we are gaining the knowledge and language, memory and reasons to develop this reproduction. We have “the raw materials of today’s production process which are excitation, erection, ejaculation, and pleasure and feelings of self-satisfaction, omnipotent control and total destruction”.  Consequently, the development between our personal life and sexuality are shifting. Thus, this shows us that labour has greatly shifted from production companies to social aspects and services.

A number of artists have spoken regarding how these ideas are shown in artistic responses. In “How do you visualise a woman in the 21st century”, Linda Stupart discussed Paul B Preciado’s Testo Junkie. Stupart posted a request on their Facebook to inform people to use they or them pronouns when talking in reference to Linda. Stupart then stated text by Preciado that questions the desire to transform from a feminist into something new. This explains to us that there is still a constant shift going on today.
In conclusion, the transformation of notions regarding gender, reproduction, and sexuality, into objects of the political management of living have changed social and economic ideas surrounding neoliberalism.  New dynamics have developed through advancements within techno-capitalism, biotechnologies, and the global media.


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