More concering the female ankle — or what Evolutionary Psychologists and Aesthetic Theorists could learn from Marketing Research

June 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

This research paper says ankles are among the body features least paid attention to by potential sexual partners.  Like all such papers by evolutionary psychologists, it fails to address the question no marketing researcher would ever overlook:  does the aggregate data in fact obstruct the structure of the phenomenon (“market”)?  That is to say, does aesthetic interest in ankles define a certain population — one among whom the ankle is a significant item?  (Perhaps even “the most significant”?).

This writer’s self-observation suggests:  yes.

If so, then comes the crunch question: if so, then what else is unique about this sub-group?  Surely, they are not all balding six-foot-five, paper-skinned descendants of East European gentry with a strong interest in martial arts, European opera, glazed pottery, and Japanese classics?  And if not — are there any features they share?  And significantly:  not just taste features — i.e. “all ankle lovers prefer blonds” (clearly not true)– but “do all ankle-lovers have ankles themselves?” or:  “do all ankle-lovers happen to have an extra-long middle finger in the right hand?”) The marketer will also want to know — I should say chiefly want to know — how to reach them — what media they watch, what magazines they read, etc.

Can you see what I am driving at?  Taste as a hidden structure of humanity!

In my view, Evolutionary Psychologists, like aestheticists (and all academics in general), would benefit greatly from courses in marketing research.  For instance, publications of the World Coffee Council would teach them that:

a) the entire coffee-drinker population in the world can be divided into several very specific groups (fewer than ten) — with respect to the particular coffee flavor they prefer;

b) that the populations of those groups are spread across the globe — but not evenly; they are in fact spread lumpily:  for instance, the preference for a coffee taste described by professional tasters as “burnt rubber” shows up all over the globe, even in (still) mostly coffee-less China, but is a significant plurality in only two nations on earth:  Poland and the UK;  not the majority, mind you, as in “50% +1”; but significant plurality, meaning the largest of the many minorities, and one large enough to dictate its tastes to others (it determines what gets put on supermarket shelves);

c) each such group consists, in different proportions, of a hard-core (can’t sell them a milky cappucino if their life depended on it) ; and hangers on (can drink any coffee, generally prefer burnt rubber, but happy to try whatever everyone else is having at the moment);  the hangers on can be sold a different product, the hard-core — only once;

d) the special gifts required to make a coffee-taster (a natural gift is required followed by intensive training) disqualify a person from telling you what they like:  people who have tasted a great deal of coffee often can’t make up their mind and, in private, actually turn out to be tea- or juice-drinkers; or else consume such a wide variety of coffees that they do not fall into any of the broad categories themselves; in other words, the process of training an expert, both sharpens ones taste and, in a sense, ruins it.

It is my hunch, based on years of conducting marketing research, that not only does the taste in ankles, but the tastes in opera and painting and architecture run the same way:  many islands of mutually incompatible, probably hard-wired taste-preferences; and between them a sea of hangers on, who happen to say they like X because their mother did, or their girlfriend does, and have some familiarity with it and some sentiment for it, but who really don’t have anything that could be called taste of their own; and swimming within that sea are — “experts” — near-omnivores, seeing everything, understood by the blind who see less and, in a sense, baffled by everything.

[Next lecture:  taste as a speciating factor]

The remarkable disappearance of the female ankle

June 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The sudden arrival of summer has caused the fair sex to drop excess clothing and appear before us (nearly) as nature has made them.  And nature has made them, it would appear — incredibly! — without the — talocrural joint — sans the synovial hinge — sine angulus, in short — nature has made them — ankleless!

The aesthete’s eye is amazed to see that by and large the human female’s leg does not, after all, appear to sport the narrow waist of his imagination — as the porcine trotter does; but instead the female foot appears to connect directly to the calf, without any attempt at defined ligature, or modulation; in the style of the Doric column, the Egyptian pylon, or the pachyderm support column.  Can this be possible?  To explain his misconception, the aesthete has gone back to search the various Roman and Renaissance Venuses and to his surprise has discovered that among them, too, the ankle is — notably missing.  (Unbelievable, but true).

Now, the aesthete knows form personal experience — observation of several significant others — that, in principle, the female ankle does exist; but he is now compelled to admit that it would appear to be a commodity in severe shortage.

His fetish — if that’s what it is — the aesthete does not spend excessive amounts of time slobbering over his significant other’s ankles; but he will generally and instantly lose interest in anyone shown to lack a well-turned one — isn’t his alone:  he remembers others  commenting on women’s ankles — fine-ankled Rajasthani upper-class women; Edo-era floating-world habitues — and wonders why such an interest should exist.  Clearly, fine ankles are far more rare than agreeable faces — could it be that a good ankle is harder to make?  Is a fine ankle and indication of good carpentry — a better tool for running and jumping?  (Desirable for one’s offspring).  Or is it the opposite — that an unsightly ankle is an indication of bad health?  (A swollen ankle is the one most obvious indication of circulation problems).

As many aesthetic preferences do, the ankle-interest appears to have speciating effects:  those who pay attention to ankles appear to have good ankles themselves.

[Incidentally, while looking for an illustration for this post I discovered that female ankles unuglified by some sort of an ill-conceived tattoo appear to have gone extinct; closer inspection shows all those photos sport non-ankles; presumably the tattoo is there as a form of disguise].

That men’s dislike for an intelligent woman is as nothing compared to the hate she engenders in women

May 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon are in afterlife as they were in life — a set of opposites.

Of the two contemporary Heian court ladies — ladies in waiting of rival empresses — the world likes Murasaki better.  Judging by existing publications — both of the originals and the various translations, retellings, commentaries and spin-offs — Murasaki outsells Shonagon about 1200 to 1.

You won’t be surprised to know, then, that Murasaki bores me — she’s a kind of Jane Austen — but   I love Sei Shonagon — who really has no European equivalent.  (Neither Simone de Beauvoir, nor Susan Sontag had quite the literary talent or the aesthetic insight.  Perhaps Marguerite of Navarre — of Heptaméron — is the closest Western parallel).

Sei Shonagon was a damn intelligent woman, exceedingly well educated, aesthetically sensitive, with a true literary gift; an intellectual and spiritual giant condemned to the insignificant role of a lady in waiting in a world run by diverting courtiers and dim-witted muscle-men; and to falling in love with men half her IQ; and therefore, perhaps, even more hard-headed, stubborn, and proud and given to nasty sarcasm and poking cruel fun at human stupidity than she was born to be; and generally disliked by the mob now as she was disliked then:  men, it is said, dislike an intelligent woman; the truth is, that men’s dislike for an intelligent woman is as nothing compared to the hate such a woman engenders in women.

They are just beginning to learn sex and sometimes fall victim to the emotions it provokes

January 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Dao was a pure pleasure:  a girl from the coffee plantations, she had just arrived that day.  She had a lovely smile, she was polite and deferential; it was a cold night and she became very cold on the bike, so when we got home I made her a hot bath, a hot chocolate and warm pajamas to warm up:  she was surprised and pleased and embarrassed by the attention.  The way she kissed me afterwards — self-consciously but generously — made it clear that she liked and trusted me — indeed, that I appeared to her a kind of mirage:  a fairly youthful, good looking, well paying, gentle and kind customer on her first night of work.  Her city career would work out well.

The sex was lousy as always, though she did try hard to oblige and there was a brief spark of fire.  In the morning I drove her home and she was lost, unable to find her room, a little worried (what if I cannot find my way) and again embarrassed — me sun-burnt country bumpkin coffee picker, what I am doing in the big city.  We found the place at last; she pointed out her room in that natural gesture she would use with any new acquaintance.  She thanked me politely and — putting her palms together and bowing, offered a pretty, low wai.

She was a gem:  an unspoiled girl observing faithfully the feudal principles of respectful subservience to one’s employer.  I didn’t offer to trade numbers or to meet again:  things could only go down from there.  Dao would learn to be city-like — vulgar and insensitive before she learned better sex.  Or worse:  she might fall in love.  These are, after all, girls:  they sleep around no more than European college girls do.  Like them they are just beginning to learn sex and like them they sometimes fall victim to the emotions it provokes.

Fon lives to please her friends: it is not a prescription for happiness

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I was beginning to give thought in my mind of how much I should give Fon at parting; and whether she would make any trouble about it; when she suggested that I take her to her favorite bar.  At first I was reluctant to go, knowing that Kung would probably be there and things could get out of hand.  But having given the matter a little thought I realized that that might not be a bad thing at all, as it could solve my problem (if Fon chose to walk off in anger), and might be enjoyable into the bargain.

It was:  I bought both girls their drinks and played pool with Kung while Fon huddled with her bar girl friends who told her in conspiratorial whispers how I two-timed her, all the while waving to me and from time to time engaging me in a spot of hi-byes (you can’t call what they can say in English, or I in Thai, conversation), or bringing me a snack from their table.  (“The two faced Yellow Race!”, no doubt, my club-handed friend Wilhelm would have here exclaimed had he lived to hear this story).

Kung was somewhat flummoxed at first but got over it quickly; and gave me a fun game of pool, no doubt thinking I might yet hire her again in a few days; and Fon kept cool until we got home; when we did, she grabbed her things and left.  I stopped her long enough to exchange a few words:  I explained to her how I hired Kung when I thought Fon was never coming back.  But she kept saying something that suggested she had got her dates wrong; or perhaps her friends had given her wrong dates.  I realized then, again, that the anger was about her friends — the fact that her friends disapproved; and also that her friends’ reports were probably given with more than a little joy:  Fon was so proud to show me; they were happy to prick her pride.  They might have exaggerated things, or lied, but, at any rate, they clearly stoked up her moral outrage beyond what can be reasonable in bar girl.  And Fon was not smart enough to see this.  Fon lives to please her friends:  it is not a prescription for happiness.

Why so many Thai women say sex is overrated and name eating as their favorite indulgence

January 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Kung, on the other hand, is a nice girl of the old school — trends take time to propagate and the Confused Modern Girl Syndrome (“not sure what I want or why”) has not yet reached Sukhothai whence she came only a month ago to work.  The deal is clear and she observes it professionally:  she serves her clients and for this she is paid the sum agreed.  She treats her customers with the traditional feudal respect and deference, and does not try to gouge more money, or more emotional commitment, than was agreed at the outset.

Work has not been a smashing success:  foreigners prefer girls who speak English; so Kung spends her days with phrase books and dictionaries and watching English TV; but it is precisely her poor English that has led me to hire her:  girls who speak no English are new-c0mers and have not had time to grow rude and smart-allecky, which is a very fast change, and unsurprising given from whom they learn.  But newcomers are still nice Thai girls in the traditional mold:  polite and gentle and neat.  Pleasant company.  Good huggers.

Like most young girls today, Kung has not been trained by her mother to serve.  It does not occur to her to pick up the garbage, or hang out the towels, or sweep the floor.  She does not realize that her job is really to provide comfort, not just sex.  I should not wonder if this is why her husband has left her.  Which to my mind, at least, is a strong reason to pick older women.

The sex is like all Thai sex:  it is foreplay-less, and remarkably unsensual.  Once penetration has been achieved, the girls do warm up to the act and do appear to enjoy themselves, even come.  But they don’t enjoy kissing, and don’t know how to, and if you try to kiss their necks, or the inside of their elbows, or stroke the backs of their thighs, they squeak jakachee (“you tickle me!”).  Lacking the emotional heightening of foreplay, I find the whole thing dull and often lose interest in the middle of the act.  I can see why so many Thai women say sex is overrated and name eating as their favorite indulgence.

It is the same with woman after woman after woman, whether professional or amateur or virtuous.  The attraction of Thailand to single men cannot be the quality of the thing; just its availability.

That one screws foreigners in order to impress one’s friends

January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

But it didn’t last long:  less than a week later, she was gone.  Although I didn’t try to stop her, she left of her own volition and without asking for pay.  (She did however carefully pack everything I had bought her, even the unfinished food).  She did not seem interested in the money all that much, I suppose, nor in her employer.  Rather, what she wanted to do was to have me meet her “friends” — the tons and tons of girls she knew by name; “meeting her friends” involved eating in restaurants where she knew all the staff and spent almost the entire time standing at the counter talking to them while I ate.

To some extent this is understandable:  these girls are her world: it is with them that she will trade favors: the kid of favors the girls can provide — a 500 Baht loan, a couch for the night, an investigative phone call — making a positive impression on them matters.  What puzzled me is why she wanted to show me to them.  Is attracting a foreign male a source of kudos?  Does it increase the girl’s stock market value among her “friends”?

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