By Julia Rasmussen.
The image of Grace Jones standing on one foot whilst holding a microphone in the other, looking effortless while in an impossible pose, exuding strength, athleticism and sex, has gone down in history as iconic. The image depicted on the cover of her album Island Life was created by Jean Paul Goude, her boyfriend at the time, a man known for his fetishizing of black women. She his muse, he the observer, tweaking with the real image in post-production to have a final product that gleams of perfection. Goude’s gaze focuses on the ‘exotic’ aspects of Jones, or rather the visual aspects of her person that are non-white. Her impressive stature, her build, her buttocks and her dark skin are all focal points of the lens. The doctoring of the image adds to the level of objectification Goude is placing upon Jones in this image, making her body something that is meant to incite pleasure in the viewer. Jones could be described as being half woman, half fantasy, or cyborg as defined by Harraway: ‘A hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.’ (2016) Jones is a creature of fiction understood in the sense that perfection as depicted by Goude here does not exist, and she is a creature of social reality in the way that Goude sees her, through colonial lenses, irking to mark his territory in the exotic.
Parallels can be drawn between the colonial patriarchal gaze placed on Jones by Goude as the other, and how nature, and ecology as concepts have been approached through a white male gaze. Nature has been exploited and colonized by man, round-handedly indulging in all of the pleasures it has to offer, with a self-assumed righteousness unique to the white male. The problem with the undercurrent of influence the patriarchy has on culture, and nature, is that its existence is seen as a universal truth. As Harvey writes, infrastructures have a tendency to ‘remain as invisible backdrops to social action, their characteristics instead seen as explainable by the social forces, interests, or ideologies that went into making them.’(2016)
Conceptualizing the white male gaze into the framework of the powerful, of the elite, one understands that all elements of society bare traces of the patriarchy. The distanced gaze cooly watching Grace Jones, is the gaze of capitalism, consumerism, and self-interest, and it is the same gaze that watches dumbstruck as the world around him becomes undone in a global crisis of chaos and instability. A gaze that belongs to a man that believes that solving the problem means altering the reality it exists in through man made advancements. Grace Jones, and other women, modified and altered, both in front of and behind the lens, so as to maximize their sex appeal. In the same way that environmental policies do not involve the slowing down of the planet’s unsustainable growth, but rather, finding technological and temporal solutions that work as band aids on a wound that has been infected for decades.
But perhaps one might wonder about the agency of the victims. Of all of the victims of the male gaze, both women and the planet, and how even when seen as victims, the patriarchy is still placed at the center. As the one doing rather than being done to. If looked at as other than victims of objectification and exploitation, they are symptoms of an infrastructural flaw, that deem this kind of male omnipotence possible. But as Hand writes all we need is a: ‘close reexamination of what it actually means to be human in the first place, a being that is “inherently parasitic and polluting” (2016). Perhaps we should no longer accept the rhetoric of the universal truth of the white man at the center. And perhaps we as, Harraway dictates, should rework nature and culture: ‘one can no longer be the resource for appropriation or incorporation by the other.’ The respect that we need to incorporate into all aspects of life, especially those that are being oppressed, is incremental to changing not just the conversation, but also who has a say.
The image of Grace Jones reminds us of who has been colonizing the infrastructures of our minds for their own benefit. The planet will continue existing, but no one knows whether it will be a place inhabitable by man. Hopefully we will realize before then, that once all ideologies, frameworks, preconceived perceptions, connotations and paradigms are peeled away, we are left with nature at the center, and man understood in its form in all races and genders, at its mercy. Let’s not let the white male commit hubris, without at least being an obstacle on his journey there.
Hand, F. (2016). Ecocriticism on the Edge. The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept. Miscelánea, 54, 143-146.
Haraway, D. (2016). A Cyborg Manifesto SCIENCE , TECHNOLOGY , AND SOCIALIST – FEMINISM IN THE LATE TWENTIETH CENTURY. University of Minnesota Press.
Penelope Harvey, Casper Bruun Jensen, & Atsuro Morita. (2016). Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion (CRESC). Taylor and Francis.