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“The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe” (Berger 141). John Berger and Susan Bordo both wrote about the way people view things in the world. Despite how far apart these pieces were written, they argue very similar points. Both look at the world and go in depth about how and why people look at art in society. They both specifically target something. However, when breaking these pieces down into their very basic arguments, these essays are very different creatures.

Both of these writers were deeply concerned with the shift going on in society in their time. John Berger’s biggest concern was his definition of “mystification,” from Ways of Seeing. “Mystification has little to do with the vocabulary used. Mystification is the process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident” (Berger 146). Berger states, here, that mystification has nothing to do with words. It is merely the overuse of pictures in today’s society. With the ability to reproduce a picture so easily, the meaning of the picture becomes smeared, less legible. A picture only becomes worth something if a large sum of money is placed on it. On discussion of The Virgin and the Child With St. Anne and St. John the Baptist by Leanardo da Vinci, Berger points out something extremely important. He says, “A few years ago, it was known only to scholars. It became famous because an American wanted to buy it for two and a half million pounds. Now it hangs in a room by itself. The room is like a chapel. The drawing is behind bulletproof perspex. It has aquired a new kind of impressiveness. Not because of what it shows — not because of the meaning of its image. It has become impressive, mysterious, because of its market value” (151-2). This passage really becomes an important aspect of society. Here, Berger unlocks the true meaning of mystification. This comment is the definition of mystification. Those with money and power have the ability to mystify a painting. But those with powerful sums of money aren’t the only ones who can truly mystify a painting these days, thanks to the art of reproduction of pictures.

Because of the ability to reproduce images so easily in this world, an original painting means less than what it used to. This is Berger’s concern. An original used to be just that: an original, one-of-a-kind. Now the term is nothing more of an indication that “this painting was actually painted and it isn’t a picture or replica of some other original.” That shift that Berger noticed became very apparent to Susan Bordo. Nearly twenty five years later, Bordo noted a very similar shifting in society. Her publication titled The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private includes a chapter called “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” It’s from this piece that she conducts a very similar argument, focusing on males in advertising. However, despite this major difference, her essay is a chilling recollection of Berger’s essay written in 1999. The shift in society she describes is related to the shift in society that Berger saw. She opens her excerpt with an interesting line: “Putting classical art to the side for a moment, the naked and near-naked female body became an object of mainstream consumption first in Playboy and its imitators, then in movies, and only then in fashion photographs. With the male body, the trajectory has been different” (189). She states right from the gate that she has seen the shift society has been taking. She goes on to state, about being on display, that, “Women may dread being surveyed harshly — being seen as too old, too fat, too flat-chested — but men are not supposed to enjoy being surveyedperiod. It’s feminine to be on display” (193). These are things she’s noticed shifting in society.

Bordo goes on to discuss Calvin Klein ads and how the controversy over them has lessoned significantly. “Inspired by Jockey’s success, in 1983 Calvin Klein put a forty-by-fifty-foot Bruce Weber photograph of Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintinauss in Times Square, Hitinauss’s large penis clearly discernible through his briefs…The line of shorts ‘flew off the shelves’ at Bloomingdale’s and when Klein papered bus shelters in Manhattan with poster versions of the ad they were all stolen overnight” (199). Where Calvin Klein had recently experienced some uneasy tension with the public, he was returned, this time, with products being sold in large quantities. “It took a survey conducted by The Advocate to jolt corporate America awake about gay consumers. The survey, done between, 1977 and 1980, showed that 70 percent of it’s readers aged twenty to forty earned incomes well above the national median” (Bordo 201). It was at this point in society that American advertising started including the gay consumer in the picture as well as the heterosexual male.

Both Bordo and Berger noted the change they saw in society. But what may seem surprising to the readers of these pieces is the real cause of these changes. How pictures were used and by whom had a serious impact on this subject. The “elite,” as Berger puts it, are the money-holders in society, those billionaires that can control what art is. In Bordo’s case, the ones with money are the ones that can produce and sustain advertisements, so they are the ones that can create the influx of advertisements towards the homosexuals in society. The people with money, the capitalists, the designers, the large companies with advertisements are all those that control art and what we see in society today. They are the ones that change how we see things.

The very first kiss to be ever shown to society in a movie was in the early years of the 1900’s. The public was shocked. A couple kissing in public? But, if one were to go to the movies now, it appears as though every show has at least one kiss. More often than not, there are multiple kisses. Society has become desensitized to kissing publicly since the very first kiss was seen. The same thing can be seen today with men being viewed as sexual objects and art; both are being pushed in a direction that some may not feel comfortable with, and they’re being pushed by the elite class of society, the rich people. That is the argument that Bordo and Berger make. They both saw it being performed at different times in the history of the world by the same kind of people.

So the next time an advertisement is being played on the television, or displayed in a window or in a magazine, think about who put the ad there. Whoever designed the ad placed each object there, in its place, for a specific purpose, for a reason. Think about, as a consumer, the underlying aspects, the silent wink to those in on a joke; is there hidden message to the advertisement? Odds are in the favor of a large amount of winks and elbow-nudges hinting at homosexuality or sexually submissive men. Clearly the elite have the power in society, and they have a very defined agenda. My guess is that, in twenty years, homosexual men will be displayed in advertisements for women’s bras, somehow there to help sell the product. Men will become more vulnerable, sexually, as society ages. At least the elite and their plan have been brought into the light. Thank you Susan Bordo and John Berger!

Works Cited

Berger, John. “Ways of Seeing.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. 9th ed. Eds. David Barthalomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 139-165. Print.

Bordo, Susan. “Beauty (Re)discovers the Male Body.” Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers. 9th ed. Eds. David Barthalomae and Anthony Petrosky. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 187-233. Print.

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4 Comments

  1. You did a really good job. It is interesting in the first paragraph how you call the two essays creatures, why is that? You made some really strong points. I could definitely tell you knew what you were talking about. You tied the two essays together well. In the end you said someday homosexuals will be in women’s bras advertisements. Why would that be? You did a good job though.

  2. Homosexuals In bras ????????????? i don’t get it. Is it a tylerisum? I understand the first part and I really liked how your humorously wrote your paper. you have a very good sense of humor and it shows in your writing. I do like how you executed your paper I feel that you did a really nice job. Your writing is very fresh and different and I personally like that. i need to laugh more often. Thank you for giving me that laugh.

  3. I really like your writing style and you’re obviously very smart. I say that because you graduated at the age of 16… ridiculous. I’m just jealous that you got highschool out of the way faster than I could have. Your essay was humorous and well written, as it usually is.

  4. I really like how you wrote this paper. Your writing style is humorous and it is clear about what you’re trying to convey to the readers. You really tied the two essays together well. It showed that you know what the essays are about and how they relate. I think you did a really good job with this essay. Good job!


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