Fetishism (Group 3)

In class we read Tristessa by Jack Kerouac , in which the narrator fetishizes his Indian lover. He describes her sex appeal in terms categorized by how her race relates to others. He says that Tristessa has “mysterious lidded Billy Holiday eyes and spoke with great melancholic voice like Luise Rainer sad faces Viennese actress that made all Ukraine cry in 1910” (pg. 8). He defines her beauty in a way that labels her as exotic and different, when in fact she is really only different to the narrator’s race. This fetishization and romanticism of her Indian beauty is specific because she is not white, and the narrator craves her for this very fact. Similar themes that we discussed in class are also relatable to figures in society today.

One of the differences I noticed between the Queer and Tristessa is the form of narration. In Tristessa, the narration is first person, with each sentence ending with a dash rather than a period and the end of a paragraph having a period to mark it as the beginning of a new paragraph. Meanwhile, The Queer’s narration goes for the third person point-of-view, with each paragraph being about two-three sentences maximum. Another thing that I noticed was that I found the narrator of Tristessa sounding a little bit more optimistic and idealistic compared to the narrator in the Queer, which seemed to be somewhat cynical and negative. The Queer apparently has a habit of taking the joy out of even entertainment values while having an agreeable point from where it’s coming from. Meanwhile, Tristessa’s opening narration makes the reader wonder if what their reading is actually an extended, multi-paragraphed song, and even then it’s hard to simply ignore the passage, because you’re too curious on what happens next while reading it. I think that’s actually the point both readings are trying to make. They both want to be heard, and ensure that they do in a completely different way. The Queer purposefully shows the negative side of life in North America and makes us ask ourselves why no one has tried to change the status quo or helped out anyone who might just be in desperate need. On the other hand, Tristessa makes an effort to tell us that no matter how bad things seem, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and we just have to keep our chins up and keep pushing ourselves forward. What really connects both readings is that they are complete, polar opposites of each other. They’re foils to one another, and yet, at the same time, they are both focused on the same setting, even if their going in two completely different directions. The reason why they both work as fetishization is because both narrators act like they have some sort of an obsession, as if their experiencing something sexual as they go through each of their writings. The Queer acts rather dissatisfied with the experience, or believes that it was in some way wrong for him to let it to happen or go through it, as if he was asking himself if there was any point and if what he is going through was even worth it. In fact, he feels as if he was assaulted, the one responsible has gotten away with it, and worst of all, nobody seems to even notice. Meanwhile, Tristessa speaks as if he is having the time of his life and is so indulged in the experience that he kind of ignores or outright does not care about the fact that not everyone around him is happy. It’s as if he seems to take what he’s experiencing a little too much than he should.

Fetishization, exoticization and objectification of cultures and races (specifically WOC) is an everyday occurrence in this country. From Asian women’s supposedly attractive “femininity and subservience” to black women’s “exoticism,” not to mention the act of “swirling” when they engage in relationships outside of their race, racial fetishism is everywhere. As we are living in the 21st century and online dating, as of the early 2000’s, has become one of the main platforms for singles to find relationships, women of color have to deal with racial fetishism in their inboxes, DMs, and Tinder messages on a day-to-day basis. They are suddenly being defined by their race and/or culture and the conversations and pick-up lines will revolve around that. While online dating dehumanizes everyone, WOC are subjected to racial assumptions in almost every interaction they have (usually from white men) and reduced to objects with the color of their skin, and the stereotypes that come along with it, being the only qualities they have that are worth addressing.

Donald Trump, our current President elect, is currently fetishized within the media as a “successful businessman,” when he has, in fact, filed for bankruptcy four times. Trump’s companies have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which means a company can remain in business while wiping away many of its debts. Many individuals may praise Donald Trump as being a “God” in the business world, when in reality he is a misogynistic male who not only objectifies women, but makes illegal business practices legal in the United States. The fact that he is seen as a “successful businessman” made individuals, especially Republicans, believe that he would be a good president, as well. Donald Trump is the true epitome of a lying individual who is not indifferent to the non-Republican population of the United States, but completely debunks feminism in every way, shape, and form.

Although fetishism is not only to explain sexual behavior and perspective, it is an emergent issue that North Americans tend to fetishize Latino communities. Racial fetishism is prevalent on our community and unfortunately it usually prejudices minorities. In New York City this phenomenon is presented continuously due to the large portion of foreign inhabitants versus the large white population colliding constantly. The problem with this kind of racism is that it is more hidden because it expresses likesome as opposed to dislike, therefore is harder for some people not so aware of racism to pick up on the reasons of why is immoral to fetishize someone. If you are catching yourself thinking you desire a Latino man/woman because of their sexual passion is important to inform you that you are fetishizing a culture and assuming things of individuals that might not be part of their personality.

Questions:

  1. How can fetishization be considered a positive and/or a negative thing? What’s the difference between the two sides?
  2. What is the difference between ‘racial preferences’ in relationships and ‘racial fetishism’? Is there a difference? If there is, how do we navigate these two things without othering POC?​
  3. Do you feel like our President elect allows fetishization within his presidency? Do you think he recognizes it?
  4. Do you think racial fetishization aids to racism? if yes, how so?

By: Ashley Kaminski, Stephanie Harp, AJ Csorny, Octavio Yattah, & Laura Zamsky

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