Wednesday, October 15, 2008


poverotica /pawvirottikaw/ (n) literature or art lending erotic qualities to the state of being extremely poor.
As you might have guessed, there’s no such thing as poverotica. It’s a new addition to my lexicon of made-up words. And you’ve probably never wondered why poverotica doesn’t exist amongst the numerous categories of erotic fiction on the market. I never did either until the righteous Alessia Brio asked Coming Together contributors to think about poverty as a blog topic. Have you ever asked yourself, “Why are there no sexy stories about those members of our society living at subsistence level?”

The question answers itself, doesn’t it? Of course we don’t think these things. Poverty isn’t sexy. In fact, without even realizing it, most of us have been conditioned to adopt a fundamental belief in just the opposite: Money is sexy. Without it, there is no romance.

Before erotica consumed my life, I was an academic. As such, I wrote a thesis on the surprisingly hegemonic implications of sex advice articles in women’s magazines. As a sidebar to my observations, I noticed that much of the advice given about improving one’s sex life involved purchasing products. For instance, when one woman wrote in to ask how she could begin to enjoy sex with her husband again after he’d cheated on her, the columnist advised her to “throw away your comfortable nightgown” and “switch over to some sexy lingerie.”

Apart from reinforcing the disturbingly common belief that her husband’s affair was this woman’s fault, by advising the inquisitor to “switch over to sexy lingerie,” this, like many other advice articles, subtly reinforces the role that sexuality plays in supporting Capitalism and consumerist behaviours.

The entire category of romantic love conspires with Capitalist endeavours to encourage commercialism through the purchase of roses, chocolates, jewellery, “romantic” holidays, weddings and much more, as signifiers of love and commitment. The conventional relationship-oriented objects and rituals that have the highest symbolic values, like the wedding, the wedding ring and the honeymoon, also have the highest exchange values. Just think about how incredibly profitable the wedding industry has become!

The idea that love, or sexual desire for that matter, is expressed through the exchange of items drawn from the specific lexicon of love-connoting merchandise has established a culture wherein “love” and consumerism exist in a symbiotic relationship: It is in the corporation’s interest to emphasize the symbolic value of its product in relation to love and sex, because this vastly increases the product’s exchange value.

From the example given above, it is far more likely that the advice-seeker, and other women in her situation, will purchase expensive, over-priced lingerie when they are led by magazine articles to believe that this will help to salvage their sex lives and even their marriages.

Conversely, such advice misleads readers into believing their relationships are doomed if they can’t afford the trappings of romantic love and desire. This is not just academic theory; it’s rehearsed again and again in real life. Hell, my girlfriend’s always reminding me how much she loves being treated to fancy meals and expensive gifts; they make her feel special.

How is it that even we, the educated and the socially aware, still fall into these Consumerist traps? The costly signifiers of romance are just that: empty vessels of connotation. There are far better ways of showing our loved ones we care, and these methods don’t require us to spend our life’s savings. Words cost nothing: “I love you. You are special. Come to bed and I’ll show you...”

Giselle Renarde