Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Commodification of Desire


As abstracted forces continually work to structure social reality, bodies are constantly pulled into conscribed systems of relation. Sexuality has played a crucial role in establishing systems of power, as social and institutional messages seek to fundamentally align individuals with their sexual desire. To serve these ends, sexuality has been constructed as an inseparable part of the human essence, and sanctioned behaviors are encouraged in the interest of healthy expression.This powerful construction has served as an avenue through which larger entities manipulate society in accordance with choice ideologies. Capitalist institutions are currently one of the most powerful systems harnessing sexuality to encourage compliance with exploitation. In modern society, discourses on sexuality have been relegated to the institution of marriage. Consequently, marriage as a contractual agreement in the service of the state is the only socially sanctioned way of performing sexuality. All other manifestations are seen as morally divergent, to varying extents. According to Foucault, this phenomenon is inextricably linked to a broader history of class struggle. The bourgeois class has a vested interest in confining sexuality to the marital sphere because marriage has been culturally constructed as a reproductive institution. In this way, the work ethic capitalism necessitates isn’t challenged or negated by purely pleasure-seeking activities. Instead, sexuality becomes a vessel through which both workers and capitalist ideology can be incubated and reproduced (1976).


Capitalist control over the construct of sexuality also allows for the intense patriarchal commodification of both desire and sexualized bodies themselves. Modern Western notions of sexuality have become increasingly physical and intense, as erotic power has been displaced and redirected in accordance with hegemonic sociality. Intimate touch and erotic relation have been sexualized and socially relegated solely to the realm of the heteromonogamous relationship. As a result, bodies that desire physical closeness with others have to engage in these sanctioned expressions, or face being labeled deviant performers. Capitalist entities use this construction as a site to exact exploitation. Bodies are popularly constructed as objects through which to release sexual energies, and are further associated with pleasure and control. This trend enables capitalist institutions to associate their products with the objectified body as a symbol of desirability. Consequently, sexuality becomes transactional in nature. It becomes an avenue through which to exchange allocated power, like money or social capital, for bodies as vessels imbued with desirability. In Lauren Trushin's piece, Hostess Clubs, she provides a clear illustration of this phenomenon.


Foucault, Michel. 1976. History of Sexuality. Paris, France: Éditions Gallimard

To explore this issue as it manifests in the Japanese context, refer to Reinforcing Ideals Through Pornography, Pan-pan Girls in Occupied Japan, The Salaryman, Hikikomori, and Hostesses, Hostesses: Fulfilling Womanhood While Abroad and Their Role in Maintaining Corporate Relationships, & Women's Soccer and Queer Sexuality in Japan.

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