Running Head: LOLITA ONLINE
Lolita Online :
Smoking fetishization and the sexualization of under-aged females
Julie M. Albright
Dept. of Sociology
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281
February, 17 2002
Main contact information:
Dr. Julie M. Albright
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms, she was always Lolita.” -- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov.
Thus begins Vladimar Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita, the tale of the middle-aged protaganist Humbert Humbert’s pedophilic passion for the 12 year old “nymphet” Lolita. Because of its subject matter – an unabashed homage to the joussaince of pedophilia - the novel at the time of its writing was so controversial that five American publishers refused to publish it. Finally published in Paris in 1954, the London Express reviewers called the book “sheer unrestrained pornography” and “filth.” Following this, the book was seized by British authorities and banned in Paris for two years. Although published nearly 50 years ago, controversy continues to swirl in its wake, as film versions of the book were turned down for distribution by every major American film studio in 1997, limiting its release to one week in America, followed by a European distribution mimicking the history of the antecedent book. Despite the controversy, since the 1950’s, the book has sold over 50 million copies worldwide in 20 languages, and the Lolita image has found its way into contemporary American culture via advertising, making the sexualized girl- child “Lolita” a cultural icon. Because of this, Nabokov’s Lolita is important not just as a work of literature, but also as a contributor to the ideology of gender relations and sexuality. Nabokov speaking through the voice of the protagonist Humbert, describes the sexualized girl or “nymphet” as the object of his passionate desire:
“Between the age limit of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is demoniac); and those chosen creatures I propose to designate as “nymphets.”
The nymphet - a girl-child caught in a particular fleeting moment of psycho-sexual development, evoked sexual fantasies in Humbert because of her physical and emotional immaturity:
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not forever be Lolita. She would be thirteen January 1. In two years or so she would cease being a nymphet and would turn into a “young girl,” and then, into a “college girl” – horror of horrors.”
An age difference between “maiden and man” is specified as important for the development of this passionate desire, with a gap of “at least ten years and generally thirty or forty” in order for the man to “come under the nymphet’s spell.” Lolita with its evocative imagery of Humbert’s obsession with the brown skinned, musky-smelling pre-pubescent girl-child Lolita, referred to in the text as “my tiny concubine” provides a vivid articulation of the symbolic connection of sexuality, childhood and adult desire. By doing so, Nabokov contributes to the ideology of the sexualized child by creating the under-aged “Lolita” girl-slut symbol. R.W. Connell uses Gramsci’s notion of the “organic intellectual” to theorize the role of intellectuals - including psychiatrists, film-makers and novelists – as theorists of gender relations. Certainly Nabokov can be seen as having functioned in this capacity by articulating a lucid fantasy of pedophilia, thereby introjecting Lolita into the collective consciousness and memory.
Since the novel’s creation in the 1950’s, the Lolita image has gained widespread cultural currency, especially in the pop culture arena of recent years. Under-aged sexualized “nymphets” have turned up striking various provocative poses in various forms in advertising, in music videos, in child beauty pageants (as embodied by the news videos of a coquettish, pouting, and now murdered visage of Jon Benet Ramsey, who may also have been sexually assaulted), and most recently – on the Internet. Online, many websites feature the Lolita image, yet a little known but growing area of sex fetish websites are those devoted to tobacco and sexuality, called “smoking fetish” sites. The smoking “fetish” is a little known yet growing sexual fetish where smoking itself is sexualized. William Dunn, a researcher working for the Phillip Morris tobacco company cites sexual arousal as an incentive and motivation for smoking, saying: “Smoking according to this argument [psychoanalytic theory], is the consequence of pulmonary eroticism. Translated, this means the lungs have become sexualized and smoking is but another form of the sexual act.” (Dunn, W.). Lacan, from the French school of psychoanalysis has referred to this as “respiratory erogeneity” (Lacan, J., 1977).
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Given the importance of theorizing the role of ideology and the creation of a symbolic gender order to the practice of gender relations, this paper will attempt to do several things: First, to recognize how the appropriation and use of the “Lolita” image – as sexualized child – operates as part of an ideology of the sexualized child at the structural level to serve the interests of the institution and the state; at the interpersonal level and at the personal level, and how the practices such a discourse imparts at each level. First, this paper will argue that the ideology of the sexualized child via advertising and global markets on the structural level results in the transformation of childhood such that the child becomes a market commodity. Using the sex-appeal websites as a case example, how such a transformation: (1) encourages the sexual exploitation of girls via the “the soft porn” of smoke fetish websites (2) encourages cigarette sales and the sale of smoking fetish related merchandise, and (3) fuels the child global sex trade and the sale and trade of child porn on the Internet. This paper will attempt to discuss the tranformation of childhood by the needs / desires of the market and globalization, where children become commodity on the Net. Secondly, this paper will attempt to outline how the proliferation of the Lolita image encourages and fuels the fires of pedophilic desire. Althusser has said that ideology serves as a socializing agent, carried out through, in part, the ideological apparatuses of society, including advertising and cultural forms. The symbolization of the sexualized child on smoking fetish websites (and in other advertising) serves as a socializing agent by creating what Jo Spence has called an “implicit narrative” of the sexually precocious child, making “natural” a young girl’s sexual desire. Further, Althusser has said that ideology provides "a representation of the imaginary relation of individuals to the real condition of existence," thereby giving credence to the notion that, to re-state the now famous quote about pornography by Robin Morgan- “child pornography is the theory/ pedophilia is the practice” i.e., that sexualized images of girls on sex-appeal related smoking websites potentially fuels the desire of pedophiles by contributing to the ideology of girl as sexual agent in the imaginary relations between men and girls provided by these images. And lastly, this paper will attempt to outline how the discourse of the sexualized child may impact the self-image and gender identity of girls, by both encouraging sexual precocity in pre-teens and by encouraging smoking to achieve a beauty ideal of thinness and attractiveness in teens and pre-teens by providing attractive, “sexy” role models for under-aged smoking.