July 10th, 2008


My little disappearing dick

Was it Germaine Greer who said "What really terrifies men is the bodies of other men"? So true. If the taboo on male nudity comes from anyone, it comes from men.

Male nudity probably wouldn't be taboo if women ruled the world. Certainly not if the comments by women under this photo by Madi Ju and Patrick "Pat Pat" Tsai are anything to go by; female Flickr users fell over themselves to call the nonchalant, indie-ish cock shot "sweet... awesome... cool... cute... delightful".

The picture (entitled "Shanghai") originally ran in the My Little Dead Dick photo-diary, a collaborative effort by American-Chinese photographer couple Madi and Pat Pat. As Selena Hoy from Pingmag reported last week, Madi and Pat Pat have now broken up, and not altogether amicably.

The Pingmag story was slightly disturbing; amidst semi-naked photos of his ex, Madi Ju, Patrick Tsai used the interview to advertise his arrival in Japan and amorous pursuit of a new photographer partner, Ume Kayo. Whether Ume is requiting his passion is not clear at this point, but it's safe to assume that Madi can't be too happy about the feature.

The focus of the controversy that's blown up over this article wasn't Patrick's declaration of love for a Japanese photographer, though, or his use of photos of his ex to generate cultural capital for himself. It was his penis. The problem, in other words, wasn't that Patrick wasn't being a gentleman, but rather that he was so obviously and so vulnerably... a man.

Pingmag used the "Shanghai" image -- the same image you'll see in this month's edition of Theme magazine, and the same image designer Ian Lynam chose to pick up when he linked the Pingmag story from Meta No Tame. A day or so later, the Shangai image had disappeared from both Meta No Tame and Pingmag, amidst complaints that it was "not safe for work". Meta No Tame quickly updated with a zero-comments story about 1960s Japanese student radicalism, but there was a distinct feeling that a small revolution had been quelled in its own backyard -- in the interests of workplace propriety.

The male organ, unsheathed, becomes, at last, unthreatening. By keeping it hidden, we keep it scary. Attitudes are changing, though, in the West and Asia. As we saw during the Edison Chen affair, the Chinese government tends not to give a damn about sex and nudity -- religion and political agitation see them clamping down hard, but sex scandals provoke, at best, a slow and nonchalant response. In Japan, though, things are a bit different. People are reluctant to show their faces in public, let alone their naked bodies. The reckless, circumcised, racy, immodest, ungentlemanly but undeniably manly Pat Pat may find the archipelago Not Safe for his Work.