This thesis offers a reading of GQ South Africa 2000, the first glossy men’s magazine to be launched in South Africa (in 2000). It traces the possible iconographical genealogy of glossy men’s magazines to canonical erotic artworks and examines the aesthetic conventions used by GQ to elevate its contents through an implied association with art. This thesis, furthermore, investigates the commonalities between GQ, a ‘mainstream’ publication, and ‘pornography’ (as defined by the United States Civil Rights Ordinance 1985). In this way, the fluid impermanence of ‘art’, ‘pornography’ and ‘popular culture’ as typologies is highlighted. The new taxonomy of ‘gentlemen’s pornography’ is introduced in order to counter the notion that material that has the gloss of ‘high culture’ and is deemed socially acceptable, cannot be pornographic. This thesis submits that a critical reading of glossy men’s magazines from an interdisciplinary perspective is imperative in order to reveal their ideological assumptions. The ideological position that informs this study is the radical feminist belief that pornography objectifies and subordinates women and is, therefore, harmful. The thesis is simultaneously grounded in the theoretical methodologies of visual culture and art history, and as such assumes the intonation of these disciplines. From a Postmodern point-of-view, popular visual culture not only wields power in terms of generalising (capitalist and sexist) western paradigms, but is also skilful at masking its significant influence in doing so. For this reason, this dissertation endeavours to raise a critical dialogue concerning the ideological ‘message’ of glossy men’s magazines. The sometimes antithetical nature of discourse critically centered on gender representation in visual culture may be attributed to the pervasiveness of familiar (and therefore seemingly harmless) female objectification in the popular media. This thesis examines the iconography of gendered stereotypes against the erotic/pornographic, high culture/low culture object/subject binaries, and, furthermore, situates these types in the wider dialectic of ‘obscene’ (off-scene) versus ‘acceptable’ culture. The glossy men’s magazines that form the interest of this study are a trade situated in the alliance of social elitism and representational control over the female body, and, thus, this thesis marks the point of intersection between consumer culture and the politics of display.
Dissertation (MA (Visual Arts))--University of Pretoria, 2005.