Th e appropriation of the name “Bikini,” a s/pacifi c site of trauma and dispossession, for a sexy generic bathing suit functions as fetishism. By using the fetish as a theoretical framework I do not intend disrespect to those objects Westerners have labeled fetishes or those that have embed- ded sacred meaning for indigenous peoples. I intend rather to critique the type of fetishization that objectifi es and vulgarizes otherwise meaningful subjects. Several critics have warned of the remystifying abilities and the dangers of making a fetish out of the concept of fetishism.31 Nevertheless, this chapter mobilizes a concept such as the fetish to describe a(nti)histor- ical and sexist elements of European and American cultural constructions and political processes in the Pacifi c.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud discussed a process by which the fetish stopped the memory in traumatic amnesia: the fetish is a conceptual substitute for a penis (for Freud, the mother’s) that “should normally have been given up, but . . . is precisely designed to preserve it from extinction . . . [Th e fetish] remains a token of triumph over the threat of castration and a protection against it.”32 I take nuclear weapons as the ultimate phallic and castrative symbols for specifi c national cultures with- in a global political context.33 Th e bikini bathing suit functions as a token of triumph (a fetish for Western Europe and the United States) over the threat of castration by enemy nations and as psychic protection against the horror of their own destructive powers.
Th e simultaneously reifi ed and repressed multiple symbolisms of the bikini-as-fetish resonate with aspects of Julia Kristeva’s psychoanalytic framework. Kristeva discussed woman’s position as “both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ male society, both a romantically idealized member of it and a victimized outcast. She is sometimes what stands between man and chaos, and sometimes the embodiment of chaos itself.”34 Th rough assumptions of its signifi cance on a generic female body, the bikini represents sex–gender ideologies produced in Western Europe and the United States. A bikini- clad woman visually embodies and denies both sexual and nuclear chaos.
As Freud maintained, there is “an aversion, which is never absent in any fetishist, to the real female genitals.”35 Th e bikini exposes everything but the breasts and the pubic area. While the breasts are tantalizingly emphasized,
Shigematsu, S., & Camacho, K. L. (Eds.). (2010). Militarized currents : Toward a decolonized future in asia and the pacific. University of Minnesota Press. Created from sfsu on 2022-10-21 03:56:35.
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pubic hair is considered fashionably deadly if not concealed: women are encouraged to shave or wax their bikini lines. Th e fetishistic aversion to real female genitals extends to female body hair—solidifying the relation- ship between the bikini-clad woman and the classical female nude, which is never portrayed with pubic hair. Th e classical fetishization of the female body converges with contemporary fetishization of the bikini-clad body.
As a commodity, the bikini exceeds its material utility and begins to mediate social—that is, gender and colonial—relationships.36 Although a traditional Marxist analysis would focus on the commodity’s evolu- tion from product of human labor to “idol of the marketplace,” I am more interested in the process that alienates the colonized referent of the commodity. To this end, I fi nd a discussion by Emily Apter particu- larly illuminating. She comments on literary representations of the com- modifi cation of exotic others in a French fi n-de-siècle novel, La Goutte d’or. Idriss, a Maghrebian man, sells a polyethylene cast of himself to a Parisian department store and is subsequently recruited as a model to stand in the store window performing a few angular and spasmodic ges- tures to promote the sale of the casts: “In the mirror refl ection of a thou- sand, identical department-store mannequins, one can extract a political critique of the alienated, colonized, North African self. In this sense, fe- tishism ‘buys back’ its political redemption. Th ough Idriss may be pros- tituted, frozen, and reifi ed, his dead stare (Medusa’s head) gives back to consumer society the very alienation that consumer society has infl icted on him.”37 Th e relationship between the commodity (the mannequin) and its colonized referent (Idriss) in this case is direct; the bikini on the other hand has two colonized referents, and privileges (however minimally) one (generic South Sea noble savage) over the other (dispossessed Bikinians). Th e mass-produced and mass-marketed bikini simultaneously transcribes and erases the dispossession of the Bikini Islanders onto millions of fe- male bodies. Although Apter sees some redemption in such a paradox, the emptiness of commodity consumption is only benign if we ignore the malign eff ects of the bikini’s companion commodity, the bomb.