Thursday, December 17, 2009

GETTING TO THE BOTTOM OF AN ENDURING APPEAL

PARIS: From the country that gave the world Brigitte Bardot and topless sunbathing comes a fresh expose of the human anatomy: man's enduring fascination with bottoms.

Large or small, pert or flabby, we've all got them, yet, since the dawn of time, buttocks have been seen variously as a source of inspiration and erotic desire, a taboo and a mocking V-sign at authority.

Now two journalists from France -- where else? -- want to get to the bottom of why the derriere casts such a spell and why it should be celebrated rather more than it is.

"If we looked at buttocks more," says Allan Rothschild, co-author of a new book called "The Hidden Side of the Bottom," "if we caressed them more, and if we made more drawings of buttocks, the world would probably be a better place than it is today."

While it's fair to say that caressing backsides seems unlikely to catch on as a driver for world peace, Rothschild and Caroline Pochon say the unassuming rear is getting a bum deal and deserves more attention.

As well as their book, they're also behind a television documentary on the Franco-German television Arte giving scientists, psychoanalysts, writers and artists their chance to wax lyrical on the subject.

It's all to a backdrop of depictions of the posterior through history, from stern ancient Greek sculptures to risque film extracts, posters, songs, poems and paintings.

"The attraction we have for buttocks is completely universal," Pochon told AFP.

"The notion of desire that's focused on that body part has been incarnated in every era and every culture."

It's a serious business, this study of the rump, taking in everything from art to spanking, physiology to gay porn.

An art historian compares Gustave Courbet's portrayal of the humble bottom to Rubens' well-proportioned women, while a French social scientist notes that the muscle that enables us to clench our buttocks is one of the most powerful in the body and helped allow Man to walk.

The documentary also relates the story of the so-called Venus Hottentot, a woman with unusually large buttocks and genitals who was working as a slave in Cape Town in the early 1800s when she was taken to Britain and then France.

There she was exhibited as a freak and, when the public tired of the show, was declared by scientists to be proof of their theory of the inferiority of certain races.

At first, Pochon and Rothschild were looking only to explain the obsession with the female behind. But they quickly found out men have a lot to offer as well, combining strength and vulnerability.

Rothschild says that a man's hindquarters "can be pretty, can sometimes be muscular and sometimes a bit flabby," and insists "it's a buttock that must be defended, must be shown, and that merits attention."

So they looked also at depictions of the male behind from Michelangelo -- who gave buttocks "a maximum of sexual and philosophical intensity," according to art historian Xavier Girard -- to 21st century gay culture via more than a passing reference to sodomy.

The bottom has also been cheekily utilised as a symbol of defiance against the established order of the day through mooning, or baring one's rear.

"It's a very political gesture to show your bum," noted Pochon, adding that "at demonstrations, you often see people pull down their trousers."

Quite. It may not have had much basis in historical truth, but Mel Gibson's ragtag army of Scots lifting their kilts in front of the wicked English was a highlight of his "Braveheart" epic.

It was the 19th century which accentuated the female bottom more than ever via the corset and its strangled waistline, said Philippe Comar, professor of morphology at the School of Fine Arts in Paris.

He said that century was the most sexist and misogynistic of all. "It's not surprising feminist movements sprang up at that time."

Courtesy AFP

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