I have been a fan of Bettie Page since her resurgence in the eighties. She died in 2008, and was a sweet Christian little old lady. Bettie had an innocence even when posing completely nude and in suggestive ways. It is hard to get to the bottom of her appeal. There were many pinups in the fifties, but Bettie stood out. I think it is because when men looked at her nude photos it was as if they had violated Bettie herself. She seemed sweet and innocent, unaware of the lustful intents of her fans, and would have been shocked if she knew what men did as they viewed her photos. At least this is what men wanted to imagine. Women who no longer felt the slightest shame and viewed sex completely as a necessary commodity in order for them to live, in other words, whores, were not much of a turn on to men who wanted to dominate their women. Bettie seemed to invite such domination.
But of course all of this is nonsense. Bettie knew what she was doing, but it is true that she might have developed a split personality isolating the naughty Bettie from the God-fearing Bettie. She claimed to see nothing wrong with what she did, but I am not sure I believe her. She took her Christianity very seriously, perhaps too seriously. I don’t know any of the particulars of why she spent time in a mental hospital, but I suspect it may have been the conflict between her religious values and her livelihood may have sent her around the bend.
Bettie was sexy in a kind of effortless way. She seemed to keep a bit of herself hidden from view, pure and unsullied. We could lust over her lovely body but not her soul. Sex should never become ordinary and unremarkable. There should be a dark thrill at the sight of a woman’s pubic hair. It brings forth the desire to possess, to conquer, to rape and pillage. Pure naked lust married to aggression is the driving force behind the appeal of Bettie Page’s fetishistic work. It is disguised as playful, but this stuff is dark. It involves degradation and humiliation. Sexual pleasure becomes confused with these things, and with physical pain itself. It is curious that Bettie appeared to embrace this lifestyle, given her near obsession with Christianity. I am sure she claimed she didn’t really understand what all the bondage stuff was about, but I think that is disingenuous. She knew. She liked it. Then she could no longer accept this courting of the Dark, and reinterpreted her life to preserve her innocence. At least this is how it seems to me.
This still doesn’t get to the bottom of her appeal. She is naughty in a non-naughty way. She was a way of satisfying one’s prurient desire while pretending to have only an ‘artistic’ interest in Bettie Page. This is true even of this post. Is she really the icon of hip female sexuality? or is she the icon of the rape of the innocent and the subjugation and humiliation of women? Perhaps both. Bettie was the beginning of the metrosexual. A culture in which it is cool to find pleasure in pain, and that your body should be a banquet for all your admirers to feed upon. Having said all that I am still a fan of Bettie Page although I admit to having mixed feelings about it, as I have mixed feelings about any pornography. But this isn’t pornography, I can hear some of you saying. Sure it is. If you are getting a boner looking at it, it has excited your prurient interest. Not necessarily a bad thing. Do I feel some of you squirming as you contemplate your values. Good. I have achieved my purpose.