Conflict Narrative: We, the Ann Summers Dildo

“A situationist sisterhood of Jackie and Joan
Separates us the question without a home.”
(Manic Street Preachers: Jackie Collins Existential Question Time)

Modern life, at its surface, is boring. ‘The relationship’ too – post sexual liberation and the proliferation of conflict/impulse narratives – increasingly finds itself lacklustre when measured against the endless possibilities of the consumer dreamscape. This problem is compounded by the edited realities of the TV screen – soap operas, talk-shows, sitcoms, ads – with their demographised, aura-less, de-experiential and functionalist moral expositions.

Discursive structures too emerge from and are inspired by the same sort of edited reality and functional moral agenda. In systemic, normative space, what we see is an increased effacement of the violent or conflicted (negative) relational dimension. The underlying aspect of on-screen morality is non-relational and completely idealised. It returns “the issue of violence and conflict”, not its experiential form with the various relational investments this implies.

To analogize the edited reality of the consumer relationship, compare the traditional Private Sex Shop (with its boarded windows, stigma and shame) to the Ann Summers vibrator, with its high street stores, all glass and light and frivolity – the former contains a reality of sex of which the latter is completely extinguished. Social discourse, TV screens, the moral illusion and idealism, all contain something of the one-sided positivity of the Ann Summers dildo.

It is against such a backdrop that violence and conflict can be easily staged. Where all violence is dysfunctional and abnormal, then it is at the same time spectacular; moreover, inside this idealism, all relationships become to some extent dysfunctional and therefore spectacular, as almost all relationships are conflicted. The underlying illusion of positive normativity creates a theatre for violence and conflict which on-screen and discursive conflict narratives serve to express. What we lose in these discourses and these screens is ‘authentic contact’ with the relational sphere. Synthesized violence serves to reinforce the sterilised ideal at the expense of any ‘real’ relational interplay. In this regard, to those of us possessed of emotional and relational complexity, the world must take on an aura of profound artificiality. As such, there is a yearning to find and portray the ‘negative-real’ inside relationships and as such the conflict narrative begins to express itself more forcefully (consciously or unconsciously) in art and life more generally.

Ubiquitous media technology, cynical Murdochean capitalism took selective aspects and patterns from the personal sphere and projected them in a depthless edited form into the universal spectacle (TV, tabloids, etc). As such, this spectacle would agitate discourse – political, feminist, moral, clinical etc – around itself and feedback into the personal sphere. ‘The objectification of the body’, for instance, is more pernicious in the universal spectacle than it perhaps is in a particular relationship or culture (‘working class’ culture for example). The myriad of possible objectifications within the relational sphere and the manner by which they are fought for could serve as an aspect of workable erotic/political exchange whereas applied universally, it takes no account of the cultural and individual subtleties over which it umbrellas. The consequence is the stimulation of critical discourse specific to the spectacle which too gets universalised and is fed back into the relational sphere. What should have remained critical of the spectacle gets confused and becomes critical of the entire personal realm.

Thus the destruction of gender roles, thus the destruction of all conflicted inter-relationships and thus the divorce from ‘real experience’ in favour of a sterilised, artificial experience through screens, positivity and purified idealism. At the same time however, this vanquished negative aspect desires to express itself and yet in this hyper-moral ideal can find no way of doing so. A drive is therefore created to simulate conflict and to stage our roles.

The ‘masculine’ role in the male has become shameful; likewise the ‘feminine’ role in the female. From this trauma, we deconstruct gender itself, talking in terms not of ‘essential truth’, but of fluid natures – ‘gender’ becomes separate to ‘sex’ and we start to ‘play roles’ rather than be them. The same is true of sexual preference – everyone is ‘bi’ or ‘queer’ now. Power discrepancy too is shameful as we all become rooted in the same sort of equal yet equivocal consciousness. All negativity therefore and any static role must be ‘acted out’ and staged. If actual ‘possession of the other’ has any erotic/relational value in itself, or if the ‘objectification of the other’ has any erotic/relational value in itself, then these facts must be abandoned or alternatively simulated or staged. It is thus we can speak of a conscious conflict narrative: acting out roles, acting out conflicts in the wake of lost relational functions and structures.

Moreover, this simulation of the conflict narrative may find itself less consciously expressed. As stated above, where the conflict has been neutralised in communal, universal space it too becomes spectacular, staged now in art and entertainment in extreme forms to exorcise and justify this underlying neutrality. It is ‘the issue of conflict’ that gets expressed; that, or just simple gratuity. As we mass-produce ever more superficial spectacular narratives, we find familiarity when playing them out in our own lives – arguments between couples may find themselves invested with recognisable phrases from soap operas or grievances artificially contextualised by what is seen on the screen. ‘The affair’ or ‘the cheat’ can serve as less an actual relational difficulty than a melodramatic stage-set for a recognisable conflict. Soap opera has done all the superficial, one-dimensional thinking that lays the ground-work for our own spectacular scene; all we have to do is act. By playing out the spectacular role, we transcend our life and project ourselves onto the screen which is by now the thing that substantiates and actualises our otherwise pale and insubstantial existence.


Eminem – Encore: (Crazy in Love)
(Good technical exposition of the conflicted relationship, its various possible investments, its moral contextualisers and the ultimate love that exists therein.)


The Jeremy Kyle Show.
{The TV show in this clip is more a stage-set and prop for the couple’s conflict than a forum for discussion or even of gratuitous entertainment. It serves as the medium by which the inter-relational conflict can be amplified and is the higher motive of the conflict itself. Kyle, the spectators, entertainment, mean nothing compared to the show the couple are staging for themselves. The medium of TV serves as little more than an extension of their relationship and as such mirrors the potential meaning of inter-relational conflict in all our own lives. The conflict becomes a means of projecting ourselves into public, communal and narrative significance. Actual TV is here shown as the orgasmic extremity of the conflict itself.).

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  1. November 6th, 2010

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