I recently finished the book No Logo by Naomi Klein. I highly recommend it-- not only is it about an important topic, but Klein has an absorbing, conversational style of writing that actually made me laugh out loud a few times. In one chapter, Klein talks about her days of involvement in the "identity politics" movement of the 1990s. As I read that part, I couldn't help but think that there were potential lessons in her story, somewhere, for the asexual community.
Basically, at some point in the late '80s, people in Klein's social and academic circles, and folks in similar ones, all started to become preoccupied with the idea of "representation" in the media and advertising. Rightfully, people were sick of looking at advertising, which was increasingly dominating their landscape, and seeing no one that looked like them. So they pushed for the inclusion of women, queer people, and people of color. Not just onto college reading lists, but into the commercials and billboards of the time. And they got exactly what they wanted. This ad for Diesel jeans, featuring two male sailors kissing, was shown in No Logo as an example of their "victory":
In the end, corporations and their billion-dollar marketing budgets didn't see identity politics as a movement that threatened their supremacy as cultural arbiters. Rather, they saw these activists as one more source of "cool" to be mined, like the hip-hop or grunge scene. Suddenly, even the most staid brands were being told that "diversity" is what sells, so "diversity" is what they started to deliver, en masse. Looking back at her past efforts, Klein wondered what had really been accomplished. Seeing legitimate social movements re-packaged and sold back to the people (ie, feminism --> "Girl Power!") didn't seem like such a big victory after all.
Klein went further, describing later examples of corporate co-option of the very figures that fight against them. In one ill-fated plan for an ad campaign, Nike approached Ralph Nader, asking him to be in one of their sneaker commercials; Nader would hold up a shoe and say "Another shameless attempt by Nike to sell shoes" (302). (He declined.) I couldn't help but think that a weirdly visionary adperson could easily use asexuals to sell products to a populace that is sick of sex being used to sell everything. Obviously, that's a very far-fetched scenario, but then again, I never would have thought that Nike would approach Nader to sell their shoes.
Asexuals talk a lot about representation, although not usually in those exact words. But let's not reinvent the wheel here. I think there are pros and cons to a lack of asexual representation. I'm pretty sure we all know the cons by now. But as to the pros, at least our identity remains uncommercialized, for now. It isn't being used to sell anyone anything. Without representation, we're more free to create our own identities, which I think is an amazing opportunity. And it's all the more so, if it may not last.
If you'll bear with me a little longer, I'll try to relate this to the proposed drug Flibanserin, covered here and here. I don't have anything new to say about the drug itself, but maybe I can speak to the multi-million dollar marketing campaign that would no doubt follow it, focusing on telling women in emotionally fraught situations how bad their lack of sexual desire is*. My first impression of this possibility wasn't a good one, but it could actually have a bright side. Maybe opposing these advertisements could give asexuals the visibility that being asexual alone has not yet gained us.
In the identity politics chapter of No Logo, there is this quote: "...Daniel Mendelsohn has written that gay identity has dwindled into 'basically, a set of product choices...At least culturally speaking, oppression may have been the best thing that could have happened to gay culture. Without it, we're nothing" (114). While Klein says that "The nostalgia, of course, is absurd" I think that Mendelsohn brings up an interesting point. While I don't want asexuals to be oppressed more-- that would indeed be ridiculous-- if we are oppressed in the future, by no fault of our own, it may not be all bad. Yes, it will be bad, but there might be ways to draw something positive from it. As you probably know, I'm not often quite this optimistic, so again, best to enjoy it while it lasts. *wink*
[*Do any other Americans find our constant advertising for hospitals, drugs, and medical procedures a little odd, at best? Especially considering a great number of people don't have enough money to make those choices?]