This post begins where my previous ASMR-focused post ends—girlfriend role-plays—though this isn’t so much a continuation of those prior musings as it is a point of departure. My shame is presumed, so we can simply acknowledge it here at the start and move on. To what? Ahh, to what, indeed. Or maybe to which is more appropriate given the context that follows.
One need not be an English professor specializing in rhetoric and composition to be interested in things rhetorical, clearly, as any political junkie can attest. So, too, with many others, though they probably don’t use the term itself, given its baggage, which frames the word as either pretentious or disingenuous, though it must be said the latter is the more prevalent thanks to nasty political campaigns (or just nasty politicians). By whatever name, or none at all, an interest in language, communication, meaning, and the like necessarily (I dare say by definition) takes on a rhetorical dimension.
Now, if you happen to be an English professor who specialized in rhetoric and composition, you're likely to be especially interested in rhetoric. And if your dissertation examined the rhetoric of romantic love as identity construct, well, then, you’re almost certainly über-interested.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion,” a definition that still rings true today. Whereas Aristotle was primarily concerned with legal and civic matters, with preparations for the public sphere, most contemporary scholars, drawing from post-modern/post-structuralist thought, choose to read Aristotle’s definition quite loosely to take into account such complexities as unconscious persuasion, cultural mythologies, ideology, and language use in everyday life. To borrow from Stanford scholar Andrea Lunsford, everything’s an argument.
Accordingly, I cannot listen to girlfriend role-plays without attending to difference. (We’ll save Saussure and Derrida for some other day; life is long, though I can’t speak for my own.) Like any good human, I’m hardwired to notice patterns, and patterns are indeed what I noted, so much so that I’ve classified the types of rhetoric-in-use encountered into three separate categories.
Wholly unscientific and mostly half-ass, sure; all the same, at times, I cannot help but to see the various stylings of the titular girlfriend as enacted interpretations of that evergreen topic for Cosmo and its ilk — What a Man Wants. The findings are fascinating.
These performances can be roughly differentiated into one of three categories (in no particular order): (1) sultry seductress, (2) submissive sweetie, or (3) expressive partner.
With the sultry seductress performance, we should remind ourselves that these are ostensibly ASMR-related videos, not porn; they’re not even overtly sexual, really, depending on how narrowly one defines the term. It is YouTube, after all.
The sultry seductress adopts an affected voice characterized by slow, deliberative speech delivered in a lowered voice—in volume as well as register. The preferred term of endearment is baby, as in, “Oh, baby, I’m so glad you’re finally home.” A common theme or plot contrivance is the surprise: “I’ve been waiting all day to give you a surprise.” Frequently, the surprise is lingerie.
A variation on the theme has our girlfriend wearing the lingerie the addressed boyfriend had previously given to her as a gift. (And never mind that it’d be more of a gift to himself.) In the baldest of terms, the sultry seductress oozes sexuality. Hints of the carnal reside in nearly every word, and her raison d’être, as presented, is to Please Her Man.
Femininity is emphasized to an even greater degree in the submissive sweetie performance, as are gender-role distinctions in general. Here, sexuality is no longer the primary feature, taking a backseat to a romantic stance flavored with a measure of motherly care.
This performance conforms to the traditional mother-surrogate model often stereotyped in popular media and colloquial uses of Freudian theory. Baby remains prominent as the dominant term of endearment, but here it carries disturbingly child-like undertones despite the motherly overtones.
“Oh, baby, your boss is such a jerk. He just doesn’t know how valuable you are to that place.”
Unsurprisingly, a popular plot line is that of a sick boyfriend and the girlfriend who stays home from work—who sacrifices—to ease his suffering, to nurse him back to health. In this performance, she takes as her reason-for-being, her mission and principle role, to Attend to Her Man. Of the three performances, the submissive sweetie is the most conventional; it’s easy to trace its origins to 1950s mythologies and constructs. Father Knows Best, as everyone knows, right?
The third type of performance, the expressive partner, is the most contemporary in the sense of modeling behaviors of the modern, educated woman, who, despite propaganda to the contrary, can be both a feminist and in love with a man. She listens but also talks, contributes, even drives the conversation, which can be about their own state of couplehood, their relationship as such, or not.
Often, talk centers upon the mundane, such as what to do over the coming weekend, but at times, it becomes more expansive and abstract, the meaning of life, love, and the universe. For once, baby is dropped from the vernacular, because they are both adults, not children, and this is no paternal relationship; they are equal partners, each committed to the well-being and happiness of the other, in a relationship of understanding and reciprocity.
For me, the sultry seductress and submissive sweetie performances straddle the line between laughable and sad; the expressive partner I find equally appealing and frightening—though perhaps not for reasons you may suspect. But we’re now over the thousand-word mark, so let’s continue this in a later post.
Is this topic—if it can even still be considered a singular topic, as by now we’ve moved quite far from ASMR tingles (not that mere tingles was ever the focus, anyway)—sufficiently complex (and interesting) to warrant three (or more) posts? Probably not. But this is a blog, and one with depression in the tag line, so one should expect an amount of tug-of-war between rational and irrational, pertinence and indulgence.