The image of an ideal relationship is everywhere around us. It's the standard that a lot of people seem to aspire to. I find it very comforting to watch this image, although I will never fit into this ideal. I am watching from outside. In my research, I am looking into the elements that are used to construct the portrayal of this ideal image that implies eternal happiness.
My research starts in the Jardin D’Amour. A fictional garden that seems like lovebird paradise, an oasis of bliss. It’s the garden that during my research functions as the green public city space where I explore the constructed idealized symbolism we are so heavily exposed to. It navigates me towards a better understanding. What is this form of satisfaction, caused when being exposed to these images? Images that seem unachievable. The Jardin D’Amour is the backdrop of different events that will lead me to an answer. Looking at history, the park has always been a place for the elite, an enclosed space, an idealized paradise. The garden is space where heteronormativity and the nuclear family are ruling by day, but at night the paradise reveals the not so ideal sides as well. The dark side of the garden questions whether that what is perceived in society as ideal, really is the thing that we want to aspire to. The park now functions as an escape from the social construct.
TV-shows and movies have played a considerable role in glamourizing and styling the image of the perfect romance and the ideal domestic life. I am using the world of the male homosexual as an example trying to enter this earthly paradise. The standard of physical perfection that remains the law of the gay male world and the world of camp have had a significant influence on the constructed heteronormative ideal. I believe that these are elements that evoke the feeling of pleasure that I adore so much. Is this why queers take such a big part in constructing this ideal image when it actually only excludes them from society?
My answer is that the ideal romance is an enormous theatre set, in the landscape of a paradise called the Jardin D'Amour. The backdrop is a garden, and the props are vanilla cupcakes with Swarovski crystals. This large team consists of people striving for happiness, the creation of this spectacle is the aim of happiness. The goal, the road to achieving this is already enough for society to enter a state of bliss. I do believe the queer world, which takes such an important role in creating heteronormative standards could reconsider this. The garden is interpretive and so is paradise on earth.
Beauty Chaotic on Le Jardin D’Amour ®
You know, I can’t really pinpoint it. It’s crazy, it just transports you to a perfect world, it’s a beautiful mixture of zest freshness and bursting floralcy. It’s supposed to evoke a scenery, it is about the vibe of a quaint green landscape, Mediterranean green surroundings and resort or maybe a lake or anything like this.
How does it achieve that? There is orange blossom in there as well as some lemon and bergamot to make it fresh right but the backbone of it is really about the flowers, the gardenia, the jasmine, the honeysuckle, the hyacinth or hyacinth also in the center you will find some amber and the gardenias I am not sure if I mentioned it but as you can see from…. and hibiscus, hibiscus ladies and gentleman. I mean you rarely find this here and the combination, the blend of these is so brave that it is supposed to be evoking you know the green vibe with this white floral aspect still being aromatic and, and fresh to no end and there is a beautiful development from this green spicy freshness how it starts and down to the base where the use of hibiscus honeysuckle and all the flowers. I am, I was mentioning that together with the amber it creates a very laid-back very relaxing atmosphere that is actually evoking the vibe of the green oasis.
It’s hard to describe, but could you imagine?
Welcome To Le Jardin D'Amour
Open your eyes. Touch the grass around you and feel the sun gently fall on your skin. Can you hear the birds chirping? Sit up straight. You are not alone. You are in the Jardin D'Amour. Have you ever imagined yourself in a place like this? You must be lucky. I am sure that the couple near the wallow tree must be just as fortunate as you are right now. It's the way he looks at her; they are head over heels, they can't stop smiling. With a little sigh of pleasure, you turn your head around. Look, two new lovebirds have found their selves a spot just 6 meters from your left side. They mark their place with a huge blanket, it has a floral print, it's enormous, it's their temporary terrarium. Don't you think it must be their first date? You can tell it by the stupid conversations they have. She doesn't like cherries because they are so tiny and have pits. Maybe she's allergic to peanuts too. You do like cherries, especially in combination with 90% cocoa dark chocolate, on a cake. The guy probably likes cherries also, but on this occasion, he decides to prefer strawberries over cherries too. Liar. The guy opens a bottle of wine; it's only 1 o'clock in the afternoon. But you think that's all right. When you were just about to imagine what their future wedding cake could look like, you feel something warm and wet move across the skin of your upper arm. "Benji!" "Come back!". The Labrador stops licking you and jumps against your back then slides his rather heavy paws against your body. "I am so sorry about this, it's his first day out in the park." A woman tells you while she pulls Bengi towards her. Her honey brown, shiny hair is perfect, it almost doesn’t move. The woman walks away, in the distance, you can still see Benji jumping. He now polity follows the woman who is pushing a buggy. She kisses her husband. The Labrador really is the perfect family dog. You decide to smell your arm, it stinks.
Our Little Paradise
The Jardin D’Amour has a lot of elements that are in common with the portrayal of The Garden of Eden as seen in paintings throughout history. The Garden of Eden also referred to as the Earthy paradise. The beautiful garden created by God where Adam and Eve lived. Umberto Eco introduces us to the earthly paradise in his Book of Legendary Lands. He refers to it as a place of nostalgia, a place that we all would like to rediscover but which remains the object of an endless search.1 Could this be the reason why all romances aspire to an ideal heavenly place?
The earthy paradise seems to be the ideal decor for the picture-perfect romance. Maybe the western public park implies a place that we can only imagine in our dreams as well, just like The Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden has often been depicted by painters such as Thomas Cole and Jan Brueghel the Elder en Peter Paul Rubens . All are showing a place in full bloom, with beautiful trees, rivers and the two lovebirds: Adam and Eve. It is the perfect dream home for the first woman and man on Earth, therefore the ideal dream location for a romantic shooting. When comparing these paintings to a picture of a classic western wedding that I found on the web, we can see that they are very much alike. Two persons love each other in a scenery of ideal nature. The park is an innately aesthetic place, a realm where image and perception rule. Maybe Bengi and his Nuclear Family were not just having a cozy stroll through the park that summery Sunday afternoon. In fact, they could be desperately in search of a small taste of bliss, remembering them the dream of a Paradise created maybe just for them.
Watching these romantics scenes fills my body with some sort of joy that I cannot easily describe. I get this strange feeling of calmness. It’s an aesthetic experience that overwhelms me with pleasure. At the same time, it evokes a sense of disgust. You know the deal, get a room or something. Maybe I’m just jealous.
It seems strange to me that the park radiates accessibility: it is considered to be a green open space for everybody, as the majority of city parks are open to the public. However, the large fences and the gates that are most of the time present in city park design already suggest that the park may not be such an accessible space at all. This so-called Earthly Paradise, may not be for everybody. I can enter this area of a park physically, but am I also entering paradise? It seems that to enter Earthy Paradise, it's not just about walking through the park public gate that stands wide open for everybody. I have to climb over some large imaginary hedges and wall to really enter this paradise. But who is actually constructing these invisible hedges?
It is not strange to think of the park as an enclosed space designed for only a particular group of people. When envisioning the contemporary park, images of people jogging and practicing yoga pop up in our heads. Whereas The garden of Eden is a place of pure nature, still unmarked by humanity, parks are controlled landscapes. It is shaped and constrained by social forces. In Western industrial cities, elites built parks in the picturesque English tradition, with the intent that vast, bucolic green spaces would perform a civilizing function in the midst of the "deleterious" urban environment. 2 For many privileged people, the park has a recreational function. It is a place for leisure. Within the park, these leisure practices are regulated by social forces. Looking at the park as a part of recreational life, it functions as the backdrop of ideal living, discovering happiness through Zumba classes in the open greenery and doing the downward facing dog while being surrounded by idyllic nature. When looking at the past we can see the garden is associated with power and privilege as longs as its existence.
Firstly, it brings us back again to the design of the Garden of Eden as portrayed throughout history. When looking at Athanasius Kircher’s Topographia Paradisi Terrestris we can see Eden as an enclosed space, the earthly paradise is a protected place with walls that divide Adam and Eve from another reality. The Garden is ordered, in harmony, away from the wilderness behind these walls. When looking at Kircher’s portrayal of paradise, I can't help but think of New York's Central Park from above. Also, Central Park looks like an enclosed haven in the wilderness of the city. Besides the resemblance of an enclosure in both the garden of Eden and the western city park. The scenery compared to the park as we know it in western civilization today did not really change that much. Eden's landscape and the western city park both contain bushes of trees, water ornaments and of course not to forget, love affairs. 3 It’s no surprise there is a countless number of Adam & Eve sculptures to be found in city parks all over the world. We see the two in stone cuddling in the grass of Riga, as a huge water fountain in Moscow and as a stainless steel couple in Skokie.
Other examples of the privileged park can be found in Ancient Greece. These spaces were merely a place for the elite, the wealthy citizens established private parks and pleasure gardens. Spaces to escape from hectic public areas.
As well as the Greek, the Romans idealized pastoral landscapes, in 55BC, the first public park was created in central Rome, the Porticus Pompeiana. The green oasis in the middle of the park was accessible to all free citizens, although prescribed gender roles lent them an overwhelmingly masculine quality. The park was an enclosed space, leading us to the Hortus Conclusus of the Middle Ages. Hortus Conclusus , literally meaning "enclosed garden." like all medieval gardens, protecting the private precinct from public intrusion, whether by folk or by stray animals. Often central in this enclosed space was the fountain of life, with always four paths leading to the center. Elements like the Fountain and rivers show that the medieval Hortus Conclusus, was constructed with reference to Garden of Eden. “A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers.” (Genesis 2:10). The four paths are symbolizing the four rivers flowing towards the garden of Eden. It was the idealized scenery functioning as a backdrop of many stories and fables from that time.4
The Fountain remains a symbol of eternal love in modern popular culture. Looking at the classic love scene at the Rome’s Trevi Fountain in the movie La Dolce Vita. . A classic story about searching love and happiness. The aspiration to recreate the garden of Eden also led to several botanic gardens in the Middle Ages, such as the Orto Botanico di Padova, the oldest botanic garden of Italy. With its plants from all over the world and its design of a perfect circle: resembling the creation of earth.
With the start of the Industrial Revolution, England parks became open to the public. The increasing urbanization of led to the need for citizens to avoid the bad conditions that the Industrial Revolution brought along. "In the 19th-century park popularity pivoted on the concept of nature as a repository of purity, simplicity, harmony, and morality – rendering it an ideal foil for the perceived degradation, complexity, tension, and corruption of city life. Such a sentiment drew on Romantic sensibilities that bemoaned the loss of untamed land and viewed nature as a venue for aesthetic rapture and spiritual rejuvenation."5 The garden becomes a place of relief again, as a paradise erupted from the smog created by machinery. It functions as an escape still, but this time not only a getaway for the elite. It was a place created by the elite to keep the working class content, it can still be seen as a middle for the elite to have power on the lower class. It was still a landscape representing exclusion.
Peter Johnson refers to Mosser and Teyssot who assert that ‘nostalgia for the Garden of Eden has provided garden designers throughout history with a model of perfection to aspire to’ (1990: 12). Elsewhere, Mosser claims that garden enthusiasts seem ‘devoted to creating the impossible’ (1990: 278). 6 History tells us that the garden and the park have always been a place to escape reality, the idea of a place where everything is in perfect harmony. It seems like most love couples are busy creating their own little paradise on earth in several ways, or they visit places that come as close as possible to paradise. The garden/park seems the perfect decor for happiness.
Looking at the creation of the park as a garden throughout history: it often functions as a space that makes us come as close to Paradise as possible, the nostalgia to the garden of Eden. On the other hand, we also see a strong notion of exclusiveness. Inside the garden rules harmony, outside of the garden, we find a world that is dark an ominous. The contrast of the two is clearly visible in Thomas Cole's Expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The park is a space where humanity attempts to control nature, the park is an invention. An invention by humanity to perhaps get as close as possible to an idealized world. An endless attempt to create paradise on earth. But maybe this never ending search is already enough to fulfill our longings to paradise, our endless pursuit of happiness.
I Want Blue Sunflowers And A Golden Retriever
Le Jardin D’Amour really is the scenery that you’d thought you could only find in your dreams, with its soothing sounds of the trickling water in the fountains, a flower bed of cute daisies in the perfect green grass and the birds vividly singing, even during wintertime. While walking through the garden its flora and fauna, your body gets filled with happiness. The sun warms up the skin and you start to feel a little better. You decide to sit down on a bench near the water, the wood of the seating is engraved.
J (L) M, it says. A declaration of eternal love. Another signal expressing everlasting love can be found in the center of the park, in the rose garden. A sea of blooming roses: creating the perfect surroundings for a wedding photoshoot. It must be the best day of their lives. A start of something new. How long have they been waiting for this moment? Finding just that perfect bridal dress can easily take one year. I know it can be a hassle, I’ve seen it on that TV Shows like Say Yes To The Dress and Bridezillas.
I believe one of the reasons why the garden is such popular theme/scenery at weddings is because people adore the idea of getting back to nature. Getting back to nature is not just the enjoyment of nature itself. It suggests a way of living that is pure, untouched and without any concerns. Camille Puglia describes this aim in Sexual Personae as “the Romantic imperative that still permeates our culture from sex counseling to cereal commercials.”7 Going back to basics, a romanticized idea of creating ideal living. And there is a lot of things the soon-to-be-married couple is willing to do to create the perfect wedding day. They are not easily satisfied. They will travel 8000 kilometers just to get that ideal, stunning backdrop for the ceremony. The perfect landscape can be found in Tuscany, Italy. Imagine a villa with a private garden and a breathtaking view of the Italian, picturesque vineyards. What about riding horses along the coast of the pearl white beaches of the Bahamas? This is the image of the ideal contemporary wedding if we must believe popular culture, the TLC wedding: nothing is impossible. Still the garden remains a classic scenery for the wedding. Even my mom and dad, who were not very fond of marriage anyway, took stunning pictures in a landscape of lavender plants. It’s a setting that symbolizes an eternal flourishing of a relationship, their own private dream world, far away from anything that could go against them.
But if we must believe the figures: marriage is losing its popularity. “The number of U.S. marriage ceremonies peaked in the early 1980s when almost 2.5 million marriages were recorded each year. Since then, however, the total number of people getting married has fallen steadily. Now only about two million marriages happen a year, a drop of almost half a million from their peak.”8 This questions whether marriage is still considered valuable in contemporary society. But on the other hand, not looking at statistics and only judging from own experience, we can see marriage as a theme in popular culture and the news everywhere. Two days I go I was watching the bride Valerie smashing her wedding cake on the TV-Show Bridezillas. She didn't want vanilla, but chocolate frosting. Also this very morning I woke up to the news that Australia has become the 25th nation to legalize same-sex marriage. What makes us want this fairytale so badly?
Quite often I buy myself flowers. Roses, lilies, and sunflowers. Sunflowers are my favorite. No tulips, tulips are dull and boring. This time I got myself a wild bouquet with the smashing price of 3 euro. I just get flowers because I think it looks good in my room and it makes me feel good. I grabbed the flowers out of the water and went to the cashier. “Would you like me to take the stickers off?” She asked me. “No it’s ok thanks, you can leave it.” I replied with a smile. She smiled back "Are you sure?". Oh yes, I was really sure. "It is not a gift?" she continues. "Oh yes, well it's a present to myself," I tell her. "You are buying yourself flowers?" she laughs while slamming her hand on the counter. I can't take my eyes off her hands. She had the perfect fingernails for scraping of the stickers of the bouquet’s plastic. French manicure, so basic. “That’s adorable!” She screams. I am smiling and tell her I actually do this quite often. I leave the supermarket and feel a little confused. All of sudden I am a bit embarrassed about the bouquet in my hands. Do I have to give them to somebody now? After my micro sensation of embarrassment, I start to feel like a loser for not having a relationship. But then I decide not to care. I was just buying some flowers. I am in the very healthy relationship with myself. The next time I will ask her to put some extra ribbons and bows on the plastic.
White: The color of purity, innocence, sympathy, and humility.
This flower will show your friend or loved one that you are thinking about them. While it does convey messages of purity and innocence, this color also means new beginnings. If given to a long-term partner, they show you want to move forward and think about marriage. Try white daisies, roses, or gardenias.
Heavenly Love: Un Hommage
The start of the fairytale, the wedding ceremony can often also be seen as the beginning of a nuclear family. The nuclear family became the norm in Western Civilization after the industrial revolution and is considered as the ideal family construction by many. The Nuclear family defines a family that consists of two (mostly) married parents and their children. Often portrayed in heavenly greenly just like the wedding shoot. They probably also have a Labrador or golden retriever. Or an Australian Sheppard.
The image of an ideal romance, of course, does not only consist out of the perfect landscape. When constructing the ideal model, we also need an ideal relationship. The nuclear family is heteronormative. Referring to the term heteronormativity as defined by Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner who popularized the term in Introduction: Fear of a Queer planet:“By heteronormativity we mean the institutions, structures of understanding, and practical orientations that make heterosexuality seem not only coherent—that is, organized as a sexuality—but also privileged. Its coherence is always provisional, and its privilege can take several (sometimes contradictory) forms: unmarked, as the basic idiom of the personal and the social; or marked as a natural state; or projected as an ideal or moral accomplishment. It consists less of norms that could be summarized as a body of doctrine than of a sense of rightness produced in contradictory manifestations—often unconscious, immanent to practice or to institutions. Contexts that have little visible relation to sex practice, such as life narrative and generational identity, can be heteronormative in this sense, while in other contexts sex between men and women might not be heteronormative. Heteronormativity is thus a concept distinct from heterosexuality.”9 Heteronormativity projected as an ideal through the portrayal of the Nuclear Family in Popular culture. I believe the contemporary public city park is as well shown as a very enclosed environment, a space for the elite. It is the images I adore to consume, although not feeling very connected to it. When looking at the mass media, the heteronormative relationship is the ideal. The heteronormative constructs determine what the perfect romance looks like. The ideal landscapes of a blooming oasis with a park bench. The park bench an element often used in popular culture in the set of the ideal Romance, it reminds us of the locus amoenus, an idealized haven in nature. “I waited for you, in the spot you said to wait. In the city, on a park bench. In the middle of the pouring rain. Cause I adored you” Lana del Rey sings to us, in her lullaby Tomorrow Never Came.
The average TV-shows, books, and music are heavily focused on gender stereotypes. It is a natural thing to not wanting to be left out. Therefore queer people are creating lifestyles striving towards a social heterosexual ideal. Many of the male homosexuals also want to find a spot in the Jardin D’amour. They also want that backdrop of breathtaking infinite greenness. They also want to get as close as possible to paradise on earth. That’s why they are conforming to a heteronormative ideal. I couldn’t help but wonder, is the heteronormative relationship actually the one that is ideal?
Even when I am buying myself a bouquet of flowers I am confronted with prescribed heteronormative ideas entangled in the ideas on how relationships should function. But if we must believe Plato in his Symposium, the ideal relationship might not between a man and a woman at all.
Heavenly love, by this name, goes the “homosexual relationship” in the speech of Pausanias in Plato’s Symposium, Pausanias talks about two kinds of that men can have. The heavenly love, coming from heavenly Aphrodite and
the common love, coming from common Aphrodite. Heavenly love is described as the pure love which is felt by a male. While on the other hand, the common love is seen as vulgar. As the love of a male towards a woman or a young boy is mostly only connected with the sexual act. 10 To elaborate on this, the love of heavenly is as stated above focused on a love for a boy. Though some within this group inappropriately pursue pre-pubescent lads, the ideal beloved is a young boy approaching manhood (the "approaching manhood" distinguishes from the boy in the description of common love), one whose mind is beginning to form, and one with whom the lover could spend the rest of his life. Common love, according to Pausanias, is bad because its attraction is indiscriminating, directed towards bodies rather than toward minds. As a result, people who are motivated by Common Love are equally interested in women and boys, and the less intelligent, the better: that way they can get what they want more easily.11
With the support of Pausanias speech praising the Heavenly love, I would like to question whether we actually want to find the gate to the paradise of Common Love. As the Common Love is mostly portrayed as paradise in popular culture, but this does not mean we should interpret this ideal image as the one and only paradise. They both represent a different kind of paradise. It would be great to be exposed to more diverse forms of relationships in popular culture, not necessarily bend towards the heteronormative ideal. So please, no gay weddings. I believe, that also in the Jardin D’Amour, way more exciting things happen. The most unexpected things happen in the dark. They say.
You Are Coming Home Late Again?
This heteronormative ideal is entangled in the design of a park. The park can be seen as heteronormative space because it reflects the hierarchies of property and propriety that are existent in wider society. We may suggest that the park has also become an escape haven for non-normative cultures. Heteronormative can be seen as not just an ideology, it is something intermingled in almost every aspect of the forms and arrangements of social life. 12
An apple tree laden with fruit: how peaceful, how picturesque. But remove the rosy filter of humanism from our gaze and look again. See nature spuming and frothing, its mad spermatic bubbles endlessly spilling out and smashing in that inhuman round of waste, rot, and carnage. From the jammed glassy cells of sea roe to the feathery spores poured into the air from bursting green pods, nature is a festering hornet’s nest of aggression and overkill. This is the chthonian black magic with which we are infected as sexual beings; this is the daemonic identity that Christianity so inadequately defines as original sin and thinks it can cleanse us of. The procreative woman is the most troublesome obstacle to Christianity’s claim to catholicity, testified by its wishful doctrines of Immaculate Conception and Virgin Birth. The procreativeness of chthonian nature is an obstacle to all of western metaphysics and to each man in his quest for identity against his mother. Nature is the seething excess of being.” (Camille Paglia, Sexual personae pag. 28)
The Jardin D'Amour as the sun sets. The landscape of the park changes as the darkness falls over nature. The garden is not only a place to escape to a dream world where everything is in perfect harmony, but it is also the entrance of a world that shifts from an idealized image of paradise to other, darker, interpretations of paradise. Nature is wild and nature cannot be tamed. The true nature of humanity, something that is not always visible by daylight, appears as the romances are heading home after their cozy Sunday afternoon stroll. All of a sudden the Jardin is not that romantic and picturesque anymore. The park now also functions as a sanctuary for the homeless. A drunk, smelly man snoring between his groceries bags on that bench you were once peacefully practicing love. It is also the chosen place for rapists and voyeurs. As we can see in the story of Susanna And The Elders, while peacefully taking a bath in her garden she is secretly being observed by lustful voyeurs.The walled garden is the decor of attempted rape. The walls first providing protection now make the innocent Susanna invisible for society. The once so peacefully Earthly paradise has now turned into a locus terribilis the contradictory landscape to the locus amoenus that is anything but a pleasant place for the most of us. In the locus terribilis the romance turns into tragedy. Other may find pleasure in this locus of darkness.
“I recently asked a couple who came to see me because their marriage of less than a year was already in trouble, if they had planted a vegetable garden and invested as much time and energy into it as they have in their relationship, what would their garden look like. She said, “it would mostly be a jungle of weeds” and he said, ” we would be lucky if had one small tomato.”13
As the garden functions as the backdrop of the picture-perfect wedding at daylight, it has now become the perfect scenery of a miserably ended divorce as well. It's a garden full of secrets. Wandering through the park at night, there is a not a lot of light. At some places you see some light sources floating in the misty air. They remind you of fireflies. An insect that looks so ordinary by day, but it glows by night. It's by night when this wonderful insect
truly comes to life. The fireflies seem to look for each other. They gather in the bushes. They use the dating phenomenon called Grindr for secret hookups in the park when it is dark. It functions as a middle to escape from the domestic drag, the unhappy marriage, in the discrete wilderness D'Amour. It reminds me of Chiaroscuro , the Clair Obscura: the painting technique developed during the Renaissance that uses strong tonal contrast between light and dark in an image. Using a single light source like a lit candle, a baby Jesus or electronic devices with dating apps. It it the heavenly light in times of darkness.
"When was the last time you bought me flowers?" She screams at her husband while aggressively sipping from her glass of red wine. No answer. "No, you don't remember, do you?".
For the nuclear family, the Jardin D’Amour is not a safe place at night, this not the paradise they had in mind. But maybe for other people, the garden by night is the place for genuine happiness. For example, for many male homosexuals/bisexuals, the park defines a place to get away from the social mores created by the norm. Sex in public space is an escape from reality. A locus for sexual encounters. The rast between light and dark in an image. Using a single light source like a lit candle, a baby Jesus or electronic devices with Rosarium in Vondelpark Amsterdam is a beautiful place by daylight. The rose, the epitome of romantic love and happiness. The Rosarium is also known as a popular cruising area by night. For some a heavenly place to full fill tamed longings deep inside their bodies, but also this place has its tragedies. Dutch gay organization COC considers it as the most dangerous rast between light and dark in an image. Using a single light source like a lit candle, a baby Jesus or electronic devices with gray-cruise area of Amsterdam. In the summer of 2013 a man got stabbed 10 times in his back. 14. The cruising area, a place where other maybe find pleasure in taking peoples life. An attractive but dangerous place as well, as seen in the movies such as L’Inconnu Du Lac and Everlasting love. Both exploring evil sexual predatory in a scenery of nature. Although not happening at night in both films the characters are obscured by shadows while cruising. In contrary to the Clair obscura in the darkness of the park, these portrayals look more like the paradise we had imagined as ideal. It’s the perfect warm lighting as seen in the ideal pastoral landscape.Perfect for a wedding shoot as well. In L’Inconnu Du Lac the golden hour seems to last the whole day, but that murder took place as the sun went down.
The garden by night shows us that the ideal romance is elusive, it’s a show.
Thousand Sugar-winged Butterflies
Why do I, and many others, find it so comforting to watch romances as portrayed in popular culture? In comparison to sexual cultures that are non-normative, as seen in the wilderness D’Amour. This idealized image of the perfect love affair is most of the time actually a quite dull, conservative and unadventurous one. The ideal romantic relationship seems like a perfect illusion that we all want to believe is real. It is the feeling that I talk about at the beginning of my thesis. A sense of satisfaction, but it makes me feel uncomfortable somewhere. Because somewhere I know it's an artificial reality.
In my research, I have been watching the elements that construct this artificial reality. The elements that suck me up into this world. What are the elements I like to be exposed to so much? The elements that mesmerize and hypnotize me. The elements that cause this aesthetic experience of pleasure and leave me with confusion.
The wedding cake is one of these elements. The wedding cake has become the statue of modern western popular culture. It is the centerpiece of the ceremony. Wedding cakes have become sculptural artworks representing just more than a prosperous future. Whole new worlds are created in the shape of a wedding cake, symbolizing affluence and abundance. Three-meter high sandcastles and marzipan sculptures covered with thousand sugar flowers. Society has gone crazy when it comes to cupcakes and wedding cakes, just baking in general. It seems like something very humble, very domestic, very getting back to nature: making an apple pie. I always had been thinking, without ever actually visiting a wedding myself, the Dutch wouldn’t go too crazy on wedding days. That perfectly baked apple pie makes us happy enough. But also in the Netherlands, the popularity of Baking TV show madness has found its way into our kitchens. It was the day my mother started her cupcake decoration workshop. TV shows like Cake Boss, The Great British Baking Show, Amazing Wedding Cakes and Cake Hunters all contain this aesthetic of excess. In this aesthetic we find pleasure.
The ideal romantic image is becoming heavily glamourized. The idea of getting back to nature makes way for the glamour. I mean a 6 foot tall, gold plated wedding cake with Swarovski crystals as seen on Cake Boss? Ain’t nothing natural and humble about that. But somewhere I love being exposed to this excessive imagery so much. If represents paradise, then I want paradise too. I am obsessed with imagery of vanilla coated masterpieces covered with thousands of sugar-winged butterflies. I get hypnotized by the strapless bridal gown, made out of endless pieces of Crêpe de Chine with perfect lace details and a grosgrain ribbon at the waist. I love how the pink Jimmy Choo's with embroidery in strass match the peachy toned blush on the apple cheeks. It takes my breath away. These glamour bridal elements are all part of the ideal normative romance in popular culture. But why does it do this to me? This idealized, glamourized, stylized, image is still constructed with heteronormative norms, which actually makes me want to reject it. Or is there something more, hidden behind the image that we do not immediately see at first?
A SWEET TWIST
"But yeah so we decided to vote with this venue, it's an old mansion so it's an old vintage house and we're doing the ceremony and be like the outside area."
“The garden area.”
“Yes the whole garden area, and we’re going to be doing all florals all around it.”
"Flowers down the aisle and the huge arches, full of flowers."
Well, I gotta tell you I love floral wedding cakes, maybe we can ice the cake in not white, but in like golden buttercup if you wanna call it. Because then the flowers pop off it and when you say to me like and old mansion style it feels kind of like that vintage old feel.”
“If the cake is in white this stuff is not gonna pop as much."
“Something else, instead of regular flower bouquets for the tables, I want cupcakes.”
Dress Me Up
Camille Paglia could help us understand this phenomenon, the world of glamour, the world towards the gay male is so attracted to. Although I do not entirely support all her ideas on homosexuality. I believe her thoughts on the gay male world in contemporary culture could clarify why I like this imagery so much.
The gay male world is one of culture and competition, male homosexuals have a big interest in the arts and movies, particularly Hollywood movies. This was at a time where Hollywood was not really taken seriously. She acknowledges that instead of rejecting fashion and Hollywood as images that would be oppressive images that burdened women, the gay world embraced it. She claims that this is embraced because the world of homosexuals is based on sculpting the self, making the person more attractive.
Furthermore, she states that this basis also forms a tragedy, which puts the aging gay man in a terrible dilemma. As youth and beauty mean everything in the gay male world, status is only retained through money or power. Camille states that in the end, the lesbian is probably happier because she does not have to meet the standard of a physical perfection that still remains the law of the gay male world.16
To portrayal of a male homosexual as heavily obsessed with beauty, fashion and striving for perfection is a stereotype. A stereotype that is often seen in popular culture. As I look at my own experiences, the queer friends that are close to me, this idea more or less applies to all of us. Of course, there will always be exceptions. But just like the idealized romance, this image is very controlled in way mass media presents it to us. Most of my queer male friends aspire to or work in creative fields (fashion, music, television.), it is a part of the stereotype that I cannot deny. The striving for a standard physical perfection, which is suggested to be so dominant, could be the reason why I am so obsessed with romanticized imagery. The imagery that also strives to a world where only perfectness rules.
The glamour that seems so prominent in an idealized world for the (let's call it) stereotypical homosexual, we cannot ignore the world of "camp." To find a better understanding of the male homosexual figure's role in popular culture, I think it is essential to have a close look at the true definition of the term camp.
Camp initially comes the French slang term "se camper", which means "to pose in an exaggerated fashion," Camp is a term that is difficult to define and is variously interpreted as an ironic attitude toward the cultural mainstream and a form of aestheticism that celebrates artifice over beauty. 17 At the same time, camp has been long associated with homosexual culture, or at least with a self-conscious eroticism that questions traditional gender constructions. 18 When talking about defining camp, the essay mostly referred to is Susan Sontag’s notes on camp. Regardless of its influence, Susan’s definition was considered controversial to many queer critics. The way she characterizes camp as “apolitical” and how it find success in certain passionate failures can be considered offensive.19
To understand my question on the portrayal of male homosexual in contemporary popular culture the meaning of Camp as defined by Michael Bronski could maybe shine a light. Michael Bronski understands camp to be a survival strategy as well as a distinctive mode of communication. But he also sees camp as a “visionary” practice, through which gay men could “re-imagine the world around them”. 20 I think Bronski’ statement implies the idea that before camp was consumed by the masses, it already functioned as a form of escapism. It shaped a world that rejected the standards of the dominant order. In believe that in contemporary popular culture has lost this value, as it is has become so integrated into a world where heteronormativity rules.
To go deeper into this, I would like to introduce a quotation find in David Bergman's Camp Grounds: Style and Homosexuality. "On informant said, “Camp is based on homosexual thought. It is all based on the idea of two men or two women in bed. It’s incongruous and it’s funny.” Real camp does not exist anymore, Camp has become completely intertwined with pop culture and with straight culture. Camp does not go without incongruousness, that is why I think it is remarkable that in creating the contemporary Idealized Romance as seen in popular culture the elements deriving from camp are so visible.21 The idealized Romance imaging a perfect harmony seems in a big contrast with
Camp. Camp does not at all equal harmony. Later on, the term theatricality is stated as an essential property of camp. Camp is theatrical in three ways.
The first theatrical element is style. He supports this by saying that homosexuals excel in the decorative arts, Something campy is often created by adornment or stylization of a well-defined thing or symbol. It's exaggerated, staged: theatrical. The dramatic form it the second theatrical element in camp. Camp involves a performer and audience. The third aspect of theatricality can be found in the perception of “being as playing a role” and “Life as a theatre”. It is here were drag and came to merge, Drag queens often referred to as the Mothers of camp. Homosexuality and Camp. The two are inextricably linked with each other, regardless the stigmatizing.
Often referred to as a Mother of gays, a gay icon is classic Hollywood star Judy Garland, as earlier mentioned the male homosexual has always been attracted to Hollywood Movies. In his book Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society, Richard Dyer argues that Judy Garland is camp. He tells us that camp is a characteristically gay way of handling the values, images and products of the dominant culture through irony, exaggeration, trivialisation, theatricalisation and an ambivalent making fun of and out of the serious and respectable.
Richard Dyer tells us in order to move through society successfully, the male homosexual had to make specific adaptations which are to be found in camp.
We’ve had to be good at disguise, at appearing to be one of the crowd, the same as everyone else. Because we had to hide what we really felt (gayness) for so much time, we had to master the Façade of whatever social set-up we found ourselves in… So we have developed an eye and ear for surfaces, appearances, forms – style. 22
Judy Garland’s exaggerated appearance, theatricalized and excessive style made the male homosexual worship her.
Of course, the male homosexual as a person idolizing divas is heavily stigmatized and not every gay man is obsessed with Hollywood. Though, I have always wondered why so many male homosexuals idolize a camp aesthetic world and female pop stars.
This stereotype of a male homosexual, who aspires perfectness, can be found in many parts of the contemporary entertainment industry. It has become a cliché that gay men have a great sense of style. This cliché can be seen in the TV-shows like the award-winning TV series Queer Eye for the straight Guy . A TV-show where a team of homosexual men teaches the heterosexual men good taste and social sophistication within 24 hours. In TV series such as Say Yes To The Dress, Sex and the City and in movies such as The Devil Wears Prada, My Best Friend’s Wedding as well. The male homosexual is portrayed as the dependable best friend and stylist of the heterosexual. In western popular culture other elements of gay identities are excluded and show a superficial characterization.
In 2012 Bruce la Bruce released his "Notes on Camps/Anti camp". In this manifesto, he defines camp by dividing the term into a lot of subcategories such as: Classic Gay Camp, Bad Gay Camp, Good Straight Camp, Bad Straight Camp, High Camp and Low Camp. I think it's safe to say that nowadays Camp is not just Camp anymore. Camp is everywhere but comes in a lot of forms. Bruce argues that at this moment "the whole goddamn world is camp" It's true essence has lost its meaning as it became consumed by the masses.
I think it's interesting to think about the fact that the idealized romance has become quite camp. It's outrageous and exaggerated. As Bruce la Bruce mentions in his definition of the term camp, he suggests it has a notion of questioning traditional gender constructions. I think in his term the idea camp is referred to as camp in a classic way. As said before camp nowadays is hard to define as it has gotten so interconnect with popular culture. Not to forget to mention with heteronormative culture in particular.
“Camp has been co-opted in the Oughties and emptied of its subversive, subcultural significance. So you have the most famous performers, like Beyoncé and Mariah and Gaga and whomever, acting out a kind of camp for the masses (often still propped up by reams of gay stylists and designers), which really is a kind of betrayal of its original intent. So it’s not so much winking as a kind of capitalist exhaustion of previously hidden or even “low-brow” forms. They’re really borrowing — or stealing — from hookers and trannies! Meanwhile, most of these stars are tiresomely heteronormative, displaying their baby bumps and propping up their monogamous marriages and middle-of-the-road, rather conservative ideals. In terms of the “conservative camp” 23
The homosexual male practicing in the fields of the contemporary popular culture entertainment industry has a significant influence in creating the heteronormative image of the ideal romance and the domestic ideal. The influence can be found the heavily stylized, glamourized of this image today. Camp, which is a huge part of the male homosexual world, although its true essence has been diluted, is where he finds his entrance to the ideal side of the Jardin D'Amour. Although this element is heavily stereotyped in normative popular culture. I believe this could be an answer to the question why the male homosexual is fascinated by the ideal romance and helps to construct a heteronormative ideal.
The Ideal Home
The perfect family is nothing without a perfect place to live. In Eden's paradise it was just Adam and Eve, they were living in paradise, only the two of them. As much as people love the greenery of public parks, a lot of people aspire to create private havens as well. The ideal living situation with a house and a private garden resembles the idea of idealized landscapes such as Hortus Conclusus and the Locus Amoenus again. The Ideal home is again an enhanced space. Harmony inside, the bad is outside. When looking at contemporary garden designs, we find the three typical elements of the Locus Amoenus as well: Trees, grass and water. Something the modern day garden all has. An idyllic, safe dream space. The artificial green space often implies the wilderness and blooming of the garden of Eden. With its artificial rockeries, mini-waterfalls and plastic beasts.
Just like the ideal wedding, the ideal domestic is constructed and heavily stylized through contemporary popular culture. People like to judge and to catch a glimpse of the private paradises of others. Plenty of so-called Life Style shows on television help us constructing on what is supposed to be the domestic ideal. The ideal romance and the domestic ideal go hand in hand, what is the one without the other? The ideal home has become as stylized, as the ideal romance. We can visit plenty of fairs and exhibitions to help us styling this ideal. One of the biggest exhibitions of the world happens every year in London and goes by the name “Ideal Home Show”. It is advertised with the slogan: "Step into a world of ideas and inspiration". When buying a 20-pound ticket, you can enter this staged, perfect world. But this world is artificial and no real humans live in the big houses. They just envision the dream, just like the paintings of the Garden of Eden, romantic comedies and The TLC Bridal Shows.
This makes me think about a trend in gardening that will probably be present in the Ideal Home show of 2018. When watching Dutch TV shows about gardening, I am always fascinated by the trend of the plastic landscape poster trend. A 3-meter wide plastic surface showing a paradisiac landscape often found in the private garden of the nuclear family. I like to think about these images as aspirations to an ideal place, the absurd things is that they portray aspiration to an ideal space within the already aspirational ideal space. It also makes me think about a scene in Desperate Housewives where Gabrielle secretly mows the lawn at night. She hides the fact that she is making out with the gardener while her husband is at work. The perfect garden represents the perfect marriage.
Just like the wedding the ideal home is becoming heavily glamourized as well. When looking at history, the garden of Versailles is a perfect example for this. Versailles is the epitome of opulence, it envisions a place beyond our imagination. A symbol of wealth and power with its 400 sculptures and 1400 fountains. The garden still functions as the perfectly stylized backdrop in the contemporary glamour world. Looking at Dior's heavenly "Secret Garden" campaigns of 2012. Transporting the spectator to an imaginary dream world.
These stylized and excessive garden of Versailles bring us back again to the world of Camp. The stereotypical male homosexual is also very prominent in constructing the image of an ideal home. Looking back again at the TV-Series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy . The garden has become as camp as the ideal wedding. A lot of examples of gardens representing irony, exaggeration, trivialisation, theatricalisation can be found in contemporary culture. We see this in the private gardens of the Nuclear family, but also "The Miracle Garden" in
Dubai and the outrageous grass sculptures all over the world.
"The media represents world that is more real than reality that we can experience. People lose the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. They also begin to engage with the fantasy without realizing what it really is. They seek happiness and fulfillment through the simulacra of reality, e.g., media and avoid the contact/interaction with the real world." 24
The gardens represent a fake reality, an escape from reality.
The Gate Of The Garden
What if we look at the ideal relationship, the ideal wedding ceremony, the ideal decor/landscape for the happenings described in my thesis as something constructed by a huge team. Like an office that is in control of all these images that people are aspiring to. Styling as a profession has been here for already a long time, but in contemporary culture, styling has experienced an enormous increase in its popularity. It has become a skill/something that you can actually study for. We have become obsessed with styling the ideal.
The Jardin D’Amour is an enclosed space, a space that is not easy to enter. The Jardin D’Amour is the ideal world that is projected on us through popular culture. It is a place that is a dream, something you cannot really grasp, I believe we all don’t really know what this world really looks like. Because this space is not a reality but something that we envision through what mass media creates, I believe the gates to the Jardin D’Amour we so badly want to believe in is closed.
In my thesis, I have used the male homosexual as an example that aspires to enter the idealized paradise as seen in the Jardin D'Amour. As fascinated as I am in the way the male homosexual takes such a huge part in constructing an unachievable reality, this was just a method for me to understand this phenomenon. I believe that the majority of humanity, not only the homosexuals want to fit in, so we adapt ourselves to the dominant culture: everybody is constructing the ideal image.
This adaption to the norm can be seen in how camp (non-normative at first) has evolved into an important major key in constructing that paradise (normative) everybody is looking for. It is remarkable how these two have melted into a completely absurd world, a place where they both seem to have peacefully found each other. The world of pop culture that everybody loves to hate and hates to love.
Striving for the ideal, where happiness can be found, makes us have a goal. In this goal, we maybe find our happiness. I believe adaption to the dominant culture can be very destructive and that we should embrace the alternative paradises. Happiness can also be found here. Perhaps, we can find it through pleasant, secret encounters in the darkness of the Jardin D’Amour.
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