Monday, August 27, 2012

Hookup Culture

Previously, I've argued that the hookup culture growing in North American is primarily (but unconsciously) an economic decision. Relationships are emotionally and financially expensive especially within a job culture of increased mobility (globalization) as well as increased job precarity. However, many theorists, cultural critics, and journalists are instigating or reporting on a developing moral panic around the hookup culture. They argue that hookups cheapen sex, minimize intimacy and do not contribute to self-education on navigating more complicated relationships such as long term commitment or marriage.

This article from Slate called Sex is cheap is what really ignited my interest in hookup culture as a facet of contemporary youth culture. The article cites a concept called sexual economics in which the market price of sex is currently low as there are less males on campus than there are females. An oversupply of females tends to lead to a more sexually permissive culture. The men no longer need to compete with each other for the opportunity. The authors of this particular article then makes an egregious logical error without exploring the idea any further: the end of men. If men continue to have the sexual upper hand due to the sexual economy of their culture, then there is no imperative to avoid arrested development.

The error in this thinking is that the reality is far too complex. If we agree that men are far more likely to remain youthful, at least mentally, then the reason for this is not simply the sexual revolution. It's a far more complicated matrix of factors including the delay of adulthood due to economic reasons. Again, as with my central argument regarding the hookup culture, it all comes down to the increased affluence of contemporary North American culture. The richer the person, the less likely they are to procreate is practically axiomatic. Thus, the reason for arrested development isn't simply sexual economics, but larger economic factors that directly contribute to the delay of adulthood.

In a less morbidly economist way of thinking, this particular article from The Atlantic called Boys on the Side explicitly refers to the hookup culture as a "delay tactic". Hanna Rosin writes:
The most patient and thorough research about the hookup culture shows that over the long run, women benefit greatly from living in a world where they can have sexual adventure without commitment or all that much shame, and where they can enter into temporary relation­ships that don’t get in the way of future success.
Keeping in mind the increased job precarity and the increased mobilization of jobs, then we see that young people have less leeway to make a mistake. The job market is increasingly less forgiving of any settled individual with ties. The cost of making a mistake is far too great, as the increased affluence comes with a price: its seemingly temporary nature. Class mobilization works both ways, unfortunately, as the individual can easily slide from one class to the next just as quickly. The speed of class ascent is part of the American Dream, after all, as I've previously argued. But with the current economic status of North America, the media is saturated with tales of woe, tales of unlucky individuals who have lost their job and are unable to acquire another.

This article from Nerve called "How My Boyfriend's Unemployment Brought Us Closer Together" is totally representative of the difficulty of maintaining commitment in the face of economic adversity and job precarity. While the article is more positive and ends on a hopeful note, it's interesting to observe that if the author was not in a committed relationship, the ease of exiting this particular situation would be greatly increased. If she had immersed herself in hookup culture, her boyfriend's job loss would not have affected her economically or emotionally. She could have just walked away.

Many women in Rosin's article for The Atlantic (linked to above) cite selfish reasons for the desire for island-living, if I might call it that. They would prefer to hang out with friends, or not get involved due to the emotional cost of a relationship. Some said that they wanted to study, which is less selfish than pragmatic. Especially considering the cost of some sort of mistake. But this selfishness can be extrapolated to encompass not just hookup culture but the general selfishness of North American culture.

This is a book called "Generation Me" that argues there is a decline in civic engagement and concern for others in the past four generations, stretching back presumably to the Baby Boomers sometimes called the most selfish generation. The researchers of the Generation Me book found that while volunteerism appears to be on the rise, it is due to school systems enforcing mandatory volunteering for degrees and diplomas. It's also, in a crude economic sense, good business. Individuals who maintain an appearance as community-oriented and altruistic are far more attractive as a hire than a selfish one. But the data shows, the researchers argue, that there is a shift away from "intrinsic values such as developing a meaningful philosophy of life towards more extrinsic values such as being well-off financially".

Now we come to the chicken or the egg problem. Has the economic situation, ostensibly the rampant consumerism of late capitalism, created the circumstances for an increased on selfish behaviour or is it that selfish behaviour contributes to the success of uncontrolled consumerism? No doubt the answer is both, in a self-perpetuating cycle of production and purchase.

In order to maintain the efficiency of the late capitalist system of uncontrolled consumerism, relationships between individuals are minimized or ignored altogether for the sake of purchase power. It's a crudely simplistic equation: the less fiscal ties one has, the more available capital there is.

One can even demonstrate this in terms of income tax. In Canada, a married couple is entitled to certain tax credits, but as one individual unit. Two people not married but living together (not common law) are entitled to tax credits each, thus maximizing their power to purchase and move up the class scale.

Is there a need for the ensuing moral panic? Yes and no. I would argue no, as Rosin does in her article because "women have vastly more control over their actions and appetites than we have been led to believe" as well as the " dramatic decline of rape and sexual assault. Between 1993 and 2008, the rate of those crimes against females dropped by 70 percent nationally" (Rosin). Women are more engaged in the economic reality of the world, which is surely one of the great success stories of feminism, or even any ideology.

But I would also argue yes. Except with a different formulation. Instead of igniting or reporting on a moral panic relating to the hookup culture, there should be an increased focus on what rampant consumerism and late capitalism have contributed to in terms of personal relationships. As far as I'm aware, there are no other journalists or critics making a correlation between late capitalism and hookup culture. It seems to me that the correlation is exceedingly obvious and if we are going to clutch our pearls about something, it should be how capitalism is decreasing intimacy in relationships.

Obviously, I'm not making any judgments on hookup culture. My usual caveat is that whatever I observe is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, it's simply a thing that exists. Would I argue for the end of the hookup culture? Absolutely not, but then again, nor would I argue for the continuance of it. Instead, we as a culture need to examine the dangers of uncontrolled and unrestrained consumerism and how this is affecting our personal lives. There have been books about this, but I'm not aware of any that make the connection between sexuality and consumerism. Perhaps this is the book I will write.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

these were exactly my thoughts!!!! (the connection between capitalism and hook up culture)