Not all attention-grabbing newspaper headlines are created equal, argues Oliver Lee Bateman.
Bigger is better—at least when it comes to a woman’s penis preferences, a new study says. Women may have felt pressured to say the politically correct thing: That size doesn’t matter, said study leader Brian Mautz, a biologist at the University of Ottawa, Canada. So his team set up an experiment in which 105 Australian women—averaging 26 years old—each looked at 53 life-size images of various computer-generated male silhouettes projected onto a screen.
But wait, there’s more!
A German study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that staring at women’s breasts for a few minutes daily is better for your health than going to the gym. “Just 10 minutes of looking at the charms of well-endowed females is equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics work-out,” said author Dr Karen Weatherby, an expert on ageing. “Sexual excitement gets the heart pumping and improves blood circulation.”
There you have it: cutting-edge research, carried out according to the strictest standards and published in peer-reviewed journals. The work done here, at least in the case of the penis study, improves somewhat our understanding of the nature and evolution of the human body, so I suppose that’s mostly pretty alright.
Yet the story can’t stop here, and we can’t stop here, because the media needs killer headlines. What it doesn’t need are nuanced explanations of either of these studies–the fact that the first study also found that shoulder to hip ratio trumps height or penis size was buried at the bottom of most published accounts–or insights from the researchers themselves save a juicy (and hopefully pun-filled) sound bite or three.
Judging from the sheer volume of insightful, progressive blogging now taking place on teh internetz, ours is a more enlightened age than any that has preceded it. An age of wonders, wherein we might all work together to heal the harms inflicted by our benighted ancestors. Then, like so much manna from heaven, come these eminently clickable headlines from places like Time and The Daily Record. “Well now, ‘Women Prefer Big Penises’,” a casual first-time browser of such a site might think after seeing this post on the main page. “That sounds like something I’ll click on.”
Assume, arguendo, that he or she does indeed click on it, and away we go. “Women Prefer Big Penises” commences with a quote from a news article summarizing the aforementioned big penis study. Should the reader proceed further? If this person is anything like the ADD-afflicted students I teach, many of whom sit in the back row of my freshman history class watching Breaking Bad or scrutinizing the text messages on a significant other’s phone, the buck will stop there. Now is not the time for patient reflection; now is the time to strike. “I hate all this stuff about big penises! That’s so unfair! Penises can be all sizes, man.”
In another corner of the Internet, a lengthy essay based on a hasty overgeneralization of the work of the late Paul Feyerabend is being prepared for publication on some longform deep-thinker’s quarterly that gets a fraction of the web traffic the site that published “Women Prefer Begin Penises” does. “Oh, we’ll teach those counterfeit scientists to go about problematizing male and female bodies,” this solitary genius author, whose heart is in the right place, thinks aloud. “The time has come for me to undermine their position as epistemological autocrats, in the process freeing people from the tyranny of abstract concepts such as ‘truth’, ‘reality’, and ‘objectivity’.”
Soon, for reasons that will remain completely obscure to all save the original parties to “Women Prefer Large Penises,” a war of mostly like-minded and good-hearted people will rage across the twitterverse, the blogosphere, and the tumblrland. Big breasts and big penises, small penises and small breasts…everything will be up for grabs. A regular brouhaha of a donnybrook of a slobberknocker, one that could eventually wind up mired in a discussion of racism on HBO’s Girls (remember that, folks? that was only two or three centuries ago, give or take) and may even warrant coverage from the same mainstream media organs that broke the news about these penis/breast studies. Or at least from BuzzFeed, which is almost the news in much the same way that West Virginia is almost heaven. Regardless of the form this coverage takes, I can assure you that it will be every bit as nonsensical as the reporting on the studies that occasioned the conflict, with underpaid ex-Bleacher Report interns finding ways to shoehorn as many SEO-friendly references to big breasts and big penises into whatever content they end up generating.
Who, then, is to blame for this hypothetical mess? The various well-meaning folks coming at this problem from the myriad of approaches that constitute today’s shambolic American Left? Nah. As both Richard Rorty and Walter Benn Michaels have observed elsewhere, the real culprit is capitalism. Controversy creates clicks, and clicks congeal into cash (for somebody, anyway–certainly not for me or those Bleacher Report interns!). Alas, reacting to stories that could’ve first been rendered in a more nuanced, more boring format, is exactly what the publishers of such controversial material are hoping for. And hey, fancy that, I just did precisely what I’m criticizing other people for doing. But look, bro, this work is for science! At least, it’s for science in the same way that staring at breasts is for science, which is to say it’s a colossal misreading of a far less exciting point.
But if you were to ask breast researcher Dr. Karen Weatherby a question along the lines of, “Say, my brother’s a zoophile, and I’m coming at this from a totally real and not at all facetious or judgmental place, but would his weak heart get the same benefits from staring at a dog’s genitalia?” and then make your headline “Doctors Say Staring At Animal Genitalia 10 Minutes a Day If You’re a Zoophile is Good for Your Health,” you’ll get some hits, I suppose, but probably the wrong ones and not nearly enough to keep the lights on. And that’s a shame, because even if it’s equally accurate, it will turn off rather than titillate the mildly pervy relatives who kept forwarding the original piece to me with a “personal message” along the lines of “LOL GUESS UR IN GOOD HEALTH SONNYBOY!”
The people have spoken, and their message is loud and clear: dude u seen that 1 thing bout teh big dicks