The Scarlet Letter: Sex-God-State, USA

For this episode Helen is joined by Melbourne cultural critic and journalist Mel Campbell, author of Out of Shape - Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit (2013). They talk about Jennifer Lawrence's hacked photos in the context of what Tara Moss has called “the axis of desire and contempt” (2014). They analyse the famous semen stain on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress; and discuss Jackie Kennedy’s blood stained pink suit. And they consider Hester Prynne’s self-identification beneath the scarlet letter “A” as a surprisingly radical model for modern subjects of shaming.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s peculiar Romance, The Scarlet Letter (1850), stages Hester Prynne’s pillory in a chapter called ‘The Market Place’. Since Mistress Prynne's public ordeal on the 1650 Boston scaffold America has been trading in private acts of desire. The Sex-God-State ménage à trois is an obsessional part of that society’s culture and currency - especially its ideological currency - right now and right back to as far as the mid 17th Century colony when Hawthorne’s Puritan ancestors were Salem magistrates and witch hunters, men of the sword and the Bible. His great-great-great grandfather William’s notoriety was built on the relentlessly cruel persecution of a single Quaker woman. One wonders, what could she have possibly done to have inflamed His Majesty’s magistrate’s (des)ire so?