Brow Beat

How to Write a Think Piece About Butts

Think piece writers shouldn’t be caught with their pants down.

Diego Velázquez, Rokeby Venus, c. 1647–51. The National Gallery, London.

The 17th of November is a tad early to publish a year-in-review piece, true, but our topic today is the year in rear views, and special circumstances apply. Last week Paper, a downtown magazine, released an image of Kim Kardashian, a QVC spokesmodel, presenting her bare bottom to the viewer, and it is inconceivable that 2014 will offer any gluteal news to eclipse that mooning unless a balloon designed by Robert Crumb should float down Broadway to Macy’s on Thanksgiving Day. Kardashian’s striptease brings a full stop to a year of omnipresent celebrations of the female buttocks, and we should expect to see very many essays commemorating this annus mirabilis—a bumper crop of pygoscopic literature.

Such essays are often difficult to write and, more often yet, difficult to read, but Slate is here to help! Please find below a brief memo outlining some ideas. We hope that they will prove useful for everyone from old fogeys staring into the male-gazing ball on behalf of men’s magazines to young fillies penning confused theme papers for Bustle.

Whom to Mention
Many of this year’s retrospectives will concentrate on a small group of female recording artists, foremost Nicki Minaj, whose recent “Anaconda” is in dialogue with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back.” Careful writers will analyze the June concert at which Sir Mix-a-Lot performed his classic with The Seattle Symphony, but only the very most insane will parse the orchestral composition preceding that performance—written by Gabriel Prokofiev and titled “1-900-Mix-a-Lot”—for evidence of pygophiliac tonalities, which is too bad, as I would totally read an Alex Ross piece on that topic.

What to Reference
The dearth of scholarly précis on the derrière is lamentable, so you’re all gonna need to develop fresh angles on the relevant chapter of the Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body, with its digests of Havelock Ellis and Sigmund Freud. Desmond Morris’ Naked Woman doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy on this topic; beware lifting the enigmatic epigrams it cites as deriving from Salvador Dalí (”it is through the arse that life’s greatest mysteries can be fathomed,” which is a paraphrase at best) and an unnamed author (“the ass is the face of the soul of sex”) who turns out to be Charles Bukowski. Those of you with a taste for French post-structuralism might profit by purchasing Jean-Luc Hennig’s Rear View, which is worth every penny, especially if you go to Amazon and buy a used hardcover priced at one penny.

Where to Hedge
Somewhere between the sixth and 12th paragraphs of your essay, you’ll want to assure the reader that you have some sense of historical context. Let the pros show you how it’s done:

The rear is fast becoming the erogenous zone of choice in America, vying for eminence with breasts, abs, legs or, for those of us who came of age in the early ’90s, Linda Hamilton’s sinewy arms in “Terminator 2.”

Not that this is exactly new. Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Jessica Biel, Rihanna, Serena Williams, Pippa Middleton and Beyoncé (who, on her tour that just ended, wore a bodysuit with the tush cutout) have all been praised for their behinds.

— “For Posterior’s Sake,” the New York Times (Sept. 17, 2014)

Feel Foxy, another maker of padded panties, says 2014 has been its best year since launching nearly a decade ago. Sales are up 40 percent from a year ago….

To be sure, the desire for big butts isn’t new. Large booties long have been preferable in Latino and black communities, says Dr. Dionne Stephens, an associate psychology professor at Florida International University.

— “Businesses Cash In As Women Chase Bigger Butts,” the Associated Press (Nov. 11, 2014)

See? It’s fun and easy, and compact versions of this qualification will also get the job done, e.g., “As the astounding popularity of yoga pants attests, American values are more callipygian than ever before; however, Western culture has been placing backsides front and center since at least the 1650s … ”

How Not to Offend
As professor Stephens indicates above, it is advisable to consider buns of color when discussing this phenomenon and to do so with care. Both Vogue and Vanity Fair earned scoldings for whitewashing their respective histories, and Jezebel last week embarrassed itself by distorting the story of Saartjie Baartman. A writer who does not want to make an ass of himself will leave Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, out of it if at all possible, except maybe to reference the memorable Suzan-Lori Parks play inspired by her exploitation. Further, writers intending to dwell on las nalgas should spend some time with From Bananas to Buttocks: The Latina Body in Popular Film and Culture, which goes easy with its theoryspeak: “Whereas Jennifer Lopez continues to perform her embodied and butted Latinidad, Penélope Cruz’s body and butt are represented in a totally different manner … ”

When to Pun
Punning is the lowest form of wit; therefore, it is fundamentally correct to indulge in it out the wazoo when attempting cheeky humor. Don’t get left behind.