The Politics of Seduction
Jonathan Majors and the Currency of Mass Desire
For at least the past couple of months, Jonathan Majors has become ubiquitous in the attempt to position him as the next great black Hollywood star. It’s no exaggeration to say that, from the magazine covers to the endless details about his body to the interviews deliberately focused on both his attractiveness and high level of skill, the whole thing has been an elaborate process of mass seduction. Persuading everyone everywhere all at once that he’s got next. This has been no ordinary Hollywood press run. This has been a coronation. An Obama-esque designation of The Chosen One. We have been involved in the collective cultural experience of being presented a new container for our desires.
So, when news broke that Majors was arrested this weekend for strangling, assaulting, and harassing his girlfriend, it nearly broke the internet. The discourse took different turns - from insisting that the victim’s reporting of abuse be immediately regarded as credible to centering the ways that these kinds of allegations routinely derail the careers of black men - but, underneath it all, black people were clearly struggling with a seduction abruptly disrupted and a fantasy exposed as such. (The same was true with Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, and Nate Parker.) There was a scrambling to figure out what to do with the threat of losing the opportunity to lay claim to a strong black masculine figure or, if not that, then an undeniable example of black excellence or, if not that, then certainly a necessary and reliable object of lust. After a month or two of buying into the promises of this man, the confirmation that he is, in fact, just a man has produced somewhat of an existential crisis - what to do when the container for our collective desires shatters?
It is precisely this interstitial moment between Majors’s arrest and the production of evidence in his defense that provides insight into thinking about the politics of this kind of seduction. What kinds of behaviors it, even in its earliest stages, can prime and enable the masses to defend. Seduction isn’t indicative of a genuine bond of affection. None of us know this man. Instead, it’s a kind of psychosocial investment activated through the imagination. Simply by generating longing and imagined relation, it powerfully produces complicity and willful submission. It is thoroughly characterized by enchantment and a presumed, but, fictive, mutuality. It allows a celebrity to be elevated to kin and then magnified to savior.
I wrote about the limits of hope and black leadership two months ago. Particularly, about how hope functions as a barren political concept in so far as it is deployed to perpetuate the endless pursuit of impossible objects like redress, equality, freedom, and justice that no one seriously believes will be attained. But desire is different from hope, and a uniquely potent form of power, because it doesn’t require the rhetoric of attainment at all. The longing and enchantment and imagined proximity can suffice. Desire can be the beginning and end of the story, worthy of vigorous protection for its own sake.
A certain feature of antiblackness is that black people are constantly deprived of our desires. Majors, a certified heartthrob, was recently the subject of much vitriolic discussion about whether his prominent racialized physical features made him ugly. Then, he faced significant criticism for “emasculating black men” through his public display of what has been named “soft black masculinity.” Still, even among his staunchest critics, there was no denying that he’s a potentially once-in-a-generation talent. Yet rejecting antiblackness means not only rejecting the denigration of black people’s desires, but also rejecting the notion that enrolling in patriarchal violence is emblematic of real power or liberation. It means resisting the temptation to defend the indefensible simply because we’ve been effectively seduced and our desires have been activated.