Towards a Theory of the Dick Pic (NSFW)



Preliminary Materials

At this very moment, countless dicks compete for your attention. Some archived and waiting to be accessed through the same internet search tools you use to find new restaurants, some directed at you personally through the same applications through which you tell your family you are doing just fine. Surely, in your 5-block radius, someone is in the process of organizing his, her, or their junk for a photo, and someone has, to their disdain or delight, on a phone or computer that looks remarkably like yours, just laid their eyes on one.

Despite its omnipresence, the dick pic is remarkably under-theorized. Besides the click-bait paradigm of pathologizing individual senders (albeit sometimes deservedly), the aesthetics, history, and (yes) cultural significance of dick pics has yet to be worked out. But I'm taking up the task today. With a bit of panic and a lot of excitement about debasing my philosophical heroes, I will attempt to place the dick pic at the intersection of anatomical and juridical photography, the #selfie, pornography, and finally, the global brand.[1]


Photo Forensis

Even while the Tumblr Critique My Dick Pic urges its users to think beyond size (and, crucially, beyond gender), it seems essential to remember that measurements—size, width, length, girth, whatever—are some of the dick pic's primary obsessions. Consider how many include a lighter or pencil for scale—or, most literally, are framed against a measuring tape (as in a mug shot). This desperation to quantify persists despite the reams of seemingly excellent advice that sex partners couldn't care less, and the intuitive or experiential evidence that some particularly endowed forms do not function during sex. Size seems inherent to the dick pic's peculiar forensics.

Why the obsession with measurements? In the now-familiar narrative, photography served the essential modernist drive to link vision and truth. Allan Sekula's seminal text "The Body and The Archive," essential for discussing our collective compendium of single body parts, traces photography's perceived truth-function to its mobilization by the police. Indeed, the interpretive conventions of the photograph were established within phrenology and physiognomy, two disciplines bent on interpreting the body's "truths" through its measurements, most often to diagnose criminal or medical pathologies. Of course, during a period of European colonial expansion and in the midst of the emergence of Darwin's theory of evolution, the "truths" photography exposed were often classist, racist, and sexist fictions intended to legitimate class, racial, and gender differences "on organic ground."[2]

Two architects of the medical and criminological image serve as instructive examples for the dick pic's hermeneutics. In the late 1800s, French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon invented a schema for identifying suspected criminals that required their photo archived according to 11 measurements of their body—identification made possible through calculated comparison. Embedding each new photo in this expanding archive, Bertillon called for what Sekula described as "a massive campaign of inscription, a transformation of the body's signs into a text." That dick pics are, on some level, streams of textual 1s and 0s makes this inscription literal.

Around the same time, as Sekula tells it, Francis Galton, the founder of eugenics, invented the composite photograph as a tool to determine a generic criminal type. Galton would take a series of photos on one piece of film and underexpose each according to the ratio of photos in the series so that, he argued, only the visual similarities would emerge. Here, the process called for by Bertillon is inverted: the archive is embedded in the photograph. Galton's methodology is a disturbing precursor of the algorithmic tools that construct our every photo, separating the signal from the noise according to predictive data generated by prior images. Each dick pic, then, bears the marks of all others that came before.[3]

Dick pics suggest that masculinity as we know it was a product of modernity's visual regime. Not only did modernity seek "a biologization of existing class relations," pathologizing the proletariat, as Sekula wrote, but a biologization of existing gender relations as well. It's not that modernity created the demand for a visual basis for masculinity—for centuries, at-birth gender assignments have violently enforced a binary schema on a continuum of genital cues. What modernism added to the farce of gender was the absurd idea that masculinity could exist as a rational quality on a scale, which makes some "more men" than others, and it proliferated the even more absurd idea that that "more" could be marked by the visual cue of a larger cock. At the heart of a dick pic, then, is a profound anxiety about value and the modernist notions that have governed our world.[4]

The dick pic, though, is rarely just about genitals. The discourse around 19th Century medical and juridical photos was characterized by a constant anxiety about extraneous information, prompting a need for what medical scholar Martin Kemp calls "visual pointing."[5] The crumpled sheets, bad lighting, and dirty bathroom floor of the average dick pic take the place of the extraneous details of fashion and setting in the early medical or juridical photo. The very conventions of the genre—and the lack of visual information in the average cock—ultimately promote the ground over the figure of the dick, and, by the logic of conspicuous consumption, highlight mise-en-scène—and not the dick itself—as the ultimate assessor of the dick pic's impact or import. In Suzannah Biernoff's words, "as historical and cultural artifacts, they inadvertently reveal too much."[6]


'Phillip Seymour Hoffman Died, Are You Over Me?'


Promotional images for Tex (Penny Ante, 2014)

In my brief appearance in Beau Rice's new book, TEXItell the narrator he lives in a perpetual state of "topping from the bottom." I submit the whole book as further evidence. Compiled from about a year of the writer's digital correspondence, TEX brandishes a kind of authorial whip only the masochist understands. It is an ultimately relational authority, diffused into multiple voices of friends, potential Craiglist sex partners, and mostly "Matt G."

If it was possible to say exactly who Matt G was to "Beau R," the book would lack one of its central joys: tracking the shifting relationship between Beau R (an employee of an alt bookstore in LA) and Matt G (a social worker in Austin, Texas), or Beau R (socially dysfunctional, well read) and Matt G (socially dysfunctional, well read), or Beau R (biting) and Matt G (deadpan), or Beau R (texter) and Matt G (textee), or, finally, Beau (the lover) and Matt G (the loved).


Thank You. Now, we have work to do.


Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal and friends. 

After a successful conclusion of our 2014 Community Campaign yesterday, there are many positive feelings, and many things to say.

The format was an experiment. Our annual campaign, which is a significant part of our income each year, was shorter than ever before. We recognize that nature of online giving has changed since we started our appeals in 2001, and are sensitive to this now-crowded space. Inspired to innovate with our format by the success of 2009's $50,000 Web Page (which is still online, and well worth a look), we hoped that a grand finale, the 24-hour Internet Telethon, would carry us over the edge of our $20,000 goal. It did, in dramatic fashion. With just 20 minutes left, longtime Rhizomer and Telethon participant Tom Moody made the donation that carried us over the finish line.


Rhizome's 24-Hour Telethon: Lineup Announced


For 24 hours from 11am on Wed, March 19 (EST) on, and broadcasting live from Lu Magnus. 

Our volunteers will be manning the phones.

Our campaign still has some way to go to meet our $20,000 target, but our friends around the world are going to help drum up donations via our home, the internet. Donate in advance to receive a special thank you during the telecast! 


Namaste, the ad begins: Bernays & Assoc. sells the e-cigarette


The following image-essay accompanies a performance given by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal at This is the ENDD, a forum on the e-cigarette held on February 22. Video of Rosenthal's presentation can be found here.


The Bernays & Assoc. Strategy
for Vuse E-Cigarette, Appendix #2


Figure 1:

Figure 2:




Discover More Time To Do What You Love


TaskRabbits and Art

TaskRabbit provides one-night stands of day labor. Through a familiar internet formula (connecting consumer and service), the platform lets workers underbid their peers to claim rather mundane tasks for even more mundane pay. A bizarre theme of illness runs through the site's own marketing. Its promo videos give us a Taskmaster with an injured knee, requiring Rabbits to the rescue. Meanwhile, the freelancing Rabbits can't nab full-time employment, too busy getting cancer treatments, in retirement, or supporting ailing hobbies (like careers in electronic music). If rabbits are meant to imply endless reproduction, TaskRabbit reproduces both symptoms and the disease. A neoliberal eternal spring is poisoned from the start.

Last Friday, LA-based artist and Jogging-member Spencer Longo used TaskRabbit for the close of his solo exhibition All Access, on view at the new Los Angeles project space Smart Objects. Under the amorphous heading of a potluck, Longo outsourced the task of picking out and picking up food and decorations to two members of the precarious herd.


Feb 22: This is the ENDD, a Forum on the E-Cigarette


This is the ENDD logo by Nick Bastis
This event has occurred, for documentation of the entire program click here.
NJOYs. Blus. Smokefrees. V2s. All manner of customized vaporizers. This is the moment of the e-cigarette, or more precisely, the Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (ENDD). Day by day, the broader public is learning (and contesting) what it means to "vape": how one does it, where one can do it, and what it means to do so. As individuals, industries, and governments stumble towards definitions, Rhizome has commissioned a group of artists and critics to present analyses—historical, political, social, anticipatory—of this technology and the discursive field that is emerging around it.

Rhizome is dedicated to art and ideas that create richer and more critical technology cultures. With this program, we continue our examination of influential, technological objects from interdisciplinary points of view, in the context of artistic research practice.