A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna.


371 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-8020-9256-X
DDC 306.7




Reviewed by Robin Chamberlain

Robin Chamberlain is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.


Paul Rutherford’s A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna is a fascinating look at the omnipresence of eroticism in 20th-century daily life. Rutherford explores the last century’s creation of a marketplace of sexuality using examples not only from Freud to Madonna, but from Dalì to James Bond. His starting point is Foucault’s argument that sexuality is increasingly being used to control us in a radically different way than in the past: not through legal, medical, or scientific control, but by arousing and channelling our desires. Rutherford calls this the Eros Project. The new economy organized around satisfying sexual desires elevated theatrics and the aesthetic to new heights. This, in turn, affected the types of commodities being circulated. Rutherford looks at these commodities and other kinds of signs as a kind of publicity for the Eros Project. The new ideology of eroticism extolled transgression, hedonism, the streamlined body, assemblages, and the carnival of sex.


Rutherford’s approach is somewhat Foucauldian: he is interested in seduction rather than coercion as a mechanism of power. He presents his argument using a case-study approach, which makes this book an interesting and enjoyable, as well as thought-provoking, read.


His first chapter discusses the history of European and American pornography by analyzing recent exhibitions of erotic artifacts and the permanent collections of museums devoted to sexuality. The second chapter investigates the significance of Freud, as well as plans to liberate sexuality from 1930 to 1965. Chapter Three looks at publicity and the erotic, drawing on Playboy, Barbie, and pop art as examples. The fourth chapter concentrates on intellectuals’ criticisms of the use of eroticism in advertising. In Chapter Five, Rutherford uses James Bond and Madonna as case studies to analyze the connections between eroticism and aggression. The sixth chapter argues that television advertising has made eroticism a commonplace in homes in affluent countries. In the final chapter, Rutherford returns to Foucault to contextualize the Eros Project within his history of sexuality.


Rutherford, Paul., “A World Made Sexy: Freud to Madonna.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/27120.