Metaphorical circle jerks

Having just posted, on my X blog, on group sex in gay porn, I’ve returned to some material on circle jerk that I started collecting in 2004, beginning with the conclusion of Daniel Rodosh’s Talk of the Town piece “The Pet Goat Approach”, in the 7/26/04 New Yorker.

It’s an interview with Direct Instruction founder Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann (now famous as the author of the “The Pet Goat” material featured in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11”). At the end, Engelmann talks about politics:

“For whatever it’s worth, I think Iraq is a total circle jerk,” he said.  “I couldn’t think of how to do it worse.”

Circle jerk?

The classic circle jerk is a bunch (I think three is the minimum number) of adolescent boys masturbating in front of one another. (An actual circle isn’t required. I think circle figures in the name mostly for its phonetic values: the /rk/ of jerk, in particular.) The accompanying values include showing off in front of other males and reinforcing each other’s arousal. (Classically, this is very much a straight-guy thing, and nobody touches anybody else. It’s a visual thing.) Plus the fact that it’s masturbation, that is, “worthless”, unproductive activity. (The bad press that masturbation gets, especially in figurative uses of the vocabulary of masturbation, is a topic for other postings.)

Then we get extensions from this in various directions: adults; standing side to side, touching; openly gay men, frankly appreciating each other; mutual masturbation; a sense of exchanging sexual favors. And metaphorical extensions from there: competitive display, egging each other on, mutual admiration, trading favors, unproductive group activity, and so on.

There are a lot of different directions here, and I wasn’t sure which one(s) Engelmann intended, but Tom Dalzell pointed out on ADS-L that HDAS (the Historical Dictionary of American Slang) has circle jerk ‘mess’ since 1973, and the compound seemed to him to be fairly common in that sense. And Doug Wilson noted a possible parallel to cluster fuck, goat fuck, pooch screw, etc. (especially in military contexts), in which

Instead of getting their job done, the participants are engaged in undisciplined,  undignified, useless activity: e.g., metaphorically, group sex or sex with animals.

But Dave Wilton suggested that even the citation referring to the mess in Iraq was in the context of neocons convincing each other that their ideas were correct — an allusion to a session of mutual admiration, as in some other examples I collected from a Google search, which share the thread of mutual admiration or influence or reciprocal activity, combined with a deprecation of the activity in question:

(1) … Now all bloggers cite or refer to other blogs they read. That isn’t the issue. What gets me is that so much of what’s been appearing on these rabid dog blogs lately is nothing more than “I saw what you posted, now say something about what I posted.” The main variation seems to be who starts the circle jerk… (link)

(2)  April 09, 2004
Circle Jerk
Or, to use the polite Pentagon expression: “incestuous amplification.” Also known as “group think.”… (link)

(3)  August 21st, 2003
Big Global Circle Jerk
chunshek: I’m telling you. This thing called the Web… it’s all a big global circle jerk. (link)

(4) Big Circle Jerk
The lack of cooperation (or should I say the abundance of competitiveness) and the finger pointing on this topic are typical of this industry. If cooperation doesn’t exist on critical issues between the parties concerned, there’s an opportunity to be an ‘industry leader’. (There, that should satisfy the marketeers, mousketeers, and assorted corporate gerbils.) (link)

Actors finish orgy of self-congratulation with actual orgy
HOLLYWOOD — In a remarkable moment that didn’t make TNT’s telecast of the event, Sunday night’s Screen Actors Guild awards ended with a massive circle jerk in which nearly every major Hollywood star manually stimulated another Hollywood star, bringing them to orgasm while whispering in the other’s ear how talented they are and that they truly deserve to win an Academy Award. (link) [satirical mutual masturbation]

(6) The reason that every sex columnist sounds like every other sex columnist is because they all copy each other. It’s a big literary circle jerk of sorts. (Chris Holt, “Co-ed naked sex column”, Stanford Daily 10/25/06, p. 4)

One Response to “Metaphorical circle jerks”

  1. monkey-spank « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (In the first of these, as in sense (b) for the noun monkey-spank, we see the familiar framing of masturbation as worthless, unproductive activity — earlier mention here.) […]

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