Annals of phallicity: the Bezos rocket

(Well, the topic is phallicity, and there will be anatomical details — discussed with anatomical terminology rather than street language, but some might still find the posting edgy.)

The story is a month old, but interest in its central element, a rocket to space, is evergreen. And the imagery of this particular rocket, Jeff Bezos’s New Shepard, was fresh and noteworthy.

The symbolic resonance, of a rocket launch to active phallicity, to a penis rapidly tumescing and ejaculating, has been around ever since there have been rockets, but New Shepard makes a significant advance towards realism in this symbolic domain: the rocket looks a lot more like a penis than the rockets that have launched before it.

A still shot, “A view of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket” (photo from Blue Origin):

(#1) body of rocket : cabin :: shaft of penis : glans (entertainingly, glans (of the penis) < Latin glans  ‘acorn’); you can watch the CNBC coverage of the launch on YouTube here

From Business Insider, “There are very solid engineering reasons why Jeff Bezos’ rocket looks exactly like, you know, that”, by Aylin Woodward on 7/22:

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos flew to the edge of space Tuesday in a company rocket that had a bulbous passenger capsule sitting atop a tall, narrow booster shaft.

The New Shepard rocket’s tumescent shape [note*] was low-hanging fruit to social-media users who were quick to point out the craft’s phallic design and wonder whether that design meant its billionaire passenger was compensating for something.

But experts say this suborbital sausage fest was anything but accidental. New Shepard’s characteristic shape was designed to optimize cabin space for up to six passengers and maximize the rocket’s stability when coming back to Earth, according to Pedro Llanos, an engineer and professor of spaceflight operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

[* Every penis, whether flaccid or tumescent, has a glans (or head). If the penis is circumcised, the head is visible all the time. If the penis is uncircumcised, the head is hidden when the penis is flaccid (that is, soft), visible when it’s tumescent (that is, erect, or hard). So journalist Woodward’s tumescent shape is technically correct for his purposes — New Shepard’s long stiff shaft does indeed resemble the shaft of a specifically erect penis, so its head would be visible — but other rockets (almost all of them, to my knowledge), also with long stiff shafts, lack a visible head-like element. What Woodward wants to pick out as the notable feature of New Shepard is its bulbous tip, analogous to the glans, or head, of a penis.

And that turns out to be hard to do, since the English anatomical term glans seems to have no adjectival form (no doubt a consequence of the fact that Latin glans ( glandis) ‘acorn’ was also borrowed as the originally anatomical term gland, which then became part of ordinary English and so pretty much swamps any adjective you’d want to create for penis-head glans). But glans-like would do, and then Woodward wouldn’t have had to get to the relevant feature of the rocket indirectly, by dragging in tumescent. So instead of tumescent shape: glans-like tip. Or reformulate the whole business so that you can talk about the head of a penis, metaphorically present in New Shepard but not in other rockets.]

The point is that all rockets are phallic; what’s notable about New Shephard is that visually it’s even more phallic than the rest. I will now go on to note that it could easily be still more phallic than it is already. Then I’ll engage in some personal recollections of the visceral pleasure of rockets and rocket launches (and that will take me to the Flash Gordon movie serials, with this visceral pleasure plus another: the physical presence of Buster Crabbe). Plain old rockets, lacking any glans-like tip.

The crowning glory. In my 3/6/20 posting “Tragedies of the pandemic”, some discussion of yet another anatomical term:

noun corona-1: … 2 Anatomy a part of the body resembling or likened to a crown. …

in particular (adapted from Wikipedia): the corona of the glans penis, or the penis crown — the (crownlike) border of the base of the glans

The point is that the glans isn’t just cut off at its bottom edge, but has a somewhat thickened border, which somewhere along the line struck some observers as like a crown, hence the borrowing of Latin corona for this anatomical feature.

Having noted that, when we look at the metaphorical glans in #1 we see that it’s not terribly realistic . For one thing it lacks anything corresponding to the urinary meatus, the external urethral opening, at the top. For another, it has windows on its sides, which have no counterpart in actual glandes (yes, glandes, the plural of glans — rhymes with Sandy’s). Well, it’s a metaphor, not a simulacrum.

Now, if Bezos had wanted to, he could have had his engineers add some sort of bottom border to the bulbous cabin of New Shepard. Something minimal, but decorative. But of course no one would contemplate doing any such thing unless the border would serve some useful function, like avoiding fractures in or wear of the metal. Yes, the corona of the glans probably serves no useful function either: it’s there because the glans is made of soft tissue, basically made of meat, not metal, and in the soft tissue world, there are no sharp edges.

Rocket men. On the visceral pleasure of rockets and rocket launches, especially for boys. Rockets and rocket launches have a special resonance for many boys, even boys (like me as a child) who are not drawn to rough play and aggressive competition, but prefer imaginative and collaborative play instead. Boys specifically; rockets are generally not a girl thing.

The attraction to rockets certainly had a physical side to it; watching them felt good, and setting some off even better. Little thrills. I don’t think it’s stretching things too far to say that I identified my body, and especially my penis, with the rockets, the way boys do (much less subtly) when they play with streams of water from hoses.

I can see you’re unconvinced, so let me tell you about my toy gun, which I treasured. Out of admiration for the heroes of the cowboy movies and serials I liked so much — largely because of their heroes, and the men who played them, who I both identified with and, because I had what I’ll call affectional attachments to, longed for in some visceral way I couldn’t describe (the greatest of all my affectional attachments was not to a cowboy, but to Flash Gordon / Buster Crabbe, and I’ll get to them shortly). I even had a cute cowboy outfit; there once were photos. With a few friends, I played, oh dear, Cowboys and Indians. But wait!

My eccentric version of Cowboys and Indians, which was all cowboys, all good guys. The cowboys fired imaginary bullets from toy guys (the game could be played with fingers instead of guns, if necessary) at entirely imaginary Indians, who rained imaginary arrows down on us in their evil-hearted but totally inept way. All of it imaginative play, almost entirely verbal, plus a lot of running around: pretty much the least contactful sport you could imagine, indeed an adaptation of agonistic play to affiliative play. (Though it could be played solo!) Once my mother had seen a game in action, she ceased to worry about the toy guns, with their deadly associations, and concentrated on improving my really cute cowboy get-up.

Two things. One, most other boys viewed my version of Cowboys and Indians as just silly, and also girly. Their version was full of verbal, and occasionally physical, aggression, and in any case they were on teams, with winners and losers.

Two, I had the feeling, just barely out of consciousness, that in the game I was identifying my body, in particular my penis, with my toy gun or its stand-in. A feeling that made the game a lot more satisfying than, say, hide and seek. But I had no real understanding of this feeling, any more than I understood the affectional attachment to Flash Gordon / Buster Crabbe that caused me to fantasize about exchanging kisses with him while we licked the sweat from each other’s chests. Those desires — in effect, to be him and to do him — were right out in front, but I hadn’t a clue as to where they came from, what they meant, or how to talk about them. I did realize that the other boys probably didn’t share any of these feelings and that my feelings should stay hidden, unvoiced.

Flash had his rocket, designed for him by Dr. Zarkov, to carry him to the planet Mongo and elsewhere; see the Flash Gordon Wiki on “Zarkov’s rocket ship”. Though it was only a really cheap special effect — see the screen shot below — I found it, both taking off and in flight, quite thrilling. Even today, the video of New Shepard launching moves me.

(#2) Yes, it appears to have something like a glans, but that disappears in later episodes; and it’s absent in all the models made for Flash’s rocket ship (the documentation for the ship’s features is scandalously both incomplete and contradictory)

Flash / Buster and me. So there are lots of rockets blasting off and flying around (the evil Emperor Ming has his own rocket ships, and so do others). And there’s Flash / Buster, who is earnestly heroic (as my favorite cowboys and other male protagonists of moral stories are), muscularly hunky, resourceful, and quite often sweaty (as working men are inclined to be, with the smell of hard work on them). He was the man I hoped to become — despite my fairy-boy label; I’d have all of his good stuff plus my fairy-boy traits, and he would  love the whole package, and there would be a lot of kissing and curling up in each other’s arms, plus of course fighting together to save America, the world, or the universe, depending on what the current need was. And I would revel in his smell and he in mine.

Eventually I pretty much achieved this (well, minus saving even America, much less the universe), with real men, but what does a kid of 7 or 8 know about getting from there to here?

At the age of 10, puberty struck me like lightning, suddenly, and with it the beginning of both knowledge and experience of sex (just masturbation then — but whoa! in hyperdrive) and sexuality (flooding my fantasies), plus the man-sweat thing (kicking in from scentless to musk city in about three weeks, which was way too fast).

Meanwhile, Flash / Buster in his element:

(#3) Publicity still from the Flash Gordon serial, 1936; (left to right) Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson), Dale Arden (Jean Rogers), Flash Gordon (Larry [“Buster”] Crabbe), King Vultan (John Lipson), and Emperor Ming (Charles Middleton) (photo: Universal Pictures)

F/B bare-chested (with his athletes’s body). But below we get him bare-chested and sweating, which is even better:

(#4) Do not fear; Flash is here

In the time of feeling, before understanding. In a comment on my 8/15/21 posting “Jock Robin”, Bill Stewart recalls:

First time I saw jocks and Speedos was at the YMCA in Charlotte, maybe 8 or 9. Lust at first sight! Also, after swim time at YMCA day camp, the counsellors would sit around naked, maybe in jocks or just a shirt playing cards while we were supposed to be napping.

Packages in crotches, bare chests. Thrills, even a kind of lust, but what does it all mean? Still, you know you’re different.

And then a plea, in a NYT opinion column by Charles M. Blow, “The Anti-Gay Agenda” (directed against homophobic rappers, and more generally against homophobia in the Black community):

there are … gay children who have known they were different for as long as they have known anything, and those children deserve representation and visibility; they need to know that there is nothing broken or evil about them, so that they, too, can feel normal and seen. [in print today, 8/27, but earlier on-line]


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