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Written exclusively for Salaam by al-Maktabi

Its summer in the northern Hemisphere, and there's much to show for it. Even in England where the weather is rather shy about revealing the season there is a palpable sense that its summer. It can be sensed from staying inside and simply watching TV where endless programmes about holidays in sunny and exotic locations sell a very particular notion of summer. Summer = 'the beach'.

But it is not only the virtues of the sun that is peddled by the television networks. They produce an image of utter abandonment and indulgence for the season. Thus sober documentaries on the history and cultures of far-off islands and the world's coastal regions are replaced by fantasies of these places as nothing more than spaces for bodies to experience whatever pleasure is demanded. In this fashion the Caribbean, Mediterranean islands and others locations are 'produced' as spaces for extraordinary sensual experiences.

The latter half of the twentieth century has witnessed a fantastic commodification of the human body. Every aspect of the body, every sensation, every sense has become the subject of an elaborate art and corporate research. (Our genes are currently on the agenda of the corporations) The marketing of bodily needs, beyond the basics, has been the result. Visit any pharmacy and every few months new products for the body are available. Virtually every store is also a 'Body Shop' reflecting the centrality of the corporeal in contemporary society. The paradox is that whereas everything else is becoming less tangible the body, our most tangible and palpable personal asset, has grown in significance. For the hair there is a product for every texture, for the skin a cream for every age and hew, for odour a spray for every fantasy, and in summer a tanning lotion for every shade, to mention a few of an endless list. There is no end to this proliferation of stuff for the body. The massive growth of 'body arts' such as tattooing, piercing, and evening branding in recent years in the West is an example of the uses of the body literally as a text.

The sensations of the body have also been subjected to numerous legal and non-legal experiments and researches. Drug-peddlers have always promised unheard of experiences for the body. The pornography industry is huge, trading on fantasies and possibilities for the body. This industry is perhaps bigger than the rock music industry in the United States. Criticising it for its abuse of women is facile because women are as complicit in it as men. Half of all porn websites in the US, for instance, are owned by women. The point is that the body has become a commodity and the possibilities for inventing new needs and creating new markets for and around it appears to be endless.

The old saying that 'sex sells' seems to be true in certain markets but its not really about sex. Its about the deployment of kinds of knowledge about the body that attempts to create needs and stimulates desire to have, to want, to be, something else or somewhere else. There's a democratic element to all this in that if you can't be somewhere in the hot sun then you can purchase self-tanning lotion and expose yourself to the sun and to others who will be deceived that you have had a great holiday. Forget about skin cancer!