Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Penis Headband

tomahawk's picture

I had walked into Condom Kingdom without a reason for going in or an objective; this was not a shopping trip. Yet, I stood there holding a headband that was adorned with two sparkly pink penises and considered buying it. I could wear it on the blue bus, eat dinner in Erdman with it on my head, and even incorporate it into my Halloween costume. To me, the headband exemplified everything that the name “Condom Kingdom” implies: a light-hearted, humorous approach to sexuality. Owning it would not only make my friends laugh, it would be a way to work against the repression of female sexuality. Although I did not know it then, I was demonstrating Flanagan’s terms, “play” and “critical play,” and experiencing the effect of the city on “critical play” and one of the flaws of “critical play”.

Flanagan defines “play” when she writes, “In play, the aim is play itself, not success or interaction in ordinary.” Unlike Flanagan’s qualification for “play,” I believed I was playing in Condom Kingdom because I was having fun. Still, both definitions constitute my experience as a playful one; since I went into Condom Kingdom to play (not to bond with my other group members or to buy an item), I was playing for “play itself.” 

Not only was I engaging in Flanagan’s “play,” I was also participating in “critical play,” a type of “play” in which a person “critiqu[es] the status quo.” When I entered the store and gravitated toward the headband, it was all in jest. However, while I was looking at it, I remembered discussions in my history class about gender roles and women’s sexuality. Although the class only asks me to think about past status quos, playing in Condom Kingdom led me to question our current one. By buying this headband I was not being sexual. Still, similar to truckers who adorn their tire flaps with reclining women, I would be engaging with the issue of sexuality.

If I had bought the headband, then I might not doubt “critical play” in and outside of the city. But, I did not purchase it. Instead of spending six dollars, I left the store empty-handed and headed to a piercing store. In retrospect, my decision to go to the piercing store bears some significance. Cities contain a multitude of attractions (be it squares, storefronts, museums etc.) that draw the attention of the people in it. The variety of places in the city provides people with too many opportunities for “play.” For example, I had started to think critically about women’s repressed sexuality in Condom Kingdom, but my thought was truncated by the prospect of going to the piercing store. Therefore, I now believe that the attractions in the city both allow for “critical play” and distract the player from completing their thoughts surrounding “critical play” due to other enticing opportunities for “play” in the city.

However, the city was not the only reason for which I did not buy the headband(and in effect, act upon my “critical play”). I also did not buy the headband because “critical play” did not motivate me to act. The explanation for this may be a flaw in “critical play” itself. As I mentioned earlier, Flanagan considers “play” to be “the aim of play.” But, when people are engaging in “critical play” are they still playing because of this aim? In my experience, the second I started to contemplate the repression of women’s sexuality, I stopped feeling as if I were playing. The levity that “play” gave me completely disappeared. Yes, the headband was still funny, but I wanted to buy it to make a statement, not to be silly. This juxtaposition of fun and seriousness was jarring; it felt out of place to be thinking critically while I was playing. 

I know now that if I were in Philadelphia and were near Condom Kingdom, I would buy the headband. But, I would not be playing when I bought it. I would go into Condom Kingdom with an objective. One could argue that the only reason I would purchase it now is that I have fully processed an issue that “critical play” made me aware of. Although this person can accredit my current desire to buy the headband to “critical play,” I only feel as if I would buy it now because I wrote an essay which forced me to recognize the significance of “critical play.” As a result, I am left with more questions than answers: does the “play” in “critical play” simultaneously make it seem out of place for the player to mull over serious issues and stop the player from fully processing their critical thinking? If I did not write this paper, would I still consider buying the headband? In general, if people do not write essays about “critical play,” do they ever really understand the importance of it?


Anne Dalke's picture

Essaying "critical play"


Well, you certainly have an arresting location for this essay!

I find myself wanting to slow you down as you develop the meanings you spin out of this locale: does wearing this sort of headband take a stand (as you claim) against the repression of female sexuality? or does it celebrate male sex? Do truckers who "adorn their tire flaps with reclining women" flaunt or critique the status quo?

All this involves making a complicated move from play (as an end in itself) to play with a purpose, and I'd like you to walk me through this more deliberatively...

I'm also struck by your claim that the city offers "too many opportunities for play," as opposed to Simmel's observation that city density encourages mental do you see your experience in relation to his idea?

At the core of this paper is your jarring experience of thinking critically while you were playing. I wonder what might emerge if you compared your experience to that of some of the artists whose work we looked @ today. Were they playing, do you think? Critically or not at all?

I really like your "opening" ending--and want you to pick up your next paper here--
how to begin addressing (answering) the sorts of questions you ask @ that point?

Mindy Lu's picture

Ava describes her

Ava describes her understanding of critical paly clearly by combianing her experience of her trips to Philadelphia and the definition from Flanagan's book. She thinks a lot about the difference of "play" and "critical play", and adds her own opinions successfully. She writes down the process about how she comprehends the content of Flanagan's definition of "Critical play", and make this essay logical and easy to understand. So I like it.

Cordelia Larsen's picture

Ava chose a very specific and

Ava chose a very specific and humorous moment when our group visited “Condom Kingdom” last week in South Street Philadelphia. By using Flanagan’s “play” and “critical play” terms, she is able to define, connect, and compare them to her experience. Her thought process of whether to purchase the headband and the possibilities that came with it added to her play.

natschall's picture

Ava centers her essay around

Tomahawk centers her essay around one experience that she had while in Condom Kingdom. She compares it to Flanagan's overall definition of play and critical play. She opens by introducing the topic, a penis headband, then jumping to Flanagan's definitions. This allows her to spend the rest of the essay meshing the two things together. Tomahawk closes with questions she is left with, which bring up insights that Flanagan's work brought about.