Swinging the Machine: Modernity, Technology, and African American Culture between the World Wars

By Joel Dinerstein | Go to book overview

5
THE STANDARDIZED
WHITE GIRL IN THE
PLEASURE MACHINE
THE ZIEGFELD FOLLIES
AND BUSBY BERKELEY'S
1930S MUSICALS

On June 23, 1942, six months after the United States entered World War II, the Bendix Aviation Corporation held a celebratory banquet at the prestigious Waldorf Astorial hotel in New York City to honor its president, Ernest K. Breech. Later heralded for saving the Ford Motor Corporation (he became chairman of the board in 1957), Breech was being honored for his role in the success of Bendix's aviation instruments, then being used in every wartime aircraft. The title for the night's entertainment—“The Invisible Screw”—was company shorthand for its “insertion aviation instruments, accessories and controls, ” and the program featured the drummer Panama Francis and his swing band. The “Invisible Screw” was an umbrella term for five instruments then “serving with American fighting machines, ” each of which lent itself to sexual double entendres: the Stromberg Injection Carburetor, the Eclipse Direct-Cranking Starter, the Scintilla Aircraft Magneto, the Bendix Direct-Reading Compass, and the Pioneer Turn-and-Bank Indicator. On the printed program, each was pictured in an inset box and appeared to serve an erotic function; for example, the coils of the magnetos were drawn as a pair of disembodied breasts. 1

The relationship of women and machines in Euro-American male erotic fantasy gets its full treatment in this program, dominated as it is by a graphic fantasy of clear skies filled with heavenly female bodies enjoying sexual relations with “insertion aviation instruments, accessories and controls.” Eight goddess-sized naked women dominate the heavens as various mechanical phalluses make ready to pleasure them. One

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