In our research, we attempted to find out if art containing nature and sexualized women in Isla Vista makes people appreciate nature and the surrounding environment more. By exploring the different streets, digging into past records, and interviewing some of the current apartment leasers, we came to a conclusion that although art makes residents conscious of the wilderness nearby, it underscores increased local aggression through the hypersexualization of women.
The distance from the coast seems to affect the types of artwork seen in Isla Vista. It is perceived that an increased presence of women, including within art, correlates with a return to the wild, which has been disconnected from society. In Isla Vista, there are dozens of art pieces featuring women in swimsuits across the length of Del Playa Drive, which overlooks the beach and coastal area below. As you shift farther inland, closer to apartments and university owned housing, there is a distinct lack of art (and women), replaced with artwork of animals. Santa Barbara City College student Justin Faria1, who lives on 6709 Del Playa, also noted during his interview, “I feel like there’s more sex appeal in the artwork on DP because sexual attraction is something that’s just as raw as the power and beauty of the ocean. I have never seen anything that appeals to people on such a primal level, but I’ve also never seen anything as raw as young college students partying on the bluffs of seaside cliffs until I moved to Isla Vista.” It seems that local residents are also hyper aware of the presence of this artwork and what it may signify, which could be contributing to the standards of Isla Vistan culture.This shows the controlling presence that society and culture have in affecting the perception of the environment and the wild.
Furthermore, the hypersexualized presence of women contributes to the culture of the surrounding environment. A psychiatrist named Steele noted that, “When we compare the theorized construct of the female nude... we find that the female body has often been associated with nature, sexuality, and abjection.” In short, hypersexualized images of women are found in areas that are less controlled or are considered by society’s standards as “wild.” Indeed, Del Playa’s party culture stems, in part, from the hyper sexualization of females in media coverage that is also exemplified within the artwork found along this infamous college town street. The same way a burger is marketed by an extremely attractive, curvaceous woman in order to make the product “sexy”, the depictions of half-naked women found on Del Playa are meant to give nature a more alluring appeal.
On another note, female art on Del Playa is intertwined with aquatic art. Besides bikini-clad women, there are also a few pieces featuring cliffs, tidal waves, and animals like octopuses. Through the decades, however, hypersexualization has become so synonymous with the college town culture that emphasis of the female body became the main focus of artwork. When interviewing tenant Catt Fan, a third-year University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) student who lives at 6575 Del Playa which is adorned with a picture of an attractive girl in a bikini with a surfboard, she seemed to agree that this was the status quo in Isla Vista. “Del Playa is known as the one street in Isla Vista where anything can happen, whether it’s out of control parties, sex, or drug usage. I have been told to be extremely careful on DP since I was a freshman because I am a female.” This interconnection suggests that the norm in Isla Vista is women being thought of as sexual objects, just as much as they are considered representations of nature.
But as a result, hypersexualizing women and relating them back to nature has relegated women to a lesser role. A philosopher named Blackledge said, “The female figure and body parts have been painted and sculpted over and over from the beginning of time… including representation of the vagina. Today, in the Western World, the idea of a woman showing her genitals is bound… in accommodating positions rather than ones of power and influence.” Similarly, on Del Playa, female art is, for the most part, of them in sexually attractive positions lying down, with legs splayed between a surfboard, or even one removing her top (only her hair is covering her body). These compromising depictions render women as helpless and ripe for men to take control, pleasure, and anything else they desire. This is similar to how Isla Vistan culture promotes the idea that humans don’t have to look after the environment: nature is there to be used rather than cherished. This has manifested in years of Halloween, Deltopia, and formerly Floatopia parties, where environmental impacts and clean-up efforts are not handled by residents but by third-party organizations consisting of students in UCSB’s student government instead.
Unfortunately, another part of the culture that has built around this town is one of sexual assault. The total reports made to UCSB judicial affairs regarding sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic violence, and/or stalking was 117. The inclusion of females plastered all over art may be validating this oppressive culture. A study done by two UCLA researchers shows that sexual images in media and our culture may instigate rape culture. They related the popularity of pornagraphy and the violence sometimes seen in these films to the normalization of rape culture with men. To this they say, “we are concerned by the possible impact of pornagraphy in which sex and violence are fused - as in sadomasochistic encounters. For one of the most troubling results of our research suggest that men who view such material tend to be more stimulated than others by the idea of rape and less sympathetic to their victims.” This psychological phenomenon mixed with the sexual art in Isla Vista may lead to the perpetuation of rape culture in Isla Vista and be one of the many causes behind the high sexual assault rates in this seemingly perfect college town.