Feministe’s entry about pornography got me thinking about human sexuality, which is a virgin (pun intended) frontier, untouched by the internet. I have three primary concerns: one is the seeming absurdity of sexuality, two is the change of tenor in pornography, and three is the presence of sexuality in the public discourse.
I have always said that Yahweh must have a terrific sense of humour, not only because of the duck-billed platypus, but also because we are naturally endowed with and have further constructed a sexual nature of Kafka-esque ridiculousness. That, for instance, humans use substantially the same organs (or regions) to copulate as they do to excrete waste from their bodies. Except for a select market in Japan, we generally try to separate those two faculties as much as possible. Then, too, as Alan Rickman pointed out in Dogma, “There’s nothing funnier then the faces you people make mid-coitus.” Humour aside, perhaps more absurd than the machinations of coitus are the machinations of our Byzantine courtship rituals, which have today evolved into a confounding behemoth. If you ever watched a PBS documentary about male toads puffing up throat sacs (or male birds ruffling their feathers and hopping on one foot, or even the female praying mantis eating her lover’s head) and laughed, I challenge you to pick up an issue of Seventeen. If you don’t yearn for the simple rituals of throat-puffing or death, then you’re not reading carefully enough. Every time an episode of Elimidate airs, God kills a kitten.
Perhaps it’s chauvinist of me to say this, but I think the complexity of our courtship rituals lie with the female of the species. With the advent of women’s suffrage and sexual/political/social empowerment, they’ve wrested control of the cultural processs & mores (historically a very simple and male-dominated thing) and shifted the locus of control squarely onto the vagina. Not that this isn’t within their rights. But excepting the margins of sexual culture, men are now the ones jumping through hoops in order to sow their wild oats, while women are flexing sexual muscles (metaphorically speaking, not the pubococcygeus) in ways they never knew existed. As a sort of defense, I suppose, the realm of pornography, at one point largely structured and traditional, is today pushing the limits of chauvinism with “dirtier” and more degrading sexual practises. Where traditionally pornography had some semblance of (poor excuse for) a plot, wherein the woman was at least a character with her own will and social context (which was the thing being violated instead of the person), today’s new brand of “gonzo” porn (no plot, no context, just sex) tends to portray women as little more than recepticles for semen. As I noted in feministe’s entry, in very few instances are the women (portrayed as) anything but desirous, but there is a certain symbological danger in portraying Woman as a willing subjugant to the sexual appetites of Man.
Somewhat frighteningly, the melding of audio-visual media with communication, and the insertion (no pun intended) of a largely free arena of thought into the framework of discourse breaks down certain barriers between what is appropriate and what is clandestine or taboo. Housewives get angry over a blurry glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple or the suggestion that a football player has sex with a Desperate Housewife, but when their kids can get on a computer and, literally within minutes, start watching an 18-year-old humping an eggplant, I think perhaps the conservative moralists are grasping at ghosts. Don’t get me wrong: I think a functional cultural norm requires some separation of the mainstream from the marginal. I wouldn’t, for instance, advocate an episode of Barney & Friends where the big purple putz drops trou and takes it rectally from the cameraman. But the tide of tone and content is changing —either cyclically or permanently— and offended mothers can’t continue to play the little Dutch boy with their thumb in the wall.
I don’t think that the publication (so to speak) of traditionally peripheral material necessarily devalues mainstream moralism, but merely throws it into a different relief. I think we’ve seen that suppression will never eliminate subversive ideas or media, only change the methodology of their access. As long as the Catholic church dangles the sin of Onanism over its flock, teenage boys will continue to huddle in their basements, masturbating furiously to grainy amateur porn, hoping fervently that their mothers don’t catch them unzipped. We’ll never see a healthy public attitude towards sexuality, only the extremes: angry Baptists weilding chastity belts and Britney Spears showing us an ad hoc gynocological exam on her newest video. Furious protests over a nipple at the Superbowl and UPN’s newest reality show, “5 Curtain Rods and a Hallway,” where a bachelorette gets blindfolded and screws five male contestants, picking as the winner the best lay of the bunch. She will, naturally, make a statement in the beginning to the effect of “I don’t want a guy that just wants me for my body,” and the irony will be completely lost to her.