Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Shoe Fits

You Can Leave Your Hat On - Joe Cocker (mp3)
Make Me Bad - Korn with Robert Smith (mp3)

Twenty percent of 18 & 19 year-old girls -- one out of every five “young women” -- have already had anal sex. Before they reach 30, that number more than doubles to 46 percent. These numbers have skyrocketed compared to a similar 1992 study. This is just one of the many titillating slash disturbing factoids available for your curious eyes in “Hard Core,” a painfully honest look at our modern culture and its connection to modern pornography in The Atlantic.

If you’re too prudish to go see for yourself, you should be ashamed, because this article is an unflinchingly honest perspective on the very real world in which we all live, whether we want to or not, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.

It’s written by a woman, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, and her particular take on it is unflinching and unapologetic. I don’t go around reading lots of feminist screeds on men or pornography, so it’s possible nothing Ms. Vargas-Cooper writes here is original. Some of it is either regrettably obvious or difficult to deny, but she brings an argument to the table that is ultimately fatalistic. Here’s her basic premises as best I can tell:
  1. The notion of sexual equality is and has always been a ruse, because women and men rarely want the same thing from a sexual encounter.
  2. The sex of long-term relationships is not the kind of sex  craved for in fantasies. It is, however, the kind of sex a woman ultimately wants. Because fantasy sex takes the experience “outside the realm of ordinary human experiences and places it in the extreme, often beyond our control." Which is a nice place to visit, but a terrible place to live.
  3. Men cannot separate their aggression from their sexual appetite or fantasies.
  4. The omnipresence of pornography in the 21st Century has mainstreamed unhealthy attitudes that used to be in the margins.
  5. Almost all pornography is about what a woman will do, the lengths she will go, to please a man. The man is the simple, predictable piledriver; the woman is the Gumby doll bent a million ways.
The reason a man doesn’t write a blog about an article like this should be painfully obvious. I cannot possibly opine without the risk of revealing more of myself than anyone should care to know. Or, perhaps worse, the reader could misread or misinterpret, leaving me vulnerable to unfair judgment.

Suffice it to say that, when I personalize Ms. Vargas-Cooper’s observations, I strongly disagree with her. To be fair to me and her, she admits she’s generalizing. She's not talking ALL men, just most of 'em. And what I cannot deny is that her generalizations are accurate. Men, in general, are pigs. Men, in general, are aroused by their own aggression, their need to dominate, their need to debase another person to some degree. This was true in Medieval Times (the era, not necessarily the restaurant), and it’s true with the omnipresence of pornography.

Ultimately, we're all bigger pigs than we think we are. But guys like me can bask in our relative midget piglet status.

And then comes her kicker:
“Even the crudest of online porn captures only a slice of the less-than-uplifting aspects of the sexual experience, because porn not only eschews but actively conceals the singular truth: the most brutalizing aspects of sex are not physical.”
The often incomprehensible emotional stew underneath, a broth men seem much less interested in or willing to investigate, is where the real destruction boils and bubbles, toils and troubles.

Her concluding summary of Last Tango In Paris, a film I’ve only heard discussed but never got around to watching, left me grateful I’ve never watched it. But the metamorphosis of the Last Tango relationship as she describes it sounds powerfully similar to the relationship in 9 ½ Weeks, a movie I first watched when I was an utterly-clueless, virtually-unkissed 16-year-old.

That movie was my generation’s version of porn. It was the dirtiest naughtiest thing most of us could get our hands on with any regularity. I recorded it on on the back end of a VHS tape one night and titled the tape “A Clockwork Orange” because I knew neither of my parents would ever check that one out. I never made it to the end of that movie after the first viewing, because it got so dark, so uncomfortable, so wrong. It’s my memory of the last 20 minutes, seen only that one time, that keeps me from going back to rewatch it.

Even the Joe Cocker song "You Can Leave Your Hat On" -- a song I adored and still do -- is, ultimately, a song about a dude giving a gal lots of very specific orders and how to undress herself. Yeah, he's being fun and playful about it, but he's still giving the orders, and she's still taking them.

I suspect both movies ultimately get at the same point: men are pitiful pigs, clueless to the swill in which their heads swim, undeserving of any woman, much less the ones they somehow seduce.

Not all men, mind you. Just the ones who don’t read blogs.

[NOTE: I understand if no one wants to comment on this whole thing. God knows I'm sitting here wondering why I wrote any of this out in the first place. Or, if commenting under total anonymity makes things easier, then you have my blessing (although I'd like to know your gender).]


Susan said...

One could say, Billy, that the silence on this one says quite a bit.

Billy said...

Ha! Thanks Susan. Yes, I believe it says, "You're right, Billy. You shoulda just kept this one to yourself!"

Bob said...

Maybe this is like the old joke, "I hear once you get past the anal sex, prison really isn't so bad."

You've written a provocative piece, with a link to an even more provocative piece. I, for one, would have a much flatter understanding of America if I hadn't read magazines like The Atlantic, Harper's, and the New Yorker, none of which I've subscribed to for some time.

Your post reminds me that I'm missing out on these deeper thinkers. So, thanks. I hope I can get back to them.

Anonymous said...

Just to take a slightly different tack, I would say that it is a measure of the silliness of American attitudes that anal sex measures some kind of extreme. It is bit prudish (or ethnocentric) to not acknowledge that it might be a choice, perhaps seen as less extreme than vaginal sex, which threatens both pregnancy and virginity. This is only a tip of the iceberg for this topic. Perhaps I am missing some of the points, as I am not taking the time to read the article you mention because it sounds like it only promotes a narrow "American" standard view of normalized sexuality. Something like compulsory heterosexual norms against the worldwide reality of polymorphous perversity, to use Freud's term. These debates have gone on since the 1920s with the beginnings of sociological studies of sex.

Porn is generally idiotic, but largely because it consists of cultural genres that seek conformity in order to generate stable profits. It changes rather slowly, and dogmatically. Repetitive, uncreative, shallow...

One could say the same for much of what passes for sex among people who do not realize that they are free to do as they wish with others who wish. People like to cling fearfully to stability.

I have had to teach these things in college social science classes, because kids come to university with exactly this straitjacketed nonsense drilled into their heads. Sex, incest, food, whatever... it is always some strange outsiders (Greeks, hillbillies, Chinese) who do it wrong, and we have to protect ourselves and our loved ones from these errors. See the connection... sexuality, racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentrism? What are the worst rhetorical attacks we make on our "enemies"? That they have sex with animals, etc. They must be wrong because they do it wrong.

Okay, like you, I am not sure if I should post this... but I will go now and rant no more.

Billy said...

@Anon - The prudishness or squeamishness of our culture (and, ok, myself to some degree) is certainly worth some contempt, I guess.

But where you lose me -- and where the linked article most moves me -- is when you lean into areas of sexuality that are about domination, control, power. The Atlantic author cites this as perhaps the most primal motivator for a male's sex drive, and it's something I both agree with generally and disagree with personally.

You mention incest, and it almost seems like you roll your eyes at the judgment we pass upon it, but in most instances, incest is not a "House of Usher" kind of thing, but rather an adult and an underage person...

I guess where I'm suspecting we will agree to disagree is that I think far too much of the world of sex involves one of the two participants being involved in ways they don't want, don't like, or don't understand well enough to truly be capable of deciding for themselves. All of these areas worry me greatly.

Two educated, consenting adults? I might raise a judgmental eyebrow on occasion, but ultimately I don't much care. But it seems it's the times when one isn't consenting or isn't adult -- and that's a LOT of times in our current world -- that deserve scorn and judgment.