OUR PRUDISH HEARTS
By Steven Barnes
Tuesday, July 22, 2008.
I enjoy, and enjoy depictions of all the pleasurable animal aspects of life, as well as the intellectual aspects, and the spiritual ones. The whole thing, right up the chakras. Fighting, mating, eating, falling in love, self-expression, whatever. I like watching people drive fast cars expertly and teaching babies to walk.
I find attractive male and female bodies aesthetically pleasing, a form of living art. And watching two beautiful people couple is delicious. Now, that said, I've never liked porn much: sex devoid of context is meaningless to me. I'd be just as bored by fight scenes without a surrounding story: just choreography.
Interestingly, there are similar rules: a fight scene can't just stop the plot for athletic choreography. There must be something at stake, and ideally, the scene must explore or reveal a character. Ideally. The best Rocky films did that: twelve rounds of boxing that turn the plot and reveal character. Anyone ever seen a love/sex scene in a Hollywood movie that lasted as long as the fight scene in any Rocky movie? Ever? I haven't. Now, why in the world should it be more offensive to see two people making love than two people beating the living hell out of each other?
Frankly, the only reason I can think of is that deep down inside, you were taught that sex is "dirty", "nasty" and so forth. "Bumping uglies," "fuck you" as the ultimate insult (instead of the highest complement!) "screwing someone" as a negative, "filthy movies" gutter talk" and on, and on and on.
We get a gigantic amount of reinforcement for sex as a negative. Violence in film is ten times more tolerated, and while I have a theory as to why, it still strikes me as pretty sick.
Why do I think society is more cautious about showing sex than it is displaying violence? Because every child will eventually have sex. Few of us will kill. The only question about sex is "when," not "if." Children are physically mature long before they are emotionally or financially prepared for the responsibilities of adult relationships. We need to slow them down.
I further suspect that societies get a lot of their power by putting toll booths on the sexual highway. You have to be "approved" by parents, Church, Mosque and the state before you can express your sexuality. If they can convince you of this, force you to finish school, have a stable job, be presentable to parents and so forth, you can support the next generation, pay your taxes, and continue society as it currently exists.
I think there are real disadvantages to boys and girls screwing before they are emotionally mature--both for them, and for society as a whole.
But what this means is that the easiest way to control sex is to try to anchor enough pain to it to balance the fantastic amount of pleasure. All this does, of course, is often make it more forbidden and delicious instead of a natural pleasurable human function, capable of being as expressive as dance. Moreso, no human activity expresses as much about human beings as quickly as sex: smell, touch, taste, sight, hearing, all going at once. The baud rate of communication during sex is fantastically high.
We enjoy "eavesdropping" on people's private, intimate conversations in film, so saying "it's too intimate" strikes me as avoiding the real question. Why, unless sex is dirty, or wrong, should there be any greater taboo for adults to watch it than to watch dancing, eating, or any other basic social or personal function?
We discuss basic body functions in G-rated movies: poop and pee and vomit and eating. What is the problem with sex, unless it is in some way dirty? We watch people kill each other with incredibly graphic prosthetics and CGI - but you'll never see a vagina or erect penis in a film. A little pubic hair, sure. But that's about it. (Yeah, there are very rare instances of a flash of pink, but you know what I'm saying.)
I don't have real hang-ups about sex. Well, I have some kinky friends who think I'm very, very vanilla. I can live with that. But my drives are fairly simply, and direct. I love sex, and I love making love even more, and have zero guilt about it. I like my own body, and am not intimidated by beautiful bodies on screen. I honestly don't see what the problem is, unless there is something intrinsically evil about sex.
And since there is a huge amount of reinforcement for that attitude (there are, so far as I can see, no positive references to sex in the entire New Testament. There are negative ones, but no positive ones. Now, the Old Testament rocks in this regard). But since we are in a Christian culture, I honestly think that a lot of the negatives have seeped in.
I remember talking to one very Christian lady about "The Last Temptation of Christ" and the premise of "The Da Vinci Code." In my mind, if Christ ate and slept (and apparently approved of wine), he had basic body functions, and I failed to see what all the uproar was that he might have been sexual, or lived in a sanctified marriage. She was absolutely horrified. "I don't want to think about my Lord screwing some bitch" she almost screamed.
So, I would love to hear from people about this. I am most especially interested in your opinion if you are in a healthy, active sexual relationship, and therefore not resentful, or think that sex intrinsically neutral at worst and therefore not dealing with guilt and disgust. Please, take away any of my automatic suspicions about the kinds of people who are offended by sex on screen, and help me understand this.
Why exactly is sex on screen more objectionable than a car chase, fight scene, or whatever? Or watching people eat? If you mean "unmotivated sex" or "abusive sex" or something, well sure...but if sex isn't evil, and you aren't intimidated, and you are happy in your own sex life..what exactly is the problem? What exactly is confusing to you about why healthy adults would enjoy watching depictions of other adults making love?
The number of times someone has said: "well, you don't watch people go to the bathroom" is telling in two ways: first, they are in denial. I've seen people peeing in G-rated films. Second, equating sex with producing filthy and near-poisonous body waste like feces tells me that they have a massive aversion.
If I'm wrong here, can you help me understand what's going on?
Steven Barnes is a best-selling novelist, television writer and art critic. His latest book, Great Sky Woman, is now on sale at Amazon. He blogs as Darkush.
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