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December 14, 2006

Sex, Sort Of


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Since I am pressed for time this morning, I am providing a couple of succulent essays about the state of sexuality today -- repression, limits, origins, overkill, objectification and ennui.

Do begin with the delightful Merrill Markoe and her essay in defense of Tara Connor, Miss USA, (who is about to hear "You're Fired" from the Donald), in which she examines inappropriate behavior, it's iterations and excesses in 2006.

Move on to Gary Rundle's (six page, sorry) review of "Shortbus", "The Big Bang" --"Pleasure and desire are found in real human encounters, not corruptions of them. But recognising that, writes Guy Rundle, will need a sexual revolution bigger than in the 1960s."

The only thing Rundle tells us about the movie is: "Shortbus begins with an act of auto-fellatio, and gets more explicit from there." Wonderful, because he's really interested in waxing philosophical about the commodification of sex in America. I was actually able to read the whole thing (it's about sex after all, very reinforcing). For those who cannot bring themselves to hover that long, here are some excerpts, chosen to encourage you to read the entire thing. He begins:

"Sexual intercourse began in 1963," the poet Philip Larkin wrote, and added, "which was rather too late for me" - but anyone that it was too late for, anyone who grew to maturity in an era before it was a contested zone, is now heading towards the mandatory retirement age. Sex, talking about it, negotiating its meaning, its centrality - sex is part of the psychic furniture, ever-present, at hand.

he moves on to Freud and Reich

....if the notion of transfiguring orgasm has become the snow-dome centrepiece of our lives, then Reich is to credit/blame. His voluminous writings can be summarised into one principle: that sex, if done right, can clear the slate of accumulated hostilities, negativities, and sadistic impulses - and that by contrast repression or bad, perfunctory sex is the root of frustration, envy, hate and violence. It's an oversimplified theory, true, but you can't deny that it's one that people work from, a framework of assumptions brought to everyday life, one of the few things we all agree on, whether we admit to it or not.

Indeed it's so general a principle that it's difficult to convince people that there was a time when it did not hold sway, that sex was not credited as having a central role in cultural life. The pre-Freud, pre-Reich sex manuals were not puritan, anti-pleasure tracts - but they presented the pleasure of it as icing on the cake, not as a qualitatively distinct and incommensurable experience. The very title of even relatively liberated works such as Marie Stopes' phenomenally successful World War I sex manual Married Life, say it all - it's about the whole continuum, not the thing itself.

he examines advertising

There wasn't much point in comparing one product to another product, that would be circular - one needed a sort of gold standard of desire, some human want that was unique and of itself, and sex was it. What began as a pretty woman draped over a car has become a default setting of selling. To expose yourself to any media is to be lathered, margarined in a sort of minimal low-grade sexual content, overwhelmingly heterosexual and male-directed of course. The effect is to empty sex of its content. Sex has become to the visual world what gold is to the material one - a universal standard of exchange which once had a character of its own, but which has long since become nothing more than an expression of everything else, a universal metaphor of no content. This worked to a degree at its inauguration in the '70s, but inflation has long since set in. Advertising, as most ad executives will admit after a few margaritas, stopped being effective for particular products decades ago (except when it's targeted at children). Advertising now sells only desire in general, and the sex within it is not there to stimulate desire but to symbolise it, to suggest some unimaginable beyond in which all desires could be fulfilled.

and looks beyond

Once a culture - especially one centred around the market - opens up the rules of sexual exchange and conduct, then it quickly gets into problems of transmitting and reproducing the transcendental pleasure that was sought after in the first place. Despite the protestations of Shortbus' director, there is something unwilled and automatic about the expansion of sex within a culture, such that it begins to occur to someone who wants to make something transgressive that the only way to do it is via the language of sex.

and he concludes

We will recover desire only when we can turn away from the screen and back to full human presence. When we do, narrow life-denying Christian and Islamic fundamentalism will be as discarded and useless as an old combine-harvester, their reasonable and identical response to the sexual meat-market - "keep it all off" - rendered irrelevant. But it will only happen when we realise that Pell and porn, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali and hardcore are two sides of the same de-denominated coin. We are face-to-face with the unmediated natural world of sex and death for the first time in history and without easy stories, both conservative and liberated, we will have to make sense of it.

Admit it, aren't you tempted to read the whole thing?

While I'm at it, here are a couple of loosely related clickies The Seduction Community and their web forum so you can get a taste for The Game.

Last minute shoppers will be glad to know that the BBC has released a DVD set "Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation" just in time for Christmas.

Photo note: A metaphorophoto, could you guess? Notice the stairway up to the second level in the background. The goddess is pretty sexy, even though she's stone, and thanks to the ceiling light at the Hurst Gallery there's some spirit in the shot.

Posted by Dakota at December 14, 2006 08:04 PM