Thursday, May 27, 2010

Michael Benton: American Sex and Sexuality 2.0

Random thoughts...

Sexual mythology is rooted in our sense of self. Indeed, our sexual myths are reflections of our attitudes towards society, and even towards humanity itself, for there can be no separation between sexuality and society. Contrary to the common Western paradigm, in which sexuality is seen as something private and sacrosanct, the very core of culture is dependent on, and entirely derived from, our sense of self. As evolved organisms, we are driven to reproduce, for without sex – without reproduction – society, culture, art, literature, and everything that we hold dear, would not exist.
(Source: Life Without a Net: 2009)

1) I was browsing Scarleteen and I came across the sections on the body and read the post for young males fearful that their penis might not be adequate. It is so sad the misinformation that runs rampant in a supposedly scientific and rational society. Reading these young, fearful males' posts and the editors serious, straightforward, rational answers, I was struck by how terrible it is that this kind of honest discourse is missing from our society and how wonderful it is that someone is addressing this issue.

Recently my friend Cheyenne introduced me to another important website Yes Means Yes based upon the book of the same name.

2) When I screened John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus in my film class I prefaced it as an example of an honest exploration of sexuality in a society that markets/commodifies sex constantly, but never honestly addresses issues of human sexuality or emotion. Despite the uncensored trailer's (easily googled) emphasis, the sex in the film is minimal, although very explicit; instead Shortbus is a powerful exploration of our psychosexual hang-ups, our collective/individual pain (post 9/11 NY), the need for honest discussion/exploration of human sexuality, and, most importantly, the redemptive power of human engagement/connection. The first ten minutes are sexually explicit and challenged even me when I first watched it. A couple students in one of the classes were most hung-up (even angry) about a gay threesome later in the film where one of the participants hums the Star Spangled Banner during a sex act (a gay geography scholar at UK, who shows the film in a "sexuality and space" course, said it disturbs those who have a very limited sense of American identity). For me, it is one of the most powerfully emotional films of the last ten years. I usually cry during the film and there were students weeping in my class both times I showed it. It also prompted some of the best papers I have read.

3) A friend was visiting a couple of weeks ago and he had heard me talk about Shortbus. He started playing it and was completely horrified by what he viewed as "aberrant" (as if there was such a thing outside of force/torture of an unwilling partner) sexuality in a few scenes and he got mad at me for recommending it. He is very liberal, but, unfortunately, he was brought up in a homophobic working class mindset. Of course this is the same person who has no problems sending me (actually mass emails to his friends) countless ridiculous/offensive imagery of females (as in grossly exagerrated and distorted imagery designed to mindlessly objective/commodify). I guess this is acceptable because it reinforces an aggressive male heterosexuality in which everything is to be used to prop up the structure of this conformist institution?

4) When I showed Jane Campion's 1993 film The Piano I had two students complain about the sex scene, while accepting without complaint the extreme misogynistic violence against the female protagonist. The students complained that the sexual scenes were dirty and unnecessary because it violated the sanctity of marriage; while, even though they didn't agree with Alisdair's disfigurement of his wife (in which he violently attacks her sexuality as well as her creativity), they understood his anger because his wife could not control her sexuality. Missing was the whole issue of "control" of sexuality. Whose sexuality is to be controlled and whose sexuality is to be explored? Alisdair and Baines both seek to control Ada's sexuality (and by implication her creativity/mind) while seeking to fully explore their own sexuality (and dominance/control of people and land).

5) In order to explore our unreflective acceptance of violence and our knee jerk reactions to sexuality (and nudity) I related an experience where I was in a house once with a bunch of people watching an action cop/biker film where there were a series of very violent, shocking (and I would say ridiculous) scenes. The film came to a point where the bikers were in a strip club and a woman was dancing topless. It was at this point a mother in the room put her hands over her 13 yr old son's eyes and told him to leave the room. I was shocked and disturbed and stated it openly. Why would you allow your son to watch the most brutal, senseless, cartoonish images of violence, and then, when a woman's breasts are exposed, tell him to leave the room. What kind of message are you providing for this human being who is in the midst of discovering his own sexual identity and desires. It was an example of how we are trained to tolerate violence in our culture while we are indoctrinated into this idea of sexuality (and our bodies) as somehow being dirty, not in the sense of getting down and dirty, more like evil or sinful or disgusting. Is this the kind of warped training that produces obsessive guilt-ridden, addictive cycles of sexual gorging and/or repression?

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