Broken Social Scene co-founder Kevin Drew's NSFW video about the emotional dynamic of sexual intimacy--perfect for all the lovers out there!! But don't watch if you don't like the hint of sexual chemistry and a lot of people kissing and wriggling:)
Reading through some blogs this morning and came across a reference to a 1938 movie called Sex Madness, which like the perhaps more familiar, Reefer Madness, is a quasi-documentary film pointing out the dangers of unbridled sexual activity and the dangers of STDs particularly Syphillis. Its a moral prescriptive story about new values, or lack of values and morality around sexual activity and the young, and features a 'concerned citizen,' Paul Lorenz, who is on a one-person crusade against immorality. Of course the protagonists are up for any kind of sexual activity regardless of the cost and consequences--'wild' parties, lesbianism and premarital sex all follow.
The form of the film, which was 'educational' allowed things to be shown that were forbidden by the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930. It's less than an hour long, but it is an insightful peak into a period in history where new moralities were challenging old ways--it's after the giddy and dizzying heights of the Jazz Age, when new attitudes to gender, class, sex and sexuality and social norms were pushing the world into directions many felt uncomfortable with the direction things were going and reduced everything down to a simple moral equation rather than wrestling with the complexities of new social relations and finding ways to address both the opportunities and challenges of such shifts. Funny how not much has changed in that regard. One of my favourite 'pick-up lines in the film comes courtsey of a suave 'cowboy/flamenco' guy who is preying on a naive young girl swept up in the idea of an independent life and career, "lets seal our friendship with wine-sparkling, bright...it rids the mind of worry, fills the soul with hope..." very smooth--this first drink leads to champagne a wild party and then... it happened, a life ruined. Unfortunately, of course, nasty things can and do happen to people when their minds are blurred and their eyes are blinded by things they desire, but the films heavy-handed and one-sided treatment of the issues is what makes it worth watching.
Morality and moral choices are so simple for some people, it's just a case of always knowing right from wrong--I find it usually much more complex, especially in times of change, when we find ourselves at the frontier of new human orderings and what is emerging has yet to be named and defined. You can watch the whole film here.
I was speaking with someone a few nights ago about sexuality, gender, the whole gamut of sexuality really. It was a playful conversation as much as anything else, I can't even remember why or how it came about, it just did. The conversation turned to things like cross-dressing and transvestism. I made some joke about how every British man is secretly a cross-dresser but today I came across an article in The Daily Beast about men who secretly dress as dolls.
I am fascinated by the rise in things like fetishism, bdsm, cross-dressing, perhaps I should say the continuing mainstreaming of what would have been viewed as deviant behaviors not so long ago (and perhaps is by some). An example perhaps of the complexity of sex and sexuality and a reflection of how it, like every other aspect of what it means to be human morphs and changes as the world conforms to new horizons.
I also watched a show on HBO called SEX//NOW-it's the latest in a long-line of voyeuristic and designed-to-titillate-as-much-as-inform shows produced by that network. The creator of the show, Chris Moukarbel, said something quite interesting in an interview about the show, "Any conversation about sex is also a conversation about technology. I'm eager to see how the public feels about these things that they're dealing with every day anyway." I am inclined to agree with him on that front. And of course digital technology and the Internet has changed the game when it comes to sex. It is both a positive and negative issue--there are losses and gains. Sex can be incredibly exploitive and exploited and most of the time media offerings tend to dwell in that domain, but there are other positive issues around sex and sexuality that I wish got more airtime.
If you are interested in a view of the cultural through the lens of branding, marketing, advertising and design in regard to its use of and exploitation of sex, Rick Poynor's, Designing Pornotopia is a must-read. It's a critique and largely takes a negative position, which will appeal to some more than others, but it is insightful, thoughtful and well-written.
Bjork's video for her song, All Is Full Of Love, directed by Chris Cunningham, takes a provocative look at technology and sex by featuring two love-making robots-the mix of fluid and technology is beautiful and prophetic in many ways I think.
Zizek, of course, has much to say about sex,
"What kind of sexuality fits this universe? On August 6 2006, London was hosting the UK’S first “masturbate-a- thon,” a collective event in which hundreds of men and women pleasured themselves for charity (raising money for sexual and reproductive health agencies), and to raise the awareness of, and dispel the shame and taboos that persist around, this most commonplace, natural and safe form of sexual activity. The formula was invented at Good Vibrations (a San Francisco sex health company) as part of the National Masturbation Month, which they founded and have been hosting since 1995, when the original San Francisco M-A-T took place. Here is how Dr. Carol Queen justifies it:"
the rest of the essay can be found here...
I'll be writing more about sex in the coming months, going to make it part of my theological focusing this coming year.
I came across an interesting article about a comic-pornstar who is challenging centuries of conventional wisdom regarding women and sexuality in India. It might be hard to imagine a comic-porn character as a positive role model, and perhaps positive role model is way too generous, but nonetheless Savita Bhahbi, created by Deshmukh, is presenting a virtually unheard of aspect of female sexuality in Indian culture. How? By offering a female character who is the initiator and instigator of all that happens to her sexually. Flying in the face of a strong patriarchal approach to women and sex, Savita, the comic, trades in typical and very generic porn star activity, but on her own terms. Now, you might say, this is not progress, she has simply taken on male sexual characteristics and defiled herself in turn--well, I think it is a little more complex than that. I am not advocating porn, or encouraging any particular lifestyle of sexual activity, just noting that the balance of power is shifting in the realm of the sexes and it seems to be something of a global phenomenon. It is also worth remembering that classic Indian culture advocates the patrivratra--the worship of a husband as one would worship a god, which surely brings a whole set of issues around sexuality, fulfilment and submission into play, and definitely puts things firmly in the realm of male power, which I do not think is a very good thing.
As I said, creating a comic-porn character who engages in flagrant and not necessarily healthy sexual activity has major issues that need to be addressed but as the creator said in the article,
"he set out to show that sex is a two-way street, as well as to push society toward greater openness about female sexuality. “One of the reasons for creating Savita Bhabhi was to portray that Indian women have sexual desires too,” he said. “India is a country which is still sexually repressed, and to break the shackles, it is the women of India who are going to have to come out first.”
This could be a naive way of engaging the topic, but as the article notes, India has a large viewership for Internet porn so one could see the way a person might consider this as a viable path to explore important issues. I think that my interest in the article was heightened a couple of things. Firstly, by conversations that we have been having on sex and sexuality, based on a talk given by Alain de Botton at the School of Life. The horizons of how we think about sexuality are changing and old approaches may not have the exclusivity they once did--whether that is a good or bad thing is going to be a hotly debated issue for quite some time--sex, like religion and money, is a topic that garners all kinds of responses.
The second reason I noted it here was because I think I have resisted addressing issues around human sexuality--not sure why, probably haven't wanted to wade into ridiculous and usually tired arguments about the Bible and sex, but I'm over that, I'm interested in what it means to be human and that means grappling to some extent with the implications of how we think about and practice and communicate around issues of human sexuality. Yet another book topic
Virginia Johnson, half of the pioneering team of Masters and Johnson who brought sexuality into public discussion in the post-WWII years has died. It's probably hard for most of us to imagine a time when sexuality wasn't discussed 'out in the open' the way it is today and in spite of the still somewhat delicate ways we might to continue to handle sex and sexuality when it comes to frank and honest discussions, it would have been even worse perhaps had these two not appeared.
They published two classic works, Human Sexual Response and Human Sexual Inadequacy, which were translated into more than thirty languages. Their work did much to dispel myths about many things related to sexuality and practice--female arousal and orgasm were issues they addressed in revelatory ways never discussed before. The actual 'human sexual response' was a four stage model they defined-it remains probably the most significant and enduring part of their work: excitement, plateau, orgasm, resolution. They also determined that men have a 'refractory phase' following orgasm which women do not, which led them to write of multi-orgasmic females, which was unheard of at the time-well, unaddressed anyway:)!
Like most pioneers in any field they were not without their critics and detractors which ranged from the moral and relgious communities to other scientists and researchers. For instance, they ran an insititute to convert people from homosexuality, at a time when it was still classified as a psychological disorder, and this was later villified. Others, who advocate a more individualized understanding of human sexuality critiqued their uncritical adoption of cultural attitudes into their work. Regardless, they remain seminal figures in the ongoing conversation about human sexuality and should be read if that is an area of interest (it's sex, why wouldn't it be? haha).
Showtime is airing a series in late September called Masters of Sex, based on a biography of the pair.
Part of our conversation last week in the theology/youth culture class inevitably turned to the issue of identity, sexuality and physicality. The undercurrent of most theological discussions undertaken at seminary seem to wend their way toward talk about sex--largely because I think it is a topic so widely sloganized but seldom addressed and, let's face it, it's a big area of human existence that warrants more than a cursory good/bad comment about this or that act. Anyway, we had wade through the usual distractors in the conversation, namely, the party-line church responses to sexual activity, then the hot-button social agendas of trafficking and slavery and then of course to pornography (that sounds callous I realize and I dont intend it to be, and distractors might be too harsh of a word, perhaps starting points would be better--but the simple fact is, that the larger conversation around human sexuality in many of the christian environs I find myself in tend to focus on these issues and they have to be worked through in order to get down to the real issues people really want to discuss, which are much more subjective, personal and intimate.
We actually didn't spend too much time wading in the deep waters of socio-sexuality's darker threads, perhaps it is the benefit of an intensive or perhaps it was a particularly sharp and engaged group of people--probably a bit of both. And we held this conversation in the larger frame of identity construction in the 21st century and the effect of youth cultural dynamics upon it, so we didn't belabour too many of those expected topics. But after class was over and I had a bit more time to think things over, it occurred to me that everything is pornography today--we speak about food-porn, interior-design porn, fashion-porn, porn-violence--what we mean, I think, is an overdose of imagery related to a particular topic, the stylizing of things for maximum effect and titillation--be it the representation of food, particular fashion styles, people having sex, a Tarantino movie (interestingly, the film-maker, Nicolas Winding Refn-Drive/Only God Forgives refers to himself as a pornographer in a recent Guardian interview) or the perfect design and layout of an interior room.
The question is: if everything is porn, is anything porn? Does that mean we live in a world where everything thing is viewed through a pornographic lens, and if so, what do we do about that? I realize that these 'other pornographies' are perhaps more nuanced versions of the 'real thing' but that raises the question of what the 'real thing' is when it comes to porn, whether or not pornography is the portrayal of the sexual act itself or the particular way it is styled and represented? I imagine that a collective 'duh!" is being expressed by many who have done much more focused thinking on the topic of pornography. So I'll answer my own thought and say that I think pornography is the stylization and fetishization of sex and the removal of the real with regard to sexual activity. But if the removal of the real is the essence of pornography and everything is now porn, is nothing then real? Aaaah!! The great existential questions of life. I blame Jeff Koons. Not really, but I do think that Jeff Koons was one of the artists of the late 20th century who applied this equation to his work, particularly in his sculptures and images involving himself and his Italian porn-star wife. These works, one of which is featured at the top of this post, featured him and his wife in varying stages and positions of intimacy, in graphic detail. Koons said that they were not porn, or intended to be seen as such, they were simply images of a couple in love--but many did--perhaps because we are capable of turning anything into porn--especially images of people engaging in sexual or congress, copulation, fornication, shagging or fucking. etc., or perhaps because they are pornographic, but that determination would be up to the viewer I think. "the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction"--this is one of three main definitions offered on pornography in the dictionary--the first two refer to erotic depiction--but again, these days anything can be eroticized and nurtured for maximum arousal--think of the way the advertising industry presents food--they even have a magazine for food stylists!
So the depicting of food in a sensational manner qualifies as porn, as do most things in our visually-driven world, and , in a culture built upon desire/false desire, it's hard not to feel bombarded. But the real issue might just be that our focus on pornography is mis-directed--perhaps we should worry more about food porn and all the other mainstream depictions than the stuff we usually get bent out of shape about. Or maybe nothing is porn anymore because something is generally defined as much by what it is not as by what it is, and if everything is porn, which it seems to be...
I find it interesting that Koons wraps himself and his wife in the embrace of a snake--echoes of the Garden of Eden, and he did in fact proclaim that they were the new Adam and Eve--media man and woman. So welcome to the new Eden, where it seems everything is naked and unashamed.
A few years back Rick Poynor, wrote a book called Designing Pornotopia, in which he argued that we were in the process of creating an environment where our "dreams of sex are allowed to permeate areas of life they would never have been permitted to until recently." It's worth a read. The term pornotopia is drawn from the work of Stephen Marcus who defined it as, "that vision which regards all of human experience as a series of exclusively sexual events or conveniences." I guess all of this leads me to the conclusion that a conversation about sex is no longer about the genital interactions of particualr humans as much as it is about life in virutally every experience and expression--I feel a new class coming on!!
(p.s. take the time to check out some of the links)
+++WARNING!!!!+++ THERE IS NAKEDNESS HERE!!!
Jonathan Harris' latest project, I Love Your work, is very interesting, and in terms of content, quite a departure from his usual stuff. Well, it's not really a departure--his work is all about telling stories of life, his own, others etc. and this particular project is the story of nine women, who happen to work in lesbian porn. He approaches the topic by taking ten-second video recordings of whatever is happening at five minute intervals over the course of ten days. The results are well, you have to see for yourself really. To be honest, I wasn't that interested when it first popped up on my radar--I follow his stuff and find it quite compelling, but lesbian porn? It seemed a bit too trite and predictable to me, and I am not that enamored with lesbian porn, in spite of the supposed fascination that all men have with woman on woman sex etc.:). But I realized that however Harris told this story, it would more than likely bear many of the features that make his work so interesting to me, so I watched the little promo film above. It's all I've seen, it is probably all I will see--mostly because, well I don't know why really, maybe I will see more. The was a line in the clip that arrested me a little, one of the women says,
"I just want to leave enough images behind that I'll never be forgotten." She goes on to say that she can handle aging etc. but she wants to be remembered--a moment worthy of the project if you ask me, and I think it is probably what makes Jonathan Harris an important piece of my internet/culture/life equation. This thing with feeling the need to be 'immortal,' to live on after we are gone, is something worthy of ongoing reflection, perhaps it speaks to the desire to have life mean more than its seeming insignificant earthly arc? I'm not sure I have the answer, I just acknowledge that it is something I hear iterated in many different ways, and, to be honest, something that I have felt in my own life. Harris seems to have an uncanny ability to get these moments, to find the heart of things in most of his projects, and this venture looks to do the same. Fast Company declared that it is an, "intimate protrait of a marginalized community opening up in a way that's downright real." There is heartache, sadness, empowerment--all the complexities of life wrapped up in this project. I won't tell you to watch it, it may offend your sensibilities too deeply, nor am I applauding or decrying the women in the project for what they do/are, it just is. I just think that Harris is a compelling miner at the interface of life in the contemporary situations of our digitized world, and there is something of substance here.