This post on The Interculturalists reminded me of the one thing that I’ll never get over in regards to the US of A: this tee-hee-omigod-wee-wees-and-hoo-haas attitude toward sex and procreation in our collective public discourse. Now, do I think that all French people couldn’t give a crap about Rachida Dati’s pregnancy (Rachida Dati is unmarried, a politician, and expecting a baby soon)? Well, I’m sure a few Catholics and other religious folk here and there certainly think her a poor example. But the general reaction of the French? As Natacha notes, we have come to expect it to be as chilled-out as usual.
Why can’t we have the same thing happen in America? Why is there a distinctly prurient fascination with, for example, cherubic Bristol Palin’s relationship with that young man of hers? Oh, don’t tell me it isn’t there. That extremely photogenic teenager, surrounded by sweet-talk about marriage and “choosing life”? It’s not just politics. It’s an obsession.
Anyone remember Britney Spears’ naughty virgin phase? This is the same damn thing. Americans, on some level, are both fascinated with and repulsed by the idea of public figures, women in particular, doing it. This is why a sexy pop idol can get even more popular if she drops a few phrases about “waiting for marriage.” This is why a teenage pregnancy must be sugar-coated and neutralized with a shotgun wedding in order to be palatable.
If American Jack and Jill can obscure the facts of life with rosy intonations on the sanctity of life and marriage vows, they don’t have to picture their own sweet little Madison Taylor going at it with Brad the High School Stud on the sticky leather seat of his father’s big manly truck. Hell, they don’t have to think back to a time when their own feelings and relationships didn’t have the community’s stamp of approval, when they weren’t Hubby Jack and Wifey Jill, but were something else entirely.
Personally, I detest the idea that animal nature is all there is to us. Yet I equally detest the American public’s insistence that animal nature doesn’t exist, at least not for “respectable” folk. Even more detestable is the idea that people must be, in all instances, punished for acting in accordance to said nature, especially if they’re a) poor, b) not white, and/or c) in the public eye. A pregnant teen? Should’ve thought about the consequences before she spread her legs, haw haw. This is what it comes down to, over and over again, and Bristol Palin is spared this treatment only due to her family’s relative power and clever reliance on rhetoric.
Our toothless mainstream press reaches for the smelling salts the minute such issues are raised in public, because they are “dirty” and “disrespectful.” Yet in an age where pictures of Britney Spears’ blood-stained panties can be viewed online, I have to wonder if our very definition of “dirty” isn’t seriously skewed.
I cannot, for the life of me, imagine Sarah Palin flatly stating that her daughter has a “complicated personal life,” and leaving it at that, like Rachida Dati did. The sad thing is, Palin can’t, even if she had wanted to. As much as I detest Palin’s politics, this painfully exaggerated theater surrounding her daughter, a theater that the American public demands as readily as it demands an airbrushed happily-ever-after from Hollywood, is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, ever.
Lynne Spears, ever-ready to milk her daughter’s suffering for all its worth, is getting ready to release a book that claims Britney lost her virginity at fourteen, and the blushing fair maiden image was a tasteless hoax. Yet this was one tasteless hoax that helped reel in millions, as Lynne Spears ought to know. Why?
Because we have a national pathology, that’s why.
It’s a pathology that creates madonna-whores out of teenage girls who are merely trying to live their lives. It’s a weird, gooey stew of puritanism and misogyny and a sick peek-up-the-skirt infantilism that sells newspapers and skyrockets gossip websites all the way to the top while effectively insuring that young people remain ignorant, not just of the proper way to use a condom, but of their very own bodies and identities as human beings. It cripples adults in such a way that not a single high-profile female politician could simply say “it’s complicated” about a pregnancy and shut the doors on peeping toms. Yet life is actually quite complicated, and no amount of Disneyfication can change that.
A few years ago, a friend joked about wanting to buy me a vibrator before saying, “but I can’t, actually. I want to be a politician someday and I can’t have that on my credit card records.” I spent my formative years in the States, but it still took me a moment to realize she was being at least partially serious.
Monica Lewinsky was made an example of over a couple of blow-jobs which, while certainly hurtful to the Clinton family, did not at all warrant a national panty-sniffing extravaganza with creepy Ken Starr at the helm. I was just a kid when the Ken Starr crazywagon rolled into town, but I remember wincing as a couple of male radio DJ’s giggled gleefully over the idea of “bringing someone like Monica Lewinsky home to meet mom.” Uh, excuse me? Monica Lewinsky only did what your girlfriend probably does on a regular basis. I’m willing to bet dear old mom does it too. Farking hypocrite.
Is it any wonder why a young woman would casually fret over the possibility of a vibrator tanking her entire career in light of all this?
We live in a marketing culture that proudly proclaims that “sex sells.” But what we also peddle, perhaps even more widely than sex, is humiliation. Few serial killers or war criminals generated as many headlines and self-righteous, outraged tirades as Monica Lewinsky did. This ought to give us pause. But it doesn’t. The MPAA’s regulatory policies, policies which produce idiotic Hollywood sex scenes that feed our broken fantasy machine, are tougher on sex than they are on violence. Violence is the good, clean national pastime, when compared to sex. But we don’t pause to examine that either.
Soccer moms wag their manicured fingers in judgment of teen mom Jamie-Lynn Spears, yet few express similar outrage over bad examples to teenagers when Shia LaBeouf drinks and drives. Oh sure, the disapproval is there, but sheer vicious hatred is reserved for female “fallen angels.”
And God help a female public figure who goes on record and says she’s had an abortion. The only thing worse than being a mother is, sometimes, not being one. At least mothers are properly punished with stretch marks n’ stuff.
I’ve often wondered why we, as a culture, are still obsessed with the Victorians. And then I started thinking that this has to do with the fact that, in many ways, we are Victorians. Studying them, or imitating them, or otherwise keeping them at an arm’s length, helps erase the similarities between then and today. A similarity I want to note is the idea of the “ruined” young woman. You may argue that Paris Hilton is the perfect counter-example to that, but why do we give Paris Hilton attention? Is it not because we enjoy the spectacle of the so-called slut? Is it not because we wonder how her socialite parents put up with it all? Is it not because we eagerly await her next humiliation? And as much as I dislike the entire Paris Hilton media phenomenon, at the very least, she’s not peddling us a sew-up-your-hymen “virginity.”
When I was a teenager, I read a fascinating (and very short) interview with Samantha Mumba and her mom. The interview basically implied that young Samantha was having sex. Her mom seemed worried, but she also seemed to trust that Samantha could handle herself. This was so… foreign to me. At first, I was scandalized. Then I re-read the interview again, and tried to figure out why I felt so uncomfortable.
It was the simple honesty. Honesty so many of us simply do not expect or demand in the United States. A person telling us the truth about who they really are? Although we’re fond of swearing on Bibles, it seems the truth isn’t what we really want. And if there is a Satan, and I think there is (quasars exist. Dark matter exists. Shoulder-pads exist. Why not Satan?), I’m willing to bet that he’s laughing his ass off at us.