Sex, Immaturity, Britney, Bristol, and Good Old Americana

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.

13 thoughts on “Sex, Immaturity, Britney, Bristol, and Good Old Americana

  1. Keep in mind America, and to some extent Canada, is most mostly made up of immigrants who left Europe over religious persecution… it’s not about the Victorian Age, virgins were an important part of Christianity long before Queen Vic and terrorist martyrs.

    The particular brand of Protestant/Evangelical Christianity which grew up in America has the same skewed outlook on virginity and creating babies as the Catholic v. Protestant skit in Monty Python’s “The Meaning Of Life”, but with the fervour of a revivalist meeting.

    But most (most) of the anti-teenage pregnancy rhetoric is simple base American politics and therefore ultimately meaningless. “Don’t have sex before marriage”, “don’t f*ck”, “stay a virgin” and “reclaim your virginity” are all easy to understand and easy to put on a bumper sticker. “Here’s how to use a condom”, “let’s explain what a dental dam is”, “here’s how to use a female comdom” and “here’s what the ‘day after’ pill is for” are harder to explain and require all of the shades of grey.

    The truth is it’s very (very) unlikely a teenage Evangelical girl is going to be kicked out of her parish for getting knocked up, in fact most Churches have local community based programs for unwed, young mothers. The truth is usually a lot different than what’s advertised from the pulpit or from the Rush Rush Limbaugh show. And the truth is more American teenagers are having babies than ever before…

  2. I think that’s from the added political factor… that puritanical streak made religion in America more of a private ‘in the home and in the pew’ issue, but pop-culture politics took the brakes off.

  3. I wonder sometimes if we would respect the great people in history–the old actors like Cary Grant, the old politicians like Abraham Lincoln–if we’d had the internet and 24-7 cable news. Surely dirt would have been dug up on them and spread very quickly. And I don’t want to eliminate that technology (of course!), but I would like to see less about some people and some stories in our media. I don’t want even a guess at what age Britney Spears lost her virginity, for instance. I wonder if we’ll just, I don’t know, get tired of it soon. I kinda hope we do.

    If we do have to have news stories like these, I’d like to see a change come from them. I would very much like to see our society get real, get honest, understand that women like vibrators and teenage girls have sex. I’ll probably win the Powerball jackpot before I see that.

  4. Is it only the political factor? I mean, look at the popular movies: most of them end with a marriage, or with two characters getting together (helooo Jane Austen). Often times a girl comes close to being “ruined” by someone, but miraculously escapes such a fate. You know, like Lanie Boggs in “She’s All That” which is itself a reference to “Pygmalion” (OK, which is, in turn, a reference to the Greek myth, heh heh).

    Lilo, I was shocked, SHOCKED, when, upon reading an article about someone completely uninteresting, suddenly found a reference to him having sex with Grace Kelly in the back of a car. I really do treat the old stars differently. I’m a Victorian (Puritan?) too. 😦

  5. Evangelicalism isn’t our grandmother’s brand of Victorian or Puritan puritanism. It’s the puritan brand of the Snake Charmers and the Holy Rollers and the Episcopalians and Revivalists. It’s an American evolution (irony alert) of the Protestantism in “The Meaning Of Life”.

    Evangelical Christianity is about open confessions and admitting your personal responsibility for your sins in an open forum to your friends and neighbours. None of that Catholic “behind the curtain with God” crap.

    So when American politicians adopted ‘personal flaws’ as advantages, and even changed them into ideals, being a reformed coke user became a sign of triumph over adversity because with the help and acceptance of God the coke head became Born Again. No more sin.

    So the sexual status of the women in a non-Evangelical political family became a political target, because those women haven’t renounced their sin in a public forum. Jamie-Lynn Spears actually got off pretty lightly because her mother moved right away to push the Southern Evangelical God angle. The same with Palin’s daughter. Whereas Murphy Brown refused to repent and got torched.

    Religion and politics have a long history, of course. Sex and religion and sex and politics have even longer histories, but toss in the relatively new influence of mass media pop-culture and sex as a political and religious issue hits the Holy Trinity high definition trifecta…

    A really good movie about sex, sin and the early Evangelical Church is 1960’s b/w “Elmer Gantry” starring Burt Lancaster and Jean Simmons, based on the 1927 novel by Sinclair Lewis. It doesn’t really touch on how secular politics uses religion, but it does tear into the politics of religion and even how the mass media of the day covered sex and religion.

  6. …really? Thanks Natalia.

    If you were ever interested in the difference between Canadians and Americans (seriously, who isn’t?) this might be a good issue to start from.

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