Friday, April 27, 2012

A little light culture: Justify my love?

The thing we want to believe and the argument we use to justify it are two separate things. It's easy to believe that they are closely tied and if one goes the other must go with it.

Which brings me to Madonna and Lady Gaga. Both popstars argue for sexual freedom and tolerance of others' sexual preferences. You can agree or disagree with their position but both use incredibly stupid arguments to back it up.

Consider, for example, this stupid Madonna quote:
Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.
It's from a song called "Justify My Love" and it is plain from the context that the pleasures  in question are sexual. Well, which sexual pleasures don't depend on the permission of another? There's masturbation and there is rape. Everything else depends on the permission of another.

Madonna probably meant to say something more like, "Poor is the person* who needs society's permission to enjoy the kinds of sex they want." That's clunkier. And it's still stupid. How do you learn that rape is wrong if not from society?

And even a casual study of consenting adults who engage in unconventional sex shows just how important rules and permissions are in sex. People who do dominance-submission games, for example, use "safe words" so that the submissive can tell the dominant that she really wants him to stop this time. It's a tricky issue: If you want to play a game where one partner only pretends to mean it when she says "no" how does she really say "no". The answer is by saying some word that wouldn't normally come up during sex. "Tangerine" or "Fez" for example.

The further you get away from conventional sex, the more rules and permissions you need. The couple with absolutely conventional sexual tastes, on the other hand, can both rely on the their instincts because their desires and expectations will conform closely to what the other considers normal. The rules are still there but they are invisible. For them, sex is like math class is for the kid who really loves math—they don't need rules to make them go to class or to make them study. It's when you have unconventional tastes and wants that you have to negotiate rules and permissions.

(I used to mix with people with unconventional tastes back in my twenties but got bored with them surprisingly quickly. There is a point where they get to be just like moral scolds who hate sex. They have so many personal rules and things they just can't or won't do that it gets to be monotonous and constricting**. Both Madonna and Lady Gaga are like that; they are very preachy and moralistic about their views. Though both claim to be about freedom, they'd cheerfully impose their beliefs on you and even send people to jail for dissenting.)

Lady Gaga, a disciple of Madonna's, makes another but equally stupid argument in "Born This Way". The argument that it is okay to be X because you were born that way is beyond stupid. We spend billions of dollars teaching children not to behave the way they are born and a good thing too. As someone once quipped, it's a good thing two-year old children are small and helpless because a muscular, two-hundred pound two year old would kill you in one of their rages.

It may still be okay to be X, of course, but the claim that it's okay because some people are born that way is insane.

* I'm assuming that Madonna was  just being old-fashioned in her use of non-inclusive language: "Poor is the man ...." But I shouldn't preclude the possibility, given the context, that the song actually is based on a rape fantasy of Madonna's and she is effectively saying to her imagined partner, "Don't ask. Just take me." If Madonna and I ever end up at the same party or I notice her hanging from the next strap down on the bus at rush hour, I'll ask her and report back.

** The flip side of this is that those ordinary and reputedly "boring" people with "vanilla" tastes are actually quite varied in their sex lives. They can easily slip into role playing games without a whole lot of stage setting and rules ahead of time. A woman bringing her husband coffee, mockingly pretends to be the the young and inexperienced waitress and he plays along with her, then, even though she hadn't planned anything, she gets a twinkle in her eye as she realizes this could be fun and he, recognizing the twinkle, pushes things the next step and .... That sort of role playing is actually much easier for people with conventional heterosexual tastes because they can assume not just a whole set of rules but also have a whole lot of familiar roles and games they can draw on. You can find out for yourself if you have to, but there is nothing more restricting than trying to be completely free of social convention.

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