And Happy Valentine's Day! It's a day worth celebrating, I think, so it gets the Outpost stamp of approval. I know, I know -- some people think it's all just a marketing ploy by the florists and greeting card companies to hype sales, and it's true, those industries do milk the occasion for all they can.
Nonetheless, I think it's a Good Thing that we actually have a cultural holiday that is generally positive on love and sex. This is a good time to have it too, being right in the middle of what is typically about the dreariest time of year in the northern temperate climes. Since possibilities for outdoor recreation are limited, why not encourage some indoor recreation.
The florists and card companies didn't invent the whole idea either; many earlier societies had rituals and celebrations on this theme. Some had fertility rites and other more communally-oriented celebrations, but all that got pretty well filtered out in our western, sex-repressive cultures.
In many ways, we often seem like a society at war with itself over sex. There is a sex component, sometimes a major one, to many of our most intense and strident national debates -- abortion, AIDS, gay rights, censorship, and so forth.
One example is the current debate over TV ratings and the system recently initiated by the TV industry. Of course, the rating system, promoted and defended as necessary for the protection of children, has sex as one of its major factors, along with violence and language. But it's clearly sex that stirs the most inflammatory rhetoric, although that's probably only because it's what the conservative and religious right seems to care most about. To listen to some of the criticism of the new rating system by conservatives this week, you'd think that they want TV shows and other media programmed as if sex didn't exist! And this is for adults too, not just kids.
Despite the much hyped sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, it's clear that our society is still in a kind of group denial about sex and still accepts a kind of default moral standard based on old, puritanical ideas. We see this especially in the scrutiny given to people running for public office and in what they say, or at least pay lip service to. Gary Hart, Dick Morris, Bill Clinton, and numerous others have all suffered serious setbacks or outright destruction due to allegations about their sexual activities.
This may be changing, if ever so slowly. When all was said and done, it seems that Republican campaign rhetoric about Clinton's alleged sexual transgressions didn't really outrage anybody except other Republicans. They found this enormously frustrating, obviously, to be crying, "sinner! sinner!", and have the public give a collective yawn.
On the other hand, Dick Morris was history 24 hours after the story broke about his liaison with a prostitute, and now Morris himself is doing the talk show circuit claiming to be born again and inveighing against the evils of prostitution. Actually makes some sense when you think about it.
Anyhow, our public, "polite society" cultural norm is still pretty limited and puritanical in regard to sex. In real life, however, there is a lot going on, and unfortunately, a lot of it is distinctly unhealthy. Even if we filter out some dubious and unsubstantiated claims, there are still huge numbers of child sexual abuse cases, rape, and other forms of serious sexual harassment. The tragic irony is that most of these arise because of our history of sexual repression.
Sex is a powerful and fundamental drive, right up there with eating and staying alive. When its normal and healthy expression is suppressed, the drive will be redirected and come out in ways that are sometimes unhealthy, destructive, or violent. Even short of that, a lot of what is called sexual content in movies and TV is really just reaction to the canonical anti-sex backdrop of society. Again the irony -- if we didn't have such an anti-sex official standard of morality, then a lot of the cheap sex material in the media -- much of the stuff that the conservative moralists love to hate -- just wouldn't exist. It would make no sense.
Fortunately, there are many positive actions and efforts that support a more healthy and sex-positive society. We don't tend to hear about them in the media though. That pervasive sex-negative cultural bias tends to make anything which appears in the media about sex seem to be scandalous, abnormal, or worse. The recent movie, "The People vs. Larry Flint" provides a good reminder, both of the depth of the anti-sex and repressive forces in our society, and that it is, in fact, only the most outrageous and rebellious of the pro-sex forces that are willing to ignore the societal disapproval and persecution, and pursue the fight publicly.
The rest of us may go about our activities more privately, but it's worth remembering that the freedom to do so shouldn't be taken for granted. Freedom needs to be publicly defended now and then, and more people need to publicly reject the assumption that the old puritanical morality is the standard by which we all are judged.
I realize that all this is far too weighty for this rather fluffy occasion that we call Valentine's Day. So as I conclude, let me say that I hope your Valentine's day is really cool! Or should I say, may it be cool when it should be cool, and hot when it should be hot. Enjoy the evening, giving just a bit of thanks that Jerry Falwell, Jesse Helmes, & co. have NO IDEA what you might be doing, and if they did, they'd be REALLY UPSET!
For this week, that the view from The Outpost. Remember, you can revisit The Outpost anytime on the web. Go to wmbr.mit.edu/news and click on The Outpost. E-mail feedback is welcome. Send in your comments, opinions, and stories about what's comin' 'round and goin' down. For WMBR, this is Dan Murphy
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