Filed under: Belonging, Craziness, Ordinariness, Politics, queerness, sexuality, writing | Tags: Larry_Craig, law, prostitution, sex, sexuality, Spitzer
If I were an actual public intellectual, here’s an op-ed I would write. I don’t know actually how to write this kind of thing, it’s more pop-ed than op-ed since it popped out of me when I woke up at 5 this morning. Advice, emendation, commentary are very welcome, and I appreciate it especially if you comment here rather than via email, because then it really is world-building.
Against Sexual Scandal
Whatever happens to Elliot Spitzer as a result of the revelations about prostitution the force of this story is not, once again, why big men do stupid sexual things, or why Type A’s get tired of being so good and have to become bad just to attain some balance.
The story is also not about how righteous moralists always have a dark secret they’re creating noise to distract us from paying attention to. It is not really, either, a good opportunity for dancing in the streets because one more powerful person has come tumbling down—after all, some powerful people are better than others, and when the person falls from the mighty naughty force of their appetites nothing about power is changed at all, quite the contrary. The law, the family, marriage—exit polls suggest that all of these will be the winner here, after being horribly maligned by a bad man who forgot his oaths to honor them.
Instead, what stories like this really do is to damage the reputation of sex. Whenever there’s a sex scandal, I feel sorry for sex. I felt sorry for sex during the Larry Craig brouhaha last summer. What if he liked being married and procreating and giving anonymous head? What if that was his sexual preference? What if he was not really gay, as he claims, but had sexual desires that seemed incoherent from a normative perspective? Some of the response to Craig was like the response to moralists like Jim Bakker, Ted Haggard, and now Spitzer—moralists deserve to suffer the same force of negative judgment they wielded on others. Shame on us? Shame on you, ha ha! But lots of the response was sheer homophobia. And all of it was sheer erotophobia.
Erotophobia, fear of sex, tinged toward hatred of sex. Public sexual scandals revel in the hatred of sex. Disgust at the appetites. The strangeness of sex, the ordinary out-of-controlness of sex acts and sex drives that we all experience (if we’re having it). Actually, usually, sex is not a threat to very much. But it feels like a threat to something, which is why so many people stop having it.
So when a sexual scandal happens, people indulge in projections of what makes them uncomfortable about sex: its weirdness (I was just standing up and talking and now I’m doing this?), its sloppiness, its awkwardness, its seeming disconnection from so many other “appropriate” drives (to eat, for example). Then there’s one’s fear of becoming a mere instrument of someone else’s pleasure, in a way that one doesn’t want.
Nonetheless, I’m just saying, I really like sex. We have no idea what sex would be like in a world that saw it basically as a good. A weird good. A good that can tip you over and make you want to do strange things. A good that can reveal your incoherence, your love of a little disorder, your love of a little control (adjust the dial as you like). A good that can make you happy, for a minute, before the cat starts scratching the corner of the bed, or the phone rings, or the kids mew, or you’re hungry and sleepy, or you need another drink, or the taxi comes.
Filed under: Detachment theory, Encounters, Ordinariness, Politics, Theory of this Blog, Uncategorized, writing | Tags: 4_Months_3_Weeks_and_2_Days, abortion, Encounters, ethics, film, morality, Mungiu, Politics, revolution, sexuality
I am having an amusing physical problem now–lex talionis, almost literally. My tear ducts periodically clog and swell, as though some ungrieved grief has decided to mark my head with a little deadpan realism. Of course since I think it’s funny I’m not learning the lesson I should.
Anyway, in the mornings and evenings now I put a hot compress on my eyes for 10 minutes. Then I wash them with baby shampoo (also ironic, as they promise “no more tears”!). I find the 10 minutes excruciating and useless, which is also funny and ridiculous: so I have been trying to make up productive labor for the daily episode, such as listening to films to understand the atmosphere and environment of action apart from what’s embodied in spectacle, character, and flesh.
But this morning I listened to the Fresh Air interview with Cristian Mungiu, director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a remarkable film about a bad day during a bad period of life, Romania 1987, during the regime of Nicolai Ceausescu. People talk about it as an abortion film but Mungiu finds this thematization irritating: clearly, he thinks that the melodrama of abortion in the U.S. narrows our capacity to see what’s going on right in front of us. His principle of realism is to track the extended present of the flat phrase “Things happen like this.”
Here is what he said about what the case of abortion stands for (along with standing for state-invested blockages to women’s sovereignty), more or less accurately transcribed.
“The suppression of abortion was the suppression of moral action, practices of decision-making, and intensified contexts of friendship, and solidarity. . . You know, whenever you have a strong enemy in front of you and you have a problem which is common for a group of people, the solidarity belonging to the period is going to be much more important. . .It’s a film about decision-making, and responsibilities in life, and freedom during that period, and compromise, and friendship and solidarity . . . The story came to me with all the details and with all the emotions, but not with the all the motivations, because people don’t know why they acted the way they acted, they just acted.They just reacted to a specific situation…It has to do with the situation, and it has to do with the kind of friendship that they were having. ”
Mungiu thinks that abortion isn’t that great, either. “It is said that nearly half a million women died in the process of having illegal abortions between 1966 and ’89 but at the same time after 1990 when abortion became illegal we had a million abortions a year because people were uneducated [about ordinary birth control and self-responsibility].” He tells an amazing anecdote about cascades of irresponsibility.
“An abortionist tells a potential client about the contract she’s entering. She pays him to do the abortion. But there’s a second stage. He shows the client two barrels near the table where the procedure will take place. One has water in it, the other acid. If things go well, “in the water you’re going to wash yourself and walk back home. if things don’t, I’m going to put you in [the barrel full of acid] and bury you and no one will know.”