On Feburary 1, 100 men in the prime of their lives were planning to repeatedly line up and violently run full speed into each other. For the entertainment of 100 million people (and several million dollars and world-wide fame), they would risk permanent disability, paralysis, and even death.
Welcome to the Superbowl.
Because 100 million people watch, the TV commercials during the three-hour show are the most expensive on earth. And, of course, the most watched. And so it was big news when NBC rejected the ad proposed by the vegetarian activist group PETA (disclosure: I DO eat meat and wear leather).
The stylish 30-second ad shows rapid cuts of a half-dozen beautiful women wearing bikinis or lingerie fondling various vegetables with erotic delight. There's a sexy instrumental soundtrack, with a single message overlaid in big letters: "Studies show vegetarians have better sex. Go veg." It's signed "Peta.org."
The NBC censor rejected the ad, saying it "depicts a
level of sexuality exceeding our standards." NBC said
PETA had to cut the following 1-second moments before they'd
reconsider the commercial:
Mind you, this all takes place in less than 30 seconds, so you can imagine how long the camera could possibly linger on any of these images.
Morality in Media is thrilled, commending NBC for rejecting the "home strip-tease" and "PETA smut." This kind of reflexive censorship and its support is drearily familiar. But a more troubling criticism has arisen, the so-called "feminist critique." Being a long-time committed feminist myself, I frequently agree with both BlogHer and Feministe. But unfortunately, they and their supporters are critiquing the wrong thing here.
Since we don't live in a perfect world, everything must be evaluated relative to the alternatives. So I ask my feminist colleagues: aren't you troubled about the censorship--of sexuality, and of FEMALE sexuality? Isn't that the more important, less ambiguous sin here?
True, it would be better if the PETA ad showed sexy men, too (their other ads do).
But in this commercial the vegetables are not stand-ins for men. The ad honors straightforward female eroticism, which is NOT something we can take for granted in the mass media. The ad references sex without disease, violence, unwanted pregnancy--or marriage. It shows women quasi-masturbating--for themselves, not for their lover. For mainstream TV, this is a big deal. It beats Oprah's sexual fear--mongering by a mile.
Besides, the whole ad can be viewed as a parody of commercials in general, particularly the Superbowl ads. PETA's ad is actually witty. Mistaking it for sexist crap is intellectually lazy, exposing us to the age-old argument that feminists and feminism not only lack eroticism, but a sense of humor, too.
Of course, NBC will show plenty of commercials featuring sex. But they'll all have men in them, and they won't portray women as independent sexual agents. Besides, where's the "feminist" critique about men--not people, men--being encouraged to risk death to entertain us?
A display isn't automatically sexist or degrading just because it features female sexuality, or the woman is beautiful. If we can't celebrate female eroticism and we can't laugh at ourselves, where does that leave us?
The joyless, humorless, Morality in Media.
Is that who we want to be in bed with?
For years, Americans have been hearing how dangerous the internet is: full of perverts, predators, and other horrible creatures who want to eat our young. We've been told that chatrooms are full of adults pretending to be teens, and that sites like MySpace and Facebook are full of adults trying to lure our kids onto Greyhound buses and into unspeakable hells.
Americans love these salacious stories, repeating them even while recoiling from them. We follow the gothic kidnap tales on CNN or Fox, the seduction bodice-rippers (jeans-rippers? thong-rippers?) climaxing in some depraved horror. We then beatify the victim (if they're white and cute); naming a law after him or her completes their secular sainthood. Jessica. Amber. Megan. Adam Walsh.
Now at last there's a large-scale, professional, technically sophisticated report with terrific news: there really is no significant problem with sexual solicitation of minors online. Indeed, non-sexual bullying by peers is far and away a more serious and common problem.
And who dares to reassure us in this way? The Internet Safety Technical Task Force, created by 49 state attorneys general. If there's any group eager to find evidence of trouble, this would be it--which makes their report remarkably trustworthy. The inclusion of tech-savvy people like Yahoo, Comcast, and Google, along with groups like Second Life, Facebook, and Wiredsafety.org gives the report additional authority.
The report also notes that while "unwanted exposure to pornography does occur, those most likely to be exposed are those seeking it out." And not surprisingly, kids' family dynamics and psychological makeup "are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies." In other words, life for kids online is similar to that offline--a loving, communicative family, high self-worth, and good personal skills and values are central to safety. The internet itself isn't the primary problem.
So--let's all celebrate some good news for a change, exhale, and enjoy the pleasures of parenting undisturbed for five minutes. We can expect dozens of TV shows, from Larry King to Pat Robertson to Tyra Banks, discussing how mistaken we were, how much safer our kids are than we realized, and what other common fears might be overblown.
No, the vampires of the Sexual Disaster Industry are still at it. Morality in Media, for example, still claims MySpace is a hotbed of porn. The prize for Biggest Scare-Tactic Hypocrite, though, is Enough Is Enough. It's truly perverse that these self-appointed, admittedly untrained "experts" on "indecency" were invited onto the Task Force itself. But after sitting through Task Force meetings for a year, Enough Is Enough STILL makes their living by peddling terror--smut: persuading parents and legislators that America is about to be destroyed by cyber-predators.
Good news about online safety? There's way too much money and influence in terrorizing parents about online danger.
Sometime in the future, America will have to ask itself why it was so willing to believe the internet was the tangible, living repository of our worst nightmares about ourselves.
Until then, I challenge every predator-chic organization
to spread the good news about the Attorneys General/Harvard
report. Clearly, any group which doesn't do so is interested
in only one kind of safety: the safety of their own budget.
Among his many tasks, President-elect Obama must select a new Surgeon General. While in many ways it's a ceremonial post, the SG is supposed to be the country's medical advocate.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been suggested as the probable choice. In addition to his other credentials, Dr. Gupta was named one of People Magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" just a few years ago.
What a contrast. For eight years the Bush administration has been obsessed with regulating Americans' sexuality--seeing sexuality as a political issue rather than a health issue. So this seems an excellent time to remind the incoming Surgeon General of a few things about sex.
So here are 10 Facts Of Life. Not opinions, facts.
* Abstinence 'education' doesn't lead to abstinence
It leads to young people promising to be abstinent. And then, according to a dozen different studies, ¾ of those young people have sex before they get married.
* Most women who have abortions are mothers
About 60 percent of American women who get an abortion have already given birth to at least one child. Half of the 1 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are 25 or older; only 17 percent are teens.
* Condoms work--amazingly well
Practically no one who uses condoms conscientiously gets pregnant unless they want to. In fact, even people who use condoms inconsistently get darn good results. Way better results than either "abstinence" or the "rhythm method."
* Many, many Americans have anal sex
Surveys show that about 25% of Americans have had anal sex more than once. The number of teens who report having anal sex at least once is rising yearly. "Sodomy" was never just for gay men, and it certainly isn't now.
* Using lubricants is good for your health
Lubricants make all kinds of sex easier, reducing wear-and-tear on those delicate genital, anal, and other tissues. And that promotes health.
* Most Americans masturbate
The Old Testament says nothing about it, and the New says almost nothing. God may or may not disapprove, but every survey ever done shows that a majority of men and women give themselves sexual pleasure.
* Medical students receive virtually no training about sex
According to a 2003 study from the Medical College of Georgia, less than a 1/3 of U.S. medical schools require a course in sexuality. Your doctor probably got his or her degree and license without taking one. Come to think of it, did Dr. Gupta?
* Psychologists and clergy receive virtually no training
To get a license in California, for example, your marriage counselor is required to take only a 10-hour seminar in sexuality. Two-thirds of U.S. seminaries offer no course in sexuality issues for religious professionals.
* Viagra does not create sexual excitement
It helps create erections. And while these often accompany excitement in men, they are not the same. In fact, erections without genuine excitement account for a lot of Americans' sexual problems, with or without Viagra.
* There is no research that people who watch porn behave
any differently than people who don't
In fact, in the 9 years since the internet brought free pornography into most Americans' lives, the rates of most social problems-including divorce, sexual assault, suicide, and child molestation-have declined.
Rick Warren is the conservative mega-preacher from Southern California who gave the invocation at Barack Obama's swearing-in on January 20.
Lots of people criticized Obama's choice. They accurately note that Warren is rabidly anti-gay, anti-condom, anti-sex education, anti-reproductive choice. He brags about his supposedly great work battling AIDS in Africa, but it turns out that Warren's ideological commitments to abstinence and against condoms have actively undermined public health in Africa.
He's a dangerous, deluded, man full of hate and fear.
Obama could have chosen a different religious figure, someone whose beliefs more closely match those who elected him.
But if Warren's beliefs mesh with the ideas of the other half of Americans, why should we keep him off the stage because of those beliefs?
We should keep him off the stage because he's a reverend.
Criticizing Obama's choice of Rick Warren because of Warren's politics has some limited educational value. But calling Warren the wrong pastor legitimizes the idea that a pastor belongs on stage in the first place. One doesn't. There is NO right pastor to speak at the most important ceremony of a pluralistic, secular democracy--the transfer of power. (A second preacher--far more liberal and less hate-filled closed the swearing-in. He's exactly as inappropriate up there as Warren.)
The tradition--that is, the public relations demand--of a clergymember on that stage is wrong. If Obama, in his heart, is making a pledge to his god, fine--it's a free country. But having a pastor give an "invocation" (definition: a prayer) is government sponsorship of religion. The problem isn't that it's the wrong religion or an intolerant religion or a misunderstood religion. The problem is that it's state-sponsored religion.
If you doubt that a pastor speaking at a Presidential swearing-in is an endorsement of religion, do a simple thought experiment: what if a rabbi or imam were giving the invocation? There would be rioting in the streets. Why? Because members of America's majority religion would be complaining that the rabbi or imam "doesn't represent my values."
Precisely. There shouldn't be ANYONE up there "representing" anyone's "values," other than the Constitutional values that got us here: Pluralism. Democracy. Freedom of thought and belief. When you want your religious values represented, go to your church--which, by the way, I am forced to support financially through its federal and state tax exemptions.
So Rev. Warren, I wish you'd stayed off the Inauguration stage of my glorious secular country. If Obama wanted you to hold his hand before being sworn in, you should have done it. If Obama wanted your blessing on his head while driving to the party afterwards, you should have given it.
But on stage at the Inauguration, I wish you'd kept your
mouth shut. Not because I hate your religious ideas--but because
I love my secular country.