Singer Stefani Censored In [Where?]
Quiz: Where did this happen?
You may know Gwen Stefani's music. Formerly with the group No Doubt, she's now a huge pop star. Incredible voice. Powerful stage presence. Movie-star face. Gorgeous body. An altogether thrilling artist.
Quiz: Where did this happen?
Stefani's local stadium concert is announced. A religious student group demonstrates, demanding that the sexy star dress more modestly and turn down the heat on her stage show. Conservative critics chime in, claiming that her typically revealing costumes corrupt the country's youth.
Stefani agrees to make changes. In a magazine interview, she says she's making a "major sacrifice," mourning the "opposition from people who have misunderstood me."
On August 21 she performs in front of 7,000 cheering fans. In outfit after outfit, she reveals virtually no skin, covering herself with various dramatic layers including leotards and long gloves.
So where was the incident--Cincinnati? Little Rock? Dallas?
When you can't tell the difference between Malaysia and the U.S., the U.S. is in trouble.
Bathroom Blowjob Bust
So they caught Idaho Senator Larry Craig supposedly offering some vague sex act to someone in the men's room.
The police report--all over the internet--is a primer on how guys apparently do this: you put your left foot in, you put your left foot out...
It's easy to take shots at Craig, who has made a living demanding that the law curtail same-gender activity-and is caught inviting the same thing. In fact, Craig has a history of surreptitious male-male sex. And a history of wanting his disgust for gay people enshrined in American law. He recently urged a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, saying it is "important for us to stand up now and protect traditional marriage, which is under attack by a few unelected judges and litigious activists."
Craig joins an enormous list of people who behave like hypocrites--ranting on about "morality" when his own behavior and impulses fall outside his own definition of morality.
Clearly, the guy is tormented. Apparently, a lot of people demanding that everyone conform to their narrow "morality" are conflicted. This is old news. In fact, reasonable people are asking, "is anyone who rants on about morality NOT afraid of their own impulses?"
But what we should be asking is, why is it against the law to offer a quickie to a stranger? What kind of sick country criminalizes an adult's non-coercive, non-commercial offer to another adult--just because it's about sex? Everyone who plays tennis has gone to a public court, walked up to a stranger, and asked, "want to play?" Everyone with a telephone is periodically asked, without invitation or warning, if they want to buy something, or listen to something, or reveal stuff about themselves.
The proper response to a single, non-coercive invitation to do something--anything--is "no thank you." Not "you're busted."
There's the lewd, obscene, disgusting behavior: busting someone for an invitation. Our nation has again exposed its horrendous ambivalence about its own erotic impulses. In doing so, it has shamed itself, and explained its obsessive concern with enforcing "morality"--i.e., limiting sexual fantasy and behavior.
Yes, Senator Craig should be thrown into the Potomac--not for expressing his sexuality, but for preventing the rest of us from doing so.
Abortion Is Not A "Woman's Issue"
Since our Constitution forbids the establishment of an official government religion, and guarantees the right of personal decision-making regardless of one's actual choices, it's clear that government has no authority to criminalize abortion.
If the religion you choose to follow forbids you from having an abortion, don't have one. If you feel upset that other people have abortions, you have the right to comfort yourself with any private behaviors you wish, religious or material.
Of course, this being a country that guarantees freedom of expression, everyone has the right to try to persuade others not to have an abortion.
The Supreme Court recently upheld the right of states to criminalize certain types of abortion. The reasoning of the 5-4 majority included its desire to protect adult women from making choices they might later regret, placing the Court squarely in the mainstream of 19th-century thinking.
Many people were outraged at this theft of the basic American right to control one's destiny free of government interference (something Conservatives claim they desire). And I still read opinions resenting a group of men (the five male justices) telling women what they can do with their own bodies--as if the judges' maleness interfered with their reasoning, or as if women needed some special sympathy in order to secure their rights as Americans.
I cringe at any suggestion that male judges have less wisdom, or less right, to rule on abortion. The idea that these Justices might have decided differently if they'd ever been pregnant is bad for our courts. The right to an abortion should not depend on compassion for women whose lives are destroyed by government interference. It should derive, instead, from the recognition that the American covenant gives each adult enormous privileges, and that everyone's rights depend on each of us tolerating everyone else's private decisions, whether we like them or not. That's one of the things we need government for--guaranteeing everyone's rights by making sure that everyone tolerates everyone else's private decisions.
The anti-choice movement knows that abortion isn't a "woman's issue." They see it as a moral issue--which is fundamentally wrong--but as such, they perceive the issue as affecting men and women equally. Not only is that concept intellectually richer, it's more powerful politically.
Unwanted pregnancy obviously affects millions of women every year, and is a heart-breaking cry for comprehensive education about sexuality, and cultural acceptance of what sex is like in real people's lives.
But unwanted pregnancy dramatically affects millions of men every year. Shotgun weddings, forced parenting obligations, loss of relationships, destroyed dreams--these are the common results. American men also need the option of terminating their unwanted pregnancies. The question of what to do when a couple disagree about whether to have an abortion is complex--and not the point. Every couple has the right to the option, whether they choose it or not.
Responsible adults know that contraception isn't just a woman's responsibility. And it's now fashionable to say "we're pregnant" instead of "I'm pregnant" or "she's pregnant."
Similarly, the availability of abortion is not just a woman's right. It's the right of every American involved with a pregnancy that she or he wishes to terminate.
Thinking of abortion as a "woman's issue" helps obscure the Constitutional issue involved. It trivializes the sexual behavior that creates the need for an abortion, and vastly understates the consequences of depriving people of this medical care. It suggests that people who are old, infertile, gay, or asexual have no stake in the issue. And it accepts the idea that reasonable people would care more about rights we might ourselves exercise than about our other rights.
Whether you have an abortion or not, that idea is bad for democracy.
Language More Important Than War?
Sixteen million Americans fought in WWII. A half-million of them died in it. That's equal to the entire population of Washington, DC. Or of Wyoming.
Very few of those 16,000,000 are still alive, and a dwindling number of Americans actually knows one of them. To create and preserve a record of what actually happened, Ken Burns has made a 14-hour documentary for PBS. It has exactly four instances of words you might hear--or say--if someone were trying to kill you.
The Parents Television Council plans to scour those fourteen hours for the four words they don't want anyone to say or hear. They will again pressure the FCC--that's your government at work--to punish stations carrying the program if they think the nation's children shouldn't see it, regardless of what their parents want.
The PTC is going to look at a 14-hour program about a war that killed 72,000,000 human beings, and they are going to focus on two "fucks," one "asshole and a "shit." How juvenile is this response? How obsessed are these people?
Why do they have a seat at America's public policy table? Why, in a world of 21st century telecommunications, is the FCC now in the business of counting magic syllables?
How can it be good for America's families when the government decides what programs parents are allowed to show their children about the most serious subject in the history of humanity--war?
PBS stations across the country are wondering if they need to show a version of the documentary stripped of the four--count them, four--"offensive" words. Each station risks fines starting at $325,000 if the FCC decides they have violated some nebulous, arbitrary, and thoroughly unconstitutional rule about "inappropriate" content. To local stations in Atlanta and San Francisco, much less Little Rock and Kansas City, 1/3 of a million dollars is a lot of money. You can't use integrity to pay rent and salaries. You need cash.
The PTC is unmoved by any adult discussion about art, literacy, history, parental responsibility, or basic decency. "It's hard to believe that removing four words are going to significantly damage the program," says PTC president Tim Winter.
He is clueless about what those half-million Americans died for. And he is clueless about the dangers of writing history to pacify consumers of that history. Ask people who lived in the Soviet Union, where history changed with each new regime. "In most countries, the future is unpredictable," the joke went. "In the USSR, the past is unpredictable, too."
Are those four words of any importance whatsoever?
Only if an American can't say them, and an American can't hear them, and an American can't decide whether or not his kid can hear them--because the government is deciding for us.
Goddam it, isn't this what those half-million Americans died for in that war?
Americans Search for a Sexual Center
People in the media ask me all the time--sexually, is the country getting more liberal or more conservative?
This is similar to the question George Lakoff discusses about politics, most recently in his article in Truthout. In it, he says there are no "centrists," because "There is no left-to-right linear spectrum in American political life." Instead, Lakoff talks about "biconceptuals"--"progressive on certain issue areas and conservative on others."
The importance of this, says Lakoff, is that progressive values--"protection and empowerment"--are simply American values. The idea that there is a 'center,' he says, "marginalizes progressives and sees them as extremists, when they simply share fundamental American values."
We can say the same about Americans and their sexuality. What people do, how people feel about what they do, and how people feel about what others do are three separate issues for many Americans.
And so while there's an enormous increase in the number of people who have oral sex or use sex toys, there's also a huge increase in the number of people complaining about sex on TV. More Americans have sex before marriage than ever before, but support for teaching abstinence-only in school is at an all-time high. Americans are watching more porn, going to more swing parties, and engaging in more anal sex than ever before. At the same time, groups like Morality in Media, Parents TV Council, and Focus on the Family are at their most influential, and municipalities are spending more than ever attempting to shut down strip clubs and adult bookstores.
Some people are consistently conservative or progressive on sexual issues across the spectrum, but many, many people are not. They want to keep doing what they do, while limiting what others can do.
Hypocrites like Ted Haggard, David Vitter, Randall Tobias, Mark Foley, Bill O'Reilly, and Newt Gingrich are not, it turns out, anomalous. Rather, they represent something very American about sex-discomfort with who they are, an apparent refusal to admit and accept their sexuality, and a desire to limit others' sexual expression while struggling with their own.
The profound unfairness is un-American. The sexual ambivalence, sadly, is not.
And so it's a mistake to ponder whether America is moving left or right sexually. The answer is both and neither. As lovers, we're becoming less inhibited, more experimental, and using more gadgets, games, and social institutions. But as citizens, we're becoming more frightened, more angry, and more repressive.
This surely reflects neither personal growth nor spiritual development. It represents torment. And many tormented Americans are saying they wish the whole sex thing would just go away-no eroticism on TV, no porn on the internet. Lock up predators for life plus 1 year, and destroy everyone's constitutional rights to buy a lap dance or naughty magazine in their own town.
So the question isn't how to get Americans to be more liberal about sex. Americans are plenty liberal about licking and spanking each other while telling hot stories. The question is how to get Americans less frightened and angry about other people's sexuality. In this project, the media, most religious organizations, and government at all levels are part of the problem, when they're desperately needed as part of the solution.
Quivering Over Semi-Exposed Breasts
Jordache Jeans has launched an entertaining set of print and TV ads featuring model Heidi Klum. On TV we see Klum's topless back; in print we see her looking into a full-length mirror, her out-of-focus breasts sort-of visible, nipples strategically covered with hair.
Predictably, those obsessed with hiding women's breasts from unmarried Americans went berserk. Robert Peters of Morality in Media, for example, suggested that this represents the end of civilization as we know it.
As a bonus, his press release also insulted sex education and readers of Playboy. Peters is especially miffed because the ad appears in "The N.Y. Post, [is also] one of the few major city newspapers whose editorial and op-ed pages reflect politically and socially conservative points of view." One of the few conservative papers? He apparently doesn't get outside New York very much.
He must be joking when he righteously sniffs about polluting the "daily newspaper, which most people still purchase because they want to stay informed about what is happening in the world." Perhaps he hasn't looked at the Post since Rupert Murdoch took over. "Stay informed?" Saying that people read the Post to stay informed about the world is like saying that people take elevators to stay informed about music.
People who freak out about women's breasts need to grow up a little, not talk about "morality." Like any reasonable 13-year-old boy, Peters keeps careful track of boobies-"it is to my knowledge the first time a half-page photograph of a topless woman has appeared in that paper two days in a row."
Similarly, Peters lovingly describes a recent photo of "Courtney Love sitting in her birthday suit, with breasts fully exposed except for a few beads" (Is that a complaint or a sigh of relief? Doesn't the coverage of "a few beads" contradict the outraged/thrilled "fully exposed?")
This is the same attitude that leads these people to count "damns" and "hells," and the number of milliseconds you can see Janet Jackson's nipple or someone's butt crack on TV. Your federal government can fine a radio or TV network for each use of a forbidden word, and it funds the Parents Television Council to count them. There's a dignified use of democracy.
How juvenile is it to approach something as complex and gloriously messy as sexuality with the consciousness of a high-school accountant? These "morality" preachers make the Merchant of Venice look like a humanist.
Exactly how damaging are women's breasts on TV, film, magazines, and newspapers? With nude beaches, topless TV ads, and magazines that mix nudity with gardening tips, a half-billion people have already done this experiment, and the results are clear. They live in a place called Europe, a place that American "morality" crusaders conveniently ignore.
PS: Please let's not stoop to "But the ad exploits women." All ads exploit people--they feature men in dresses, suggest that a car is a "lifestyle purchase," and use product names like "Nutri-Pals" that feature "natural" ingredients like brown sugar. Klum has three kids, so let's hear it for topless mothers.
No Sex, Please, We're Liberal Bloggers
While in Chicago last month, I spent some fascinating time at the Kos Convention. There were 1500 people there working for progressive political change, most of them bloggers. I did an author hour, was interviewed for the virtual world Second Life, and went to a few sessions.
Almost every progressive cause was represented: organized labor, farm reform, immigration, internet access for the poor, universal healthcare. Dozens of political figures attended, and Hillary, Barack, and the other aspiring Democratic presidential candidates held a spirited debate.
The sessions had titles like "Countering corruption in Congress," "Workers and the global supply chain," and "What to do about the Religious Right." There were lots of opportunities for bloggers to network and learn how to expand their influence.
The convention offered everything except sex.
No, I don't mean what people did privately after hours (insert your preferred joke here about computer geeks, sexual frustration, and online personas).
I mean there was nothing about contraception, sex education, the unfairness (and complete failure) of sex offender registries, or mandatory internet filtering in public venues.
Nothing about any part of America's War on Sex (yes, of course I offered).
Worse still, there was absolutely nothing about the theft of our rights to "indecent" entertainment; to private, consensual sexual "perversion;" and to accurate information in government-funded websites and programs.
Everyone talked about how the government lied to get us into a destructive war 10,000 miles away. No one talked about how the government lies to keep us in a destructive war against a gigantic, demonic, phantom army of alleged sexual predators, porn addicts, and swingers.
Aside from the assumption that people shouldn't be persecuted for loving someone of the same gender, no one talked about sexual justice as a justice issue, or sexual rights as human rights.
People still don't connect the dots. In fact, many liberals, progressives, and feminists insist that porn, swinging, and "too much" sexuality are bad for everyone. Especially, of course, for the children.
Oh, my progressive brothers and sisters. Please, please notice America's War on Sex. Please notice how the government is criminalizing our imagination, destroying our right to read and see what we want, changing the rules of our courtrooms.
If the subject of these massive legislative changes wasn't sexuality, of course you'd notice. Well, you'll eventually get the chance-because now that the government has created these changes to deal with the public health menace of sexuality, it will use these expanded powers in other ways.
As with all incremental seizure of power and erosion of our rights, people will wonder how it happened.
Why aren't progressives talking about how the government's war on sex is destroying our non-sexual rights as well?
The Blog Continues!
You can get much more Sexual Intelligence! Just go to my blog, at www.SexualIntelligence.wordpress.com. Three times each week (OK, sometimes only twice a week--this is a tough schedule!) you can read something about sexuality, culture, media and politics. Not the usual stuff you get with all the other culture or political blogs. Promise. Let me know how you like it.