Sex


carLike many teenage boys, I squandered too much of my youth wondering why girls did not find me as attractive as I would have liked. It seemed odd at the time, but is understandable now. I was a bit odd, and wore strange. Thankfully, I was not as strange as Elliot Rodger, and did not blame women for preferring other men. The lovelorn and resentful messages that he scattered across body-building and “pick-up artist” forums would have made him seem like a spoof of wannabe Casanovas had he not filmed a bizarre video titled “Retribution” and killed seven women in a drive-by shooting. His failure to attract a girlfriend was, he said, “cruel”, “unfair”, “a crime” and deserving of punishment.

This Californian student was the child of an assistant director of The Hunger Games, and lived an opulent lifestyle with expensive cars and invitations to premieres. His life, though, was isolated and intensely narcissistic. His Facebook page is crammed with selfies, few of which inspired responses. He posted long videos to YouTube, in which he lamented the “hell” that his life had become. In a manifesto, which starts like Adrian Mole and becomes more like Mein Kampf, he tells of soaking couples with coffee and juice after they inspired his envy.

The constant theme is his outraged mystification at his failure to appeal to girls. That bitter, melodramatic narcissism might be off-putting never seems to have occurred to the man.

I commented on Twitter that he exemplified the evils of self-pity, but the estimable religious commentator Elizabeth Stoker noted that this could be seen as the self-pity of evil. Debate the meaning of this term all you want, but people who love inflicting pain are often united by the belief that they have been oppressed through no fault of their own. Think of genocidaires like the bad Austrian artist, for whom anything that was not the fault of the Jews was the fault of Slavs or homosexuals; gangsters like Pablo Escobar and Toto Riina, who could slay dozens in bombs yet gripe the moment that police caught them; murderers like Eric Harris, who, far from being the rebel that some would have liked him to be, signed off his manifesto with a note of hatred for those who had “[left him] out of so many fun things”. So inflated is their opinion of their own entitlement that any failure for their ambitions to be met is an outrage deserving of any form of revenge.

“Pick-up artists” will receive a lot of criticism in the coming days – of, doubtless, varying degrees of justice. Posters on the forums that Rodgers griped on treated him with short shrift but my limited exposure to their outlets suggests that a lot of men find them congenial places to wallow in bitter gloom over their failure to convince ungrateful harlots of their worth. What drives this? Fredrik deBoer blames “traditional masculinity”, or, at least, modern efforts to re-enact it. Well, for me, traditional manhood was expressed through caring for one’s family and being a decent part of one’s neighbourhood. Building one’s self-image around one’s ability to carve as many notches in one’s bedpost as is possible has nothing to do with this. Sexual solipsism is a cold, unpleasant thing.

Update: After publishing this post I remembered the theory that one of the most significant factors behind spree killings may be coverage of the murderers. It is extremely plausible. Such killers are often desperate for infamy and giving them attention might inspire others. Few people read this blog and none of them, I think, are potential gunmen, so I do not think it is irresponsible to keep this post. It is sad, though, to see Rodger’s mug plastered across the news, and to think that it might be stoking the flames within another disturbed mind.

ThickeTwo men whose names you may be unfamiliar with are Victor Svyatski and Terry Richardson, but they shoulder blame for two of the more obnoxious and yet inescapable phenomena of recent times. Svyatski was exposed as the founder of the campaign group FEMEN, while Richardson directed the infamous video for Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball and has since orchestrated her first naked photoshoot. These men are officers behind the front-lines of the fight to extend social permissiveness.

What interests me, though, is that in character they are by no means the stuff of progressive ideals. Svyatski worked behind the scenes of the activist group: hand-picking the prettiest girls to earn the movement front pages. For all of the feminist values the group lays claim to, he thought his comrades were “weak”; screamed at them and called them “bitches”. He admitted, somewhat coyly, that he may have founded the group, at least in part, “to get girls”. Richardson, meanwhile, is a sleazebag of vast proportions – Andy Warhol with a sex drive – and obsessed with photographing naked women, often as they suck their thumbs or lick lollipops to give his work an eerie Lolitaesque air. He has faced repeated accusations of manipulating young women into undressing, and even into fondling his oft-photographed phallus.

There was a poignant footnote to Robin Thicke’s notorious Blurred Lines video. Its female director had had romantic ambitions for this masturbation fantasy: imagining it as a scene in which “the girls…overpower the men”. When confronted with a quote in which the man himself held forth on “what a pleasure it is to degrade a woman”, she said, with a note of horror, “maybe he wasn’t thinking when he said that”. Cultural permissiveness might have been associated with ideals of creativity and empowerment but amid its smug and mindless popular apogee it is serving as a playground for a more familiar assortment of perverts and bullies. Larry Flynt and Al Goldstein must  be proud.

Thicke“Slut-shaming” is an unfashionable pursuit. It is, I have discovered, the practice of mocking and degrading women for behaving in a sexual manner. It would seem unfair to inflict such treatment on the unfortunate Miley Cyrus as she is a 20-year-old woman who has grown up in the public eye and might be as mentally stable as a war veteran living next to a fireworks factory. Instead, then, I will slut-shame her partner in the infamous MTV Awards performance: Robin Thicke.

Robin Thicke is a 36-year-old man; a married man, with a 3-year-old son. Regardless, he sees fit to compose, record and release songs like “Give It 2 U”, which contains the following lyrics…

I got this for yah,
A little Thicke for yah
A big kiss for yah,
I got a hit for yah
Big dick for yah,
Let me give it to yah

I am, it must be admitted, not part of the demographic that is being appealed to but, still, this has the wit and charm of a drunken pervert breathing cigarettes and charred hamburger into a woman’s face in one of the more disreputable clubs of Soho. Add in the pointless illiteracy of the title and the crazed tunelessness of the music and you have a cocktail to revolt the hardest of stomachs.

In “Blurred Lines”, Mr Thicke created what has been described as the song of the summer. It features a rapper named T.I. offering these thoughts to a prospective lover…

I had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So hit me up when you passing through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two

The song of the summer, then, featured a man informing a woman that he is not merely well-endowed but so formidably proportioned that he will cause her physical harm. Add in the video, in which Thicke, T.I. and the ubiquitous Pharrell Williams leer at three naked women, and a tune full of annoying shrieks, burbles and beeps and you want to lock these men in a soundproofed studio, occasionally pushing bread beneath its door in an act of undeserved humanitarianism.

It is customary in pieces such as this for their author to insist that he or she is no prude. I will respect this tradition and offer credentials: I have wallowed in low culture to an unhealthy degree, from cage fighting to B movies to French literature. This, indeed, helps one to observe how incredibly sordid mainstream culture has become: awash not merely in sexual behaviour but sexual behaviour that strips human partnerships of romance, caution, mystery and sensuousness in its proud philistinism, its brutish carnality and its tiresome delight in trangressing boundaries that have not been respected in decades. It is a warm bath of salacious idiocy into which the next generation has been thrust and held.

How is that for shaming?

Half the Daily Mail’s website is devoted to lamenting the degradation of our culture. The other half is devoted to softcore pornography. That is not, I fear, a great exaggeration. It’s almost comical how blatant their filth-purveying is. Yesterday, for example, they printed photos of a woman’s naked breasts and bottom, both of which were being fondled by a half-naked man. Why? Well, the bloke is on X-Factor. Hey, kids! You know you fear your parents catching you with nudie pics? Just engineer a tenuous means of presenting them as news and you’ll be fine!

What is creepier is their practice of sexualising barely pubescent teenagers. Tabloid Watch writes of a leering report – replete, of course, with photographs – on the “womanly curves” of a 14-year-old girl. “Flesh was on show,” it panted, as she wore a costume that “scooped to just above her derriere”. The report was edited but due to the outrage of readers and not professional ethics. As I’ve written, they have previously featured a 15-year-old in “mean-looking bondage heels”, who, they wrote, stared into the camera “lavisciously” before “slip[ping] into a pair of leather hot pants”. On a different occasion they reported on a girl who had modelled in a bikini at the age of twelve and inspired “a deluge of twisted emails from ‘strange men’”. They preceded to print the photos. It is clear that the editors have an amoral desire to appeal to any demographic they can reach. This apparently includes the dirty raincoat brigade.

Another socially conservative publication is the Daily Express. Their owner, Richard Desmond, likes to pose as an upright sort of gentleman. When the Irish Daily Star published photos of Kate Middleton topless he threatened to withdraw his financial support from it. Desmond is, however, also the owner of the Star, which is crammed with upskirt photographs and nipple slips. Infamously, his Northern & Shell company is also the parent to Red Hot TV and Television X. This week, the latter is broadcasting Fetishly Insane, Filthy Favourites and Fantasies of Rubber.

I think of this because I’ve been reading Alan White’s “open letter to Melanie Phillips”. He notes her observation that the U.K. “accepts — even expects — that the very young will be sexually active” and points out that she omits an important fact.

You fail to mention a relatively modern institution which appears to have done its utmost to promote the prematurely-sexualised culture which you describe. It is the website of the newspaper for which you write.

Even the most incisive of journalists rarely bite the hand that feeds them. Thus, conservative writers who work for these papers avoid reference to their sordid output and associations; preferring to rail against the bogeyman of liberalism.

Well, criticising liberals, on this and other issues, can be richly justified. It must be observed, however, that those responsible for many cases of moral and aesthetic corruption are not “liberals” or, indeed, people of any ideological inclination but “greedy, amoral bastards”. To fail to acknowledge this is not merely to undermine one’s own integrity but to render one’s oppositional efforts futile. I’m not going to lump myself in with staunch conservatives but on some issues we are of the same mind: the sexualisation of extraordinary portions of society, including children, is unpleasant and destructive. It annoys rather than amuses me that they are so hamstrung on the issue. How effective are moralists going to be if they are under the control of a bunch of pornographers? It’s like Greenpeace accepting donations from Shell. Or Neighbourhood Watch accepting it from Cosa Nostra.

The BBC reports

Erotic romance novel Fifty Shades of Grey, by previously unknown British author EL James, has topped the New York Times best-seller list.

We learn that…

The book started life as a “fan fiction” story posted online about lovers Edward and Bella – the lead characters in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight books…

James shifted the details, though: Edward, now Christian, is no longer a vampire but a fan of sado-masochism. (This is not much of a change; it’s just less allegorical.) Here’s the novel’s priceless blurb…

When literature student Anastasia Steele is drafted to interview the successful young entrepreneur Christian Grey for her campus magazine, she finds him attractive, enigmatic and intimidating.

Has anybody met an Anastasia outside of romance novels? (Or Russia.) I think I’ve heard of one and she was aleading Tory activist”.

Convinced their meeting went badly, she tries to put Grey out of her mind – until he happens to turn up at the out-of-town hardware store where she works part-time.

It’s the details that elevate this above the offerings of Mills & Boon. What’s the significance of “part-time”? Why did I have to know that? (And why, if she can only have part-time employment, did she take work in such an impractical location?)

For all the trappings of success – his multinational businesses, his vast wealth, his loving adoptive family – Grey is man tormented by demons and consumed by the need to control.

I do like the idea that it’s counterintuitive for an owner of multinationals to be a control freak. Are they generally known for their docility?

There are quotes as well…

He’s naked except for those soft ripped jeans, top button casually undone.

Me, I prefer to have my jeans formally undone. Painstakingly undone.

“You’re a sadist?”
“I’m a Dominant.” His eyes are a scorching gray, intense.

I’ve never seen a “scorching” grey. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that it exists. Scorching red, yes. Scorching orange. Scorching yellow. But I’ve never shielded my eyes from the dazzling sight of a rock. Or an elephant.

I’m being an arsehole, of course. Ms James’ book was never meant to rival Rushdie. It might be printed onto fibers but it’s not and, if she’s honest, was never meant to be literature. Its ancestors are the novels of Judith Krantz – who offered the baffling descriptions of lips, breasts and “hot sticky organs” that Clive James had such memorable fun with. Their success reveals a female appetite for porn that was barely disguised among reactions to the more demure Twilight. But while they’re wish fulfillment in the carnal sense they’re also wish fulfillment in the emotional sense.

These Edwards and Christians are precisely engineered to be the ideal boyfriends; flawed, yes, but only to indulge the characters’ and readers’ urge to, as James puts it, “bring [them] into the light”. This is clear from their reviewers’ breathless responses to the characters not as creations of the author but as fantasies. (One even addresses her review to “Mr Grey”.) Even the critics aren’t turned off by literary contrivances or tedious prose but by the insufficiently appealing male at its heart – some feel Christian’s “dominance is too much for [them] to handle”; others moan that he’s “not enough to get [their] blood pumping”. This fusion of sexual and emotional fantasies is, I think, almost exclusive to women. Men lust after the ideal bedmate but they’ll rarely fantasise or, at least, admit to fantasising about the perfect wife or girlfriend. As pornography became e’er more ubiquitous people asked whether guys and gals raised on such far out stuff would find sex underwhelming. As Edwards, Jacobs and Christians loom in the imaginations of millions of women, you’ve got to wonder if the patchily passionate unions of the real world are going to become a little uninspiring for them. There aren’t enough enigmatic young entrepreneurs for everybody, after all. Without or without scorching grey eyes.

Peter Hitchens writes

As the age of sexual consent is 16, what are state employees doing fitting contraceptive implants in 13-year-old girls? Aren’t they colluding in a criminal act?

What child, equipped with this rather revolting chemical lump or dose, would not grasp that she was expected by the authorities to act accordingly?

This grim procedure has, apparently, been taking place in several schools in Hampshire. Officials have defended it as a means of halting the rise in teenage pregnancies; and, if they’re to be believed, the rate has fallen. But, erm – aren’t they missing something here? Sure, it’s important that we minimise pregnancies to girls who aren’t equipped to deal with them. Yet the reason that we have a legal age for sexual activities is not so kids don’t breed, it’s so they don’t have sex per se  – because they’re not equipped to deal with that. If providing these implants gives the kids, and their friends, and whoever hears about it the idea that sex is, like, no biggie and if some of them go on to bugger up their minds and lives it’s hardly relevant if they postpone their child-bearing for a few years.

An eerie thing about government in Britain is how we’ll get fashionably relevant statistics, alongside the belief that once they’re high or low the world will be a better place. Well, that’s sometimes true, but statistics can be like appearances: bloody liars. They’re more or less meaningful and more or less relevant, and, indeed, there are some meaningful, relevant things you can’t reduce to stats. Let’s be human; not economists.

There are some, I guess, who’d laugh at people who spit tea at the idea of 13-year-olds being given contraceptives. I’ve seen it proposed, at other times, that such folk just can’t deal with the idea that young ‘uns have burgeoning sexualities. Well, yeah, they do – anyone who’s lived through puberty must be aware of that. But, frankly, that’s a good reason to discourage sex while young – because they’re bloody complicated and they should have time to make sense of them.

I’ve posted before on the phenomenon of “sex selective” birth control. Nicholas Eberstatd has an essay in The New Atlantis that provides a bleak view of its scale and likely future…

The practice has become so ruthlessly routine in many contemporary societies that it has impacted their very population structures, warping the balance between male and female births and consequently skewing the sex ratios for the rising generation toward a biologically unnatural excess of males. This still-growing international predilection for sex-selective abortion is by now evident in the demographic contours of dozens of countries around the globe — and it is sufficiently severe that it has come to alter the overall sex ratio at birth of the entire planet, resulting in millions upon millions of new “missing baby girls” each year.

The social implications of this are disturbing. There are, for example, lots of people who’ve been inspired to affirm the value of women – to affirm value of women as commodities, that is. Many poor girls are forced into arranged marriages or prostitution. It’s hardly surprising. After all, if there are millions of people who think women aren’t worth bearing there’s likely to be millions more who don’t they’re worth much once they’re alive. Meanwhile, there are millions of blokes who are beginning to find it more difficult to locate partners, and they could get a bit frustrated if it carries on.

Eberstatd doesn’t think the crisis will be solved by policy. The phenomenon is pronounced in countries with both harsh and liberal stances on reproductive freedom, and attempts by the state to curb such practices have failed. He mentions, however, that there’s an exception to the trend – that one country has stabilised its birth ratios. That country, he writes, is South Korea. He proposes that…

South Korea’s SRB reversal was influenced less by government policy than by civil society: more specifically, by the spontaneous and largely uncoordinated congealing of a mass movement for honoring, protecting, and prizing daughters. In effect, this movement — drawing largely but by no means exclusively on the faith-based community — sparked a national conversation of conscience about the practice of female feticide. This conversation was instrumental in stigmatizing the practice, not altogether unlike the way in which nationwide conversations of conscience helped to stigmatize international slave-trading in other countries in earlier times. The best hope today in the global war against baby girls may be to carry this conversation of conscience to other lands.

A “nationwide conversation of conscience”? I hear you. It sounds nauseating. I mean, sometimes it’s hard to say “thank you” to whoever’s working behind a checkout, let alone start nattering with the entire population. And, yet, sometimes things that make us queasy have to be endured for the greater good. (Dental flossing, for example.) If there’s any truth to Eberstatd’s claim it’s actually quite inspiring. The abolition of slavery – though, yes, a question that demanded a greater shift in attitudes – followed decades of debate. What with the grave problems facing our society – the need to reduce our energy consumption, say – such conversations are, in lieu of dangerous authoritarianism, a necessity. And, of course, they can’t just take place on Guardian comment pages.

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