Friday, February 4, 2011

Balancing Passion

I've been thinking about sex since Monday.

I know. That's childish and lame. Sorry. Couldn't resist.

Now, let me state it properly: I have been thinking about sexuality since Monday.

To start this week, I wrote a piece called "Calling All Ladies and Gentlemen." The piece called for renewed attention to manners -- to what is appropriate, partially in reference to the media and its over-the-line depiction of sexuality. A reader, the very insightful and articulate "zmkc," mentioned something extremely important. The comment:
I am so badly brain-washed that, while instinctively I react as you do, I cannot quite bring myself to say that you are right. Or rather, I think you are right, but I fear an extreme reaction in the other direction, leading us back to an emotionally trussed-up world.
It really couldn't have been put better. The problem is, though, that, in my opinion, society is emotionally "trussed-up" even at the same time as it is behaviorally liberated. That is a scary combination.

There were several components to my article, but, for this, I will stick with the public profile of sexuality.

So, what I am asking for when I say that I want us to think more about appropriateness is that we simply give dignity to our passions, but not to deny their existence or to label them as intrinsically evil.

We should never pretend that we are not sexual creatures, but we should, perhaps, relearn subtlety as it applies to sexuality. No matter how we look at it, the rules of attraction say that there is, first, an initial attraction; then, a period of further evaluation and, finally, the moment of abandon -- or not, depending on the outcome of the evaluation. (That moment needs to be private and appropriate to the belief systems of the people in question, of course.) Maybe the privacy of sex is what makes it magical and what gives sexuality, itself, the dignity that it deserves as perhaps the most miraculous process of nature.

And everyone knows it's sexy to have secrets, anyway.

I would argue that increased control over public sexuality is not necessarily a sign of repression; I would also argue that ridiculous perspectives on what constitutes inappropriate public sexuality is a sign of repression -- a manifestation of zmkc's valid and reasonable fear of the possibility of a "trussed-up world."

Fig leaves over copies of Michelangelo's David would be an example of this, as would impractical Victorian standards of covering-up in our modern world. Fear that revealing the slightest amount of skin will inevitably lead to a street orgy is an insult to the strength of the human spirit; overt sexual behaviors and messages in public are an insult to its dignity.

Hm. There it is again: balance. I should have been a Shaolin monk.

I can't think of a better way to illustrate the effective and appropriate depiction of sexuality and human passion in art -- the balance to which I refer -- than with this scene from Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It is anything but prudish. In fact, I would argue it is one of the most sexually charged scenes ever filmed. Yet, its depiction of passion is so tasteful and appropriate, I wouldn't mind my kids watching it. Good art shows truth. The truth is: there is nothing wrong with passion, as long as we set boundaries and timetables. See what you think:

In short, I think that if you are shocked by this scene, you are denying the truth about human beings. On the flipside, if you don't think it is a little sexy, you may have been effectively desensitized by the offending media I object to in Monday's post..


  1. Very affective scene, that video. Never fails to move me.
    Two very good posts, Chris. zmkc's statement is typical of the conflicted point of view prevailing today about censorship. "Brain washed" is a misapplication of the phrase. I see it more as a bovine acceptance, a passive succumbing to the prevailing cultural trends.
    And I would need more definition of what a 'trussed-up world' would look like.
    Pornography, both hard core and soft, as it plays out today, is a recent development, only 40 years +/- old. That's 10% of the 400 years since the first settlement here.
    Many questions remain unasked.
    Are we better off for the loss of censorship?
    How has it changed our sexual mores in a positive way?
    Are there fewer rapes? Fewer cases of child molestation?
    Is there a difference between freedom and license?
    Is there a relationship between sexual freedom and the proliferation of drug use?
    What does it take to be happy? Or even to feel good?
    Is there a connection between sexuality and the physical violence shown in our entertainment?
    Thanks for letting me sound off.

  2. Lincoln -- An excellent list of questions and, again, thanks to you, a good list of source material for future posts. I'm always wary of the conflict between -- historically speaking --the apparent rates of various harmful activities and and increased keeping of academic and clinical records. I suppose it would be very hard to say if they are fewer rapes, molestations, etc, inthe past . . . Is there more of this now than in, say, Ancient Rome of Egypt? Still, it cannot be healthy for kids to gfow up bombarded by sexual images. As a kids (and I was born in '68) I used to see girls as something mysterious and even magical. It is a shame, but the teenagers I teach don't seem to feel even close to that way.

    Always a pleasure to hear from you, Lincoln.

  3. I'm actually a little sad reading this post, because that video really had no affect on me.

    I've let your post sink in and digest for a bit, and the only thing I can think of, is this is probably why relationships have flat-lined so much, at least in the younger crowd. Sure, there will always be troubled relationships, but a lot of times relationships aren't attempted, things immediately skip? (not sure what the right word is), to sex in one form or another. Remember your first kiss with the girl, or guy, you really felt something toward? Remember how it felt a little strange, but in someways it was something magical at the same time?
    Now some say we are sexually liberated, as you mentioned in your post, but to me, it seems we use blatant sex as a shield rather than an intimate act. If we strip sex of its intimacy, we can have our cake and eat it too. We can indulge our urges, and escape the emotions of it all. I don't know why we fear emotions anymore but we seem to. The one night stand has replaced the first kiss in today's society, and it's time for the first kiss, or hell, even holding hands, to replace the one night stand.


    p.s. This post has helped me figure something out in my own life, though its not exactly connected to your main thought in the article. Unless your a member of the monist school of philosophic thought in which everything is all connected...

  4. Too much, too soon, Papi. You're dead-on. I wouldn't feel sad about not being affected by the video. In a way, maybe my conclusion was not fair -- maybe passion can be depicted in such a way that is doesn't affect he audience in a illicit way -- maybe that is the real line between real art and pornography.

  5. I found that video to be overflowing with sexual tension. The clear discomfort that Mary and George feel being so close to one another, him smelling her hair, them gradually moving closer together, his clear frustration, her heartbreak, and them finally giving in to the tension in an embrace, all done in a completely "decent" manner. That level of intimacy is so rarely shown in the media anymore. There is so much overt sexuality that the art of seduction, in its truest sense, is a dying art. The anticipation is just as important as succumbing, yet our society is all about instant gratification. It's so much easier to fulfill physical needs than to actually feel intense emotions. I often wonder, are we not just desensitizing people to overt sexuality, but also creating a generation incapable of dealing with complex emotions? I think both have happened and it's so sad.

  6. Larissa -- perfectly stated. I do feel sad for the youngins sometimes . . .

  7. I've wanted to respond to this since I first read it yesterday, but I had a problem - I have no idea exactly how I feel about it. Part of me, a big part of me, can't help but argue that we should not deny or even diminish the current developing trend toward sexual freedom; however, another part of me must argue that we, as a society, need to demarcate the line marking, "Too far."

    Passion is as passion begets, and the young'uns, among which it's fair to count myself, will still feel passion and tension, but manifested differently. Passion as felt is a product of passion as presented; in today's culture, subtle sexual tension is discounted - by the cultural reduction of double meaning; the lessening power of long-term flirting; the overpresentation and representation in the media of quick sex, hooking up in the bathrooms; the quick-fix culture in which we live (instant downloads, ease of porn-access, erc.); and I'm sure there are dozens of other examples which I'm not considering right now. But all these things, which I judge as negatives, will not change that young people still feel passion - it'll just have to be attained differently, more bluntly, with reduced subtlety.

    At the same time, I think we live in an increasingly tactile society, and perhaps young'uns are less affected by bridled sexual tension presented visually, in a movie, than they are by bridled sexual tension presented physically or immediately. Why would unresolved sexual tension provide as much feedback for individuals who have been highly exposed to - for lack of a better word - 'stimulation', through either teen-directed movies and pornography? That's probably part of the problem with youths and the expression and perception of desire.

    As far the notion that we as a culture are emotionally "trussed-up" like pigs for the fire, I'm not entirely certain that's true. Young'uns today are encouraged to express their emotions far more than in past generations, through various public media - facebook, blogs, myspace, and all those other social sites. Which leads to another part of what you said - "it's sexy to have secrets" - this is something the developing generation is completely missing. We/they don't have secrets anymore; everything is aired, regardless of the outcome. I think we're not trussed up enough emotionally.

    Nor am I certain that we, as a culture, are "behaviorally liberated." We are MORE behaviorally liberated than past generations, in that certain behaviors that were once very taboo have become more acceptable, particularly regarding the bedroom; however, I'm willing to bet that a higher percentage of Americans refuse to experience many physical pleasures because they are behaviorally trussed-up. You live on the East Coast in an area where a greater percentage of people are "liberated", certainly, but America is defined (quite fairly) by a large portion of the Western world as being judgmental and inhibited in behavioral practices.

    I have to conclude that you are correct in the end. Balance is the key, and perhaps the key to everything. I've come to this belief personally through nights of writing, of sitting at my desk and thinking, days spent teaching and hours spent watching people. Without balance, everything tips precariously. The current generation is standing at the edge of a cracking cliff, and if the next generation stands on their shoulders, that cliff will collapse.

  8. Also, check out this webcomic for a curious and interesting expression of the developing generation's ease with which it expresses physical activity (and what may happen down the road).

  9. "But all these things, which I judge as negatives, will not change that young people still feel passion - it'll just have to be attained differently, more bluntly, with reduced subtlety."

    A good sentence, Anonymous. Truth is, young people feel passion more strongly than anyone, which is why a shift back toward subtlety might give them a chance to figure things out before proceeding . . . EXCELLENT points here. Thanks.

    By the way -- in the future, could I ask you to sign your posts -- just type a name in the post even if it isn't your real name so I can distinguish your anonymous posts from others.

  10. I'll sign "Matt" in the future. Keep on writing.

  11. As someone who couldn't resist the heading 'Hot and Filthy' last week, I would never criticise you for that opening line (and many thanks for your very generous comment).

  12. Birds of a feather, zmkc . . . birds of a feather. Haha. You're welcome.

    Thanks, Matt.