Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Sex, Drugs, & Rock 'N' Roll & The Current Cultural Compass
Everyone has their moments. There are times when I relish in the sexuality of music, and other times when I can't run away from it fast enough. I'm as compelled as I am repulsed, but not usually in the same moment. :) Generally speaking, I don't typically get sexual charged by things that repulse me. Rather, I get hot & bothered over charismatic, confident, intelligent people who are comfortable with their own bodies & thus, have a significant physical presence & know how to express themselves. :) Sometimes I like a little danger, but it's not necessarily the thrill of the forbidden that gets me going. That is something I got over quickly. After all, I'm not a teenager anymore. ;)
As an adult, I don't typically flinch from the explicitness of a lot of music out there. There's a wide range of sexual expression in music, & it takes a lot to disgust me. I'm not a prude, nor am I some sex-crazed being. It just doesn't phase me. I'm an adult. I've accepted these expressions as part of life. They are as old as humanity itself.
It probably goes without saying that I'm against censorship of these expressions as well. If adults want to choose certain paths, paths that don't cause serious bodily harm to others, then I've got no problem with it. It's their business.
We're at an interesting juncture in our cultural history. As most people already know, societies go through periods of freedom & repression. The pendulum swings one way & then it swings the other, usually in keeping with corresponding political shifts (from liberal to conservative political trends & back again). If you want to gauge where we are as a society at any given moment -- as a litmus test of societal mores concerning sexual conduct & the our perceptions of where the outer edges of where 'acceptable' sexuality lies -- just take a snapshot of our culture's depictions of eroticism & sexuality at any given moment. That will tell a detailed story right there. It's not just the political arguments & fights to steer the society one way or the other or what's shown (or not shown!) or being talked about in various spheres - i.e., online, in film, or on TV, but there's also a nonverbal expression of it -- through art, music, dance, & other expressions -- which often expresses individuals' true feelings on the matter, no matter what they might publicly insist to others. Those gestures are often just lip-service gestures constructed for appeasement, self-protection, or for show. The real zeitgeist & the true core of many of our feelings about sexuality often lie in the hidden realms of the mind, which often can't help but come out as musical expressions. :)
I think we are at a crossroads which could go either way. In America, the religious right is up to its usual antics, trying to repress and mold others into their tiny little boxes. We can't be what others want us to be. It's not natural, nor is it right to expect that of others. Don't they know that by now? Control, control, control. They control others because they obviously can't control their own desires. Congressmen coping a feel in the men's bathroom ring a bell, anyone? A sh*tload of Republicans in office have turned out to be secretly gay. And this revelation wouldn't be such a big deal to most people (with the exception of a good number of their more uptight constituents), except for the fact that their existence is an utter sham & a lie, & also, most of them already have spouses of the opposite sex. ;) And then some have twisted their suppressed desires into a penchant for little boys or girls, and all because they couldn't channel their sexuality through regular channels. Just get over repressing yourself, and then you won't be repressing others or get carted away for pedophilia or some other perverse act. Sheesh.
They always seem to be on the wrong side of social progress. First, it was the slavery issue, then women's rights, and then African-American civil rights. And this time, it's the last frontier: Gay rights. As a society, we are doing a hell of a lot of headbanging in that department. And I'm not talking about rockin' out to heavy metal music. ;) Even though the majority of the population, particularly amongst the younger population, have an accepting attitude towards gays & many are certainly ready for gay rights to become a political reality, American politicians still haven't been able to pass very many laws to this effect (health coverage for gay partners, etc.). They are still doing the same old stupid things that haven't worked in the past, and this is certainly not limited to gay rights. ;) They are deadlocked on a lot of issues pertaining to sexual freedoms in general, and hopefully that'll change soon, but until the society's attitudes towards sexuality moves a little bit more to left, as it keeps doing on various different social issues, there are going to be some fierce battles still up ahead. It's about time for the Republicans to unplug the butt plug from their collective assholes for chrissakes. ;)
Thankfully, there has been some progress with the repeal of that stupid-ass "don't ask, don't tell" policy that the military's had in place for years. Of course, the other side's fighting to repeal the new policy, but I sincerely believe those Prop 8'ers and the rest of those backward-ass folks are ultimately going to be disappointed in the end. Change will come, whether we have to bring the rest of them kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
As a society, Americans are so behind the rest of the world that way, with maybe a few exceptions -- i.e., the Middle East, for one. Europe is light years ahead of us on that front. If you consider the various civil rights fights for emancipation that've cycled through our history, Europe has taken the lead on almost every single one. Now, to be fair, their history is certainly much older & further along, and perhaps in some ways, they have benefited from that knowledge in ways that American society has yet to learn. Also, generally speaking, they are a far more secular society, with the possible exception of the Muslim populations there.
Of course, the massive & relatively recent influx of Muslim immigrants into Europe has been a source of friction, & it'll be interesting to see how that gets resolved. Hopefully, without violence, although if the current situation is any indication, I'm not betting on it. Part of the issue is that these immigrants haven't done much to assimilate into the existing culture or even to actively participate in society at large. Also, a lot of them send money back home & so it's not being pumped back into the native economy. As a result of this, there's been a lot of resentment on the European side, particularly from conservatives.
Then, there's the attitudes of the incoming populations themselves to consider as well: It's not just that many of them unbending in their ways in terms of their own lifestyle, attitudes, & daily practices. They have also extended their ridigity to the way they look at their host countries. Many of them judge the existing societal structures at large by their own standards, & in many cases, have even tried to make it bend to their values, instead of the other way around or better yet, just leaving others be. And by others, I mean primarily the people who do not share their values. The way I see it, Muslims can't expect the rest of European society to conform to their ways, since a lot of them are transplants living in an existing societal structure. As the expression goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." I know they are who they are, & that the majority of them don't want to change that, but if you're the newbies, you have to learn to be a bit more accepting of the larger society into which you just entered & also of any noticeable differences in lifestyle between your habits & those of the established, already-existing culture in that country. If I lived in a Muslim country, I wouldn't expect them to bend their culture to my whim either. Sure, as a Muslim living in Europe, you might not choose to party in your neighborhood's Bavarian beer halls (i.e., in Germany), and that's certainly your prerogative as drinking isn't an activity sanctioned by your religion, but those establishments were there first, not you. Also, a lot of those areas with beer halls weren't originally residential to start with anyhow. They were business districts, but due to overcrowding from incoming external populations, they've more recently had to accommodate residents. Don't like living next to a beer hall? Then move to another side of town, to a place where you won't be bothered by that sort of thing, or to a completely different town altogether. Simple as that.
This kind of inflexibility needs to be contained & confined to their own spheres of existence. Likewise, those inflexible persons foisting their ways upon others seriously need a reality check.
The same goes for museum exhibits. I'm thinking of one London exhibit in particular, where Muslims protested the sexual nature of one exhibit. Um, really?! How about just choosing not to go to the exhibit?! Don't push your prudish, narrow morality on others! As new residents, it's a bit unrealistic for them to expect London to suddenly change its nature to accommodate theirs. European society has been living this way for a very long time. This kind of stuff just makes me want to scream. Also, people who choose to go to the exhibit are adults, not children, so "quit yer whinin'." In response to public outcry from Muslims, the museum yanked their exhibit. This was shocking to me, because London is one of the most sophisticated, cosmopolitan cities I know. They are typically urbane & nonchalant when it comes to this sort of thing, especially amongst the artistic & educated crowds there. Not to mention, when it comes to the artists themselves, those Brits really have a pair on them. :) (Of course, I applaud this, thoroughly.) Most times, museum events of this nature barely register on this city's Richter scale of societal significance. Why they would choose to cowtow (!) to public pressure exhibited by a single social/religious group is extremely baffling to me. What the eff is going on here?! Are they that afraid of the consequences? And if so, why? Muslims are certainly not in the majority there. This is definitely a step backward (for social evolution, freedom of speech, & sexual freedom in general.) Even though the English can be of two minds when it comes to sex, just like Americans, the museum's reaction just doesn't seem fitting somehow. Have some freakin' guts & stick to your principles! Modern art is supposed to push boundaries, and not just sexual ones either. It's there to make people think, to feel, and reimagine ourselves in progressive ways, not retrograde ones from a dying world. Let's let the old relics of a bygone era describe art from previous generations, and not the mindsets of our current culture. ;) The past is the past; we are moving forward, and people need to accept that.
As for an explanation for reasons behind the acquiescence, that still remains to be seen. Sure, The Sun might post nude pics, but maybe the museum heads balked because somewhere within the British psyche there's still a lot of prudishness or feelings of shame & embarrassment within the culture itself?! Wonder when they'll get over that. It's something we Americans & Brits share in common. Oh, joy. ;) Time to let go of those puritanical ways. Or, maybe that's not it. Maybe it's just their infamous sense of reserve getting the best of them.
The above ordeals beg the question, "so, what's considered 'normal' sexual expression & what's not?!" Ask someone to define the borders of acceptable sexuality. It can't be done, because no one really knows where those boundary lines really are. People are still trying to figure that out to this day, and probably will be doing that until the end of time. But isn't the prerogative of the individual to decide that? OK, maybe the FCC has drawn some boundaries for the general public concerning exposure & consumption, and there are certain general views propagated by religious institutions and governmental law, but when it comes to private practices in the bedroom, who's to say where those lines are drawn? Certainly not the government. They have no business in any of our bedrooms. Again, as long as we're talking about consenting adults here, and no one's being hurt against their will, it's anything goes.
And as for other organizations who lobby to ban gay marriage, I don't know why some people feel the need to police other people's sexual practices. For chrissakes, the whole of society isn't going to crumble just because two gay people are getting married. I don't understand how that affects, or more accurately, threatens (!), heterosexual people. If someone wants to get married, whether gay or straight, then let them get married. Who are gay people harming by getting married?! The sanctity of marriage is a question for the individual, not for the government.
As for other people & their sexual hang-ups, I think it's high time that we just freakin' relax about other people's sexuality, and just worry about our own for a change. Instead of being motivated by fear, let's just chill out and not get so excited about controlling other people. How about if we think about our own desires and why we are attracting to certain people & behaviors. That would certainly be a study that would keep most of us preoccupied for a while. LOL.
If we just relax about our sexual desires, we will find freedom. In some ways, it doesn't matter whether we personally choose to disclose choices or our ideas of desire to the world or not. The ironic thing is one the mystery & the stigma is removed, the forbidden no longer holds any appeal. You release the tension, remove its power, and in some ways, the whole thing becomes non-erotic and unattractive as a potential proposition. ;) But it takes courage to push for that in the public sphere. Hopefully, tolerance will win out over the desire to control others & decide what's best for them.
You see this struggle being reflected in our music to some extent. And on TV. While videos have definitely gotten more & more sexually explicit, almost to the point of parody, that doesn't mean that the wider public has embraced all of these concepts; and by that, I don't necessarily mean that in the personal sense of their own practices but in the sense of general acceptance of these practices on a societal level. Of course, some of the concepts portrayed in music & in music videos aren't necessarily meant to be acted upon; some are strictly consigned to the realm of fantasy, but nonetheless, I think that each successive generation to come will build on the next until almost nothing is shocking anymore. ;) Sure, the practice of repression probably won't end anytime soon. It's still going on in the 21st century, no doubt, but the last few decades have done wonders in big and small ways to open up the frontiers, bit by bit. The limits of tolerance are ever-expanding, and music will continue to push and test the boundary lines, maybe until sexuality is no longer such a big deal. I really don't think we still need the "flashing lights" of it all. It's just a part of life. That's all.