mercredi, février 04, 2004

Indecency in America

I've been thinking a lot about Janet Jackson's breast.

I am shocked, outraged and scandalized at the sheer number of people in my country who are shocked, outraged and scandalized about seeing a woman's breast on national television. I agree, the piercing is a little scary, and I can't quite decide if it is a fake breast or not; being squished up by the costume as it is creates that telltale too perfect circular roundness at the top that usually is a silicone give away, but the real essence of the matter is this: in this country, breasts are indecent, lewd and harmful to our great nation's children.

What the hell is our problem? Are we really that prudish, that puritan, that revolted by the human form? What I really have a hard time understanding is just what people are so upset about. That their children saw a few seconds (didn't the cameras immediately cut away?) of tittie? That their children will be irreperably damaged by this sight? What does this say about our attitude towards the body, towards human sexuality? Not to mention breast feeding? So your baby who was breast fed is forever tainted by the sight of a breast a few years later? So a breast-feeding woman is being indecent? It is a scary commentary indeed, as violence on television rarely incites the same outrage on the part of the public. So much has been made of this "scandal" that sponsors of the event are threatening to sue (how very American) over possible harm to their image. A flashed breast is going to reflect badly on AOL? How about their shitty service and product - why don't they worry a little about that?

We really need to loosen up here, people, not make a mountain out of a molehill, if you'll pardon the image. It's already pretty freaking horrifying that some 30% of American women have never had an orgasm, not to mention the other myriad sexual dysfunctions that plague our withered little sexual lives. I'm not advocating a Catherine Millet style national mass orgy or a world where there are no taboos, but let's at least differentiate between what is a problem and what is not. A few seconds of exposed breast on national TV is not a problem. Being scandalized by it is.

Different cultural attitudes to the body are indeed fascinating. I have been highly amused at the pure sexuality of French ads for such things as toothpaste , and in awe of the pulsating flashy beauty of the myriad bodies on a beach in Rio (where a friend told me men are known to take you on a first date for a "teste de praia" to see how you look in a bathing suit - egads!!) But I am merely embarrassed and horrified at my country's reaction in this breast flashing incident. I can only imagine what the French would say if they heard about it.

A French friend of mine was once dating a particularly naive American girl who hadn't done much, read much, traveled much, (you get the idea) and when he was telling her about the house where he grew up back in France and how it had a pool, somehow the subject of topless sunbathing came up. My friend delighted in telling her that every woman in France bares her wares to world (ostensibly to avoid that ungodly tan line which would really make one look cheap in a strapless dress), and the poor girl seemed very shocked. "Yeah," my friend went on, smiling devilishly, "I grew up seeing my mom's breasts and all of her friends breasts all through my childhood and adolescence." She was horrified. My friend was highly amused.

A childhood friend of mine, who in adulthood has gone to great lengths to give off a Mother Earth au naturelle image, and was trying to rope another friend of mine into subscribing to her theory of a sex scandal, used a third friend to illustrate her point. When they were children, the girl had shown her how to masturbate. This proved her point of view that children who exhibit a curiosity about their bodies must have been victims of a sexual crime. Masturbation, natural exploration of the body and sexual awakening was seen as inherently indecent and wrong. When my friend recounted this to the girl in question, her reply was that if she was still in need of pointers, she was always available.

When I lived in Aix en Provence, I had a friend from Ouagadougou, who, while watching TV about two American women who had filed a sexual harrassment suit against someone or another - the details escape me - turned to me in earnest and absolute bewilderment and in his heavy African accent said,

"Dans mon pays, quand ti tiches le sein d'une femme, elle ti fait pas un prrrrocès?!"
("In my country, if you touch the breast of a woman, she does not take you to court?!!)

I'm not saying this is necessarily a good thing here, just pointing out that for him, the idea of taking legal action against someone for touching you was totally incomprehensible.

Just as incomprehensible it is to me that so many people have been so upset about Janet Jackson's breast. I really don't care what she does with it. I don't care if my children see it, or mine and all of my friends' sunburned and freckled ones. Okay, I don't have kids, but if I did, they'd see plenty of tits and ass. And I bet you they would be fine, productive, happy human human beings, who just might know when, and when not, to get their panties in a wad.

P.S. See this excellent editorial cartoon on the subject......

P.P.S. This is an article which is more like what I was trying to write (it didn't really turn out that way, though):

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