How did we lose the simple fact? 2015
[A post I put up on Medium archived here in October 2015]
I consider myself lucky to have been born when I was, in 1965, and thus to have experienced the 1970s and early 1980s at the age I did.
It was different than it is now. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately; thinking that it changed and wondering why.
Oddly, what drew my attention to it this week was a video of some elephants. In it a baby elephant is climbing up some steps with that charmingly awkward way of toddlers of other mammal species. At one point the baby turns and heads away and I noticed that its penis happened to be hanging down out of its sheath — and I was suddenly surprised that the video had been posted online by the African vacation lodge where it had been shot. Then I immediately wondered at my reaction. It’s just an elephant. It’s just a penis. It’s not erect; there’s nothing inherently sexual going on; it’s just a naked body. And no surprise about that nudity. This isn’t Babar after all.
But that’s what draws my attention to the difference between my pre-and post-college years.
The attitude toward nakedness changed in America.
Even where it had been separated in the decades before the mid-1980s, nudity and sexuality then seem to have slammed back together into one inseparable lump.
To some degree that lump has long been a well-known American attitude. It’s best exemplified by the wonderful Marlene Dietrich quote (from 1962, I think):
“Sex: In America an obsession.
In other parts of the world a fact.”
For a lot of the country that attitude never changed, but in the world where I grew up, among a certain liberal, educated, inquisitive, adaptive, open kind of people — enough of whom could be found in the greater San Francisco Bay Area to make it if not the dominant culture then a strong contender for it — it did change in the middle of the twentieth century.
I grew up not finding nudity abnormal or shame-inducing. There were naked people around, adults and children, and nudity distinctly did not automatically imply sexuality. Sure, sexuality almost always involves nudity, and I was taught about sex through books like Where Did I Come From? but sex was different from ordinary, everyday being naked.
The later change in my attitude toward nudity happened so gradually to me that I don’t know when it sunk in. Sometime between that ease of my youth with being nude and this century I became the kind of person who is wary of being seen naked by other people. It was after college, definitely, because I remember going to the Kiva Retreat House and laughing over the funny social conundrum of our group running into our regular pizza delivery guy. That encounter was odd for the first few minutes but we quickly recovered in conversation in the big hot tub.
I don’t have social experiences like that anymore. I’m not socially nude anymore. But I’m also rarely nude around anyone who isn’t the person I sleep with. Even sharing a hotel room with my mother this summer involved a little silent negotiating of comfort levels to regain some of that childhood unconscious ease with changing clothes together. It’s not just a change in me. I constantly run up against social cues against nudity, or equating nudity with sexuality. America got prudish. Why?
Partly perhaps the general conservatism of the 1980s. Cue images of Nancy Reagan in her high collars and Tipper Gore in her PMRC days trying to protect America from ‘Darling Nikki’. But if it was only a normal social pendulum swing, why hasn’t it swung back?
The Clinton presidency blew the doors off pretending people don’t get creatively sexual in private and it was influential, along with the growth of information online, in helping create acceptance or at least awareness of an enormous variety of sexual expression. But with all that, though we’ve got the titillation and naughtiness, we haven’t got the same kind of normalcy of non-sexual nakedness that was part of the 1970s.
Why are Americans once again so ill at ease with their own naked selves?
What happened to that accepting mood of the late 1970s? Even men’s fashion has not regained the acceptance of wildly diverse options they had then. Acceptable manliness is still constrained, not as tightly as it was in the late 1980s and the 1990s, but far from the blossoming range of expression of the 1970s.
I do have one theory. I think we lost an enormous number of teachers of that openness and self-acceptance. One by one, AIDS took away many of those who had propped ajar the door to another way of relating to the world.
Hand in hand with the sexual revolution there had been created the option for that quieter shift away from American obsession with sex to it merely being a fact. When that most deadly and horrible sexually transmitted disease inspired fear of sex and the sticky reality of bodies, it brought with it rejection of the flesh in general.
Children were taught that fear. Sex can kill you. Fluids are danger. Contact is a threat. Stay pure to stay alive. Abstain and avoid.
The realities of protecting against AIDS transmission were a sadly perfect opportunity for conservatives to resurge against the freedoms of that open door and to slam it shut, barring it with Puritanical anti-sex and body shaming messages.
So here we are in 2015 and I’m thinking about the world I got to see, which so many of my younger friends didn’t. I’m thinking about how tightly intertwined sex and nakedness are in the American psyche and wondering how to unravel that before we export it to the world with so much of the rest of our culture.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
A good companion piece to my writing above is this article from March 1987: “One By One” by Michael Shnayerson. Vanity Fair.
media I've enjoyed recently 2014
Advertising and Selling
- Morgan Spurlock: The greatest TED Talk ever sold (TEDtalks)
- Full Price Beats Penny Saved for Selling Some Items (60-second Science)
- Candidates Affect Viewer Reactions to Ads in Debates (60-second Science)
- Jacqueline Novogratz: Inspiring a life of immersion (TEDtalks)
- 100,000-Year-Old Art Studio Discovered (60-second Science)
- Patricia Kuhl: The linguistic genius of babies (TEDtalks)
- Science Grad Students Who Teach Write Better Proposals (60-second Science)
- Doodles and Drawings Help Cement Concepts (60-second Science)
Food and Drink
- Student Researchers Find Secret Tea Ingredients (60-second Science)
- Molars Say Cooking Is Almost 2 Million Years Old (60-second Science)
- High-Pressure Food Treatment Can Kill Microbes And Up Nutrients (60-second Science)
Health and Growth
- Molly Stevens: A new way to grow bone (TEDtalks)
- Gamekeeper's Thumb Condition Outlives the Occupation (60-second Science)
- Test Tells Viral and Bacterial Infections Apart (60-second Science)
- Poultry Farms That Stop Antibiotics See Resistance Fall (60-second Science)
- Endurance Exercise Has Stem Cells Make Bone Over Fat (60-second Science)
- Carbon Nanotubes Impale Compulsive Cells (60-second Science)
- Online Gamers Help Solve Protein Structure (60-second Science)
- Health Data Could Spot Genocide Risk (60-second Science)
- City Cyclists Suck In Soot (60-second Science)
- Rapid PCR Could Bring Quick Diagnoses (60-second Science)
- Pathogen Genomics Has Become Dirt Cheap (60-second Science)
- Kid Scientists Show Medicines Can Be Mistaken For Candy (60-second Science)
- Fever Increases Numbers of Immune Cells (60-second Science)
Nature and Sexuality
- Mole's Extra Finger Is Wrist Bone-us (60-second Science)
- Full Moon May Signal Rise in Lion Attacks (60-second Science)
- Send Ants to College (60-second Science)
- Sea Lampreys Flee Death Smells (60-second Science)
- Toxoplasma Infected Rats Love Their Enemies (60-second Science)
- Modern Rivers Shaped By Trees (60-second Science)
- Upright and Hairless Make Better Long-Distance Hunters (60-second Science)
- Electrolyte Balancers Set Stage for Multicellularity (60-second Science)
- Flesh-Tearing Piranhas Communicate with Sound (60-second Science)
Politics and Philosophy
- Jody Williams: A realistic vision for world peace (TEDtalks)
- Martin Jacques: Understanding the rise of China (TEDtalks)
- El Nino Ups Conflict Odds (TEDtalks)
- Steven Pinker: Violence Is Lower Than Ever (60-second Science)
Technology and Physics
- Johanna Blakley: Social media and the end of gender (TEDtalks)
- Medieval Armor: Was It Worth the Weight? (60-second Science)
- Traffic Cameras Save Millions in Canceled Crashes (60-second Science)
- Juno Mission Gets Goes for Launch (60-second Science)
- Channeled Chips Can Spot Substances (60-second Science)
- Smartphone System Saves Gas (60-second Science)
- Sound Sends Electron to Specific Location (60-second Science)
- Moon Not Made of Cheese, Physicist Explains (60-second Science)
Posted on February 21, 2014 at 01:38 PM in creativity, Food and Drink, health, linky goodness, politics & philosophy, school, sex, the big room with the blue ceiling, warnings & kvetches, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Still leaning toward the bend to justice 2012
What an excellent piece of art:
Jennifer Rubell's Nutcracker at Frieze New York
Friendship is not a business transaction. 2012
Brilliant essay. Here's another bit:
I cannot state this clearly enough: if you really believe in equality, then you have to acknowledge the fact that women have a right to say no. That no matter how pure and true your feelings, your ladylove is under no obligation whatever to reciprocate them, because friendship is not a business transaction, and women are allowed to want male friends. Yes, it is difficult and sad and heartbreaking to love someone who doesn't love you back, and doubly so when that person is a friend. Believe me; I speak from experience. This is not a fun thing to endure! But discounting the woman as a bitch, a user, a timewaster, a whore with no taste who only wants to sleep with arseholes instead of Nice Guys like you is not on. It is pure, unadulterated sexism: the attitude that friendship with a woman is only ever a stepping-stone to getting into her pants, such that if the pants-getting is off the table, then so too is the friendship.
Which, frankly, is bullshit. If you don't care enough about someone to enjoy their company and respect their decisions when sex is off the table, then that person is right not to sleep with you, because enjoying someone's company and respecting their decisions is pretty much how sex gets on the table to start with.
This reflects a not insignificant difference between this fall's presidential candidates 2012
RT @BarackObama: POTUS: “I want women to control their own health choices, just like I want my daughters to have the same opportunities as your sons."
Saturday Discardia 2007
Need a little chest freezer?
5.3 cubic feet. Nice for those who make soups or like to minimize their shopping trips to Trader Joe's.
$90 and you pick it up at my place in the Castro, SF. It's not heavy.
Still under 5 more years warranty against compressor failure. Have manual, warranty & receipt.
Inside view of freezer with 7oz mac & cheese boxes for scale
Selling the catsuit. *sigh*
From the 2003 work Xmas party. Of course someone gave me two copies.
Nice folks at Nirvana on Castro St
When I first moved into this apartment I got a nice welcome from Brent-Dawg at Nirvana.
Another cool receipt doodle from Brent-Dawg at Nirvana
I'd forgotten how damn cool our cards were at SoftDevices
And that my old title was "Mission Commander".
Ah, the good ol' startup days...
Cool Halcyon sketch on the front of the awards book from 3 years ago
Why yes, I am one of those stinking liberals
(The joint membership is with my grandfather, who died at the end of 2001 but inspires me still)
gone now, but I always liked the business card for Friendly Spirits
Can't knock that phone number either.
Mysterious to-do list from my former housemate, Chris P.
disappointing 16th St restaurant
walked by there for years, finally tried it this past year, underwhelmed
old shopping list found among other papers
vintage probably ~2004-2005
Christmas Revels, 2004, 18th Century Scotland theme
Dance-Along Nutcracker, 2004
Good advice when you want to focus
Working/playing hard today
Amazing how much you can done when you just sit down and finally start doing it (and when you decide that a mobile phone just sent straight to Flickr is good enough photo quality instead of thinking you need to scan everything).
Good restaurant I went to a few years ago with family
Pleasure-inducing map received on first visit to the mighty Powells Books
The logo of my friend Ron Pottol's old employer Appaloosa Interactive always reminded me of the Playboy character Femlin
Juan Muñoz sculptures
from the December 2001 issue of Smithsonian. I'd really like to see these someday.
Almost filled up recycling bag #1 today
old self portrait by my friend B.J. West
Probably from 1992 since this is, I believe in the St. John St. apartment building we were living in in San Jose then.
Pictures from [a certain person] of a visit to the walrus pool at the zoo
Another friendly walrus comes to visit
VERY happy walrus!
Lest you think that masturbation is some hominid-only sort of thing...
Title portion of an article by Chris Hudak
Can't remember when this was from. First half of the 1990's I'd guess.
My favorite Heifer Project picture
copyright Heifer/photo by Darcy Kiefel
The most intense illustration of the work Doctors Without Borders does
The mailings with the bracelet and the hole card just shake you to realize how extreme the situation is. Children are starving to death. Still. Despite all our worldwide wealth, we still let children starve to death. And it's a slow, painful process for child and parent. And it's preventable.
The wonderful look of the first Lord Loves A Working Man demo album
Which is a CD, not a record, of course.
Posted on March 17, 2007 at 12:00 PM in Discardia, Food and Drink, friends & family, holidays, mundania, music, politics & philosophy, San Francisco, sex, work, worry vs. clarity | Permalink | Comments (0)
Strong evidence of the genetic origin for sexual preference 2006
During my shower this morning a hair came loose and I shook it off my hand onto the shower wall for later disposal (without clogging the drain). The phallic form it took was entirely unaided by conscious design.
Kind of reminds me of old Japanese erotic art.
Oh no, she's gone off the safe topics again 2005
Rosaleen Suitcase 2004
[Found on the web. Shared on Flickr on March 21, 2004.]
Are they or aren't they? 2003
As many who know me could attest, I have a soft spot for guys who like guys. I think it's sweet & sexy. Little surprise, I suppose, that I have lots of gay friends and decided to live in the Castro. It's not just that I am not homophobic; I'm positively homophilic. So, with, as Sir Ian McKellen puts it, the "gaggle of beauties" in the cast of the Lord of the Rings films plus all the deep affection between both the characters and the actors, it's not news that I as much as anyone else thought:
"Frodo and Sam have got to be a couple. What other interpretation could there be? Maybe they haven't done anything about this smoldering romantic passion, but, jeez, there's no denying the devotion between them."
And that remained my interpretation after seeing the first two films and rereading the first two books. But now that I've seen and reread Return of the King, I've changed my mind. Certainly, it's possible to imagine a romantic relationship between these characters - lines like Sam's (from the book) "I love him, whether or no" don't make it much of a stretch - but now I do not feel that is the relationship which Tolkien wrote or the filmmakers intended or the actors portrayed. And, most importantly, this lack of sexual attraction doesn't make the relationship any less significant.
To their credit, all of these storytellers (intentionally or otherwise) have left room for interpretation and personal reaction, but I believe that the relationship between Frodo and Sam which they describe is one for which we do not have a contemporary model. I've read of Sam as Frodo's "batman"; of their relationship as that between a WW1 officer and the enlisted man who acts as a servant to look after his belongings and take care of him. Oddly enough, that relationship, though it was known less than 100 years ago, is not as familiar and understandable to us today as that of a knight and his esquire.
What is essential to understanding their relationship is the context of a society divided by class; Frodo and Sam are unequal. They are master and servant, well-connected gentlehobbit and working-class gardener. It is Sam's duty, his role, to support Frodo in whatever way he can. Sam is not expected to understand Frodo or the great matters in which he has become involved. Today we would see that as unfair to Sam, as subjugation. "Don't worry yourself with matters above your station" is not an approach which we in the 21st-century West consider good or just. We want Sam to be recognized - by himself perhaps more than by anyone else - as Frodo’s equal. But with them as equals, we have no model for Sam’s unstoppable, selfless devotion other than romantic love.
Think about that for a moment. Our culture doesn’t have a model for that kind of love. It’s like not having a word for some concept in your language. What does it do to us not to be able to express an idea? Or imagine such a relationship? Perhaps our problem is that we use the same word, “love”, to describe many forms of affection, quite a few of which are completely non-sexual.
I am interested to see how these characters will be interpreted in the future as Tolkien’s intent, the model for the relationship, and widespread experience of friendly but class-divided relationships fades. Will the devoted same-sex friendships of Lord of the Rings create a new model for loving, non-sexual relationships? Will Frodo and Sam be claimed as role models for gays and bisexuals? Or will the current rifts remain? Will homosexuality remain something that the characters are “accused of”?
This topic all came to mind when I was rereading Return of the King and got to this bit near the very end:
When all was at last ready Frodo said: ‘When are you going to move in and join me, Sam?’
Sam looked a bit awkward.
‘There is no need to come yet, if you don’t want to,’ said Frodo. ‘But you know the Gaffer is close at hand, and he will be very well looked after by Widow Rumble.’
‘It’s not that, Mr. Frodo,’ said Sam, and he went very red.
‘Well, what is it?’
‘It’s Rosie, Rose Cotton,’ said Sam. ‘It seems she didn’t like my going abroad at all, poor lass; but as I hadn’t spoken, she couldn’t say so. And I didn’t speak, because I had a job to do first. But now I have spoken, and she says: “Well, you’ve wasted a year, so why wait longer?” “Wasted?” I says. “I wouldn’t call it that.” Still see what she means. I feel torn in two, as you might say.’
‘I see,’ said Frodo: ‘you want to get married, and yet you want to live with me in Bag End too? But my dear Sam, how easy! Get married as soon as you can, and then move in with Rosie. There’s room enough in Bag End for as big a family as you could wish for.’
That passage reminded me of a similar one in the last Lord Peter Wimsey mystery, “Thrones, Dominations”, in which two characters with a very similar relationship, Lord Peter and his manservant, Bunter, are deeply depressed by the prospect of having to part ways when Bunter marries. What I had forgotten until just now when I went to see if I could find the passage quoted on the Web is that it was not written by Dorothy Sayers half a century ago, but was Jill Paton’s relatively recent completion of Sayers' final unfinished work. Perhaps Sayers included the conflict and its pleasing solution in her notes, but it is equally possible that it is the invention of a mind of the latter half of the 20th century, perhaps even one which had been exposed to Sam’s dilemma.
Notes & additional reading:
1 - Nancy Marie Ott’s “JRR Tolkien and World War I”
Even the Statistics Agree 2003
After admiring the American flag flying at Market & Castro on my way home, I was just reading the wonderful news about the Supreme Court overturning that Texas sodomy law. As a steenkin' liberal, I try to make a point of voting in CNN's little home page poll when it's on a topic of interest. Today's is "Do you agree with the Supreme Court's decision overturning a Texas law which criminalized sodomy?" I voted yes and, as usual, waited to see the display of the current results:
Heh. Yes, indeed.
I'll drink to that 2003
From a discussion of X2 on a queer gossip board I like to hang out on comes this rationale for choosing Ian McKellen over the younger, prettier men in the cast:
"they gotta have something going on upstairs before I'll go downstairs"
Dirty 'Lij 2003
[Found on the web. Shared on Flickr on March 21, 2004.]
Happy, Healthy, same thing. 2003
Adam, who reads this site and who I don't know from a (glory) hole in the wall, but who is assumed not to be a hole in the wall based on his ability to type, wrote me a note, which almost got weeded out by my spam filters, requesting an image of the afore-mentioned penis in a trenchcoat.
By the way, it turns out to be "Healthy Penis", rather than "Happy Penis". It's so hard to remember their cute little names...
(Maybe this weekend I'll get the time to take a picture of the graffiti too).
Department of Redundancy Dept. 2003
In the subway stations of San Francisco there is an ad campaign running to promote awareness about syphilis (which has not raised my awareness enough to be sure I'm spelling it right). The, er, spokesman for the campaign is Happy Penis, an erect cartoon dick in a trenchcoat.
Tonight I noticed that the poster on the platform at Castro Street station has new graffiti. Someone drew a penis and testicles at the midpoint of the front of the aforementioned trenchcoat.
[Found on the web. Shared on Flickr on March 21, 2004.
rvacapinta commented: "This is Modigliani and it is a great painting."]
[Found on the web. Shared on Flickr on March 21, 2004.]
Boys in Corsets! 2002
Corset Corps, San Francisco. Affiliated with Dark Garden, I believe.
[Shared on Flickr on March 10, 2004. Image file I have dates to 11/4/2002, but I am near certain that date marks a significant computer migration boundary—my move back to Mac from my time in the Windows wilderness—and I must have downloaded it long before that.]
Conversation with a friend in Alaska:
Dinah: How's the weather?
Dinah: mm, nice. Pretty good here too.
Jack: nice, sunny, everything's melting
Dinah: Greenery coming up yet?
Jack: Nah, still 6 inches of snow on the ground...
Dinah: mm, Spring is coming.
Jack: yeah, still not here, but I'm hopefull...
Dinah: She's headed north, hopping freight trains and fornicating under trees with hobos leaving crocuses in her wake
Pretty Scenery 2002
Ah, it must be spring. Not only are there blossoms on the trees and new green grass everywhere, there are attractive men snoozing on the morning train where they can be admired without the need to pretend not to be gazing at them.
From my vantage point on the upstairs seats I could just see his face from the upper lip down as he leaned against the window on a pillow made of his jacket. Reddish hair (as evidenced by his sideburns), pale skin, light freckles, a fascinating tattoo (is that a ring of dancing bunnies around his arm?) peeking out under the sleeve of his bright orange "i agree with marty" t-shirt, red-framed glasses resting beside a copy of Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise. Mmm, delicious creature.
He had woken by the time my station came along, so I paused on my way out to say "Pardon my insatiable curiousity, but who is Marty and what are you in agreement about?" It turns out he is Marty and the shirt was a gift from a friend who found it in a thrift store. We expressed our mutual belief that clothing which endorses us is a good thing and that Dorothy Sayers' books are very enjoyable. He said he likes how they are so romantic and then it's "oh and here's a mystery too" almost like an afterthought.
Naturally, I was not wearing my jacket with MetaGrrrl on the back and I neglected to mention my own name. Clearly, I am not much of a strategic thinker when it comes to chatting up cute boys. Ah well, a hopeless romantic as yummy as all that must be taken anyhow, so I'll just get a little vicarious pleasure to perk up my morning. Ah, spring...
This is a much much lower statistic than I expected. 2000
I think it was all that healthy respect, responsibility shit that brought my score down. Darn my moral immorality!
Don't forget to lay in supplies 1998
Still recovering from my weeks of hard work. Definitely not enough weekend.
Nerves soothed. Thanks, Sherman!
Car hassles solved. Thanks, Joe!
Mood improved. Thanks, Dishboy!
Do you use condoms? I do. And I recommend buying them from Condom Sense . Good information. Good prices. Good service.
They've just started a link program like Amazon's Associates and I'm in it, so shop via the links to them on my site and I'll actually make a little $$$. Thanks!
Fun banner ad du jour:
Play safe, kids.
The secret to eternal fabulousness?
Cucumber salad. You heard it here first.
Summer after sophomore year of college 1985
Re-reading old love letters. I'm in a randy mood. [Southern Faire fling] would be interesting to meet again. I hardly remember him. [Former flirtation] would be great to have a roll in the hay with [pure speculation here], but I wouldn't want any sort of long-term romance, I don't think. (?) I think I'll seduce Christopher [Franges] when he's about 45 or 50. He'll be gorgeous. Like John Dizikes. Unless, of course, he's involved with someone. [First long-term relationship], you better come visit me! I'm already going into withdrawals. I need your skin near me.
Better get a bunch done before Jinx [my mum] gets here. More later.