Monday, February 28, 2011

Voodoo Sex Ritual

On Friday night I saw a story on the Fox 5 10 O'Clock News about an apartment building in Brooklyn that burned down. What was this story's focus? Sadness over the elderly woman who lost her life? Concern for the many people who are now homeless?

No, the object of the story was to say the words "voodoo sex ritual" as many times as humanly possible in three minutes, and the intrepid Fox 5 team rose to the challenge. I didn't start counting until at least thirty seconds into the story, but I still managed to count 18 times they managed to work in the three-word phrase. Often they managed to hit it two or even three times in one sentence, and always with a special tone to emphasize their moral disgust. They never varied the wording, never tried throwing in "voodoo ceremony" for variety, just kept hitting the phrase in a viewer-entrancing litany over and over and over, as if their Neilsen number ticked up decimal point every time they said it.

From what I can tell from the news story, what happened is a man who is a voodoo priest and a woman were having sex. They had lit some candles around the bed as part of a voodoo ceremony. The sheets caught fire. The man attempted to put out the fire with water from the sink but was unsuccessful. The woman opened the apartment door, and which point a wind tunnel was created which drew the fire into the hall. From there the rest of the building caught fire.

If any chicken were beheaded, any sheep entrails read, any cow tongues bound with twine, the story doesn't mention it. So seriously, why are they harping on the voodoo aspect. Every bullshit relationship book in your local chain bookstore will tell you how romantic it is to light candles by the bed to have sex (gag!). You hardly need to be a voodoo priest to accidentally burn down your apartment -- a sentimental teenage girl could do it just as easily after prom. (Tangent for vanilla people and sentimental teenage girls: Have you ever tried getting wax out of sheets? Don't go there!) But rather than pointing out the potential lesson that non-voodoo practitioners could take away from this tragedy the news spent their time condemning the man and woman involved for putting the life of everyone in their building in danger for their bizarre sexual gratification... and never mind that the danger was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone.

What we've got here, clearly, is blatant media sensationalism. There is a time-honored formula for this kind of thing and it drives me absolutely insane. It consists of triggering three sets of emotions in people: arousal, envy and moral righteousness. Your first reaction to a sensational sex story (doesn't have to be voodoo sex, could be Charlie Sheen or Tiger Wood) is to think, "Wow, that's hot! I can't believe there are people out who are nasty enough to do freaky shit like that to get off!" We've all got a little bit of a voyeur in us. We all want to hear about other people's kinky sex. You may not want to do that particular thing (I'll say it again, wax + sheets = bad) but just the idea that people are out there doing crazy shit to get off arouses you. Then the jealousy kicks in. You think, "How come this stupid moron who apparently can't figure out how a fire extinguisher works is having the sex of his dreams when I, a mature, responsible, successful person, don't get my fantasies fulfilled?" This thought lingers in your mind just long enough to suggest the true answer: that the stupid moron doesn't have the sense God gave tiny animals to be afraid of fire, but he has enough guts to admit to himself what kind of crazy sex he wants to have, get over the shame, and go out and find it. And you don't. But that answer is unacceptable -- it means you're dumber than Charlie Sheen, Tiger Wood and Mr. Voodoo Sex Ritual! So you go looking for another reason and your cultural programming kicks in. Sex is nasty, dirty and wrong. If it was okay to have great sex you would be, but you're not, so clearly it isn't okay. And this moron is doing it. How dare he do something so morally reprehensible?!? And you've arrived at righteous indignation.

Arousal, envy and moral righteousness: It's an ugly set of emotions and the more small-minded and repressed the viewer being triggered is, the stronger they are. And to be really clear, I do think that Mr. Voodoo Sex Ritual, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Wood, Eliot Spitzer and Bill Clinton are irresponsible. But the message I'm getting from the news isn't "If you light candles, bring a fire extinguisher." It's more along the lines of "Voodoo sex ceremonies are sick and wrong and people who engage in them are willing to selfishly put people's lives at risk for a cheap, sexual thrill."

There is something so ugly, abhorrent and pathetic about a group of tiny people condemning someone, not because that person made a mistake but because the group is too repressed to do what they want to do. I have way more contempt for that kind of person than two people who accidentally kicked over a candle. But there's one group of people I have ever more contempt for: TV reporters who manipulate this ugly dynamic to make money. That is the definition of depraved.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oscar Dilemma

This year is a strange one in that I've actually seen a lot of the movies nominated for the Academy Awards. I was a little on the fence about which movie I was rooting for -- The Kids Are All Right or The King's Speech. The part of me that is sex-positive wants to support The Kids Are All Right because it's a good look at gay families and is one of the first times I've seen the complexities of female sexuality portrayed in a movie. The thing is, I sort of like The King's Speech more, despite the fact it is about stuffy English people who probably don't have sex.

This moral quandary was making me lose sleep until I found out the The King's Speech apparently scouted their locations by watching gay porn. That was the missing ingredient I needed to love it with my whole heart!

Click here for pictures. (NSFW!)

Via Violet Blue.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rihanna's "S&M"

A few people have asked me my opinion of Rihanna's S&M video. The truth is that I avoided watching it for awhile. I don't like pop music much, and I like celebrities whip up publicity and make money by simultaneously titillating people with sexy images and stirring up righteous indignation -- frequently in the exact same people.

However, I watched it now and I like it. The music is even pretty good, for pop music. The video is certainly hot (titillation accomplished), apparently enough that it has been banned in nine countries (righteous indignation accomplished). Some controversy has been stirred up, and not just from BDSM-phobic people -- fashion photographer David LaChapelle is suing Rihanna for ripping off his images.

I can understand why some people who are actually in the BDSM scene might have objections to the video. We don't know whether Rihanna is kinky herself or whether this is a publicity stunt. Her video has a whole mish-mash of fetishes and different kinks on display almost interchangeably (bondage, puppy play, etc.), and there seems to be a lot of posing in hot, probably really expensive latex fetish clothes going on, and almost no sadism or masochism. But I say, who cares?

Just the other day, I was writing how cool I think it is that polyamory, bisexuality and BDSM are portrayed positively in a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and how, when an alternative lifestyle is portrayed in a positive way, it's good for both people who are part of a lifestyle and people who may discover it now that it's less scary. Well, Rihanna's video makes BDSM look fun, sexy and not too serious. It's a far cry from the way it usually looks in pop culture -- dangerous, abusive, self-destructive. It certainly will help that Rihanna spends most of the video in the dominant role, but she also spends part of it restrained behind plastic so she doesn't completely shy away from the image of a submissive female, which is what presses the most buttons with the obsessively politically correct.

Even if Rihanna isn't kinky (which she might be) she has done a service for people who are. Besides, it's actually a pretty catchy song. I'm humming it right now.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Stacks - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/The Girl Who Played With Fire

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
by Steig Larsson
Vintage Books, 2003

I'm not usually one for paperback thrillers. The last one I read was The Da Vinci Code about five years ago and I didn't like it that much. But hardly a day goes by when I don't see somebody reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo or one of its sequels on the subway so I decided I had to either check them out or risk becoming irrelevant. I certainly never thought I would end up writing about them on this blog, but I feel compelled. We live in a very sex-negative culture, so when somebody goes out of their way to do something sex-positive, it can be surprising, and I think it's good to acknowledge the effort.

That goes doubly in this case. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is essentially a book about misogyny and violence against women, and it features a lot of twisted sexual dynamics, including rape, incest and child molestation. The bad guys are frequently sick fucks who are in to twisted sex -- pornographers, sex traffickers, serial killers and rapists, corrupt officials who sexually take advantage of isolated young women that they have power over.

The protagonist of the novels, Lisabeth Salander, is such a woman. She is the titular girl with the dragon tattoo, who plays with fire and kicks the hornet's nest. She's an abuse survivor who turned the tables on her abuser and is on a mission to punish all transgressing men. Early in the series she is brutally raped, and she revenges herself with equal brutality. The first two novels (I haven't read the third) center around incest, molestation, and trafficking of prostitutes by organized crime.

It would have been easy for the author, Steig Larsson, to just leave it at that. I'm sure most of his readers would have been happy to read the literary equivalent of an episode of Law & Order: SVU, where sex is bad and people who are interested in sex, especially unusual sex, are evil criminals. For that matter, I'm sure his editors and publishers might have preferred that he remain unambiguous on the subject and avoid straying into controversial territory. Indeed, I think if this book were written in the United States, Larsson probably wouldn't have been able to do so at all.

So, thank God it was written in Sweden, because Larsson had to opportunity to make something very clear -- sex, even sex that most people would consider deviant, is not wrong if it is between consenting people. Despite the content of the story, Larsson has given all of his characters full sex lives. Salander is bisexual and experiments with BDSM with one of her girlfriends, who co-owns a fetish clothing store. Despite the fact that she is a rape survivor, she has healthy sexual relationships with several men and women over the course of the books. The other protagonist, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, is ethically nonmonogamous, with many female partners. One of these, his editor, Berger, is in a polyamorous relationship with her husband and Blomkvist, a relationship that very clearly includes both sex and love for both men.

In fact, there is hardly a main character in the book with a monogamous, heterosexual, vanilla -- aka "normal" -- sex life. It's a pretty huge stand to take in novels that will mostly be read by house wives and which will sell hundreds of thousands of copies in supermarkets and airports. In fact, it's one of the first times I can think of that polyamory or BDSM have been used in a non-sensational way in a mainstream book. All three of the books in this series hit #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, which means that Steig Larsson has probably educated more people about polyamory and kink than Dossie Easton, Janet Hardy, Jay Wiseman, Tristan Taormino, Christopher Ryan or Dan Savage.

The most amazing thing is I have yet to hear any backlash against the sexual tastes of the characters in these stories, which is pretty incredible considering these books were probably read by a lot of conservative housewives supposedly fighting a culture war against this very thing. Maybe they don't care, as long as the books are set in Sweden. Or, who knows? Maybe bisexuality, polyamory and BDSM have entered the general consciousness and are considered valid lifestyle choices (though maybe a little weird). I certainly hope that we'll see more examples in the near future of alternative sexuality being shown in a positive light in mainstream literature. It's the first step to greater things for all of us.