Monday, March 26, 2012

American Obsessions

Every once in a while I have to pause and reflect upon American culture and what seem to be the most important issues of the day. At the moment it seems to me that we are obsessed with two major themes, sex and violence. Nothing else seems to even come close when you consider the almost total obsession we have with these two issues.

Sex, it should be obvious to everyone, permeates our lives on a daily basis. There is virtually no place you can escape it. Ads are so loaded with sex it cannot be avoided unless you live somewhere under a rock and cannot see, hear, or read. Ads for automobiles and trucks feature slightly clan young ladies leaning provocatively over the hoods or getting in and out of them. Ads for lingerie now approach the limits of soft pornography. Women’s clothes are designed to emphasize sexuality, as are their shoes. As a woman you must have sexy hair, sexy legs, sexy arms, sexy eyes, sexy smiles, and above all, sex appeal. You must also know what kind of sex men really like, how to behave in bed, what “turns him on,” the sexiest moves you can make, and so on. Motion pictures and television feature sex at every turn, even the so-called detectives in crime dramas have to have their sexy personas. Not only that, we are bombarded with ads for birth control and, more importantly, drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and others. Even ads in magazines for old people feature ads for artificial stimuli and instructions on more healthy sex lives. Little girls are turned into sex kittens and enter into beauty contests, wear training bras before they have breasts, and wear sexy outfits. Even the massive diet industry features sex as a motive for losing weight, “I’ve lost 100 pounds and I never felt so sexy.” Bikinis have become so brief as to be useless for any other purpose than to tease, gowns so revealing as to do the same. Whatever the product you can find beautiful women posing in the most provocative poses possible. Stand-up comics could not survive for long without sex as a major theme, and it seems the raunchier the better. Many television programs from soap operas to comedies trade heavily on sexual innuendo and sexual themes. We revel in sex scandals, especially if they involve important people or celebrities. Some people even pick their candidates on the basis of their sex appeal. We have contests every year to select the sexiest man or woman of the year. We are, in short, virtually inundated with sex, engulfed by it, smothered by it, surrounded by it, seduced by it, to the point where we just accept it as part of our everyday lives and are dismayed that other cultures do not see it the same way. We now accept this obsession with sex as perfectly normal and cannot imagine women in burkas or modest dresses. We want our women in lipstick, mascara, and spike heels. Modesty is no longer much of a virtue, nor even is virginity. I am not complaining about this, merely observing that it has become our way of life.

I find it difficult to decide whether sex is a more powerful obsession than violence or vice versa. We have become, I believe, a nation of “violence junkies.” I believe this because of what I see and hear on television that seems to absolutely thrive on violence. I actually do not watch much television but what I do see even with my limited exposure is almost constant violence. I guess there must be a few programs that do not feature violence but they seem to me to be rare. If they have anything to do with police or detectives you can be sure they will be violent. This is even more the case if they have anything to do with science fiction. There seems to be nothing but shooting, killing, explosions, rapes, torture, and violence in the extreme. The sports we watch are mostly violent, football, hockey, boxing, cage fighting (I think that is what it’s called), wrestling, automobile racing, lead the list, all violent in the extreme. Sports like baseball, soccer, and even basketball do not hold the same fascination as the more violent sports and, I suspect, will slowly disappear over time. Golf seems to be a remarkable exception. All in all we live in a violent environment full of vicarious violent thrills as well as daily accounts of murders, gun violence, stabbings, rapes, suicides, hate crimes, child abuse and pedophilia, automobile deaths, domestic violence, and what have you, violence, violence, everywhere. Pornography, too, trades largely on sex and humiliation, as does torture that has long gone underground but clearly continues, the “dark side,” as Cheney suggested, and apparently as many are willing to accept.

As with sex, we have become accustomed to this high level of violence. It is, I believe, unmatched anywhere else in the industrialized world, certainly gun violence is unmatched. We still seem to live in a kind of frontier world, where one shoots first and asks questions later. This has now been carried to such an extreme that you have license to kill even if you imagine you are being threatened, as is apparently the case in the Trayvon Martin killing. This is, if you will pardon me, simply insane, and you can thank the NRA and our cowardly state and national “leaders” for it.

Related to all of the above, I think, is also an obsession with competition, but that is for another time, sex and violence, the American way of life.

In America sex is an obsession, in other parts of the world it is a fact.
Marlene Dietrich

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