Modesty creates pornography.
Follow me on this thought experiment. Imagine people tomorrow became completely immodest, giving up clothing and walls. Imagine sex became a no-big-deal public activity like having a meeting or eating lunch. Could you do sex tomorrow at 9am? Oh, that’s a little early for me. Could we try a little later in the day?
If we saw naked people all the time every day, would there be a need for pictures of naked people? If sex were commonplace, would there be a need for movies degrading it?
The mystification that accompanies modesty creates the need for an industry of pornography, but also creates the abstraction of it. If sex were not dirty, sex movies would not be dirty.
There is a trend right now towards modesty. When I wrote that we might become completely immodest tomorrow, you might have looked around whatever place you find yourself in and commented that this has already happened. Maybe you are in a Starbucks noticing far more skin on display—both male and female—than would have been acceptable when you were younger. Maybe you did some interviewing for jobs earlier this week and noted people have no sense of what is appropriate anymore; they were so underdressed you did not know where to put your eyes. But it is really you with no sense any more of what is appropriate, as modesty is eroding. And this is not a bad thing by any measure.
Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” a few years ago highlights this issue perfectly. There were dozens of calls to the FCC complaining about a female nipple on TV. Almost all of those calls came from one person in Colorado who heads up a religious organization devoted to taking sex off of TV. He is almost the only person in the organization. To almost everyone else, it was no big deal.
NYPD Blue was recently let off the hook for showing brief nudity, also. This was due to a technicality, inasmuch as the FCC was inadequate in revealing changing standards. On the other hand, ABC had an excellent case, noting the law prohibited the showing of sexual body parts and arguing there is nothing sexual in function about buttocks.
These attacks on sexuality and immodesty occur in the context of media saturation with violence. Procedural dramas are the order of the day, grotesque murders enacted or described in vivid detail. War stories, rape and incest, monster movies, zombie apocalypse all creep across our screens and into our consciousness. But God forbid we see a human body!
Could mortality demand modesty? If we do not have bodies, if we deny sex and sexuality, can we also deny embodiedness, and thus the natural consequences thereof? In these war stories and monster movies, someone always survives—usually the person with whom we are led to identify. With death all around, they escape it, over and over. Is this how violence serves the same function even though it radically embodies us, sensitizes us to death?
Better to ask Kirk Schneider, who has made a study of the horror story as a way of approaching the holy and awesome. Horror and the Holy is a gripping read, full of revelation and intimations of truth.
For me, I see creation on one hand and destruction on the other, with the viewing public allied strongly with the destructive. Bodies are what make it possible to be together, to talk to one another, even to write this little missive. Sex joins us together, allows us to share our bodies with one another. It can also be the genesis of life, the ultimate immortality project. Sometimes in my psychology classes, when we get to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, we debate over whether sex is a need. At the organism level, obviously it is not. A drive, certainly, but many people live healthy and satisfying lives without sex. But at the genetic level, at the level of the species grasping forward into time, sex is everything.
Why make this dirty by denying it? Why hide away from the ultimate creative force?
Violence does not create. It does not bring people together, create lifelong bonds, make new things. Violence accomplishes nothing that entropy could not do. Nothing new is made by an act of violence. No new life, no greater diversity, no recombination.
Why glorify the one and ban the other, thus sullying and sickening it?
What if everyone today went to a strip club or hired a nude art model, paid them well for their trouble, told them they were beautiful (because every human really is), and expressed sincere gratitude for helping us rejoin the human race in a small way? For helping us enter our own bodies for a moment? Modesty is for the dying. Today, let’s live a little.
-- Jason Dias