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Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Hypersexualization of Everything

A long time ago, I made a friend laugh by telling him that Helen Knode had just published a book called The Hypersexualization of Everything -- a joke that will mean nothing to you unless you lived in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and followed her work in the L.A. Weekly. Knode was a good writer, but she was also the sort of person who couldn't jot down a recipe for bean soup without describing the ways she wanted to get laid.

Now I want to write a book with that title, albeit for different reasons.  

The first chapter might focus on the instantly-infamous New Yorker cover featuring Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie cuddling on the couch while watching (on a weirdly antiquated TV set) coverage of the Supreme Court's gay rights decisions. At first glance, I thought the image was funny. But this Slate article by June Thomas articulates one good reason to find the picture unsettling.

That reason has nothing to do with homophobia, although a few knee-jerk dunderheads will probably insist otherwise. Rather, the problem is this:
You see, Bert and Ernie aren’t lovers. Back in 2007, the president of the Children’s Television Workshop said that they “do not exist beneath the waist.” Then, two years ago, the Children’s Television Workshop declared:
Bert and Ernie are best friends. They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets™ do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation.
That’s not the only lesson Bert and Ernie have to impart. You see, straight America, there’s a difference between same-sex friends and gay lovers. Does America contain households in which lovers pass themselves off as best pals? No doubt. And as prejudice against gays and lesbians fades, more of these ambiguously gay couples will declare themselves. But that doesn’t mean that every pair of cohabiting friends is madly making out on a nightly basis.

Bert and Ernie clearly love each other. But does Ernie suck Bert’s cock? I don't think so.
I am reminded of my great problem with the BBC's Sherlock series, set in the modern era. In a running gag, Holmes and Watson can't go out for dinner together without everyone presuming that they are on a date. By contrast, in the original Conan Doyle stories, the two men had the freedom to dine at fine restaurants, to attend concerts and to visit the theater. It was possible, then, for two people of the same sex to spend time together without wagging tongues or knowing winks or damnable presumptions.

We have not made cultural progress since the Victorian era. In fact, things are much worse.

And the shift has occurred within my lifetime. When I told a college buddy that joke about Helen Knode, we were hanging out at a coffee shop -- probably New York George's (a cheap eatery with a big Scientologist clientele, but that's another story). Back then, two guys could grab burgers at a joint like that and no-one would see anything other than two guys having burgers.

Not so now. Go to any restaurant during dinner time: How often you see two guys at a table without a third? The sight is rare. And yet that sight used to be much more common: Ask anyone my age or older. These days, I simply would have no idea how to ask another man out for a bite to eat without sounding like I'm inviting him on a gay date.

I have not had a male friend in twenty years.

Don't get me wrong: The company of women is very pleasant. But the occasional conversation with another male might be a nice change.

Gay readers, that's your cue to howl a predictable howl: "But what does it matter if people think you're gay?" I'll tell you why it matters: It matters because truth matters. It matters because we are social creatures, because we cannot insulate ourselves from the views of others, and because one of the worst punishments this culture has ever inflicted upon itself is the Hypersexualization of Everything.

The Hypersexualization of Everything means that two individuals cannot talk to each other for any length of time free of the presumption that one party is sizing the other up for a fuck. As a result, the Hypersexualization of Everything condemns us all to loneliness. According to the strictures set by the Hypersexualization of Everything, you get twenty minutes max with another person. Anything beyond that means you're boinking.

The presumption that two guys having burgers must be gay is but one example of how the Loneliness Machine operates. Consider the case of an adult my age interacting with a child.

That last sentence made you feel a sudden sharp sting of ickiness, right? You have just experienced an example of what I'm talking about. That sting you felt is the Hypersexualization of Everything doing its dirty work on your psyche. 

I never had children. Sometimes I wish I had. Most adults have the "mentor" instinct, a desire to pass on wisdom about history, technology, the way the world works. Hell, sometimes a guy just wants to toss a baseball back and forth with a ten year old. But opportunities to play that role are limited, more limited now than ever before. The Hypersexualization of Everything means that all such interactions can't last more than ten minutes, unless both adult and child belong to the same traditional nuclear family.

Back in my thirties, I ran into a few older women (and by "older," I mean by a couple of decades) who had fascinating things to say. Could I befriend them? Could I hang out with them just for the sake of spending time together? No. And you know damned well why.

Now I cannot talk to a woman appreciably younger than me without feeling like a dirty old man. We cannot spend time together even if we have things in common -- and even if, honest to God, we just want to talk.

The Hypersexualization of Everything is the most inhumane and brutal social mechanism ever devised. It reduces our circles of permissible dialogue partners to ever-tinier loops. It renders us lonelier and lonelier and lonelier and lonelier.

Although we were told that gay liberation would free straights from having to conform to stereotyped "macho" behavior, those stereotypes have, in fact, grown far more inflexible and absurd during my lifetime. (Look at nearly any movie from the 1970s and you'll see what I mean.) Although we were told that a more permissive discussion of sexuality would make communication easier, in fact this "open" culture has tossed us all into individual prison cells -- cells which seem to shrink a bit every year.

Thanks to the Hypersexualization of Everything, it has become almost impossible to compose a sentence in the English language that cannot be twisted into a double-entendre. Our entire media infrastructure communicates in an endless series of sniggers. Family Guy has taught us that the only permissible joke is the fuck joke.

As June Thomas noted above, even Bert and Ernie cannot spend time together without the presumption that they suck each other's little felt cocks.

In the 19th century, the Irish proudly said that a young woman could travel alone from one end of the country to another without fear of violation. Irish culture, inculcated with the despised values of The One Religion That Everyone Everywhere Must Always Hate Hate Hate, taught young males that accosting a lady was unmanly. That was the word used. It's in Joyce.

Do you honestly believe that the Hypersexualization of Everything has made us more free?

Can you honestly say that people are less lonely now than they were before the sexual revolution?
I have a rule, I never interact with a child or young teen unless the parent is either next to them or have given me permission to interact.

In essence, I behave the way a child molester would be forced to behave by society, for two reasons, the more important one being I don't want to give kids the wrong idea that all adults are safe to interact with, the other being that I want to avoid giving someone with nothing to do an excuse to falsely accuse me so they can play the victim game.

Having said all that, even if society wasn't so sexually judgmental, a stranger being a good role model when they interact with a child or young adult can set up the child to expect all adults to be good role models.


I think the gay marriage "controversy" was nothing more than the gay marriage movement screwing up the 2008 campaigning. A lot of bad will come from the way gay marriage proponents chose to win. Rather than win with public support, they actually made their constituents wait almost FIVE YEARS because they did not take responsibility for a running poor California campaign.

Going forward, mainstream america will be painted as being anti gay marriage because of campaigning mistakes made by the gay marriage movement in 2008.
It's a sad development, certainly, but if everyone becomes too paranoid to carry on acting naturally, guys having guy time out with a guy friend, etc. (not the interaction with children - that's a bit different, I think) - the restrictive feelings you describe will solidify to become accepted custom and practice. Not good!

I keep wondering what "The Dude" would say. I suspect he'd tell y'all to be cool, like him, and f... what anyone else thinks.
When I was growing up (in a different country) my friends and I used to hold hands walking home from school. It was pretty common. I never thought about it until I moved to the US in my teens. No one did that here and I got the sense that it was not a thing to be done here. Is it a cultural thing?
However, two women can go to lunch or dinner or just for drinks here without raising the kind of speculation that Joseph was referring to about two men engaging in the same activities. Is it because women tend to need or value close friendships with other women more or is it because "girl" friends are accepted by our culture and "guy" friends are to be suspect for both sexes of having a sexual agenda?

margie, a former gf -- who had traveled extensively in Europe -- told me that she was pretty weirded out when she went shopping with female friends in Germany. In that country, it is (or was) expected and natural for women to link arms while doing the shops. In the U.S., that same gesture would denote lesbianism.

On the other hand, women in the U.S. can leave a restaurant table together at the same time to "powder their noses." Men don't do that. Now, it's not as though I ever WANTED to do that -- but I do wonder how and why the double standard arose.
While I was cycling home from work, I nodded to a little kid on the sidewalk as I went by. He called me a fag. So there you go. I wonder if there's a lasting social impact when adults try to ignore children that they aren't related to for fear of looking like some kind of pedophile.
You made me think of my first college dorm here in the US. There was one big bathroom for the whole floor and girls (it was not co-ed) used to come out of the shower naked and walk around. I was too modest for that and kept my towel on. And my first room mate used to sleep in the nude. I just chucked it all to culture shock.
Come to think of it, don't guys shower together after gym and use the urinal in front of each other?
So, you can't have dinner together but you can get naked in front of each other?

"So, you can't have dinner together but you can get naked in front of each other?"

That's pretty much it. I think the gym thing has to do with the fact that it's a BUNCH of guys. But I still never felt comfortable.
Interesting commentary Joseph. Thank you

No more "Dinner with Andre" I guess. Sad

Bravo. Tip of yhe iceberg..but bravo.
It was the Christian right who first accused Bert and Ernie of being gay. I took the cover as humor, a slap back in the face of right wing loons.

Truly, it's scandalous how worried I am about getting my cock out in public. I'm not too bothered about permissible dialogue partners, because I'm a highly anti-social conspiracy theorist. The hot air people blow might knock my tin foil hat off. But I frequently find myself cycling off into the countryside to get away from the ant-hill, look at the wild flowers and suchlike. But the ant-hill is where the public toilets are, and people unbelievable seem to associated my penis with sex. I do several things more often when touching myself than anything sexual. Urination. Cleaning. Adjusting due to misallocation of underwear resources. Checking that my zip is not revealing. I ought not have to hide in the woods to relieve myself. But I have to worry because if a child wanders up while I'm leaning against a tree, I'm a flasher. And if I wander up while a child is leaning against a tree, I'm a peeping tom.

But I don't think you're right to say "everything", it's just men. No-one assumes women going to urinate communally might be secretly cottaging. No-one assumes women cuddling in public are lesbians. People are much less paranoid about leaving their children with women, and female babysitters, and this is one of the reasons there are so few male teachers, even though women are more likely to beat other people's children and as likely to rape them. Pretty women especially, but others too, will often assume any conversation is tantamount or preparatory to, a come-on. Women will race out of dark alley's because they think you're a rapist, when in fact you're a harmless asexual mugger. BA, Quantas and some other airlines famously refuse to let unaccompanied children sit next to men on their flights, and insist the adult rather than the child move. Statutory rape cases are generally seen as the victim being lucky, if he's male. And so on.

See also:

Did Oscar Wilde have to ruin it for everybody?
Bert and Ernie cuddling on the couch while watching (on a weirdly antiquated TV set) coverage...

Wasn't that an interesting, wonderful artistic choice? I think it was meant to evoke in us, the reader, those old childhood memories of when we watched Sesame Street -- on TVs just like that weirdly antiquated one. By taking us back to our childhoods in this manner, somehow the power of the piece is enormously magnified.

At least that's how it hit me at a gut level. I thought the piece was brilliant.
The sexual drive of humans has wasted more of humanity's energy and time than any other factor except the related pursuit of other mood-altering substances and behaviors. (Yes, sex has a drug-like ecstatic action in the brain, by its causing release of endorphins and oxytocin.)

Survival of the species requires a sexual urge, I suppose. Yet its normal biological outcome-- extra people-- bids fare to destroy the environment and humanity itself, and in the not too distant future. So really, humanity's survival depends on moderating the sex drive, or at least its reproductive outcomes.

Meanwhile, such a powerful primal urge is harnessed by marketers to sell more of their products, typically to no lasting good purpose.

The sexual revolution's promise was false, in my view, leading to unrequitable, and in the end, unfulfilling binging rather than satiety, and obsession and paraphilia instead of healthful relationships. I say this with regret considering my youthful embrace of this ideology.


Perceptive and well-argued post. I would say that pairs of women are also observed for signs of a lesbian relationship -- at least some of the time.

In re: children. I've seen this thinking carried to extremes, as when I overheard relatives worried that whomever moved into a new house built right next to their kids' school must had pedophilic tendencies -- otherwise, why live there? My impression was how bad the housing market was in that area, and how annoying it would be to live next to a school & the noise of recess bells and yelling kids.

Aiyeee. Not sure how to stop this hypersexualization of everything, or if that's possible.

--NW Luna
It took me til my 30's to figure sex out (while I fought off extreme sexual attention). It took til my 50's to have a healty view of it's role in life. I am finally clear about sex. I like it in moderation. I hate having sexuality color every aspect of life (real life or media life).
I have a feeling that most men and women in every culture give it much more importance than it deserves. It is so mingled with ambition and power and preception and there are "dos" and "donts" and "are you good at it" and "when you should" and "with whom you should".
Don't even get me started on religion and sex. I really think all religions were invented to control who has sex with whom and in what position. Every other commandment relates to sex in some way.
I once read a book called The Red Queen (I think) about the history of sexuality. It all boils down to genetics and survival. Sex (pro creation) is about living for ever through passing a part of you to the generations that follow.

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