Thoughts from my study of Horror, Media, and Narrrative

Archive for March, 2009

Sing for Absolution

“It’s been a long night,” I thought to myself as I dragged my tired body into bed. Part of me knew that I should take off my shoes at the very least, but a voice inside my head argued that the removal of footwear would require me to move from the now all-too-perfect spot on my pillow.


“What is it now?” I glanced angrily at my cell. “Shut up and let me go to sleep!” Flipping over on my side, I hit buttons of my phone to discover a Tweet from Jay Brannan announcing a new music video. “I’ll check it out tomorrow,” I thought, dropping the phone back on to the headboard and settled back into the sheets.

I’ve been a fan of Jay ever since I saw him in the movie Shortbus (which itself is rich with blog topics). Performing in such a film is certainly admirable, but the film also exposed me to Jay’s music, which I have been listening to for a couple of years now.

While many of the songs on Jay’s album, “Goddamned,” are enjoyable, one song in particular strikes me when I put on my sex blogger hat:  “Home.” While the track describes the certainly relatable experience of being a young person in a large city, it also contains the following lines, which are some of my favorite:


Why don’t the Gideons leave condoms in the drawer?

Bibles don’t save many people anymore.


Sure, there are many ways to argue this sentiment (declining condom usage is fodder for another article), but I do think that it’s an interesting point of view although I’m admittedly biased because safer sex is much more my religion than Christianity/Judaism ever would be. Why do hotels leave Bibles for their patrons and not condoms? Is saving one’s immortal life more important than potentially saving one’s mortal being? Is it practical to try to save both?

The interplay of religion and science has been around since the early stages of civilization and these forces are often pitted at odds against one another (even if not in direct conflict). As Emily Dickinson, one of my favorite poets, once wrote:


Faith is a fine invention

For gentlemen who see;

But microscopes are prudent

In an emergency.


Although there has been some recent conflict between the two camps, I can’t help but believe that the goal of both schools of thought is the development of guidelines to keep their believers safe. In my world, the original role of religion was to keep its members safe (from the world and each other), healthy, and to encourage propagation of the species. Science-based sexual health education, too, I would argue, aims to do many of the same things. I think that both ideologies have things to offer and that it is incredibly presumptuous to think that one side has all of the answers, or the only answers.

Girls on Film


Although I occasionally make fun of him, I’m starting to understand how the little kid from The Sixth Sense (I don’t remember the character’s name either) felt—except, instead of dead people, I see sex. Okay, granted, it’s not quite the same, as I don’t have crazy dead ghosts yapping in my ear and making some future therapist a bunch of money. But, all the same, I can’t stop noticing things even though I might want to.

“Fox is messed up,” I lamented to my coworker Michael. “Every time a girl has sex on Dollhouse, bad things happen to her.”

I should back up a second and say that I wanted to be a fan of this show—I was checking the website for weeks in advance and I’ve seen every episode to date. Overall, it’s not bad (and there’s nothing else on during the timeslot), but it’s certainly not great and there is that pesky problem with the show’s conservative attitude toward sex.

On one hand, the show certainly isn’t afraid to show its characters in sexual situations (the majority of the episodes to date have featured a prominent group shower insert that has very little to do with anything) and the title sequence features a (half?) naked Eliza. I get that her lack of clothing is supposed to comment on her character, but she’s still naked.

Despite the saturation of sex in the show’s environment, Dollhouse demonstrates very poor consequences for women who engage in sexual activity. Where to start?

The main character, Echo, has sex with a pretty attractive, rich, and normal-seeming guy who, upon climax, begins to hunt her down. Literally. With a bow and arrow. (On a side note, can we talk about how this scenario plays into many women’s worst fear that a guy, once slept with, will turn into a monster? This situation is not quite as literal as Angel turning into a soulless vampire after he slept with Buffy, but why does this keep coming up in Joss’ shows?)

A secondary character suffers an episode of rape committed by her handler (I don’t have time to discuss the many issues at play here) and then has her memory erased. I can see the small value in making people forget some traumatic incident that happened to them (especially given the world of the show) but I can’t help but feel incredible sorrow for the character—she was raped and is not going to even know that it happened. For the rest of her life, other people will know what truly happened to her, and how she was violated, and she will not; I can see the upside to this but I also see a huge downside.

Finally, we have a desperate neighbor who is doing everything she can to sleep with one of the male leads, finally does, and then is brutally attacked. If you’ve seen this past episode, you can argue that she takes charge and dispatches her assailant, but I would also mention that her civilian persona still has to deal with the aftermath.

In case you’re keeping score, half of the men who have had sex on the show have suffered no consequences and half have died (I strongly suspect that these male characters perished more because they were assholes and perished while they were trying to kill someone else, than because they were slated to suffer consequences from engaging in sexual intercourse). The “good guys” who have had sex are doing just fine.

Angry yet?

I don’t have many qualms with the show overall and I don’t necessarily think that women should have to not face consequences for having sex—all I’m saying is that the depiction of sex should be more balanced (like Fox!). The danger, I feel, lies in our tendency to soak up these skewed external messages of sex subconsciously and to make them our own.

For Your Consideration

“It’s all about common sense” I droned on.

I was giving a presentation—one that I had delivered enough times that I was able to say the right words while mentally picturing myself outside relaxing in the sun. It was starting to become a bit stuffy and weather like this simply couldn’t be enjoyed properly without a pool, some alcohol, and some friends.

“I mean, you really wouldn’t walk around by yourself at 3 o’clock in the morning in your hometown, so why would you here?” I shifted focus briefly as I wrapped up in order to make eye contact with the inquirer.

With a sigh, I let go of my brief reverie. It was probably for the best—after all, my immediate instinct would have been to don clothes that would have included at least one of the following items:  a wood necklace, a visor, an A&F t-shirt, or cargo shorts. I think that we all agree that it would have been a tragic sight, one best suited for those times in college when I could actually pull that getup off.

As I went back to my desk, I continued to think about cases where the movie in our minds is always much grander and more romantic than reality. Weddings, surprise birthday parties, a successful first date—these are all things that inevitably play out better in our mental pictures than in reality (which is not to say that the actual events are ever any less than the imagined version, they’re just different).

“You know what else is vastly different on screen versus real life?” the little voice inside of my head chirped, “Porn.”

Pornography, by its nature, aims to glorify, glamorize, and heighten the act of sex. I mean, if a film did not do that, it would mean three things:  the movie would be in black and white, I would be in the 50s, and I would be in Health class learning that Good Girls Don’t. I’m completely fine with all of this; I know that the piece in front of me is just a fantasy and I’m okay with that.

But the fantasies are getting weirder.

One of the trends that I’ve noticed in the past years is the incorporation of behavior that would never happen in most typical sexual relationships but is the highlight of the porn. Right now, we have anything from girls/guys getting picked up in a van and having sex with a “stranger,” to having sex in front of your friends in a public setting, to the rather disturbing images of men placing their hands around a woman’s throat and pretending to strangle her while they have sex. There are even sites out there that feature women and men gagging so hard during oral sex that they cry.

Now, I’m not saying that you’re bad if you enjoy this sort of stuff (I do question if the last two examples of porn show respect toward all participants but I’m a party pooper like that). I would definitely say, though, that we are entering an era where we are craving stimulation that is so extreme that we would probably not engage in any of these acts in person. What does it say about us that we enjoy watching a woman (or a man) get gang raped by fifteen people to the point where the subject can’t stop drooling? Anything? Nothing?

I think that porn’s ability to reflect back our own desires is one of the reasons that we revile it so much (well, that and our general Puritanical aversion to sex)—we’d like to think that we’re all Good Girls/Boys and that we don’t do that sort of stuff. There’s something to be said for restraint, as any religion will tell you, but I also think that there’s something to be said for recognizing, and becoming comfortable with, your sexual wishes.

Don’t Take It Lying Down

Let me start by saying that I very rarely get upset at American Dad. Okay, sure, I will often comment that it appears to be the less-funny cast-off sibling of Family Guy (and yes, I get that they have different premises) but I’ve never really had an issue with the show.

Until last night.

At one point the show depicted Francine, the mother of a typical family (you know, father, mother, son, daughter, alien), hysterical that she was pregnant. “You told me I was on the pill!” she lamented.

Say what?

All right, I will admit that I laughed a little bit at this but then I immediately became upset (interestingly not so much with the show itself as with the character of Francine). “Take control of your own reproductive health!” I yelled back at the screen, disgusted. “Certainly nobody else is going to.”

As I began to pull together my article for the week, I began to think about the sentiment that I had uttered—although we might all hope that our partners have our best interests in mind, we can never count on it. This is not to say that we don’t love your partners or don’t trust them, but simply that we are making sure that we are making the right choices for ourselves.

The scene from American Dad also reminded me of one of the early episodes of Desperate Housewives when Lynette complained that she could not get her husband to use birth control and, as a result, ended up with way too many children. While I certainly sympathize with the stress of having to raise some pretty difficult kids, I also don’t—there should have been better communication to prevent this scenario from occurring if one of the two parents didn’t want children.

Truth be told, I’ve certainly pushed my own agenda in the bedroom and there have been times when I’ve gotten away with a lot more than I thought that I could. In retrospect, I assumed that all involved parties were comfortable with the various arrangements but I’m fairly confident that I never explicitly discussed anything before it happened—I took a lack of objection as an assent. Perhaps this wasn’t the best way to go about things, but some part of me felt that I was engaging in sex with someone who had a clear sense of judgment and I assumed that participants would speak up if they felt negatively about something.

Okay, so maybe I’m more of a stereotypical guy than I thought.

The moral of all of this is that I think that it’s important to empower each individual to be an advocate on his or her own behalf. When it’s just the two of you (or more, if that’s your thing) in the bedroom, there aren’t any judges to settle disputes or dictate how things will go—in this case, it’s up to you to voice your opinion about what you want to do and, somewhat more importantly, what you will not do. You should not feel pressured to do things that you do not want to do and you should feel comfortable expressing your opinion in bed. And, on the other side of the coin, I think that we all have to be able to listen to our partners and give them what they need. Ultimately, while it might be intimidating to speak out (actually, when is it not?) all of this is important because we are not just picking fights, but fighting to maintain our dignity and our health.