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September 07, 2002


Friedrich --

We marvel at the way people deprived of traditional religion will promptly start believing (and in a religious way) in something else -- Marxism, say, or Freudianism, or modern art. But they do, and they will. A friend of mine laughingly says that we might as well resign ourselves to the fact that people have a gene for religion.

It occurs to me that maybe people also have a gene for taboo.

I find myself thinking this as I'm pondering today's young performers and today's styles of sexiness. Sex is everywhere; so is sexiness. And it's all, literally, out there -- porn, gayness, bellybuttons, discussions of anal sex. Underwear is outerwear.

At the same time, sex seems to have stopped being something mysterious. When sex was taboo, it had radiance and power. Alluring experiences circled around it: religion, poetry, art, feelings of exaltation and bliss. (All that=eros.) These days sex seems to be about as fascinating as programming a macro, or as double-clicking on an icon.

The de-sacralization of sex is a triumph or it's not. What I notice is this: that as taboo has come off sex, it hasn't simply vanished. Instead, it's landed somewhere else. To be precise, it's landed on race questions and sex-difference questions -- all the subjects P.C. prevents people from talking about openly.

Perfectly nice vanilla kids adore rap, and Eminem is a huge star. How to explain this? Questions of talent aside, what strikes me about these stars is that they're acting out cartoonish fantasies of sexual and racial stereotypes. They're acting out what's forbidden (masculinity, heightened racial attributes), and they make use of what are today's dirty words: ho, nigga, etc. It gives the fans a thrill -- more of a thrill, as far as I can tell, than does sexual titillation. These, and not sex, are now the subjects that have a mystique, and an aura.

Thus my conclusion: that something will always be taboo. Lift taboo off one area of life, and it'll simply settle on another. Taboo, like religion, is part of the basic and inescapable furniture of life. It's standard, unavoidable equipment.

And, hey, wouldn't it be something if the gene for religion and the gene for taboo (and, hey, maybe the gene for art too) are all kinda intertwined, ya know what I mean?



posted by Michael at September 7, 2002


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