If culture were a garden and morality the flowers that had been planted there, we could say that those flowers were in the process of being choked by the weeds, not of amorality, but of a new morality. The reason I use such an illustration is that, like when weeds take over a garden, you never know where you’ll find the stubborn root of the old morality shooting up a lonely bud.
Camille Paglia – a transgender feminist author, professor, and cultural critic who has been named one of the top 100 intellectuals of our time by several publications– occasionally still allows such a bud to break the soil of her lips.
A December 6, 2019 essay by Paglia was published by The Hollywood Reporter. In it, she mourns the death of the Hollywood Sex Symbol – not of any particular one, but of the existence or popularity of any.
Paglia cites Sharon Stone’s performance in Basic Instinct as the last manifestation of the Hollywood Sex Symbol. Interestingly, Bill Johnson, ADA’s founder, has similarly often used Basic Instinct as an example, not of the last sex symbol, but of Hollywood’s irresponsible rating system which allowed the movie to be rated “R” rather than “X,” after a mere seven seconds was left on the cutting room floor.
So how is it that we’re looking at Camille’s article praising a movie “Basic Instinct” in a positive light?
Because in it, she includes some very poignant arguments. Let’s look at a few of them:
“Jump-cut to today's humdrum office world, where men and women sit side by side, doing the same routine jobs. Turf sharing and overfamiliarity between the sexes have produced boredom and simmering resentments. Meanwhile, casual, oafish hookup culture has spread from college campuses, turning formal courtship rituals into creaky antiques. Sex has lost its mystique.”
Obviously, Camille Paglia is not a Christian, but she still takes note of a Biblical truth: Men and women are different. God made them different and He made sex for them and He made sex different for them than he did for other creatures who participate in it. The Bible uses phrases like, “Adam knew his wife,”to express the intimacy of a human sexual relationship. Similarly, the Song of Solomon uses very intimate and affectionate language as a model of a married sexual relationship. The acts therein were not casual, but were indeed “mystical” as Paglia notes.
“Second, in the digital era, the sex symbol as radiant Hollywood icon has been displaced by a blizzard of Instagram selfies, where increasingly young girls strike provocative poses, appropriating star-making techniques pioneered by the movie industry. Bare flesh is suffering serious overexposure. Wholesale blurring of the line between private and public is ultimately antithetical to eroticism. When everything is seen and known, there is no titillating taboo to transgress…”
Think about it. There was a time when a woman’s exposed ankle was enough to provoke excitement in a man, not that that’s a time we would go back to. The problem she’s pointing to is that the internet and social media have turned anyone with a front facing camera and an Instagram account into a sex symbol. To paraphrase the movie, The Incredibles, ”when everyone’s a sex symbol, no one is.” Camille’s point is well made. Sex is everywhere, which means there’s nothing special about it anymore.
“… The present over-politicized formulas about sex, with their ritual combat of villains and victims, fail to recognize the inherent complications, instabilities and delirium in attraction and desire.”
Here she points to the model of sexual morality adopted by the popular culture when Biblical morality was uprooted, which we might call the morality of “consent.” All this means is that anything consented to by all parties is allowed, and if it’s not consented to, it’s not allowed. Of course, this does provide some protection to coworkers of the opposite sex, for instance.
However, it’s a clumsy replacement of Biblical morality requiring men to “honor women” as the “weaker (or more delicate) vessel.” Traditionally, men would be taught that it is their job not only to honor women in their own interactions, but to defend them should another man behave inappropriately. Today, such recognition that a woman might need a man to step in would be seen by some as insulting and disenfranchising. In its anathematizing of citing the general difference between the sexes, the “consent” standard opens up anyone expressing interest to charges of abuse.
Camille Paglia handily recognizes many of the issues that have arisen with the cultural shift away from Biblical and traditional morality, but her atheism precludes her finding their cure. Rather than acknowledging that God created men and women to be different; that He created the mysticism of sexual attraction between them; that he prepared for the safety of His daughters in the way that He commanded His sons to interact with them, Paglia oddly praises the “Drag” movement for preserving “the archetypal power of the sex symbol that Hollywood abandoned…” She summarizes, “Drag and trans performers, operating artistically outside gender conventions, might help counter the current wave of reductive literalism that sees nothing in sex but a rigid binary of oppressive political power, authored by male evil.”
This, of course, is a false hope. The more sexuality is unmoored from its origin as a good gift of God, the more it is worshipped as an idol, the more it is distorted by impulses condemned by God, the more confusion it will cause.
When God created the two genders and confined sex to being enjoyed between them, He gave it in its best form. As with the fruit of Eden, outside of His Will, it can only be destructive.
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