Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sex and Religion: Poor Analysis Criticized

The Jaded Consumer was surprised to read, in an article entitled "How Christians spoil sex", that "[p]assionate, toe-curling sex isn’t normally associated with Christianity or even spirituality in general."

This is hard to fathom. The association between God and passionate lovemaking is deeply ingrained in the social fabric – especially here in the United States. Especially here, you ask? Think about it. When viewers encounter films that don't show the sex act but want to imply it (not because viewers are Puritanical, but because the MPAA has no regulator and can kill any film before release simply by rating it inconsistently with the expectations of prospective target audiences, or of the expectations of theaters' regarding their target audiences), religious references abound. Exactly what do scriptwriters do to conjure the hot sex in your imagination? More often than the Jaded Consumer can count, the answer is the depiction of some bystander – whether amused, irritated, lonely, or whatever fits the mood of the film – reacting by facial expression to some muffled-through-a-wall dialogue that runs along the lines of: "Oh! Oh! Oh God! Oh, God! Oh God!"

And who is it that's so hot in the popular media? Bad boys are frequently depicted as hot, for sure: addictions, vices, dangerous jobs – "manly" men. But what of the women? What of the objects of men's desire, the characters in films who usually determine who wins the battle for the romantic plotlines?

At the outset, the Jaded Consumer acknowledges that there are sitcoms about women who can't find love in New York, and prove the diligence of their search through an endless line of mostly meaningless couplings, each of which enables another opportunity for a bedroom joke. The Jaded Consumer won't name manes here, but these shows aren't at heart about romantic love, but the relationships between the friends who share the experience that men are mostly dogs, then buy a bag of milkbones because it's what you need to attract dogs. Depicting this can be funny, granted, and the Jaded Consumer doesn't begrudge writers who make a legal living selling humor of this ilk to those who like it, but at the end of the day such shows aren't really about love, or passion, but self-identity and the control of one's life.

Shows that depict love show people lose control, and they celebrate it. When E.R.'s addicted bad boy Dr. Doug Ross (George Clooney) was shown really falling for a girl, it wasn't some whore who was simply taller or leggier or bustier than he'd previously met – bad boys are too jaded on TV to really get into bad girls except as property – but the warm-hearted and Catholic nurse Carol Hathaway (Juliana Margulies). Anyone recalling episodes involving the two recalls her chemistry on screen.

Why did they make Nurse Hathaway Catholic? Because good girls are sexier. Religious girls – and this is a comment not on the truth of the world, but on the social expectation played upon by scriptwriters – are harder to get and more valuable, and their reactions more honest and less jaded, and when they love they love. And real love is hot.

The heat of real love may explain the apparent volume of purportedly "amateur" videos on porn sites. Why would anyone want to see "amateurs" when professionals can show you how it's done? Easy: who believes the "passion" professionals and their vocalizations? People who want to see something more than a pretense of passion – and want to believe they are looking at something "hot" – want to look at something rare, hidden, private – real love. (The Jaded Consumer doesn't want to pretend to be an expert on adult video, and notes that the apparent scale of the industry suggests that lots of viewers are perfectly willing to settle for mechanical, plotless, unbelievable situations simply to view a coupling. However, there are people who want to believe, or need to believe in order to be interested. Hence the complex setups designed to persuade viewers that the performers in professional videos are actually amateurs sharing their genuine affections on camera.)

If people are more drawn into (seemingly) real emotions and (seemingly) plausible interpersonal situations, and people more highly value affection that is hard to earn, then the connection between religion and passion will continue to be inextricably linked as long as religion is connected in the social fabric to values, priorities, and virtue. The hero who gets what he wants in Act I, Scene 1 doesn't leave us with much to be interested in. We want a hero (or anti-hero) who proves his mettle by proving himself through tests that show he is attractive enough in his values and priorities that we want him to succeed in love and experience the blissful but blistering heat of real passion because he's proven he's man enough – vir is Latin for "man" – and by virtue of his mettle deserves the success we all want for ourselves.

The connection in viewers' minds between religion and passion isn't helped by Church sex scandals, which depicts church groupies like rockers' groupies, or financial scandals, which liken churches to banks. Let's not even discuss the child-seduction problem in churches. But stepping outside the failings of particular organized religions and looking at the individuals, there's no doubt that real passion – as opposed to loud pretense and practiced performance – is much more closely linked in the public conception to people's internal struggle to find value and to prioritize the competing demands on everyone's time ... a struggle inextricably intertwined with the struggle to live a practical life in keeping with one's values that requires the same balance as making a personal life function while keeping one's family fed.

This doesn't mean that values and religion are inextricably connected – religions have, after all, given us the sale of indulgences, mass murders of political opponents under the mask of holy war, shelter for sex criminals – but it observes that in America, religion and morals are connected in the media.  Religion is a quick signal to viewers of morality.  It may be inaccurate, but it's a shortcut and in an hour of television how many non-commercial minutes have you got?  So there you are.

In America, it seems, mainstream males don't at the end of the day value and hope to find whores, but mothers. And it's our desire for this that makes good women, reliable women – women with values – such objects of desire.

And that's why good women are so hot.

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