Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Greeks Had A Word For It

Fortunately, in the US we are able to focus on serious issues, unlike the flighty and inscrutable Koreans. (Captioning for the irony impaired: the preceding sentence was meant sarcastically, not to be taken literally. I do not consider Koreans to be either flighty or inscrutable.)

But seriously, folks, as I'm sure you already know, the hottest news item of the past few days has been the cover of the July 21 issue of the New Yorker, a caricature which depicts the Barack and Michelle Obama of the American Right (and not-so-Right)'s nightmares -- or maybe its kinkiest fantasies, who knows? He's dressed in Muslim garb, she sports a huge afro, an automatic weapon and bandolier. In their fireplace, an American flag is burning; above the mantlepiece there's a large portrait of Osama Bin Laden.

As satire it's a bit leaden, at least to my taste, but then the New Yorker has never represented the "edgy" or the avant-garde. The artist, Barry Blitt, has not impressed me before -- I thought his caricature of Iran President Ahmedinejad being foot-tapped by a guy in the next restroom stall was just fag-baiting, not interesting satire. The political cartoonist and satirist Tom Tomorrow has a good post on some of Blitt's other work.

But my goodness gracious, how the liberal blogosphere has reacted to the cover! I'm not going to give any links here. Just check out my bloglist: the people there have kept their heads, whatever they think of the cartoon, and they're as startled as I am by the general reaction to it. They've done the legwork and the discussion, if you want to follow up. It's not really surprising; so much of humor depends on whether one is the butt of it or not. And Americans don't get along well with satire in general; I think it offends our puritan sensibilities, but maybe I'll write more about that some other time.

I've had my own befuddling experience with satire. A few years I wrote a couple of columns for the student newspaper, in which I borrowed Christian-Right rhetoric and applied it to some unusual targets. In one piece I denounced (or pretended to denounce) the teaching of foreign languages as a secular-humanist, leftwing plot, and argued that bilinguals should get off the fence. (Little did I know how prophetic I was; consider the reaction Barack Obama just got for advocating the teaching of foreign languages in American elementary schools.) My editor told me she'd received an angry letter from a professor of French, enraged that I'd call bilinguals fence-sitters. In another column I denounced the fraternity system for its unnatural and radical conduct, warning that campus greeks were going to corrupt our children. That got me a threatening anonymous phone call (it was before I had Caller ID, alas), and a rebuttal by a sorority woman published in the paper, refuting me point by point. What bothered me, though, was the response I got from liberal and gay acquaintances, who took the piece literally and praised me for it: I'd shown those greek snots a thing or two!

With that in mind, I'm going to post here one of my favorite pieces by the late Ellen Willis, whose satirical writings no less than her serious political analysis taught me a great deal over the years. This piece, which appeared in the Village Voice on October 26, 1987, hasn't been reprinted as far as I know, nor is it available elsewhere on the web. Willis received a lot of angry mail for saying such awful things, but said she was bothered only by the guy who said he agreed with most of her analysis, though he thought her final recommendation (see below) was just a bit too radical. Anyway, see what you think of it:


What else is new? The Schools Chancellor and the Board of Education President, those liberal do-gooders, want to make sex education compulsory and give out contraceptives in the high schools; outraged board members, parents, and bishops denounce this blatant promotion of Teenage Sex. The so-called compromise: no contraceptives will be dispensed, only prescriptions, and local boards can choose whether or not to teach baby-killing. Meanwhile, in New York City alone, some teenager commits a sexual act every two-and-a-half seconds.

Let's face it: everyone agrees that TS is evil, but no one has the guts to do anything about it. The liberals, of course, are hopeless. "We don't like Teenage Sex any more than you do," they whine. "But we can't turn back the clock. Sex is all over TV, in the streets, the schools, the parking lots, the closets and bathtubs of America." So, they argue, we should concentrate on preventing pregnancy and VD. Give 'em sex education, birth control, even counseling to help them "manage sex responsibly" and (God forgive us!) "have good relationships." And now our estimable Board President assures us that giving out contraceptives "tends to make youngsters less promiscuous and not more promiscuous." Sure, and if you put foxes in chicken coops they'll help sit on the eggs.

These boneheads miss the essential point: if you think you can't stop evil, that's all the more reason to punish it. Allowing teenagers to have sexual pleasure without paying for it through the nose violates the most basic principle of civilized society, to wit, "For every illicit sex act a baby, a disease, and a partner who hates you in the morning." (That goes double for girls. I'm all for equal rights, but a slut is a slut.) Conservatives understand this principle, but for some reason they're reluctant to admit it. Instead they blather on about the need to provide kids with moral values. They want schools to give lectures on chastity. Give me a break! Does anybody seriously think that if Nancy Reagan went around making a personal appeal to every high school kid in the city to just say no, the TS rate would go down one iota? Have lectures ever stopped your kids? Did they stop you?

It's time to move beyond toothless moralizing and merely negative policies like depriving kids of sex information and birth control; time, in short, to make war on TS. And the fact is, there's only one strategy that can work: making the very idea of sex so frightening that no sane teenager could enjoy it. I call this practical strategy "benign terrorism." Here are 12 suggestions for implementing it:

Define TS as child abuse. When an adult has sex with a child, it is called child abuse. Why is it any different when children abuse each other? Anyone caught committing TS should be tried as a child abuser. Pregnancy or venereal disease will of course be considered prima facie evidence of TS.

Start TS prevention at birth. Everyone used to understand that the best way to prevent Teenage Sex is to scare the shit out of children. But in recent years an unholy alliance of permissive doctors, secular humanists, condom companies, and pornography czars has obscured this basic truth with a relentless propaganda campaign. Parents have been told not to slap an infant's hand when it wanders down there, not to tell little kids to stop touching it or you'll cut it off (and older ones that they'll go blind or crazy), not to punish them for playing doctor, not to tell them sex is dirty and disgusting. We must counterattack with a high-powered media campaign designed to reach every parent with the message that the Victorians had the right idea. We must institute antisex programs in every school, nursery school, and day-care center.

Sex-segregate the schools. To prevent homosexuals from taking advantage of this reform, security guards should be stationed in bathrooms at all times. Teachers should observe students closely, and any students caught flirting should be branded "G" (see below).

Institute "pass laws" for teenagers. Under these laws, teenagers would be issued national identity cards, which they would have to carry at all times. They would be subject to a daily 4 p.m. curfew. In or out of the house they would have to be chaperoned at all times by a parent or other authorized adult. They would be forbidden to set foot in a car, since the automobile, from the teenager's point of view, is nothing but a mobile bed.

Register homosexuals and brand a "G" on their foreheads. The purpose of this measure is not to stigmatize sodomists but simply to alert parents, teachers, and others to when they need to be especially vigilant in supervising a same-sex group (as in sex-segregated schools, see above).

Institute random vaginal testing for the presence of sperm and the absence of virginity. The latter tests are sometimes unreliable, so no conclusions should be drawn before investigating a girl's history of athletic activity and tampon use.

Establish a special TS taskforce. Its duties would include running a 24-hour hotline to take TS reports; spot-checking cars, movie theaters, and apartment stairwells for illicit or unsupervised teenagers; giving out rewards to teenagers for informing on their friends, and to parents for informing on their children and their children's friends.

Bring back the chastity belt. In addition to the traditional model, designers are currently working on chastity belts for the mouth. (While belts are eminently worth trying, we should be alert to the danger of organized crime making huge profits from an underground lock-picking industry.)

Lower the legal marriage age to 12, and make marriage compulsory for anyone who commits TS. These measures alone should go a long way toward solving our problem, since a wedding automatically turns Teenage Sex into Marital Commitment. However,

TS offenders whose partners cannot be found should be jailed until they get married or turn 21. Every offender is a serious danger to the entire teenage community. It is estimated that the teenager who gets caught will, on the average, have committed 384.5 previous offenses.

Impose the death penalty for contraceptive dealers who sell to minors. I know, I know, the Supreme Court, even under Rehnquist, probably isn't ready for this. First, we would need an effective educational campaign to make the public understand that TS is highly addictive, and that the birth-control peddler is guilty of nothing less than hopelessly hooking our nation's youth.

Now I come to my last and perhaps most controversial proposal:

Castrate second offenders. This may seem harsh, but facing up to the Teenage Sex crisis is not for the fainthearted. Let us talk frankly: the crux of the problem is male lust, for as we all know, girls are uninterested in sex until boys corrupt them. I would, however, exempt from this penalty any boy who has committed TS with a girl of bad reputation. For as we all know, a boy can only be as pure as the first little whore who gives in to him.