Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Sex and the Middle Class

Camille Paglia has some interesting insights into the search for "female Viagra" and sex and the middle class. She notes that it is predominantly the middle class which uses sexual stimulants via pharmacology, and that this shouldn't be a surprise: middle class life has basically destroyed eroticism amongst men and women.

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

Paglia also takes on social class and pop culture, but in a different way: rather than blaming it for hyper-sexuality and objectification, Paglia argues pop culture has become the representation of a "sexually neutered" middle class.

A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class. Country music, with its history in the rural South and Southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, rock music, once sexually pioneering, is in the dumps. Black rhythm and blues, born in the Mississippi Delta, was the driving force behind the great hard rock bands of the ’60s, whose cover versions of blues songs were filled with electrifying sexual imagery. The Rolling Stones’ hypnotic recording of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” with its titillating phallic exhibitionism, throbs and shimmers with sultry heat.

In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.
If Paglia is right, it would explain why the consumption of porn has become so ubiquitous today (a "neutered" way to achieve eroticism). It might also explain why virtual forums such as chat rooms, internet dating sites, and Facebook are so popular: brilliant but "neutered" ways of trolling for old hook ups, new hook ups, retrosexuals, and the like.

She doesn't say so overtly, but I wonder how much of this is the outgrowth of the early 1990's mainstreaming of identity politics and political correctness, both in academia and throughout the larger culture. If her comparisons are correct, it would coincide with the noted differences in pop culture, circa the 1980's versus today.

That's not to discount egalitarianism and the strides made towards equality between the genders. But Paglia seems to be saying the more "enlightened" we've become, the more boring we've become. Certainly in the boudoir anyway.


Jay Livingston said...

For two decades or more, Paglia has been making pronouncements without offering an ounce of data to support them. It amazes me that anyone pays attention to her.

Todd Krohn said...

I'm not sure what discipline she's from (not the social sciences), but I think "Sexual Personae" was pretty grounded in empiricism.

I've always viewed her as more a social critic and iconoclast. By virtue of stirring the pot, plenty of people pay attention to what she says (for good or ill, obviously).

Daniel said...

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Todd Krohn said...

LMAO. I write a post about sex and the middle class (boring, in need of stimulants, etc.) and what do I get? Spam hocking erectile dysfunction medication, a supremely middle class phenomenon, to be sure.

Rather than delete "Daniel's" comment (click on the link at your own risk), I'm going to leave it as further evidence of middle class, medicalized dystopia.

"Super P-Force"...snicker. Almost as bad as "Flomax".

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