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Twits with…okay, maybe not in a headline

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I am not the world’s most prudish person, to say the least.  And I don’t have a lot of patience with the sort of person, either of the right-religious or the left-feminist persuasion,, who just can’t stop clucking over how short skirts are or how brazen girls are or…well, any of those things.

But I think it is safe to say that the first sign of civilization is a basic, society-wide acceptance that there are some things that are so fundamental, and so private, that they do not appear in public, ever.  Representations of them may appear–think of all those Greek statues setting the standard for male competitiveness forever afterwards–but each human being kept his or her own private parts private.  The act of revealing them to another person was the sign of deep and important intimacy,  a declaration of willingness to be open and vulnerable, even if only for the length of a one night stand.

Of course, this sort of privacy was more the province of women than of men, but most men don’t go waving the flag indiscriminately either.  To be caught with your pants down is embarrassing.  To be caught with your labia flashing is more than embarrassing, because there is something about it that seems to reduce the woman involved to a hole between her legs.

Go look at the pictures in Hustler‘s “Beaver Hunt” sometime, if it still exists.  That’s the feature where guys send pictures of their girlfriends taken with their legs spread as wide open as possible.  There was a time in my life when I was fascinated with “Beaver Hunt,” because the expressions on the girls’ faces were all just miserable.  They were worse than embarrassed.  They were shamed, and that in spite of the fact that they had probably grown up far from the strictures of Fifties femininity. 

Paris Hilton was not shamed, not that time, and not the time or two after that she did it again.  Then she was followed by a host of Pop Tarts, “going commando” in miniskirts, flashing the world as they climbed out of limousines.  We’re not talking about little glimpses here.  we’re talking about spread shots so wide they could serve as illustrations in medical textbooks.

So what does this mean, and what is it about these young women that makes them apparently unconcerned with this sort of exposure?  And, maybe more to the point, why do so many people go on following their every move, lining up to see them in movies and concerts,?

Back in the Forties, a nascent movie star named Carmen Miranda was accidentally photographed up her skirt, when she wasn’t wearing any underwear.  The pictures were successfully repressed, but she never worked again. 

It’s hard not to think that we don’t see these young women as actual human beings–and maybe that they don’t see themselves as actual human beings.

One of the first things cultures do as they evolve into civilizations is to separate the human from the merely  animal, to distinguish what is special, and specially in need of protection, about the human being. 

That sense of specialness is something must of us have without even thinking about it.  It’s what made those young women in Hustler so ashamed, even though most of them probably had neither the raw intelligence nor the education to understand that shame in an substantive way.

So the first reason I wrote Cheating At Solitaire was this: I wanted to get inside the heads of people who did not think of themselves as uniquely human, as important enough to protect and defend.

What does it mean when somebody reaches the point where she can expose herself–literally, and not just figuratively–to everybody in the world, and not care about that at all?

Written by janeh

September 30th, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Twits with…okay, maybe not in a headline'

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  1. We may be exagerating the uniqueness of the situation here. Pretty girls without much else going for them tend to display their assets to get attention. They’ll go exactly as far as they think they can get away with. (Notice these “starlets” never violate Hollywood’s political or religious orthodoxies. They know crossing that line would get them the kind of attention they don’t want.)
    This is not new. We just don’t have photographs of Caro Lamb c. 1812 with a dampened gown in the Regency’s first wet T-shirt party, nor of the court ladies of Elizabeth I and “friends”–male and very good-looking, I am assured–of James I.
    But already in James’ day the puritan ministers were preaching in the Fenlands, and visitors reported families with boys named Hezekiah and Obadiah, and girls named Mercy and Prudence. In a few years, the theaters and the bawdy houses would close, and the fleet will hang sailors for behaving like James’ pretty boys.
    While Caro Lamb was strumpeting her way across London, the Methodists had already gone through Wales and the indistrial north. Victorian fashion was less than a generation away, and Bowdler warming up his pen.
    I’ll miss–not the pop tarts, but the girls in tight jeans and maybe my collection of James Branch Cabell. But if I live to my father’s age, I expect there will be less to see.
    It cycles. That’s why they call it the sexual revolution.


    2 Oct 08 at 6:22 pm

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