Sunday, December 28, 2003

A busy, eventful Christmas. I saw LotR: RotK two more times, as my sister (who wouldn't stop calling Shelob "Hillary"), then my brother wanted to see it. There were lots of wonderful family moments--I got to meet the very small, week-old Moira for the first time--and the usual reminiscences.

My sister and I tend to have the same memories of our father (the adjectives "drunken" and "cruel" largely sum them up). An example: Being as clueless as I often am about interpersonal matters, I never noticed one of the things that Suzanne pointed out over the weekend, that our father never spoke one word to her husband until the birth of Peter (child # 3) nine years into their marriage. Nine.

That said, I find that my brother supplies a balance to the one-sided, even caricatured picture we have of Edwin senior. While Joe concedes all of our father's faults, he points out the remarkable things about him, a brilliant man with little formal education who could have been a university classics professor, a lifelong factory worker who read Xenophon and Thucydides for pleasure. My brother likes to relate the story of my dad reading the manual for the binding machine that he operated for Curtis Publishing: Memorizing it, advising the bosses on its maintenance, becoming so expert in its function that he was offered a management job, which he turned down because he wanted to continue working with his blue-collar friends (the guys my mother called "the Stretch Cunninghams."). Like my father I am a lifelong underachiever so the story always makes me feel some empathy for him.

My brother had a nice rant about people who insist on homoerotic undertones in Lord of the Rings, and I had to agree with him. For me, the act of people projecting their own sex fantasies onto other people's fictional characters is odd but harmless; but I don't like the societal implications for what seems to be a larger cultural trend.

The trend that I'm talking about is the sexualization of all affection, the idea that strong emotional affection between people is always and only nothing more than transmogrified sexual desire. I have a huge problem with this belief because of what it means for a society when, essentially, Agape love is a lie, when only Eros love is real and honest.

It means that life, at its core, is a porn film. It means that Bill Clinton is the most honest being among us. It also means that the Islamic fundamentalist criticism of Western society has validity. The social assumptions of the jihadist and the Western liberal are highly similar in this one instance:

The jihadist will say (and here I am paraphrasing from the great interview with John Rhys-Davies):
The expression of affection between a woman and a man not married to each other can only be for immoral purposes. Pardon me while we stone you to death.

The Western liberal who denies the existence of Agape love will say: The expression of affection between a woman and a man (or a man and a man) not married to each other can only be for immoral purposes. Go you.

The basic social assumptions are identical. Only the conclusions differ.

But that's only a passing observation. The real societal problem with the sexualization of affection has to do with the group of people for whom humans feel the most affection, that group of people for whom our affection is evolutionarily hard-wired. Children.

When all affection is sexualized, we are then only a hop, skip, and a jump from state-sanctioned pedophilia. When all affection is simply occulted sexual desire, then the pedophile is the most honest being among us.

And that's not a society that I want to live in.

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