I am a documentary film director. Subjects of my films have included love, sex, 9/11, indigenous fisheries, hurricanes, refugees, HIV/AIDS orphans, and visualization of God. I am best known for the Real People, Real Life, Real Sex series of documentaries that simultaneously explore the vital role of sexual pleasure in committed relationships and the problematic place of explicit sexuality in cinema. This is my "Safe" blog.

Cultural Criticism as Role Playing — a reply to Camille Paglia

Posted: June 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Camille Paglia had an op-ed in yesterdays New York Times, and I wasn’t surprised when my professionally conservative iFriend* James Poulos twittered his approval:

MT @WAWilsonIV Paglia is AMAZING: http://nyti.ms/c6LCQX She has now officially atoned for “Vamps and Tramps” // I comment @Ricochet

I read the Paglia piece too, but was not so impressed. She’s a deft and amusing writer to be sure, but I feel like I’ve heard it all before, and it all sounds a little too mannered; a little too calculated to hit hot buttons without much interest in going deeper.

In other words, Paglia’s essay was a perfect glib set up for my no less glib response to James:

“Paglia plays metadominatrix to a certain sort of liberal, while a certain sort of conservative sits in a nearby chair and metamasturbates.”

But in addition to my glib jab, I’d like to offer two straight-forward criticisms of Paglia’s piece.

1: !t’s a pity the moniker “female Viagra” has seized the public’s imagination. Viagra and other ED drugs don’t make men who are uninterested in sex want sex; they help men who want to have sex achieve erections. A better female counterpart is a woman who desires sex, but whose body does not produce sufficient lubrication, and there are many effective and safe artificial lubricants to address this. Rather than doubling down on the catchy, thoughtless language, I’d enjoy seeing Paglia turn her intellect on why these sort of misplace sexual shorthands are so readily absorbed into the culture; and “female Viagra” seems especially ripe for a different sort of “no, women and men are actually different” Paglia essay.

2: Paglia cites the end of the Hays code as the end of suggestion and innuendo in popular culture in general and movies in particular; another  cry of  “now that we can show everything, we don’t reveal anything”. It’s not an original thought, but more importantly, it’s not an accurate one.

There are plenty of unexplored ideas and images that lie  between Hollywood’s R-rated world and pornography’s XXX world. I reckon most of the human experiece of sex lies in the space between those worlds. But there are all sorts of powerful social-economic reasons why that space is largely unexplored in cinema. If I had Paglia’s ear, I’d invite her to read How “X-rated” became synonymous with “porn,” and the death of movie making for grown-ups. and be curious to hear her response.

There’s more in her essay I’m not so sure about, but it’s time for me to lay aside the computer and go help my wife with our kitchen rebuild. Cabinets from IKEA, trundled back to our Long Island home in our Toyota minivan. Later this afternoon we’ll take our daughters to ballet class, and hit Home Depot to shop for floor tile. With Camille in mind, I’ll enjoy wearing one of the fitted t-shirts I bought at the gay shop that openned two doors down from our Hells Kitchen apartment after the neighborhood gentrified.

*iFriend: A person with whom I enjoy having public and private electronic discourse, but do not know well enough to presume to call my friend.

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