These thoughts are occasioned by the extremely prurient cover story of this week’s New York magazine—“Love and the Ambisexual, Heterosexual Teen” reads the cover line for “The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High,” an exploitation story of the first order that masquerades as a concerned expose of social mores. You don’t have to be Foucault to see through the ruse here; you pretend to be concerned about teen sex because you are actually titillated by it and get a thrill from reading about it, and looking at pictures of high-school girls snuggling. The pullquote teases the kind of juicy details the article promises: “How do you define female sex? It’s difficult. I don’t know what the bases are. I usually leave it up to the other girl.” It’s kind of an insult to sociological observation to use it as a cloak for the lasciviousness behind this expose, but to be offended or outraged by it is to fall into the trap the editors have set for us. The editors think we will secretly delight in our outrage and indignation, and get off on it—some readers literally. Censors, so awed by the seductive power of pornography that they overrate its pernicious effects on everyone, are typically among the most avid consumers of the stuff, if only under the guise of disparaging it. (It’s like the scenes in Atom Egoyan’s film The Adjuster in which the censorship board’s rigorous classification scheme for the explicit material they assay fails to keep them from being aroused by it and consumed by the implications of that arousal.) There’s a nexus among forbidden sexuality and political outrage, just as there is with violence, revenge and self-dramatization, that political blogger Digby describes in this post. “On some level, 9/11 was a thrill for many people, even some Democrats. It was sad and horrifying, of course, but it was also stimulating, exciting and memorable because of the way it was presented on television. (When we were talking about this, Jane [of firedoglake] described it as if ‘the whole country was watching porn together every time the rerun of the towers falling was broadcast.’) And we subsequently fetishized the ‘war on terrorism’ to the point where some people become inexplicably excited whenever it is mentioned. They want that big group grope again, that sense of shared sensation. That is the ‘fear’ that people say they have. And it’s why they want to vote for the guy who keeps pumping it into the body politic. It’s why the ‘war on terrorism’ still has some potency for the Republicans that the very ugly, very real war in Iraq does not. We can’t lose the ‘war on terrorism’ because it isn’t a real war. Unfortunately, because we have allowed those words to be used, we have opened the door for authoritarian Republicans to assume the powers of a dictator under its auspices.” (And I’m sure you all enjoyed hearing the dictator speak tonight in his annual address to the Politboro.)
The point? We don’t want to see the end to the borderline child-pornography of New York‘s teenage sex story anymore than we really want to see an end to the “war on terror.” “Terror” of the sort broadcast on TV (not the kind experienced when you’re abreathing soot and running from wreckage and fire in the city in which you live) is exhilarating, especially to a captive audience accustomed to numb passivity. We enjoy being upset about such things much more than we’d enjoy having anything to do something about them.