January 05, 2009

True Blood on the Towelhead

Towelhead was the worst film of 2008.

If IMDb is to be trusted, Alan Ball said, “We can make movies like 'There's Something About Mary,' using semen as hair gel, and it's a huge hit--but to show a bloody tampon is considered shocking. I think that says a lot about our culture's attitude towards women and towards female sexuality.” He seems to be ignoring the fact that There's Something About Mary is a comedy, and shock has always been more welcome in comedy than in drama, but that's not the only thing he's ignoring.

Bloody tampons aren't interesting. Bloody tampons aren't funny. Blood isn't funny. Semen isn't funny. Semen in Cameron Diaz's hair was a little funny. If Towelhead had included a character accidentally putting a bloody tampon in someone's hair, it probably would have been funny if Ball had figured out a way to have the idea make some narrative sense, and that method would have been interesting. But my question is, “Are bloody tampons an example of female sexuality?”

I think that's an important question when discussing Towelhead, because Ball seems not to have made a film, but rather an informational video for Health class. Every scene is as hopelessly determined to dramatize an aspect of the puberty and sexual awakening of a young girl as every scene of Crash was hopelessly determined to dramatize an aspect of racism. From memory, Ball fits in masturbation, orgasm, accidental orgasm, sex, contraception, pregnancy, shame, predators, porn, pubic hair, periods, and breast development. Oh, and two of the male characters are fixated on Jasira's hymen. In density of issues, it's perfect for school, though the girls in the class will probably want to know whether to define their period as an aspect of their sexuality or a bodily function. Towelhead doesn't try to answer that question, but it does give other helpful hints. Near the end and right after its only scene that isn't awful (the scene in which the adults figure out what's going on and some conflict is resolved), Jasira and her boyfriend discuss what's been going on, and Jasira proceeds to explain to him the difference between good touch and bad touch. Disappointed that I wasn't able to slap a movie scene in the face, I started fantasizing about finding a copy of the shooting script, finding out where Ball lives, and leaving those pages on his porch under a burning bag of bloody tampons--not as an act of vandalism, but as an excuse to ask him if being shocked by bloody tampons is an indication of his attitude towards women or female sexuality.

I'm not disgusted by the thought or image of a bloody tampon, and one odd effect this movie has had on me is to make me wonder if that makes me weird. I understand from Breillat films (mostly Anatomy of Hell, or at least its title) and the internet that men are supposed to be scared or disgusted by the vagina, or at least the aspects of the vagina that we don't simply love or desire. I tend to think this fear or queasiness, if it exists, isn't much of a problem--would men be more receptive to the idea of a penis bleeding occasionally in secret? I doubt it. But even if this is a worthy issue, does a bloody tampon sharing a shot with a repulsed, offended father and a terrified, embarrassed girl really help the problem? I think Breillat considers her film a comment on this issue, while Ball thinks of his as a comment and a cure, at least not a regression. So in the spirit of the worst of a particular year being a “real” movie that fails spectacularly, Towelhead is a clear winner. For an actual review, try Ebert and then AJ's capsule for two different, interesting pans. But I have an ulterior motive. I think Alex's capsule review of this film is very good except for one sentence, and here it is:

...I find it typical of Ball's liberal naivety that he can't seem to conceptualize how traditional Islamic standards of modesty can help give value to female sexuality.

What does value mean in this context, and no matter what it means, why should female sexuality have value? Should male sexuality have value? Is it the same kind of value? Before he answers, I won't say much about this issue, but if my interpretation is correct, this troubles me. I'll move on for now, except to say that Towelhead isn't really about the concept of value in female sexuality, but that an interesting film could probably be made on that issue.

When I watched Towelhead a few weeks ago, I hated it. But the reason it stayed fresh in my memory was because I had just finished watching the first season of True Blood in essentially two sittings. True Blood is, easily, my favorite new television show since The Office and I think it's probably better than it otherwise would have been due to the involvement of Alan Ball. And the interesting thing is that every common element between Towelhead and True Blood sings on TV while it failed miserably in the feature. Towelhead is fixated on sex because it's a textbook; True Blood is fixated on sex because every word, every glance, every tree or door or sudden gust of wind, is sexual and rightly so. All men are patronizing or horny in Towelhead because every scene has to have a warning, a message, and a lesson; all men are patronizing or horny in True Blood because Sookie can hear their thoughts and the men in her town disappoint her. Towelhead is about a girl making sexual choices so it can argue--with no one--that a girl can make her own sexual choices; True Blood is about a girl making sexual choices now because she's previously had too much information to want to make them.

One of the stock romantic comedy plots is for a guy to win a girl's heart by learning secrets about her that he wouldn't normally know. The methods are different and the sexes are sometimes reversed, but it's always inside information that wins the day. By “reading her mind,” he's able to impress her or make himself look like a better match for her. The girl always finds out he “stole” her secrets, and she breaks up with him temporarily--wouldn't it be interesting if she didn't find out or simply didn't care--but they always predictably get back together. In True Blood, Sookie can hear thoughts, so her ideal match is someone whose thoughts she can't hear. She wants equality--mystery too, sure--but also equality. She wants him to have secrets. The show is sexy and funny and devastating and charming and it's not afraid to have an unconventional pace. It also has a great theme song. Ball certainly can't take credit for all or even most of those things, but I believe his presence is felt and not in a bad way. My assumption is that freedom from the need to turn your obsessions into a message allows you to let them breathe and live. Towelhead is about blood because Ball thinks menstrual blood disgusts us; True Blood is about blood because it's about vampires.

Does anyone disagree with me about the quality of the show?

Can anyone think of a “B story” from any show with more weight than the Stephen Root stuff from True Blood?

Can anyone think of a “message movie” that isn't terrible?

34 comments:

Dan said...

"Don't do drugs" - Requiem For A Dream?

Oh, and I wholeheartedly agree about your assessment of True Blood. It had an awkward pilot and was only mildly interesting for the next 3 episodes, but it hit its groove in ep4 and just got better and better. Loved it. But the finale was a slight let-down, because it spent half its time setting up season 2!

Jefferson said...

Anything adapted from Hubert Selby is going to run into that problem of deviancy, real or perceived, being condemned (cf. Last Exit to Brooklyn, sub sex for drugs). It winds up a "message movie," but not necessarily one that sucks.

Bill C said...

Message movie that isn't terrible? How 'bout WHITE DOG? (How I savoured the moment where Burl Ives throws a tranq dart at a poster of R2-D2 and exclaims, "That's the enemy!")

Erin said...

LOL, Bill.

B said...

Do "aspects of sexuality" and "bodily functions" have any meaning as discrete or differing descriptors? Can menstruation be "defined" as either and not the other? Does this stuff make sense in your head?

Rachel Andelman said...

Menstruation is a lubricant.

Sigh.

James Allen said...

Since we're on the subject, how about some more Kids in the Hall?

Berandor said...

Any message movie that doesn't want to be terrible runs the risk of not getting the message across, for with complexity comes freedom to intrepret.

Or, you *can* have a great message movie, but not necessarily for the message you intended.

How about "Murder by Death", on the other hand? Message: Criminal fiction writers cheat!

B said...

Is a "message" only a message when it's trying to be healthy or positive or optimistic? I think "No Country" is pretty clearly a message movie.

Btw, "Burn After Reading" -- I get Walter's dismissal of it as Blood Simple redux, as a nihilistic, brutal comedy of errors. But I think it is absolutely of a piece with No Country, with nearly identical plot/character arcs and absolutely identical theme: that is, how do you make God laugh? It helps to see the CIA as the Ed Tom Bell character. That the Coens wrote it at the same time they were adapting No Country suggests maybe it was a parallel farce of No Country, a way to blow off steam during what must have been a pretty depressing process. I will admit Burn After Reading left me feeling sort of cold, and not in a good way, but the Brad Pitt head shot is absolutely the most hilarious/shocking moment of its kind since Marvin lost his mind in Pulp Fiction -- beating the exasperating defeat-parade of The Departed by a mile.

And I think Burn After Reading's performances are funny enough to earn repeat viewings.

Anonymous said...

Geez, you'd think Alex would have responded by now. Is he okay?

Alex Jackson said...

Yeah, I know. I actually acquired a cold which turned into bronchitis which gave me some fairly crippling lower back pain for about a day. So I've been off-line.

John's complaint about that one line did give me pause. I'm a little baffled about the idea that female sexuality should have no value meaning "relative worth, merit, or importance". Should it be of no worth, merit, or importance?

Yes, male sexuality should have value too. The same kind of value? I'll have to mull that over.

I'm not sure exactly what the complaint is.

Alex Jackson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel Andelman said...

The same kind of value? I'll have to mull that over.

Basically, Alex, if you thought men and women had the same value, you wouldn't have written that line. Any code of modesty that differentiates between men and women at every economic level upholds that gender is the defining marker of status in a society, and that the two gender-constructs we're familiar with are fundamentally unequal. (And that any individual who falls between those constructs needs to be reformed or neutralized. Yay, Prop 8.)

"Sexuality" in the context of codes of modesty is a MacGuffin, unless you can point out where it says that my friend's lesbianism means she doesn't have to follow hijab were she to go to an Islamic country.

Of course, there's the larger point fact that "female sexuality" is Malkovich.
It's the idea of a thing everyone wants to control. To the extent that the idea is made manifest, the only outcome is the loss of agency of one group for the continuing privilege of another.

That's why John doesn't think menstruation is part of female sexuality. He doesn't have any interest in controlling it.

O'JohnLandis said...

That's why John doesn't think menstruation is part of female sexuality. He doesn't have any interest in controlling it.

Control menstruation? As a practical issue, I'd have to say it'd be one of the most useful female functions (or aspects of sexuality, if you must) to control--mostly because I don't like children.

-----------

The language in this discussion is getting pretty opaque and that's partly my fault. I'd like to define some terms, because I can barely tell if Rachel is making fun of me or agreeing with me (or a little of both). In any event, I agree with every word of her first two paragraphs.

-----------

I lean toward thinking of menstruation as a bodily function rather than as an aspect of female (or male) sexuality, but it's hard to quantify as a percentage. Is a penis or vagina only an aspect of sexuality? Well, no. Is it reasonable to exclude them from discussions of sexuality? Good luck. Sexual thoughts or actions, however, are much easier to quantify. When a person has sexual desires, it's an aspect of his sexuality. When a person has sex, it's an aspect of his sexuality. When a person begins to manipulate social situations to precipitate the existence of a sex life, it's an aspect of his sexuality. If he realizes he likes guys, it's an aspect of his sexuality. If he pretends to like girls (or guys) while secretly fantasizing about sheep (or Gene Wilder), it's an aspect of his sexuality. All these things are unequivocally an aspect of sexuality. Are many of these examples likely to include a penis or an erection? Yeah, so maybe sexuality is 30% physical and 70% mental, or 40% biology and 60% thought and deed. But a guy who identifies himself as asexual is unlikely to experience most of the above conditions regardless of his penis, and he is liable to get an erection on accident or from editing exciting movies.

Similarly, menstruation can be an aspect of sexuality, but it doesn't have to be, at least not in any way that isn't banal. So yes, I'd say that "bodily function" and "aspect of sexuality" exist as expressions that make sense in this language and are not synonymous. I don't think it's completely reasonable to allow a person to choose, conclusively, what constitutes the difference between the two for himself, but I think it's odd to tell a girl what her period should mean to her. In any event, my opinion on the classification of menstruation isn't influenced by my male opinion of female sexuality as much as by simple hearsay from female friends (especially my lesbian friends, yes) and media. It's hard for me to articulate why exactly it is that Ball's linking of tampons and sexuality bothers me so, but if anyone wants me to try, I will.

And when it comes to value, I don't think male or female sexuality should have any value. I think that's pretty much the only way to ensure equality, but even without that somewhat mathematically idealistic goal, removing value from sexuality will prevent both the literal and metaphorical sale of female virgins. It might sound odd to say that the best way for a woman to have power is if her sexuality has no value, but my suggestion is that freedom is more useful to everyone than value is to the few.

So, if male and female sexuality have the same value, your line means nothing; if female sexuality has a "special" value, a girl's virginity is a commodity, even an accidental lapse in modesty lessens her worth, and the desire either to adhere to this system or to subvert it pretty clearly encapsulates a culture in which vast quantities of men and women think nothing of calling Britney Spears or Paris Hilton a whore. If sexuality had no value--if you weren't always buying, selling, or giving away--this wouldn't be the case.

B said...

"Sexuality" is a "body function." It is a function of the body. They are not "synonymous." One contains the other. And menstruation is of course part of sexuality, in the same way that sperm production is part of sexuality. Does it really need to be said? I guess so: There's more to "sexuality" than coitus. This is like 5th grade health class level stuff, dude.

Anonymous said...

how about preston sturges' "sullivans travels" as a great message movie?

Bill C said...

I'm definitely down with that (SULLIVAN'S), though I know some people find it a little cloying.

Alex Jackson said...

The same kind of value? I'll have to mull that over.

Basically, Alex, if you thought men and women had the same value, you wouldn't have written that line.


Well, yes obviously. The problem for me is that I'm not sure if different values mean unequal values. There's a sense in which of course if it's different than it's unequal, but then there's another where if they are really different they cannot really be measured with the same yardstick.

if female sexuality has a "special" value, a girl's virginity is a commodity, even an accidental lapse in modesty lessens her worth, and the desire either to adhere to this system or to subvert it pretty clearly encapsulates a culture in which vast quantities of men and women think nothing of calling Britney Spears or Paris Hilton a whore. If sexuality had no value--if you weren't always buying, selling, or giving away--this wouldn't be the case.

That idea is so radical that it's going to take a while for me to adjust to it. No value, economic or otherwise, means no meaning. Sexuality without value isn't really sexuality.

The reason modern Western culture has a prohibition against pedophilia is because the sex act symbolizes breaking away from your family of origin. It's defined principally as a reproductive function and when you have babies that means you are an adult and can survive on your own. Children are not ready to live on their own and so you shouldn't have sex with them.

Without this meaning, or any other meaning that can conform with the civilization, I'm not sure where that leaves us. "Let it all hang out"-ism, including of course a tacit approval of pedophilia? You know maybe not, as that would evince a preference of pleasure above everything else. You know, I think it might be impossible to have sexuality without value.

John's daughter gets her first period and he tells her, "This means you have to wear tampons" or "this means you are biologically ready for males of your species to impregnate you" and it otherwise has no real significance. Still, she is going to be unable to ignore the fact that she is moving from a stage where she didn't get periods to one where she does.

Rachel Andelman said...

It is a function of the body.

Ah, but if it were only that, wouldn't people feel silly about their desire to expound on it endlessly, endlessly, endlessly.

In any case, John expresses the desire to dismantle the value of "sexuality," the current primary mechanism by which dominance is practiced and oppression is endured. Okay. However, by failing to address the urge to dominate, all he's doing is passing that hot potato along.

Meanwhile, by denying his own urge to dominate on the menstruation question-- this isn't even his opinion! it's the opinion of lesbians (he hangs out with)! and media (he watches)!-- he's yet to impress himself as anything more than one more dude who thinks rape is icky, but doesn't understand that the dominance-submission game plays itself out in a multitude of ways. Fucking is but one, and as the primary mechanism can certainly be replaced.

Rachel Andelman said...

but then there's another where if they are really different they cannot really be measured with the same yardstick.

The fact is that there is only ever one yardstick. It's called society. So suck it up and say you think they're unequal already, jeez.

The real question is if you, John, Walter, anybody can imagine pleasure meaningfully separate from the act of domination. If pleasure is inexorably linked to domination, then of course rape must exist at the extreme end of the fulfillment of pleasure.

If pleasure can ever be thought of as a separate concept, then rape is the at the extreme end of a false fulfillment: cruelly oppressing others as a consolation prize for one's own cruel oppression. Real pleasure would entail escaping the hierarchal system.

How does one escape? It is difficult. That doesn't mean people couldn't be working at it a little harder, though.

B said...

But what else is sexuality then if it's not a bodily function? I don't think I believe in a metaphysical sexuality, except as a higher brain function that still ultimately serves the reptilian brain's prime directive: be fruitful and multiply.

Society as a universal yardstick doesn't work, because society is not universal or a yardstick. Can it really be said that American society is the same as, say, Bedouin society? Is my American society the same as your American society? Who is qualified to read the yardstick? How is it to be read and why should I listen to your idea of how it's to be read? If any given society is an indicator, it is not a metric but a clot of tea leaves or pile chicken entrails to be divined by whoever steps out of the crowd and claims to know how to read them. Hence: O'JohnLandis.

O'JohnLandis said...

B, I don't know what it says about you that you equated sperm production with menstruation instead of with egg production. That's just weird. Still, I don't think sexuality is just coitus and I think I made that pretty clear. Of course sperm production is an aspect of sexuality in many cases, but if a man is in a coma, he still produces sperm. Is that sperm an aspect of his sexuality? Does he even have a sexuality in a coma? I'm perfectly willing to admit that this answer is entirely dependent upon which definition of sexuality you use, but the thing is, the definition of sexuality you're using is a boring one for the purposes of discussion. I'm using a perfectly normal, accepted alternative definition of sexuality and I'd rather talk about those aspects of sexuality that include choices and desires and actions and realizations and rationalizations. I'll also point out that if Ball was using your limited definition of sexuality, saying "sexuality" at all would have been all but redundant after saying "women" or "female."

Alex, I think you got yourself into trouble when you said that without female sexuality having some special value, sexuality would have no meaning, presumably due to a lack of comparison or traditional roles. Remember that this started when you said that more female modesty and value would be an improvement, presumably because girls today aren't valuing their sexuality as much as they ought to. Does this mean that the disparity between "good girls" and "whores" in the current system is good or bad? In order for there to be value, there's going to be "relative worth" which I take to mean "winners and losers, good girls and whores." But if every female followed your advice and was a modest commodity, the system would blow up again, right? There'd be no meaning because there'd be no comparison or roles (plural). So following your advice screws up the meaning of sexuality as much as my plan, except with mine, girls are free to do what they want. I don't think that a massive overnight decision to abandon the idea that female sexuality has a special value would instantly lead to a homogeneous population of females--in fact I think there would be just as much variety in sexual habits without the stigma of a lack of worth. But you don't have to do much research to know what happens when this "value" is strictly enforced, hijab being only one ugly example.

Rachel, in saying it'd be nice to control menstruation, I was mostly joking--not in lack of honesty about children, but in suggesting that I care about menstruation enough to want to control it. And is it such a failing to admit the sources when presenting a conclusion? We all have our reasons; and if you can't possibly be persuaded, why argue? Anyhow, in all this discussion of abandoning value, we both know that we're dealing with the hypothetical endgame of a massive cultural change, but I think we both agree that the concept of "value" in female sexuality (I prefer quotation marks around value instead of sexuality because I think value is the failed, antiquated part of the expression and ought to have no meaning) is capable of doing harm. You say that the need to control female sexuality is like Malkovich, but I'd rather think of it as the One Ring--once you blow it up, you can go to another movie.

I can tell you that the linking of domination and pleasure seemed so alien to me that I simply accepted the premise and assumed I was unusual. So I'm passing a hot potato? Is this control-domination dynamic so necessary that it would thrive if there was no comparative worth to sexuality? I don't think so, at least not in any negative way, but even if it would, there might still be some net positive effect of eliminating the concept of value. Maybe it's a good first step. You're always conscious of the consideration of class in these matters. Well, what is the standard concern when giving new power to an underclass? It's the idea that the underclass will settle into its old role regardless of new agency, right? As a student of history, you certainly can't think that this concern--however plausible--is a reason not to try.

O'JohnLandis said...

Meanwhile, keep the suggestions coming. How about the "B story" question?

And thanks for mentioning White Dog. I really need to watch more Fuller.

Bemis said...

Forms of sexual expression that negate or recontextualize the importance of dominance:

- same-sex relationships (where dom/sub roles evolve from experience rather than gender)
- polyamory (which, when functional, tends to operate like a mini-democracy)
- BDSM/humiliation/roleplaying (the theatricality of which - safe words, etc. - is divorced from conventional dom/sub roles)
- Viking sex on a burning ship (TONIGHT WE SHALL BE ONE IN VALHALLA)

Of course, the question of whether alternative sexuality would have any meaning independent of the mainstream it rebels against is one I'm undecided on. And Rachel is right to say that sexual abuse is "cruelly oppressing others as a consolation prize for one's own cruel oppression." There is absolutely a correlation between high rates of unemployment and disproportionate instances of rape and incest. The undergrad feminist argument (and I'm not including you in this, Rachel) that rape is symptomatic of something inherently evil in the male psyche used to make me furious for this reason; I'm pretty sure I would never enjoy raping, but if I lost my job and my family was in danger of being homeless and I couldn't articulate my anger, it would probably come out in some fucked-up ways.

But yes, as far as mainstream sexuality goes, dominance is always a factor, and it isn't limited to coitus. That seems pretty obvious in the middle for a struggle for intellectual dominance in the form of an argument about penises and vaginas. Not that I'm saying you're all getting off on it, though I'm pretty sure it's making John hard.

Rachel Andelman said...

First: BDSM/humiliation/roleplaying, all that stuff is not recontextualization. It's regurgitation.

Second: Bemis, you do realize that if you say men are inherently evil while having a vagina, you're a feather-brained feminist undergrad, while if you're say men are inherently evil while owning a dick you're Sam Peckinpah and his admirers. Evidence that people tend to only really believe the oppressors' description of oppression. (Or: if a woman made Straw Dogs it would be hysterical. Because a dude made Straw Dogs it's gritty. Me, I'm like WHATEVER.)

Of course, as it's happened plenty of times in real life, guys have gotten furious at me for acting in ways that assume some level of aggression on their part. Because of course, as a woman it's both my job to protect myself from potential rapists and to stroke the egos of gentlemen who could not possibly be rapists. That performing both duties is impossible and the punchline, but hardly the concern of those who have the privilege to act offended.

That it was the feminist undergrads bothering you, Bemis, and not so many male intellectuals and artists, rings convenient. If you do respect my thoughts here, I'd ask you-- if you haven't already-- to question the logic behind that original, selectedly furious posture.

Let's put it this way.

John and I are both watching people loot an individual's store. John says, "The root of the problem is that the contents of that store have value." I say, "The root of the problem is that people are looting that store."

It's not about the urge to exist. It's about the urge to hurt somebody else as that person tries to exist. To look at a looted store and wonder what would have made it unattractive to looters is like looking at Susan George and wondering if she shouldn't have flashed a tit out the window.

Or to put it another way:

It's fine to kill vampires, but that shit is a hobby unless you're serious about going up against the Sire.

Rachel Andelman said...

Of course, that John continues to call this an argument, and admits to not seeing any point in discussion unless he can Change My Mind, proves that he really can't fucking read a word I write.

Bemis said...

Rachel: You're making a lot of incorrect assumptions. Rather than boring those reading with a comprehensive list, I'll simply say that a female-directed Straw Dogs would be fascinating. And I'm not dismissing all female perspectives on the male psyche, I'm being dismissive of undergrads and superficial, reactionary thinking, regardless of ideology.

Not sure what the store-looting metaphor has to do with anything I wrote, and since you're dismissive of my BDSM example, I'm not that interested in puzzling it out. I do respect your thoughts, but I sort of feel like you're making a straw man in my image. It's weird -we basically agree, but I feel like we're having two different conversations.

Bemis said...

Just read that last part after posting, which makes more sense of the store-looting business (which read like it was addressed to me, but, I think, wasn't). If that's the case, whoops.

B said...

Well, O'J, I don't think I really equated anything, as you can see. It's a pattern (I was gonna say "It's interesting," but it's really not) -- your need to push all the terms of a discussion into dualism. Correct/incorrect, synonymous/antonymous, sexual/bodily (still don't see that separating out in any way), great/not great.

Anyway, I don't have any use for some amorphous metaphysical "sexuality." This is the Humpty Dumpty Through the Looking Glass wordplay that Rachel got fed up with in the previous entry. Sexuality is, simply, the manifestation of life's most primal instinct, from the amoeba to Val Kilmer: to reproduce. And anything that can be called "Sexuality" can be traced plainly to that epicenter. From menstruation to Coldplay singles.

Rachel Andelman said...

Bemis:

To be fair, it's difficult for me to make a correct assumption. First it's "undergrad feminist" thought that made you furious, then it's "undergrad[s]... superficial, reactionary" thought you hated, "regardless of ideology." Either feminism has stopped being an ideology since last I checked, or you just revised your statement.

My point was simply that not fitting the "undergrad feminist" label is no encumbrance to having a view of men worth getting upset about, if getting upset is up your alley in the first place.

"Undergrad feminist" rings largely female, due to the demographics of both undergraduate admissions and Feminist Alliance meetings. You might say that that's no reason to rethink denouncing "undergrad feminist" thought as a proxy for all variants of the idea that men are evil. I would say it's possibly a good reason. I was asking you to think about it.

Re: BDSM, I will fully admit that not desiring to be whipped is a function of my privilege. I will also admit that I am successfully dominated all the time, every time I put on lipstick or wear those awful girl jeans with the tiny pockets. However, as I refuse to say lipstick is a form of liberation just because I sometimes do it to get through a day, so do I refuse to say getting whipped is a form of liberation just because a lot of my friends do it to get through theirs. A whipping is a whipping is a whipping, damnit.

Alex Jackson said...

Alex, I think you got yourself into trouble when you said that without female sexuality having some special value, sexuality would have no meaning, presumably due to a lack of comparison or traditional roles. Remember that this started when you said that more female modesty and value would be an improvement, presumably because girls today aren't valuing their sexuality as much as they ought to. Does this mean that the disparity between "good girls" and "whores" in the current system is good or bad? In order for there to be value, there's going to be "relative worth" which I take to mean "winners and losers, good girls and whores." But if every female followed your advice and was a modest commodity, the system would blow up again, right? There'd be no meaning because there'd be no comparison or roles (plural). So following your advice screws up the meaning of sexuality as much as my plan, except with mine, girls are free to do what they want. I don't think that a massive overnight decision to abandon the idea that female sexuality has a special value would instantly lead to a homogeneous population of females--in fact I think there would be just as much variety in sexual habits without the stigma of a lack of worth.

John, I think you misunderstood me and this whole thing got way too complicated. I still think the idea that female sexuality should be stripped of value is far too radical and you haven't really completely thought out of the ramnifications. (You say girls should be free to do what they want? Well, what the fuck do they want? How do they even begin to decide?)

In regard to Towelhead, and the comment in context with the review reflects this I think, I was simply basing my opinion on the fact that it is the most sexually repressive AND the most sexually permissive cultures that have the lowest teen pregnancy rates. Either/or. The United States has one of the highest because our culture is neither sexually repressive or sexually permissive. Or perhaps its both. This was Ball's satiric point, that our country simultaneously loves and loathes female sexuality and sends mixed messages.

In opposition to a culture that assigns no value to female sexuality, I would advocate for a pluralistic culture where value can be subjectively defined individually or even within subgroups. I'm not as concerned about the "whores" feeling devalued as "whores" as the "good girls" being valued as "good girls".

I feel that women should be able to find a way to positively value their sexuality and I don't want to define a positively valued sexuality exclusively as chastity, but I don't want to exclude chastity either.

O'JohnLandis said...

I still think the idea that female sexuality should be stripped of value is far too radical and you haven't really completely thought out of the ramnifications. (You say girls should be free to do what they want? Well, what the fuck do they want? How do they even begin to decide?)

Alex, can girls only decide whether they want sex by determining what the possible sexual encounter will mean to the value of their sexuality? Certainly men don't have to worry about these matters, and probably couldn't if they tried--so is this a genetic fact of females or a societal fact? If it's societal, maybe it can change--and for the better.

And did I misunderstand your original statement or did you? It certainly has evolved. Somehow, [A]...I find it typical of Ball's liberal naivety that he can't seem to conceptualize how traditional Islamic standards of modesty can help give value to female sexuality turned into [B]In opposition to a culture that assigns no value to female sexuality, I would advocate for a pluralistic culture where value can be subjectively defined individually or even within subgroups.

Could anyone reasonably infer [B] from [A]?

Also, you seem to be citing Ball's liberal naivety about value and modesty AND agreeing with his satiric point.

B, you're actually much closer to saying something true about me when you talk about dualism than about pretty much anything else you've said. Of course, I don't see this as a failing, but it's probably true. It certainly has also never been less fashionable to speak in terms of correct/incorrect or good/bad than it is now--however good I am at articulating these positions, or however good I am at being a pleasant person with which to discuss anything. That said, your definition of sexuality is terrible. Could anyone back me up on that one? Also, my questions about the man in a coma weren't rhetorical.

Bemis, even figuratively, these discussions don't get me hard.

Of course, that John continues to call this an argument, and admits to not seeing any point in discussion unless he can Change My Mind, proves that he really can't fucking read a word I write.

Rachel, I simply don't know what you meant by that--explain it to me? I really don't get it, and I think I've read everything you've ever written here.

As for your store analogy, it's tidy but doesn't work. If the "looters" are simply men, it's way off. If the looters can be men or women, it's confusing, because the store is also women. In considering the negative aspects of the value of female sexuality, I think men are more likely to do harm than women, but certainly it's the kind of system that can lead women to harm themselves on behalf of women as well as men. So what's a better analogy?

A riot breaks out and a looter enters a gun store only to find the owner robbing himself.

(It's perfectly reasonable simply to blame everyone. I'm a misanthrope; I don't only hate men. But I'm a hopeful misanthrope; we're close enough to something better that I still care.)

We should want to put an end to riots, but right now, I'm talking about stores. Not every store is good and not every owner is selling something that should be sold. Close the store.

Anonymous said...

i doubt anyone's still checking in with this discussion since the original post was a month ago (bill, you might want to consider changing the comments section so that the date is displayed along with the time which would let latecomers like me know whether or not a discussion is still active) but thought i'd just let you all know that for whatever reason this whole back and forth has cheered me up on what had otherwise been a pretty crappy day. that probably says more about me (and the relatively vapid level of discourse in my life) than it does about you guys but i'm just glad that there are a group of people out there that care enough about this topic to get all hot and bothered about it. i guess it gives me hope, as pathetic as that sounds.

stephanie said...

Interesting discussion. But to go back to the original review -

I didn't think that the bloody tampon shot was that important in the film. Regardless, tampons can be interesting! Especially at 13.

And I'd just quickly like to voice dissent re: bodily functions. Menstraution is an important aspect of sexuality. Nothing is Private nicely contrasted Jazira's first experience of the public manifestation of sexuality - happy porn stars vs her first expeirnece of the personal - blood and hair.

I thought Nothing is Private did a great job at exploring female sexuality - society's double standard and that's effect on girls - and I thought that the dad's reaction to the tampon fit well within that narrative. (Besides, he also went crazy over the condom) But just because he reacted in that way about his daughter, I really don't think it is fair to say that Ball thinks menstrual blood disgusts us.

Regarding the value of female sexuality: in the society that the film deals with, the value is different for girls and boys. There isn't the same extreme of excitement or disgust at the sexual maturing of boys. Regardless, Nothing is Private was a film about a girl, not a boy, and I don't think it intended to comment on the whole spectrum of sexuality.