7 Quick Takes (5/17/13)

7 Quick Takes (5/17/13) May 17, 2013

— 1 —

Yesterday, I was blogging about abstinence education, shame, and horrible Homeric epithets.  That may leave you wondering what kind of sex-ed my high school had.  It turns out that my school had an abstinence-only policy, but, instead of damaging content, they went with no content.  My semester of sex-ed consisted entirely of the teacher putting on episodes of Freaks and Geeks til the bell rang.

— 2 —

I reached to Much Ado about Nothing and A Song of Ice and Fire for my examples yesterday, and I should really tell you that Calah Alexander, who wrote the excellent post on abstinence metaphors that kicked all this off, has also written two great pieces on Much Ado: “So You Think You Understand Shakespeare” and “Live Unbruised and Love.”  Here’s an excerpt from that last:

[T]his second Beatrice was something else. She was beauty and wit and charm all deeply streaked with pain. She was glittering, brilliant, fierce, and then when that scene came, she was terrible.

When she took a breath and said, “Kill Claudio”, the audience took a collective breath. In that appalled, appalling silence I saw grown adults grasping their heads in their hands, covering their faces, and shielding their eyes, as if they were subconsciously trying to block out what was happening.

And she said it with such a dreadful, icy self-possession that it was impossible to play off as heated emotion. Even if the later scene where she refuses to greet Benedick until he tells her that he has challenged Claudio didn’t convince the audience, the raw power of her delivering those two words was enough. She knew exactly what she was doing. She was using selfless love, freely offered, as a weapon against her enemy.

— 3 —

I’m really hopeful that Joss Whedon’s adaptation will keep the audience slightly uncomfortable and aware of some of the ugliness and cruelty lurking under the merry war of words in this play.   In this interview, Joss talks about his choice to have Beatrice and Benedick be former lovers and only slightly disguised anger and hurt below their banter. He also shares Calah’s thoughts about Borachio and Margaret.

— 4 —

And while we’re talking about sexual ethics or romances that make us a little queasy, there’s been a spontaneous symposium going on at AmCon in response to Emily Witt’s essay “What Do You Desire?” for N+1.  Nota bene: the essay has some extremely graphic sex and sexualized violence, and thus, so does the commentary.  PEG has links to most of the AmCon responses here and adds some thoughts of his own.

I like it when people come together to argue in response to a specific prompt; it helps keep the discussion grounded.  One thread of it has been talking about whether consent is sufficient or only necessary but not sufficient for an ethical sexual encounter.  Rod Dreher added yesterday:

Well, sure, it’s much worse for Sally to chop off Harry’s arm mid-coitus without his consent than for her to do so with his consent. But it’s still pretty horrible and perverse for him to consent to such an act. Why is this so hard to say? And if you cannot say that it’s grossly immoral, even if consent is given, where do you draw the line? In Germany, prosecutors did not know how to deal with the case a decade ago of Arwin Meiwes, a cannibal who advertised for a victim willing to be slaughtered in a sexualized ritual. He found one, and slowly killed the guy, and ate him. Meiwes’ defense? His victim soberly consented to the whole thing, and he (Meiwes) could prove it by videotape. Eventually prosecutors won a conviction, but however they managed this legally, that doesn’t answer the moral question as to whether or not consent validates the gruesome act.

— 5 —

Since this discussion is getting a little dark, let me make it up to you in these last few takes.  It turns out that a college friend of mine, in addition to being a delightful director when I worked under her as Miracle Max in an adaptation of The Princess Bride for elementary schoolers, is a kickass video editor.  Julia Myers put together the below:

You can ooh and awe about more of her work at her website.

— 6 —

And if you still need an even simpler, purer love to recover from all this, can I interest you in a Dictionary of Numbers?  As described by Randall Monroe:

A friend of mine, Glen Chiacchieri, has created a Chrome extension to help solve this problem: Dictionary of Numbers. It searches the text in your browser for quantities it understands and inserts contextual statements in brackets. It might turn the phrase “315 million people” into “315 million people [≈ the population of the United States]“.

As Glen explains, he once read an article about US wildfires which mentioned that the largest fire of the year had burned “300,000 acres.” This didn’t mean much to Glen:

I have no idea how much 300,000 acres is […] But we need to understand this number to answer the obvious question: how much of the United States was on fire? This is why I made Dictionary of Numbers.

Dictionary of Numbers helpfully informs me that 300,000 acres is about the area of LA or Hong Kong.

— 7 —

And, of all good things, I am perhaps most infatuated with The Bushwick Book Club.  After reading the assigned book, people don’t just show up for wine and kibbitzing.  The members write songs about the book of the month, and then perform them.  A friend of mine wrote this brilliant number for their Sherlock Holmes night: “Sherlock is Home”



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  • In re: #4, I’ll confess that I haven’t had time to work through all the material, but I am inclined to take some issue with Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s note about the relationship between BDSM and Christianity. He claims it’s a simple inversion:

    What’s most striking about BDSM is how much of a prisoner it is of Christian sexual ethics. For all the talk of BDSM practitioners about how they are free from “vanilla” sexuality, they are in fact their slave: they simply take vanilla sexuality, and then do the opposite. If you define yourself in opposition to something you are not free from it; you are enslaved to it.

    All of this is, of course, true. But I think there’s a deeper connection. BDSM—especially in its most extreme forms—is fundamentally about the obliteration of the self: either by losing the self in the other (through extreme objectification, through complete definition of oneself via one’s “master,” or—if we want to go to the German cannibal case—through literal consumption) or by losing the other in the self via primary narcissism. In both cases, the mutually reinforcing categories are troubled if not downright destroyed.

    However, the loss of self is equally important to religious experience, especially Christian experience. After all, we “die to self” and several thousand years of the Christian ascetic and mystical traditions have carefully honed disciplines which seek to lose the standard sense of self in a larger experience of the ultimate Other: God.

    It seems to me that part of the allure of BDSM, of hard drugs, and of other experiences that break down the division between self and other is that these experiences seem to feed a fundamental need. At the end of the day, the impulse—no matter how misguided its expression may sometimes be—is religious.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Want to feel real pain? Read a newspaper story on Clergy Abuse with #6 turned on.

  • I’m profoundly glad that I was at school before there was such a thing as sex education (we covered the physical ‘what goes where and what bits do which’ in Intermediate Certificate biology class and we may or may not have spoken about the Sixth and Ninth Commandments in Christian Doctrine class) so we avoided all this nonsense.

    This “chewed-up gum/dirty water” analogy is ridiculous, it does not value chastity and singleness as good in themselves, it makes what is a natural human function dirty, and it promotes sex within marriage as lust (as soon as you get that ring on your/her finger, you can do whatever you like/she is obligated to fulfil all your fantasies) which -let me remind you – is wrong:

    Reply to Objection 2. Matrimony is specially ordained for
    the good of human offspring, as stated above (Article 2). But adultery is
    specially opposed to matrimony, in the point of breaking the marriage faith
    which is due between husband and wife. And since the man who is too ardent a
    lover of his wife acts counter to the good of marriage if he use her
    indecently, although he be not unfaithful, he may in a sense be called an
    adulterer; and even more so than he that is too ardent a lover of another

    As Aquinas also says “Reply to Objection 3. The opposite of lust is not found in many, since men are more inclined to pleasure. Yet the contrary vice is comprised under insensibility, and occurs in one who has such a dislike for sexual intercourse as not to pay the marriage debt.”
    We are all bound to be continent and chaste, whether within or without marriage. Treating those who have sex before marriage as irredeemably tainted and marriage as an opportunity for sensual gratification without limits is going to screw up a lot of people’s attitudes, set them up for disappointment, and devalues both marriage and chastity.

    • Thank you for pointing out this bit of Aquinas! The idea of chastity within marriage is definitely something we need to do a better job of promoting.

  • Randy Gritter

    The content-free sex-ed really says it all. We want to educate our children on sex. We know it is an important topic. We know there is some sort of right and wrong associated with sex. We know mistakes are often very painful. Yet when it comes right down to what to tell our children we don’t know. We have no confidence in anything we believe. We are terrified of being responsible if they take our advice and it does not work our for them. So we offer nothing. That is what the sexual revolution has given us, a society that can say nothing at all to the next generation about sex.

    The really sad part is that it is not just schools. Many parents are in the same boat. They have the same fears and they just let the TV do the sex-ed for their children. Parents get advised this way a lot. Many “experts” assume parents sexual morality will be more conservative then their children will accept so they discourage parents from imposing any sexual morals on their children. It is really a generation or moral cowards. Everyone is so scared of getting a little criticism that they do nothing. They do nothing even when they have a clear duty to provide some guidance.

  • Randy Gritter

    You wonder about the Emily Witt thing. Intellectuals seem to like their porn that way. It is an essay about porn or commentary about the essay. But it ends up just being porn itself.

    If you want to address the question of whether any sex act is degrading you should not assume it has to be something way out on the edge. Those give us some intuitive sense they might be degrading but that is of fairly limited value. Our intuition can be wrong.

    What we need to know is where our grade comes from. Why are we valuable as persons and why is our sexuality in particular valuable? That discussion is going to have a lot less explicit sex in it.

    Once you go there you are likely to arrive at a place that is not that comfortable. One that does not just condemn a few kinky acts as degrading but actually sees much behavior that is common and accepted as degrading. If we have to care about the other person how much do we need to care? Sex is so intimate how can anything less than a very intimate and very long term knowledge of a person be enough? How else can I know enough about someone’s psycho-sexual health to be able to make any kind of decision about whether this will be right for them?

    You still have not quite arrived at a place of marriage and procreation but you are getting close. Consent transforms sex from something we do as a couple into something we do as two individuals. Once you see that is not enough then everything changes. Is it right for me to do X becomes is our relationship at a place where X is right. When the question is about the relationship then marriage and commitment and even children come into the discussion. At what point in a relationship does sex cease to become degrading? Marriage is the most extreme answer to that question but sex is by nature an extreme thing.

    • Watson Ladd

      Respecting people as ends in themselves doesn’t mean substituting your ideas about what is good for them for their own judgement and self-development in Kant’s thinking. Kant in fact viewed marriage in a very unromantic light as a contract between two individuals concerning genitals. I think this should give some pause to jumping from “humans have values” to “we have to love someone to ethically have sex with them”.

      • Randy Gritter

        Actually I wasn’t really talking about love here. The logical thread I was following was just to do no harm. To not degrade yourself or the other person. Just from that you can say one needs to know the other person. How well? Considering our propensity for self-deception in this area, pretty well. So it is more an argument against casual sex than one in favor of waiting for marriage. Once you get the idea that waiting more than a few dates is required then entertaining the idea of waiting for your wedding day is not so hard.

  • keddaw

    I really don’t understand Catholics, is the Holy Sacrament of marriage important or not?

    If it is then every person who claims to be married outwith the Catholic Church is clearly not and thus are having pre-marital sex. Where’s the condemnation? Also, if only the Holy Sacrament of marriage is important why the heck do you get all worked up over gays being allowed access to what you must consider fake marriage?

    And if the Holy Sacrament isn’t all that important, then what’s the point?

    • Rebecca Salazar

      This is wa more nuanced than you’re portraying it. Pro tip: in Catholicism, almost everything is nuanced.

      1. Sacraments are for those who are baptized. Two validly baptized Christians (of any denomination), lacking an impediment, confect the sacrament of matrimony between them through their exchange of consent before witnesses. Thus, say two Baptists may have a sacramental marriage. Only Catholics are bound to the canonical obligation of form.

      This has actually bitten divorced and remarried converts before.

      2. Catholicism recognizes a natural marriage in the exchange of consent (again, lacking impediment) where at least one party is not baptized. The difference, as I understand it, is that a natural marriage may be dissolved for one member to enter into a sacramental marriage.

    • keddaw, that’s a bit like saying “Hey, murder is only a sin if you’re Judaeo-Christian and believe the Fifth Commandment, so why get worked up about non-believers committing killings?”

      • keddaw

        Murder IS only a sin if you’re of the persuasion that judges acts as sins or non-sins. It doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t care about it, we simply evaluate it based on harm, danger to society, damage to the future well-being, whatever.

        So, the fact society has the same name for some spiritual bonding act in God’s presence that no man can set asunder (or whatever the words are) does not mean you get to claim that it impacts your interpretation of marriage in any way* and so you should not raise a fuss about gay marriage, except insofar as you see active gays as sinners who are going to hell and you’re trying to stop the state from encouraging this state of affairs. But be honest about it. Don’t hide behind the nonsense ideas played out in the media.

        * Until the state tries to tell the Church to marry people not allowed, at which point I stand 100% behind the Church.

    • tedseeber

      I think what you have fallen into is American binary guilt and innocence, vs Catholic spectrum of innocence to mortal sin, which in mathematical terms is at least a base 6 spectrum.

  • grok87

    Re #6 Dictionary of numbers:

    Very cool! I tried it on this article on Steve Job’s widow


    And it helpfully informed me that her net worth of $11.5 Bn was about the same as what Hurricane Agnes cost in 1972.
    Hmm…. that must be in today’s dollars I guess.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Try a clergy abuse story with it. You will learn that plaintiffs typically seek SuperBowl Advertising and that Archdiocese fines are equivalent to the salaries of all US Soccer Players, with hurricane research level funds set aside for future cases.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    #1- I come from the STARS era of abstinence sex ed- in which “Students today aren’t ready for sex” because of the complex emotional and physical issues involved (including statistics on proper use vs improper use of birth control). The conclusion of many of my peers- get married before having sex, and no sex is the safest sex. At which point since it wasn’t covered, public masterbation became a *slight* (<1%) problem.

  • tedseeber

    i did #6 before #4, which is why I now know that a bondage porn star earns as much as I spend on my smartphone in a year, in 4-5 hours.

  • Al

    On the subject of strange dictionaries, I saw this and thought of you:

    ht tp://www.psmag.com/education/whats-that-thing-where-you-feel-that-thing-and-it-makes-that-other-thing-happen-57858/

  • Jenesaispas2

    #1 Reminds me of when my Religious Studies teacher used to put Vicar of Dibley (British TV series) on for most of the lesson. I think he got fired 🙂