Bob Schwartz

Category: Sex

What did happen in Sweden on Friday night? Maybe this…

curious_yellow_cover_large1b

From Trump at his Saturday night rally:

“We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening in Brussels. You look at what’s happening all over the world. Take a look at Nice. Take a look at Paris.”

Was there some terrorist activity in Sweden on Friday night? No. What was Trump talking about? Who knows? Sweden has officially asked the State Department what Trump was talking about.

I have a guess.

curious

The Swedish film I Am Curious—Yellow (1967) is one of the most controversial movies of the 20th century. It is both sexual and political. The Criterion Collection writes:

Seized by customs upon entry to the United States, subject of a heated court battle, and banned in numerous cities, Vilgot Sjöman’s I Am Curious—Yellow is one of the most controversial films of all time. This landmark document of Swedish society during the sexual revolution has been declared both obscene and revolutionary. It tells the story of Lena (Lena Nyman), a searching and rebellious young woman, and her personal quest to understand the social and political conditions in 1960s Sweden, as well as her bold exploration of her own sexual identity. I Am Curious—Yellow is a subversive mix of dramatic and documentary techniques, attacking capitalist injustices and frankly addressing the politics of sexuality.

Yes, there was sex on Friday nights in Sweden in 1967. Yes, there was sex in I Am Curious—Yellow in 1968, when Trump was 22, old enough to get in to see the restricted movie, which he no doubt saw (many times). Yes, there was sex last Friday night in the social democracy of Sweden.

And that, I believe, is what Trump was talking about. “Look at what’s happening last night in Sweden.” Yeah, look.

curious-2

Of course, I could be wrong.

Lessons from the Election: Vote Even If You’re Not Fired Up or Feeling It

Many Americans are not happy with the results of this presidential election. And many of those  people did not vote, or are not even registered.

People have a lot of reasons for why they don’t vote. None of them are good.

You don’t have to be fired up and feeling it to vote.

Millions of Americans go to work every day not feeling it. They may not put a smile on their faces. They may curse their bosses and torture their coworkers at every opportunity. But they show up.

Millions of Americans have sex with their spouses or partners not feeling it. Sometimes, of course, this is because of coercion or aggression, which is a bad, bad thing. But sometimes it is to help the relationship and because they care.

The next election, don’t wait until you’re fired up or feeling it. Vote because you will win the right to legitimately complain (which non-voters don’t have this time around). Vote because something good might happen or something bad might be prevented. Vote because you care.

Cigarette Ads Circa 1960: Size Matters

TV Guide - July 9 1960

Above is an ad from the back cover of TV Guide from July 9, 1960. It is for Parliament cigarettes. The image shows a man (judging by the hands) measuring a cigarette with a ruler, while a woman looks on with a mysterious, Mona Lisa-like expression. Is she thinking about taste? About how “your lips and tongue never touch” the filter? She is also holding a cigarette. Hers is lit and smoking.

In 1957, journalist and social critic Vance Packard published his groundbreaking bestseller The Hidden Persuaders, “the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers.” Chapter 8 is entitled The Built-in Sexual Overtone.

Since then, discussions about the role of psychology in advertising have continued unabated. Setting aside those discussions, it can be said that sometimes a cigarette is just a cigarette, a ruler is just a ruler, etc. On the other hand, every picture tells a story. So what’s the story here?

Coming Out: How Cosmetic Surgery Is Like Being Gay

South Park - Tom Cruise

In case you haven’t noticed, the noise surrounding Renee Zellweger’s about face sounds just like the conversations we have about celebrities being gay: did she or didn’t she, is he or isn’t he?

There are three kinds of cosmetic surgery: the public kind that can be explained as the result of exercise and nutrition (body shaping and toning), the public kind that is hard to explain that way (obviously enhanced breasts), and the private kind that is (sort of) meant to be private (vagina rejuvenation, penis enhancement).

Questions about the public kinds can be met with a variety of replies, all of them valid:

Yes.
No.
No comment.
It’s none of your business.

This remarkably parallels the situation of those who are “suspected” of being gay. Sometimes it is made public, sometimes it is kept private, sometimes it is treated matter-of-factly: it is what it is, it’s my life, take it or leave it, so what?

Admitting to plastic surgery is in many contexts (including and especially entertainment) as delicate as admitting to being gay—even if the fact is relatively obvious. One of the many reasons the late Joan Rivers was so beloved, why what was obnoxious in others was endearing in her, is that the fact of her many plastic surgeries was a prime subject of her own bits. As with other topics, she just gave you the finger, laughed, and had you laughing too.

In the scheme of all but the tiniest matters, Renee Zellweger’s face is inconsequential. But as with all the tongue wagging about the sexual preferences of some celebrity, it exposes unanswered and mostly unspoken questions about how people feel about certain things. Many people still don’t know exactly what they think about major or minor voluntary body mod, any more than they may have totally resolved their deepest puzzlement about homosexuality, no matter how genuinely progressive and tolerant they are.

For better or worse, we are actually seeing a bit of that in the Renee Zellweger situation: along with an avalanche of typically mindless chatter, there has been some useful discussion about the nature of celebrity, privacy, aging, feminism, and health. It is unfortunate that this has to fall on a single individual’s shoulders, with so much collateral and gratuitous hurt. But if we are careful, we might just learn something, mostly about ourselves. How rare and valuable an opportunity is that?

Illustration: The obvious illustration for this post would be yet another photo of Renee Zellweger, which neither the world nor she need. Instead, above is a frame from South Park, the 2005 episode called Trapped in the Closet. It is widely considered the show’s most controversial episode, which is saying something. In it, the fearless and brilliant and culturally incorrect Parker and Stone managed to skewer (eviscerate?) both Scientology and the rumored homosexuality of Hollywood stars. In this scene, Tom Cruise won’t come out of the closet (where he will ultimately be joined by John Travolta). Nicole Kidman, his then-wife, is trying to talk him out. As I said, culturally incorrect, and probably intolerant and spiteful in light of all that’s written above. But it is funny, and not surprisingly, it is the equally fearless and funny Joan Rivers who also took on the very same subject. Laughing and thinking. What a combo.

We Need a Doctor: Who Hasn’t Seen Jennifer Lawrence’s Breasts or Why We Need Social Therapy

Bohemian Paris of Today

One of the biggest stories of the weekend was the posting of nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other female celebs, apparently stolen from their cloud storage accounts. The search activity for these photos almost brought the Internet down.

So in the immediate aftermath, with more to be revealed, what might we learn, besides how these beautiful strangers look without their clothes?

We are no closer than ever to figuring out what we think about privacy, or even what privacy means, especially now.

Digital didn’t create the issue, just heightened it exponentially. Inquiring minds have always wanted to know, and see. Celebrities, some though not all, have used degrees of exposure for publicity—or in some cases to put curious fans off the trail of the truth. Now we have an entire industry of programs about the “real” lives of unknowns, used-to-be-knowns, just-a-little-knowns, and soon-to-be-knowns because they are on a reality show.

Then there is the willingness of many people to chronicle everything. Twitter long ago dropped its signature question, but the most important phrase of the century so far may be “What are you doing?”, which was supposed to be answered in 100 characters or less. It turns out that people are more than willing to talk about what they are doing, what they are thinking, how they are looking, and anything else.

This doesn’t mean people don’t deserve privacy, morally and legally. It’s that line-drawing is now so hard for so many, and that goes along with a certain amount of confusion or even hypocrisy. The same people who searched for these photos or others like it in the past would be fuming if anyone stole their private shots and published them. They might try to rationalize the distinction, but it would be pretty feeble. Yet, not to forgive their double-standard, it is not surprising under the circumstances.

When we are confused about anything, and have difficulty drawing a line, sex makes it worse, clouding our judgment and our actions. Private parts are signifiers of sex, and if the private parts of loved ones or of strangers are arousing, the private parts of the quasi-strangers who are celebrities are positively crazy-making. So it is understandable, if not acceptable. People are only human, or so we say. But that doesn’t mean a little help and discussion—about privacy, about the cloud, about celebrity—might not be valuable. Maybe a little social therapy is in order.

We need a doctor, call us a doctor
We need a doctor, doctor to bring us back to life

(apologies to Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Skylar Gray)

Man Arrested after Attempting Sex with ATM and Picnic Table

ATM

This is a test. It is an actual news story about a man who tried to have sex with an ATM and a picnic table.

Place and name have been deleted, and no link to the story is provided. There is more than enough embarrassment already. You can no doubt find the story if you are so moved.

This is a test not unlike an inkblot test. Listen to the police officer’s report. Then listen to your own thoughts. What are you thinking when you hear this? Are you laughing? Saddened? Disgusted? Confused? All that and more? What stories are you telling yourself? You might find that just as interesting as the original story.

A man was arrested Friday night and charged with public intoxication.

The police officer said, “He entered the bar and walked to the ATM. Once at the ATM, he pulled down his pants and underwear exposing his genitals, and then attempted to have sexual intercourse with the ATM…Once outside he again exposed himself and engaged in sexual intercourse with the wooden picnic table.”

Honeywell Kitchen Computer and the Delights of Old Tech

Kitchen Computer - Menu Selection

Some people love old cars. Others of us delight in old digital tech.

We are not alone. The latest episode of Mad Men on AMC includes the installation of a computer at the agency. And the new AMC series Halt and Catch Fire is (coincidentally?) about the early days of personal computing. (Halt and Catch Fire is a real/apocryphal/funny code instruction that might send a computer into an endless loop, resulting in its ultimately stopping or bursting into flames.)

This is a page from the Neiman-Marcus Christmas 1969 catalog. The impeccably dressed N-M housewife is standing next to what appears to be an unusual table, but is actually the Honeywell Kitchen computer, which can be purchased for $10,000. (The apron will cost you another $28.) “If she can only cook as well as Honeywell can compute.” Indeed.

Kitchen Computer

Here is something completely different from the era, prophetic rather than silly. It is Isaac Asimov, a science fiction great, advertising Radio Shack’s TRS-80.

Asimov - TRS-80

Note that in the spirit of what goes around comes around, this is a pocket computer almost exactly the size of a smartphone—or is a smartphone a pocket computer exactly the size of a TRS-80? Either way, Neiman-Marcus and Honeywell were clueless, but Asimov and Radio Shack were not.

That would be a pretty good close for this post. Except that the following ad is irresistible, telling us something else about the early days of computing.

TSP Plotter

Just as cars were, and to some extent still are, sold by using sex, sometimes so were computers. This is an ad for a plotter, possibly the least sexy of all peripherals. The copy is mostly bone-dry and technical. But then there’s the trio of the model with her dress open to her navel, the headline “New, Fast, and Efficient!”, and the lead “The TSP-212 Plotting System is a real swinger.” $3,300 COMPLETE. Well, almost complete, as the model is presumably not included. But you know, that cool plotter just might attract one.

Mad Men and Kabbalah

Don Draper - Broken Vessel

“I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?”
Don Draper, Mad Men, Season 7, Episode 1, Time Zones

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men show is not about Kabbalah, or so it would seem. It has, though, frequently touched on religious and spiritual matters. In the first episode of the new Season 7, for example, Roger Sterling’s daughter appears to have had some sort of enlightenment experience that allows her to accept her father as he is and to forgive him unconditionally. And at the end of last season, Don Draper’s hitting bottom included his punching out a Christian preacher in a bar. There have been Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and all manner of beliefs in the mix.

And then, in the latest episode, Don grows introspective and candid with a beautiful stranger on a plane. He admits to being a terrible husband, and then assesses his own responsibility: “I keep wondering, have I broken the vessel?”

For some, the image of the broken vessel instantly brings Kabbalah to mind. According to some traditions, God created the world by sending emanations—holy sparks—encased in ten vessels. Had all the vessels arrived intact, this would be a perfect world. But the force was so powerful and the vessels so delicate that a number of them shattered. In an imperfect world, it is our mission to gather up the holy sparks that have scattered, and thus to make the world better.

One of the first people to make Kabbalah popular and accessible in recent times was Rabbi Herbert Weiner. His book 9-1/2 Mystics: The Kabbala Today (1969)  was the introduction for many to the subject. By coincidence, Rabbi Weiner died almost exactly a year ago at the age of 93.

None of that is much to go on. There is no known connection between Matthew Weiner and Herbert Weiner. And as strange as Don’s dialogue sounds, he has said plenty of strange things before, he is an unlikely Kabbalist, and sometimes a broken vessel is just a broken vessel. Still, Mad Men has taken us places we never thought we’d go, so why not? After musing about the broken vessel, and after refusing the advances of his new friend, Don turns to the plane window and opens the shade. Bright morning sunshine washes his face. Not much to go on. But if there is some message there about Don’s awareness of a duty to gather the broken bits of light and heal his world, Kabbalah or not, that would certainly make Mad Men fans happy.

The Torah and the Supreme Court: Tazria and Scalia

Women of the Supreme Court

This week the portion of the Torah read in Jewish communities is Tazria (Leviticus 12:1–13:59). This week the Supreme Court heard arguments in the widely reported Hobby Lobby case. There is a significant but not obvious connection between the two.

Leviticus is the one of the Five Books of Moses that has the least action and the most rules. Lots of rules about the behavior of the Jewish people. In the thousands of years since those rules flowed into the processes of cultural and social oral tradition, and in the thousands of years since those traditions were set down in writing, different Jewish people and communities have determined which to honor and which to ignore. Those decisions are based on what exactly one thinks these rules are: God-given and inviolable, or ancient and subject to temporizing to suit modern philosophy and life. We should not wear clothing made from two different fabrics, Leviticus says. Non-literal interpretations of this have been conceived for centuries, but it says what it says, or rather, God says what God says. But what’s so wrong about a wrinkle-free, 60/40 cotton-poly blend shirt?

The Tazria portion begins:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be unclean seven days; she shall be unclean as at the time of her menstrual infirmity. On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall remain in a state of blood purification for thirty-three days: she shall not touch any consecrated thing, nor enter the sanctuary until her period of purification is completed. If she bears a female, she shall be unclean two weeks as during her menstruation, and she shall remain in a state of blood purification for sixty-six days.

On the completion of her period of purification, for either son or daughter, she shall bring to the priest, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the Lord and make expiation on her behalf; she shall then be clean from her flow of blood. Such are the rituals concerning her who bears a child, male or female. If, however, her means do not suffice for a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. The priest shall make expiation on her behalf, and she shall be clean.

 The attitude toward and treatment of this passage in a modern context ranges widely, depending on belief sets. Some express wholesale acceptance and obedience (except for the sheep and bird sacrifice). Some faithfully regard it as God’s word, but pass it through interpretive filters suitable for the times. Some see it as a reflection of ancient people making sense of the mysteries of God and life.

One of those mysteries, of course, is women. Especially for men. Especially for the strange and foreign ways that women “work”. No matter your ideology, no matter how much the passage is accepted or spun, it is not hard to read meaning. Women are different. Some of that difference renders them unclean, even if that part is functionally essential (e.g., sex, birth). That uncleanness can be fixed, but it will cost you (e.g., lambs, pigeons).

The Hobby Lobby cases (Kathleen Sibelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby; Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius) concern the interaction of two federal laws: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which aims to protect Americans from intrusion on their religious lives, and the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which, among other things, requires employers to offer health insurance that includes coverage for contraception. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the religious right of companies such as Hobby Lobby, which has Christian objections to providing that coverage, overcomes the particular requirement of the ACA.

The big legal issues are complex and significant. One arises every time religion is in the mix: we protect religion in this country, both in its expression and establishment, but in a nominally secular country, that is bound to clash with civil rights that may contravene religious belief. This isn’t easy to resolve, but resolve it we do. If, for example, your religion happens to believe that people of color are lesser human beings, and you are “commanded” to treat them accordingly, you still cannot follow that faith in the public square or the marketplace.

The other big legal issue is whether a company such as Hobby Lobby is a “person” able to enjoy religious liberties in the first place. We’ve seen this come up before and will again. Citizens United is the most recent and famous case deciding that enterprises may enjoy free speech, First Amendment rights, just as you do. Then there is Mitt Romney, former presidential candidate, who will forever be identified with his own legal interpretation of the issue: “Corporations are people, my friend.”

Besides these, the Hobby Lobby case is widely viewed as being about women, because practically it is. The ACA requirement that health insurance include contraceptives for women is a practically and realistically sound policy. A large majority of women use contraceptives, either for health reasons or, more frequently, to prevent conceiving as a result of sex. Preventing conception has a number of advantages, including avoiding unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. An advantage of this is that women do have sex, and do want to avoid pregnancy. It’s that basic. And then there’s this: many of those women who want to prevent conception are having sex with men.

The transcript of oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case shows, as usual, a deeply divided court. Beyond the interesting central arguments concerning religious freedom and the personhood of corporations, there is a subtle subtext (some might say not so subtle). To a certain extent, the law, and arguments about it, are clinical. To the greatest extent possible, questions about impact are subservient to questions about the law itself: what it says, what was intended, how it works with other laws and with the Constitution. The rule of law prevails over the rule of people, and if the impact is unfair or disproportionate but still constitutional and legal, well, change the law.

But that has never been, will never be, and can never be how it works. Everyone—judges, lawyers, litigants, citizens—comes to the table with histories, psyches, lives, all the riches and trash we can carry. That’s how a case that seems about one thing can be, at least in small part, about another. That’s how the Hobby Lobby case is about women, something the three women on the Supreme Court without question get, something the six men may or may not.

Do read the transcript of the argument and maybe a few of the almost one hundred appellate briefs filed in the cases. In the arguments, you won’t find any express misunderstanding of the lives and impact of the case on women, though you may if you read between the lines. The briefs, which come from just about every corner of American society and politics, are a little clearer on how this is about women in ways that are not just incidental.

This brings us back to Tazria. It is easy to dismiss the passage as archaic, particularly for those who have found ways to work through or around it. Similarly, you may consider the Hobby Lobby case one about important and respectable religious and legal doctrines, and it is.

It can’t be said often enough: Men don’t get it and they can’t. They don’t know what it’s like to menstruate or be capable of bearing children or of having children. They don’t know what’s it like to be treated as unclean because of all of that, and then to be hypocritically treated as enjoyable and useful for those very same reasons. They don’t know how it feels to have some very simple means of adjusting all that, and then to have those means treated as something both profound and trivial, but not important.

Men don’t know, even if they are at the pinnacle, writing scripture or dispensing justice. So pleading ignorance, a little humility, a little learning, and a little compassion might be in order.

Teach-in and Dope in the Senate

Teach-in
Yesterday some Senators, mostly Democrats, held an all-night “talkathon” on the Senate floor about climate change. It wasn’t any kind of filibuster, because there wasn’t any particular piece of legislation involved.

Back in the 1960s, this might have been called a teach-in, which was just this sort of session during which change-minded people would learn about the radical issues of the day. Except those people were more likely to be professors and students (or “outside agitators”), and it was more likely to take place in a college administration building than the U.S. Senate.

Two occasional hallmarks of extended teach-ins were sex and drugs. We don’t dare speculate whether any U.S. Senators were having sex during this “talkathon,” but we might just wonder if anybody snuck out to the cloakroom for a quick hit.

In the delightful and trenchant Amazon political comedy Alpha House, one of the four Republican U.S. Senators living in the eponymous D.C. house is seen relieving the tension of running for reelection by bonging it in the bathroom. (The much more serious and dangerous Netflix political series House of Cards also shows the ambitious Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, sharing joints with his Lady Macbeth of a wife. Sex of all varieties too.)

Back to the climate change teach-in. Even if no substances were involved in the event, what are the odds that any of those participants occasionally indulge, or that any of the rest of the Senate does? As a variant on the old speaker’s trick of imagining your audience without clothes, maybe it would be easier to watch the U.S. Senate if we as citizens just imagined our favorite or least favorite Senators sitting in those iconic smoke-filled rooms passing the pipe. Dope in the Senate. That would explain so much.