26 December 2008
Sexuality is something that has always troubled human beings. It is where life, mortal life, originates. The moment we are born is the moment we are destined to die, and we just can’t stand it!
Women are the body of the world, they symbolise mortality. Their bodies, being the ‘vessels’ of life, cause hatred and awe. Their cyclical blood causes fear. It is symbol of death and makes them impure. Giving birth makes them impure. So much that women who died giving birth were not buried in consecrated ground.
So guess whose female bodies are sacred? Yep, ‘virgins’, and what is more sacred than a virgin carrying a baby who will win death and save the world from mortality? In fairness, virginity in Catholicism means more than the state of who have never had (heterosexual?) intercourse, but I’m not sure how many are aware of it. By the way, the virginity of Mary is not a dogma, although it’s an important tradition. The ‘immaculate conception’ is a dogma, which only means she was born with no original sin.
Personally, I feel that more should be said about ‘metaphorical’ virginity or just ditch the term and use purity instead. The reverence towards physical virginity, which unfortunately is being brought back by some fundamentalist groups, only reinforces our misgivings about sex. It demeans sex and makes it into something impure.
This ambivalence towards sexuality is exemplified, in Apparitions, by demons forcing two virgins (a disabled man and a 15-yr old girl) to have sex to conceive the Anti-Christ. In the same episode, the virgin who chooses to die instead of being raped is portrayed as a saint, in accordance with the theology that made Maria Teresa Goretti a saint. Nevertheless, the series is more sophisticated. A rape victim explains that she believed she made the right choice when, faced with being raped or dying, she chose to be raped. I would add that the Church does not say that rape victims are less good than those who die instead of being raped.
Sexuality, as everything else in life, is both sacred and profane, but our fears seem to trump all its purity.
25 December 2008
No, it’s not an ‘anti-Christian’ post. I’m not pitting one religion against the other. Religion, intended as the political and social organisation of a faith community carrying a specific culture, is obviously made by people, influenced by their fears and hopes. Religious movements are full of bigotry and hatred and full of compassion and love.
Let’s go back to ‘homophobia’. As I keep on repeating, homophobia is inherently linked to misogyny. In our culture (actually, most cultures!), men are the spirit and women the body. Men are thought to be active, strong and endowed with intellect, whilst women are supposed to be passive, gentle and emotional. As the Pope would put it: ‘men are men, and women are women!’. Where does this leave cats, I ask? Pardon my detour, but the younger cat of my family, Olga, gets more cuddles from my dad than the older one, Nora, on the spurious reason that she’s more like a cat, jumping everywhere and less affectionate. Mhm.
Let's look again at the Pope’s ecology. If, in a reactionary (or traditionalist) conception of sexuality, men are men (and cats are cats), and are defined so by possessing women, homosexual men, who do not possess women, but possess or are possessed by men, threaten society’s order. This is why Leviticus admonishes men not to lie with a man as you do with a woman. It doesn’t say homosexuality is bad (think Jonathan and David!). It says that you shouldn’t turn men into women.
The Vatican is adamant that there’s nothing wrong with being homosexual as long as you don’t practice homosexual sex. It’s a bit like saying that there’s nothing wrong with being omnivorous as long as you stick to vegetarianism. It’s worse actually, but I couldn’t think of a better analogy. In the series Apparitions, Father Jacob is extremely cool and if it were left to him, Vimal (the gay character) who have been accepted into the priesthood.
You may ask, what’s the big deal of a priest being gay given that they are not supposed to have sex? I would say that’s where the Vatican’s logic falls apart. However, there’s also a loophole. The vow of celibacy only means that you cannot get married, it is not a vow of chastity. I’m not sure whether they’ve fixed that loophole yet, but it was certainly the case until not long ago.
Loopholes aside, vows of chastity and celibacy reinforce the idea that sex needs to be confined (and regulated) to the married couple and is really for procreation. The Pope’s ecology has stripped love out of sex. I believe that sexuality is sacred. It is sacred because love is sacred, and love is far more than the continuation of the species. Maybe Benedict the XVI should read John XXIII’s encyclica on love (still limited but it’s a start!).
My next 'episode' of Apparitions will be on sex, stay tuned!
24 December 2008
You might think I’m being facetious, but it’s actually a serious legal point. It is sloppy to say ‘ecology of man’ when implying women. It’s bad grammar and has legal repercussions. In this case, the Pope's dismissal of women demonstrates that their sexuality is functional to that of men. This has always been the case in the past. After all, being in the control of their father (and brothers) and then their husband, they couldn’t go astray. This is why lesbianism was not outlaw in Jewish law for a long time. It was simply disregarded. Bad grammar always betrays bad thinking.
The Pope’s latest statement that ‘men are men and women are women’, sums up perfectly my argument that homophobia is intrinsically linked to misogyny. Religious traditionalists and biological determinists are obsessed with nature and order. For them, men and women are created differently and with different functions. Except, it’s women who have a function: that of child-bearing and child-rearing. Society is pretty much based on the appropriation of women’s bodies, or the sexual division of labour, if you prefer. Women have been biologically and culturally reproducing a very hierarchical society. They have a specific role, which gives them power and constrains them at the same time. The by-product of this is that homosexuality has no place. It is considered disruptive of the 'order'.
The Pope is not championing love and family (which would include childless couples, homosexual couples, unmarried couples etc.); he’s championing gender roles. The Pope’s dismissal of ‘gender’, as a social construction, implies that this is the ‘natural order’ and not a product of socialisation. It is what God had in mind, not man’s construction (and I do mean man!). Pity, nature is not that ordered, but let’s not get science spoil a ‘good’ argument. This millenarian rhetoric is rather pathetic in this day and age, but there will always be people who need order and hierarchy. There will always be an audience for such nonsense. To disrupt gender roles, means dismantling hierarchies of power. It means freeing people from the invented yoke of biology to be what they wish to be, even what they are ‘called’ to be. It’s about going beyond our biology and be human, thus divine. I thought that was the story of creation was all about!
On a more 'sombre' note, as argued previously, this misappropriation of human sexuality has the harshest impact on the ‘global South’. Women are kept in ignorance and poverty, have more children than they would like, die in childbirth or see their children dying. Overpopulation means starvation and the destruction of our environmental resources. The Pope, as a head of state, ought to champion the ecology of the planet!
22 December 2008
Moving to the uncomfortable story-lines, some stuff could be seen as anti-Semitic and homophobic (more on this later). I would, however, disagree and suggest another reading. Episode 2 introduces Monsignor Vincenzo, the Chief Exorcist, who turns out is Jewish, survived concentration camps, turned to Christianity and (then?) Satan. He’s exorcising souls to fool others, but he’s really with Satan. Why on earth did they have to go for a Jew? There are about 13m Jews across the world out of 6bn people, why did the guy struck by sorrow who turns to evil, have to be a Jew? I would give the two following answers.
First, the holocaust is seen as pure evil thus being a ‘test’ on the existence of God (as in a God who is good and intervenes). It’s indeed a good example, but turning to Satan doesn’t make sense. Jews don’t believe in hell. Satan is the one who has the dirty job of testing you, he’s not evil. He’s the ‘devil’s advocate’ (excuse the pun). This would be enough for the story-line to fall apart, however, Jewish or not, turning to Satan is proof that one believes in God and Satan, good and evil, in something supernatural. Belief in God comes in the same package as belief in the classical conception of Satan. As you can tell, I find sloppy theology (and logic) irritating.
Second, Jews have always represented the challenge to Christianity’s validity simply because they were there before Christ, because Jesus was Jewish and they are still Jewish. Christianity, therefore, had to be anti-Judaic and reject Judaism. In this Christian psychology, Jews represented the Other, including the devil. When F.W. Murnau shot Nosferatu, the look of the vampire relied on the then anti-Semitic image of the Jew. In addition, Jews were forced to convert and their ‘conversions’ were source of mistrust (damned if you do, damned if you don’t!). Thus, Vincenzo turning to Christianity and then Satan is the perfect anti-Judaic fantasy. The anti-Semitism or anti-Judaism does not lie in a Jew turning to Satan, but in a Jew turning to Christianity and then Satan.
I believe there’s a fine line between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism. Trouble is, the Catholic Church has always been quite candid about its anti-Judaism. After all, they can do logic. Their anti-Judaism is essential in order to claim the truth of Christianity and only of Christianity. I’m obviously not saying that this is what Christians believe (although many certainly did in the past), I’m talking about policy. This is not the problem though, the problem is in the Jew's 'betrayal' of Christianity.
On a minor point, they don't even get chemistry right! A nun dies relatively quickly after inhaling zyclon b. In reality, it takes quite some time, unless you're standing next to it. Also, getting the Latin wrong (and the hebrew) was foreseeable, but English grammar mistakes could have been avoided!
My next ‘episode’ on BBC Apparitions will be on homophobia.
20 December 2008
This ‘wider’ interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Bill of Rights made possible Roe v. Wade, in 1972, thus allowing pregnancy terminations; it was invoked again in 2003, in Lawrence v Texas, where the Supreme Court recognised the right to privacy with regards to homosexual sodomy. It obviously concerns the ‘right to die’, which, so far, has been left to state legislation. I won’t comment on my position on the above rights (you can probably guess it anyway!). What I’m interested in here is the scope of personal autonomy as derived by the right to privacy.
I’m sure the answer is out there in cyberspace (for a New Zealand perspective), but it would take me too much time to find it. Over here, regulations over abortion and euthanasia, for example, are a matter for each EU member state. You can cross the border, but, in the case of assisted suicide, relatives accompanying the person wishing to die, to Switzerland, for example, risk a criminal prosecution. Yes, I do believe this is barmy! In fact, it’s worse, it lacks compassion. The right to privacy (Art.8 European Convention on Human Rights) has been applied to abortion, but it’s not as clear cut as in the US.
What are the limits? What is the scope of our personal autonomy? So far, although this is by no means the case across Europe, privacy-derived autonomy seems circumscribed to, for example, abortion, suicide, ‘passive euthanasia’ (withdrawal of treatment), surrogacy (not commercial surrogacy), anal intercourse.
What about practices such as female genital mutilation or self-mutilation? Female genital mutilation is considered a violation of personal autonomy. It’s generally performed (illegally) on very young girls. I don’t think there’s been a female adult requesting it as a right, but,what if? I believe this question would have to be answered negatively: no, you can’t. Liberal morality could not conceive it. It’s a moral question, not a ‘neutral’ one. Those above are moral questions too, to which I would give different answers (in future posts!).
My point is that the law is culturally derived and is not neutral. Liberal democracies are not neutral or rational, no matter how much John Rawls tries to convince us of the opposite. Our ideas of human rights and liberties have developed culturally, are the fruit of strife, clashes and quite a bit of philosophy. This, however, is not ethnocentrism. We do not consider algebra invalid because it comes from a specific time and place, why should we invalidate human rights on the same spurious rationale? Different interpretations are inevitable and helpful. They give us different insights and challenge us, but they do not threaten the validity of rights.
Those of you who think as long as it’s consensual it’s all right, might want to give reflect a little more on why we bother with rights at all and where they come from. The ‘anything goes’ relativism of both false liberals whose only principle is consent, and of ‘cultural particularists’ (for want of a better term), those who think there are no universal rights, is unacceptable and contradictory.
Human rights are valid because they are universal and intrinsically linked to our respect for human life.
18 December 2008
The woman becoming a warrior, in the footstep of Predator, seems to imply that earthly beings are not superior to robots, or whatever Predator is, although one could say that it rejects the ‘culture’ of Alien. Evidently, Predator comes from an advanced technological ‘civilisation’ and Alien is just green slime. What I don’t follow, however, is this: if Predators are so advanced, why on earth can’t they speak, read and write? Why are they warriors rather than peace-makers? They don't strike me as a great civilisation, but, I guess, that would mean a different type of film.
I believe it is possible to write action without violence (Spirited Away). It might be difficult and, I assume (or Hollywood producers assume), male audiences wouldn’t like it. But is that so? Do most men like violent fighting and such an old-fashioned understanding of manhood?
I have to say that I enjoy Predator films, partly because I don’t take them seriously. However, I would also like a little more originality thus steering away from this macho warrior nonsense, but keep Raoul Bova! :)
13 December 2008
I chose not to comment at that time for the following reasons:
1. It has nothing to do with freedom of speech. The book is available to buy at Waterstone’s;
2. Protest is publicity. Protest against protest is more publicity (see Father Ted - The Passion of St Tibulus);
3. These protests are generally organised by people who are chasing power and influence and nothing else. There are groups or individuals out there who set out to ‘stir passions’ in order to gain in credibility, such as in the case of the Danish cartoons.
Rather unsurprisingly, it turns out the author had learned Father Ted’s lesson and was the first one to court controversy by sending his stuff to Christian and Muslim groups and a far-right organisation.
This is not the first time an ‘author’ tries to get publicity by provoking the sensibilities of some, but it’s still cheap and stupid. Of course, one could object that these ‘sensibilities’ are just bigotry and narrow-mindedness. However, freedom of speech includes the freedom of those who speak and write and also of those who comment and protest against the stuff. That’s how I reserve the right to trash lots of films hailed as great works, which are simply rubbish (see film). I find them offensive to my sensibility because their arguments (against religion, democracy, society …) are flawed and banal and the film itself is generally badly made. One, however, has no right to be violent, much as it would be tempting to slap the director on the face after a two-hour long rubbish film.
I was surprised to hear, however, that Peter actually got involved and invited the poet to read in the National Assembly.
Why? I assume he hasn’t watched Father Ted and he has an old-fashioned idea of freedom of speech. Darren Miller hit back and said that it was not right for the Assembly to be the hosting place for something that some people found offensive. I'm afraid, I believe Peter and Darren are both wrong.
Freedom to offend: Darren, there are plenty of debates in the Assembly that, at least, some people would find offensive. There will always be people who will find whatever work of literature, art, cinema etc. offensive. Offensiveness is not a ground for censorship. I believe you should have justified your opposition differently.
Freedom of speech: Peter, the author’s freedom of speech is most definitely not under threat as his book is available. Waterstone’s probably thought that it wasn’t worth it, that protesters wouldn’t have stopped to buy a book while having a break during the demo. There are many books, articles, films that are being cut and stopped for various reasons, including political ones. Media productions take a stance, decide what might sell, which is mostly based on what people might like. That’s not censorship.
At the Assembly: I believe taking the controversy to the Assembly was ill-conceived. As above mentioned, these ‘controversies’ are often born as publicity-seeking enterprises. The best one can do is to ignore them, especially when it is both parties that are doing it. Should elected representatives help groups and individuals getting media attention? I appreciate Peter wanted to shut up Christian Voice, but why? They don't even appear to have started the game. Nobody gives a monkey about what they think anyway. They do not exercise any power, why worry?
There are instances where freedom of speech is curtailed most severely, even in the UK and across the EU, let’s not trivialise the issue.
01 December 2008
Recently, I’ve heard a couple of guys talking enthusiastically about American Psycho, a most unmemorable film. Fight Club was somehow similar and in no way better.
Nevertheless, the films left a distinctive impression of lack of substance, misunderstanding on what constitutes satire and overwhelming boredom.
I understand that the book American Psycho is trash literature for mass consumption (if you like misogyny and violence). The film tries to turn the book around (always a bad idea if the original material is hopelessly weak) and satirise the vanity and vacuity of 1980s society (or just yuppies?) with a ‘bucket of blood’ (I’m missing Roger Corman, as you can tell). The connection between vacuity and murder is rather questionable, to say the least. If it was supposed to be ironic (which it wasn’t), it should have had a narrator or the protagonist being ironic and detached. Trouble is, irony implies consciousness, which would make the violence impossible. You’re either ironic about the violence, thus condemning it implicitly, or you’re ironic about society and find in annihilation the only solution.
The satire wasn’t there either, mostly due to a lack of analysis of what it attemptedto satirise. As Variety put it:
Tightly wound screenplay mercifully substitutes a propulsive structure and relatively restrained images for the book's genuinely pornographic longueurs -- the sex and sadism here are both largely offscreen. Still, "American Psycho" begs an unsettling question: If its hero is such a zero, what exactly is being satirized? Does he serve to amplify an amoral era's more callous aspects, or
does the film, like the book before it, merely inventory them? To the extent that it's harrowing, "American Psycho" remains indefensible as critique; only in the marginal details -- disposable pop soundtrack, fussed-over decor and cuisine, prostitutes numbed by their commodity status -- does it achieve anything approaching satire.
I could have conceived a satire of, say, the fashion industry and its linkages with cheap labour and counterfeit goods, the point being that the fashion industry (although some designers are discovering some sort of conscience) relies on counterfeiters and cheap labour, but this film does not satirise a thing.
I assume American Psycho aimed and failed to do what Fight Club did: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The violent machismo (a return to the state of nature, I presume) is juxtaposed to sanitised modernity. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was a critique of the hypocrisy of Victorian society: the sanitised, modern and progressive public life contrasted by the lurid underworld of corpse snatchers (just off Princes Street, by the way, see the lovely park? There!). Fight Club seems to follow the theme of revolt against the corruption and alienation of modernity. The self-indulgent style and general smugness suggest the fights to be a cathartic return to nature. It reminds me of Natural Born Killers, another film trying to be satirical and then failing miserably by ending with a celebration of violence. Rest assured these films are too bad to be immoral (although the first part of Natural Born Killers was good), they wash away easily and leave no stains.
The problem I have with Fight Club is again the lack of basic analysis of society. The film could have criticised the violence inherent in our ‘sanitised’ lives, the effects of our behaviour down the consumer chain, instead the fights are in, at least apparent, opposition to society. Ironically (!) the film ends up opposing the very movements, such as organic food, that have risen against the ideology of standardised consumption and its inherent exploitation of resources. Film-makers are not sociologists and are not asked to be sociologist, so why do they pretend to be?