A society is a living thing. It is a breathing, animated communion of its collective parts and the outward expression of what is inside its members’ hearts. As new ideas and new generations drive their stake in the ideological turf wars that continually take place it is always for the vigilant to step back from the emotional centre of the hurricane and to commentate on the evidence presented with the precision of a scientist. What then does our society say about sex and violence?
At the risk of stating the obvious, violence is a bad thing. One Belfast resident tragically quipped in 1991, “It’s not the bullet with my name on it that worries me, It’s the one that says ‘To whom it may concern.’” Violence is what we descend to when we forfeit all reason, all humanity and all love. It is a virtual admission that all logic and reason are null and void before the debauched court of physical justice which always declares, might is right. Karl Von Clausewitz famously described war as merely diplomacy by other means. Although he is correct we must ask also, what hellish diplomacy is this? The ‘just war’ of Thucydides has stood the test of time, violence is only acceptable if it is directly stopping even greater violence.
Sex on the other hand is essentially a good thing. It is the ultimate physical expression of love. It is the natural occupation of our evolved species and the means by which we reproduce and leave a trail of DNA for all eternity. It is a pleasure which stimulates body and mind and allows us in one of the richest senses to feel. Needless to say sex can be bad as well. It can be cheapened, it can be abused and it can be used as a weapon. Nonetheless it has, at the very least, the potential to be wonderful whereas violence only, at absolute best, has the potential to avoid something even more horrible.
You would think then that society should completely frown upon violence and with some caution, approve of sex. And yet the absolute opposite is true. Jack Nicholson once despaired, ‘If you suck on a tit the movie gets an R rating, if you hack the tit off with an axe it will be PG.’ Could you imagine the outrage if, even without nudity, a sex scene was shown on TV during ‘family hours’ but who would bat an eyelid at a John Wayne movie?
The truly horrible thing about this situation is that while sex is stigmatized, violence is glorified. Children play with their guns and their swords, (although these days both are virtual, heaven forbid the kids run around outside and get some exercise) they watch countless murders on TV and at the movies and they are told that the greatest heroes of all are soldiers. Of course parents will discipline their children and tell them not to hit or bite but if violence is continually being shown as a positive, what really is the message? Are kids being told that violence is ok so long as an adult doesn’t see you? I went to school with several boys and girls who lived by that motto.
As for sex, is it really helpful to try and shield it away from the public gaze as though it were some dirty act only engaged in by miscreants? I think there is much to be learned from the case of Bristol Palin. Firstly, and this has been proved time and again, simply telling your kids not to have sex, even if you tell them it is a sin and G-D will severely punish them, it won’t stop them. A survey of American, church-going, conservative Christians revealed that just under 80% had sex before marriage. Would it not then have been better for Sarah Palin just to talk openly about sex with Bristol? Wouldn’t it have been better to just tell her to always carry a condom and to give advice concerning STIs and contraception? Instead the Palins have gone the other way. Bristol is now a spokesperson for abstinence. She travels America telling young boys and girls not to do the same thing she did. They will. What an exercise in futility.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the treatment of sex and violence was reversed? Let’s imagine it for a minute. Rather than Steven Segal being praised for murdering someone, Steven Stud-muffin is praised for being a generous and considerate lover. Down at the pub a dirty joke is one which involves violence rather than one that involves sex. ‘I’d like to punch someone’, chuckles Tom. Merrily the group laugh but with eyes darting as they know that sort of joke is frowned upon by most people.
Emotional pain is just as debilitating as physical pain. The last thing I am suggesting is that all sexual ethics be abandoned and that children should be sexualised as early as possible. All I am pointing out is that there is a disproportionate effort on the part of conservative society to block out any sexual voice, even from curious teenagers, even from consenting adults. At the same time and from the same people there is a blind eye turned towards the penetrating depictions of violence which surround our society.
There is, in truth, a hypocrisy in the world. Those who shout the loudest against sex would have to admit, if pushed, that violence is a much greater evil and yet, which of the two raises their ire? Of course they will claim they are against sex AND violence but when push comes to shove it is the former which particularly repulses them and which they want stamped out of any public visibility. The message on sex is clear, don’t do it. The message on violence is complex; it is ok on the sports field not in the pub, it is ok in war not in peace, it is ok if they push you first, it is ok if you’re defending your wife’s honour, it is ok if he deserves it to the best of your summation of who deserves what. It is nothing if not a mixed message and Elbert Hubbard said it well, ‘So long as governments set the example of killing their enemies, private citizens will occasionally kill theirs.’
Would it not be better if things were the other way round? Sex is complex and should be treated as such. With complicated situations it is best to talk about them, not ignore them. It is best to discuss the issues and sift through the factors which may make it a positive experience in one scenario and a negative one in another. The message on violence, however, should be the one that is clear. From all the pages of history I’ve never heard it put better than by Andy Pipkin from Little Britain, ‘Violence is the last bastion of moral cowardice.’ Don’t do it.