Death doesn’t scare everyone. Millions of Americans look forward to death with all their heart, and not because they find this life deplorable. They simply want to hang out with all the cool, dead Christians they’ve always dreamed of meeting or seeing again.
I’m not interested in talking about death this week, though. Maybe some other time. I’m interested in fears which share the same dark roots as those of death, but which more icily chill our blood, fears which turn the most stouthearted Southern Californian into a simpering coward, desperate and ashamed. Like all terrors, these fears inspire feelings of profound anxiety, hate, and prejudice, thus spreading misery and contempt throughout society. I’m talking about black evils, one must conclude. I’m talking about the closest thing around to a real Satan, two things Southern California fears more than cancer.
I’m talking, of course, about food and sex.
I. Food, Sex, and Death, the Meat Triplets
Upon consideration of food, sex, and death, one finds them interlaced.
The human body’s response to the promise of sex mimics it’s response to the fear of death: sweat, tension, heightened blood-pressure, elevated rate of breathing, diffusion of endorphins, et cetera. Sex’s primary purpose is to fight death by creating and celebrating life.
Food is tied to death, too, as we only eat recently deceased plants and animals. We ingest ebbing life to keep from dying, and also enjoy the taste.
Our biology also blends food and sex. The tissue which forms our lips is hyper-sensitive and found also on the nipples, the head of the penis, and the clitoris only. Breasts, an important erogenous zone, represent the original food source for all humans. Oral sex is ancillary to reproduction, yet ubiquitous. Food-play fetishism has existed for millennia. We could go on for pages. Mary Eberstadt writes, “. . .ordinary language itself verifies how similarly [food and sex] are experienced, with many of the same words crossing over to describe what is desirable and undesirable in each case. In fact, we sometimes have trouble even talking about food without metaphorically invoking sex, and vice versa. In a hundred entangled ways, judging by either language or literature, the human mind juggles sex and food almost interchangeably at times.” There are whole books on this stuff.
In addition, whether eating, fucking, or dying, most animals feel compelled to do all three in relative seclusion and safety, and will react violently to an interruption of any of them.
Horror movies showcase the Meat Triplets gorgeously. Watch any old scream flick, and you’ll see a delightfully predictable pattern. First, the director excites the audience with an attractive woman, and she makes everyone sweaty and anxious. At the height of this sexual tension, the antagonist enters the scene and massacres somebody in a gruesome gush of gore. The audience’s sweaty sexual anxiousness allows a seamless transition from lust to fear, and this startles everyone. Following the carnage, a common gimmick is to cut to a knife carving roast beef, or some such food, at which the audience laughs because it is ironic to think of the newly-mutilated characters as dinner, which in many horror films they have literally become.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula could not exemplify the triad better. The Count lures his prey with an uncanny sensual charm, plants his lush lips on their naked necks, and feeds on their lifeblood, himself of course being undead all the while. The food-sex-death relationship may be the secret to the popularity of the vampire legend.
Was it fear of death that led to our terror of food and discomfort with sex? Maybe. But it had a lot of help. Let’s see where our trepidations come from.
II. North Americans: the Anti-Pleasure People
Many are condemned to repeat the past for having forgotten it. Sure, we remember The Scarlet Letter, by Hawthorne, and The Crucible, by Miller. They bored us in high school. Do we consider those sexless Jesus freaks our great-great-great-great-great grandparents, though? Not usually, and that’s because there’s like, sooo muuuch time between then and now. I mean, seriously, the people who fashioned North American culture bore little resemblance to the ostensibly sex-crazed fatties we’ve become.
We wear entirely different hats, for instance.
The American people were made up of four major groups, including the Quakers, the Puritans, and the Scotch-Irish, as well as some indentured servants and disenfranchised rich kids from England. Of these larger groups, only the Scotch-Irish did not have wickedly sadistic punishments for open sexual behavior. They learned to beat fear into their adolescents to keep them safe from the laws of Puritan communities, but considered premarital pregnancy rather hilarious. From these jolly warmongers many American wedding customs are descended. Scotch-Irish weddings were lavish, expensive, wild, and occurred roughly between 18-25 years of age. Sound familiar?
The Quakers and Puritans, of course, were Christian extremist groups comparable to the jihad-waging, fatwa-declaring Muslim extremists of today. Quakers imposed prison sentences for extramarital and premarital sex, and Puritans executed adulterers. Quakers thought sex sinful, so many went celibate. Puritans thought the body sinful, so they scorned pleasure. Puritan legal records show that men have been jailed for flashing a smile in church. Fun-loving, affectionate people, those pilgrims.
The pilgrims weren’t violent, though, not against one another. The Scotch-Irish, now they were violent. They had left their homeland in order to escape generations of borderland warfare. Their horses and their guns constituted the most important possessions they owned, and their home lives blended familial love with casual violence in a way that is now illegal in most states. We must ditch our inherited fear of pleasure, because violence and pleasure are inextricably linked.
Stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, and angry dogs lay down. Break someone’s nose at the dinner table, and suddenly nobody has much appetite. Violence destroys pleasure, pleasure evaporates violence. . .
America sure seems violent these days.
Nothing obscures the solution, though: a little pleasure goes a long way. If the Trenchcoat Mafia had been getting laid on Friday nights in the back seat of a Chevy like many of our parents were at their age, those disgruntled kids would’ve had better things to do than gun down their classmates.
Maybe we’re less hedonistic than we think. Maybe we really are our fathers’ sons, our mothers’ daughters. Maybe we’re still having expensive, drunken weddings at too young an age to be married, even after all these years. Maybe, just maybe, we’re sexless, angry religious fanatics who would rather watch people on television beat the shit out of one another than find someone sexy and copulate.
On the other hand, maybe we are the captains of our own destinies. Fuck antiquity.
III. The Sex-Crazed American Epicure
Were I you, I’d say, “What fear of food? You think Americans are afraid to eat? Have you met any?”
While it’s true that we eat plenty of garbage in the good ol’ U.S. of A., one has only to examine the tastes of any region to notice that our eating proclivities exhibit a remarkable tenacity, an almost rabid resistance to even the smallest alteration. Cultural norms cause the bulk of this aversion, of course, but a propensity to stick to cultural norms is nothing more than a twig off the xenophobia branch of the ethnocentrism tree. Ethnocentrism — as anyone can tell you — is nothing more than canned fear.
To see this applied to our diets, follow the disgusted faces of your countrymen to their sources of revulsion. Texans would rather die than eat tofu. Midwest farmers might call the N.S.A. on anyone eating kafta or felafel. And here, in Southern California?
Oh, baby. Southern Californians are afraid to eat anything.
Eggs are good for you; eggs are bad for you; eggs are good for you; eggs are bad for you. I’m not worried, myself; I’m on a macrobiotic diet consisting of mostly grains. Exactly one glass of precisely red wine is good for expectant mothers, but coffee mutates fœtuses. R.B.S.T. makes ten year olds grow mustaches, grow tits, grow ten feet tall. Fast food is dog food. Hot dogs are lips and assholes. There’s pus in milk, listeria in cheese, mad cow in beef, trichinosis in pork, salmonella in eggs, insect parts in peanut butter, and enough pesticide on fruits and vegetables to poison the populace of Paraguay.
To combat these culinary evils are our So. Cal. dietary defense forces, the vegetarians, pesca vegetarians, lacto vegetarians, lacto-ovo vegetarians, and vegans. These troops remind us to neglect certified-organic foods; they’re not really organic; the only way to be sure is to buy at the farmers’ market, except that you can’t really be sure there, either. Bytheway, free-range is not really free-range, so the best bet is to cut out eggs altogether.
We consider anything that touches a surface other than a sterilized plate contaminated. Even our toddlers practice their own forms of dietary paranoia and follow five-, ten-, or thirty-second rules. One never knows, though. A chocolate chip cookie dropped to the playground concrete could carry cancer. Bubble gum, on the other hand — you can stick that pretty much anywhere and resume chewing at your leisure. Gum has antibiotic properties.
All of us here in Los Angeles have a little list we add to and subtract from according to hearsay and newspaper articles. Eat this sometimes, eat that never, eat this other thing every third morning in order to guard against Bavarian eyelid syndrome. We know which companies to trust, which ones to keep an eye on, and which ones to spread bad press about like wartime propaganda ministers. We also wash everything, wash it in scalding water infused with antibacterial, environmentally friendly soap.
And when I say everything, I mean everything.
It should come as no surprise that our anxiety about food mirrors our anxiety about sex. We spray the poisons off our bodies once a day as though we were suspect crops, using antibacterial soaps fundamentally indistinguishable from that which we use for our dishes, soaps which deplete the epidermis of natural sebum which naturally lubricates and conditions our skin and hair. Knowing our bodies have been sterilized daily doesn’t make us feel handsome, pretty, or sexy, though — merely not-revolting. I remember learning in college during a non-verbal communication class that the least-attractive scent according to a poll of women was men’s cologne, the most attractive being by a large margin, soap.
We’re so uncomfortable about our bodies today that many young men shave their chests, those symbols of masculinity so desired in the disco era, and many young women won’t go on a date without having shaved — well, everywhere.
We have bigger problems than a soap fetish, though. Toby Young writes that young men are too busy styling their hair to want sex. Kathleen Parker says feminism has outright neutered us. I don’t know if sexual paranoia causes this hyper-vanity and gender confusion or is being caused by them, but they’re certainly not helping. We’re terrified that our cocks are short and our boobs droop. We’re convinced that they should be shaved, dunked in sanitizer buckets, and covered up with Gucci until the lights go thankfully out.
Emasculation and anxiety over our bodies may make up some of our fear of fucking, but not all of it. We’re taught that we’re going to make babies unless we use five types of contraception. The rest of the world would rather give up oral sex altogether than feel it through cellophane, but dental dams are a way of life for many Americans. Abstinence education still happens in high schools, too, during which undercover Christians tell students about how glad they are to have gone celibate, because anyone who exposes an erogenous zone to the open air is sure to contract gonoherpasyphilaides. We eat it up and pay no mind. Our Puritanical past has imposed many other norms upon us as well, norms such as premarital monogamy.
In America today, premarital monogamy occurs tout de suite. The trend among teens in the 1950s was to date different people until a clear standout appeared, at which point a decision would be made to go steady and halt other romances. The Beach Boys sang, “None of the guys go steady, ’cause it wouldn’t be right to leave the best girl lonely on a Saturday night.” Four decades later, twelve-year-old girls are getting into fistfights because someone looked at their crush. This instant ownership occurs at the moment digits are exchanged.
Not long ago, the traditional courtship ritual began with flirtation and moved to polygamous dating, then monogamy, then the traditional promise ring, then engagement, and then marriage, which I remind is the official American signifier of expected romantic loyalty. Romantic loyalty is extorted de facto from our amorous partners in American middle and high schools now, and many, many Americans marry people having loved (or god forbid, having fucked) but one or two people, hardly enough of a sample base to make informed decisions regarding whom one ought to swear one’s eternal fealty to.
Now, I truly detest statistics, but information on human sexuality comes in numbers (probably owing to its close ties with psychology, that contemptible exercise in neologism and self-important taxonomy). I apologize for the following paragraph.
The Kinsey Institute says, roughly 66% of Caucasian women and 48% of Afro-American women in college have never masturbated. 35% of American men aged 18-39 don’t masturbate at all. 43% of fellas and 67% of women think about sex occasionally throughout the month, while it occurs to only 54% of guys and just 17% of girls on a daily basis. Considering the health benefits of sex, this behavior runs counter to typical Southern Californian attitudes regarding physical health.
Studies have significantly linked sex to the following health benefits: stress relief, bolstered immune system, burned calories, lower risk of heart disease, better blood pressure, increased blood flow, increased oxytocin levels and intimacy, stronger self-esteem, pain relief through the release of endorphins (including the curing of headaches), reduction of prostate cancer risk, increased muscle tone, fortified bones, healthier sleep, increased life span, increased clarity of thought, and healthy, balanced increases in testosterone and estrogen.
For a culture which produces six-hundred-million dollars worth of certified-organic health food per year, Southern Californians sure aren’t paying much healthy sexual attention to one another. Perhaps we see Megan Fox acting in “Transformers” more clearly on our high-definition televisions than we do the girl next-door sunbathing on her front lawn. Perhaps our sense of American individuality has run amok. Perhaps we’re so stigmatized by social influences that we can’t feel our sexual urges, anymore. Whatever the reason, Southern Californians seem shitty at getting one another off these days, and that’s stupid. After all, we’re pretty attractive on the whole, we seem to appreciate our health, and we laughingly seem to consider ourselves rebellious liberators of the American spirit.
If we really want to be the free-spirited rebels who frighten people from the Midwest by starting new sexual revolutions, we’re going to have to knock off this vanilla bullshit and start living our lives, again. I’ve never seen so much agnostic religiosity in my life. Man, even the 1920s had more action than So. Cal. does these days. Flagpole sitting — now that was an extreme sport.
No, really. We’re fucking boring.
Time to relax, Los Angeles. There’s no reason we can’t stop treating every girl or guy who strikes our fancy as some kind of last-ditch effort, every date a business proposition, every name in our little black book a natural resource. We’re getting wistful about our glory days thirty years too soon. All of us have a favorite outfit that gets far too little play on weekends; why not dunk ourselves in sanitizer, shave everything, zip that motherfucker up and show middle-class society what kind of trouble we can get into?
I respectfully suggest we stop daydreaming about plastic surgery operations, stop pretending that weight training at the gym justifies our fucked-up addiction to the great indoors, stop proselytizing about which fodders one should shovel down one’s gullet (the word should is always suspect, anyhow).
Quit cowering in corners, and crown your humanity.
You have a zit on your nose? So-fucking what. Nobody gives a damn about your stupid nose, even if it’s 12 feet long with 12 pimples and 12 warts on it. In fact, if it were that awesome, we’d probably like it more. It’d give our strip-mall-beige lives a little color. Have you gotten fat? Yeah? Hairy? Old? So-fucking what. Stop pretending LOST is the most exciting thing on planet Earth and ask somebody to dinner. Your husband or wife, maybe.
There’s some pretty decent and affordable sushi around here these days. Get the high-grade saki, it’s worth it. You can make out with your dinner date afterward, too, you know. Make your lips tender, but firm, and don’t shove your tongue all around his or her mouth. You’ll have already tasted the sashimi by then. Go dancing at a club that plays all that top-40 music I can’t stand, especially if you don’t know how to dance. Get right in the middle of that scene and start shucking and jiving like an idiot. Shakespeare’s fools weren’t just ridiculous, they were wise.
But for the love of God (big G) please stop taking yourself so goddamned seriously, Southern California. Go have a slice of pie. Go on. Even if the glaze does have gelatin in it. Be a madman. And don’t be so ashamed of your body; it doesn’t look so bad. I personally guarantee that if you get naked on a webcam and throw it online, you’ll have paying customers within 30 seconds who’d knife homeless people to get you in the sack. Strange to think about, isn’t it?
You’re beautiful human being, so stretch your legs and live a little. I’m not advocating total promiscuity, I’m suggesting a re-evaluation of our national fear of ourselves. A little food, a little passion, a little conviviality, and we’ll have you patched up in no time.
Fuck Avon. You look great.
With vice and good intentions I remain,