It’s Saturday morning. I’m in my office. On the way in to school I listened to NPR as I do every morning during the 45 minute drive to my university. During the week I hear the news on Morning Edition, but on Saturday, a show called “Only a Game” airs on my local NPR station. It’s about sports. It seems incongruous to me that the NPR listeners, who ostensibly care about real things like foreign policy or social issues, care anything about Tiger Woods or the NCAA basketball tournament. Yet, even on the venerable “All Things Considered” news show this week there has been serious discussion about the college basketball. No it was not about, not the fact that only 67% NCAA basketball players who are provided full ride scholarships leave school with a degree or how black players are far less likely to graduate than white players.; but on who wins a silly game.
That got me thinking about sports fans. Sports fans simply voyeurs. They get personal enjoyment out of watching others, with more gifts than their own, do things they would like to be able to do. They vicariously feel the joy of victory and the misery of defeat.
Then I began to think about how our entire society is wrapped up in voyeurism of one sort or another; and, the performers are our greatest heroes. The piece on Tiger Wood pointed out that when Tiger wins tournaments, more people watch golf on TV and buy golf equipment. But is not the entire entertainment industry about voyeurism. I don’t just mean reality TV and People Magazine. But even serious drama is about imaging ourselves in the shoes of the people on the screen or stage. When I watched Les Misérables, I identified with Valjean; but I also identified with him when I read the book in 1987 while in the Army. And did I not act as a voyeur when as a junior high student I first read Lord of the Rings?
So, it’s not just sports and trashy reality TV, but all of literate that feeds our need to experiences life though the experiences of others. From the days when a group of young men gathered around the fire to hear the old Viking tell tales of his exploits to the latest crazy story of Lindsey Lohan; from Hamlet to NASCAR, humans routinely gain part of their identity and their joy of life from voyeurism, vicariously getting joy from others actions.
So, I ask, why is watching people get brain injury inducing hits playing football, or beating the snot out of a person in boxing or MMA more reputable than watching attractive people make love. We heard basketball commentators expound over the beauty of watching Michel Jordan bounce a ball and stuff it in a hoop. No one even pretends that part of that beauty was that Jordan was the embodiment of the attractive virile male. Yet, what would happen if I brought up in “polite” company the fact that the people at xart.com consistently produce the most beautiful images of beautiful people making love? Well here at my university, I’d be labeled a misogynist and oppressor of women at the least. In my circle of ”Christian” friends I’d be labeled a sinful pervert.
The argument from both groups of critics would be that the models were paid to have sex which is exploitive. Yet, compare that to the fact that we pay kids with tuition to public colleges to engage in sporting activities that leave many of them with lifelong scars and permanent debilitating injuries. Just the other day I was in an eatery next to campus and three of the universities’ start football players were chatting after their meal (One was the 2011 NCAA football freshman player of the year). The discussion was on their off season surgeries to repair damage to their joints. So, the fact these kids have paid with serious bodily injury to entertain others is OK, but for a couple to have sex to entertain is not? What makes football more wholesome than sex? And what makes the connoisseur of golf more sophisticated than the connoisseur of erotica?
In my case, not only am I the connoisseur or erotica, I am also the artist. I am (among other things) a professional glamour/erotica photographer. My portfolio includes stylish nudes of both professional models and everyday women, as well as beautiful artistic photos of couples making love. Showing off my portfolio at my public university I would surely be brought up on some sort of harassment charge; however, I brought in photos of our college football team in the mists of violent competition, I would only get praise.
In the end we humans are all voyeurs, the only question is what to we imagine doing. And make no mistake the things we vicariously enjoy many people try to enjoy in real life. Remember, Tiger Woods winning drives grown men to go out and golf.
We in the US are asking why young men are going on violent rampages, perhaps it’s because we encourage them to engage in voyeuristic violence in sports, movies and other entertainments. We teach these young men vicarious joy of physically controlling and hurting other people. While it is very infrequent that a young man guns down a group of people; it is all routine that young men to put try out modeling controlling and violent behavior on those around them. Why do so many young men want to use physical aggression on their girlfriends? Perhaps, we have taught them to idolize the guy who is the most physically aggressive on the basketball court?
A recent study of teenage girls found that those who watch the most reality TV come to believe that the hurtful bullying behaviors are the normal way girls interact. What we live though our voyeurism we come to believe is normal and desirable. How did the old Viking’s tales of adventure and plunder affect the young Norse boys? Why, they sought to replicate the predations of their forefathers of course.
The sex-negative crusaders, from the right and the left, claim that sexual imagery leads to sexual abuse. Well, let me ask how often do you see positive loving sex between two people portrayed in movies and TV? Compared that with how often sex shown to as a form of exploitation (i.e. using sex as a tool or weapon), or being paired with self-destructive behavior (being drunk or stoned), or illicit like (covert affairs). See my point?
Voyeuristic enjoyment of sex is so looked down upon that portrayal of sex ends up being “justified” in almost all entertainments by being coupled to negative behaviors most of the time. Then the fact that young people link sex with negative behaviors is blamed on ….you got it the fact that sex is being shown in entertainment.
Recently two movies were sent to the MPAA for ratings. One had a woman’s breasts being violently cut off and the other had two women kissing and suckling one other’s breasts. Guess which one got the “R” rating (which allowed for wide distribution) and which one got the “NC-17 rating” that effectively killed theatrical release. You got it, the MPAA banned loving use of breasts and allowed the violent one.
I propose that we as a society would be better if we at least allowed (or even encouraged) the portrayal of positive, life affirming sexual behavior in our culture. People will live voyeuristically through the actions of others. That is just a fact. People will emulate what they enjoy seeing others doing.
Therefore positive physical portrayals of lovemaking should be readily available and to both adults and teens AND be treated as a positive experience. I would rather teens play a virtual sex game like this www.redlightcenter.com than the violent games that dominate the market. Yet, this game is not available to teens while games like Grand Theft Auto where rape is rewarded is.
I would content that it is the very illicit nature of sexual entertainment that gives rise to the trashy nature of commercial porn and the serious exploitation that still goes on in the sex entertainment industry.
I will go one final step. I propose there is nothing bad for children to grow up in a world where people express love and affection with their genitals. Simple nudity and positive portrayal of sexuality should not generate a rating more than PG; however, when sexuality is linked with negative behavior, especially violence, more restrictive ratings should be imposed.