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Friday, June 10, 2011

Chimps and Bonobos Redux

Recently a video of scantily clad seven-year-old girls gyrating and pelvic-thrusting to a Beyonce track went viral. I saw it on the Huffington Post, clicked on the link, and was almost instantly mortified. I never got through more than about 20 seconds of it, because I became instantly nauseated at what I saw – a group of girls in hot red ‘stripper-kinis’ thrusting their ‘busts’, butts out and writhing suggestively. It didn’t matter that the little girls were obviously talented dancers. What mattered was the heavy, completely inappropriate sexual imagery.

I immediately went to the comments section to post my outrage. Although many other people on the site shared my revulsion, there were also many who saw nothing wrong with this at all. There was even one ‘sexuality denier’ who insisted that there was nothing sexual at all about little girls in bright red bikinis writhing suggestively. He insisted that any folks who saw anything even remotely sexual in this video were themselves pedophiles. Another said sure it’s sexual, but children are sexual beings. He implied that denying their sexuality was a form of repression.

This struck a chord with me because I’d written of sexual repression in the essay below for Northeast Public Radio. I countered that, yes, children are sexual beings – they experiment and play with sex after all – but they are immature sexual beings, and to sexualize them with adult symbolism most closely associated with strippers and prostitutes is a serious distortion and perversion of the natural sexual curiosity that children possess. It is a superimposition of degraded sexual images from a sexually distorted culture onto little girls.

To me, this video constituted child abuse, pure and simple. I could not believe the level of acceptance I saw. Whereas many saw this as a normal, even laudable endeavor, I felt that the dance teachers and parents all should have received a visit from Social Services, because they were ‘empowering’ these little girls with the worst possible symbolism. In fact, the entire experience of the fleeting fame of the viral video only underscored the latent message: women (and by extension, girls) should monetize their bodies and their sexuality if they want to succeed in the world.

I can think of no worse message to foist upon the impressionable mind of a child.

Here is the original essay:

Chimps and Bonobos

Humankind’s two closest genetic relatives are the Chimpanzee and the so-called ‘pygmy chimp’, the Bonobo. We share some 97% of our genetic makeup with both of them.

This is a vast oversimplification, but in general, Chimpanzee society tends to be male-dominated and violent. Chimps engage in brutal fights, gang rape, genocide, even cannibalism. Their society is highly stratified, with dominant males at the top and lesser males at the bottom. Although females also have dominant and lesser representatives, in general their health and safety, and that of their offspring, is still largely a matter of male whim.

The Bonobo are quite different. Although there are fights in Bonobo society, they tend to be brief and non-lethal. There appears to be no rape, no cannibalism, no wiping out of other troops of Bonobo. All in all, the Bonobo society is, for lack of a better word, more humane

In Chimp society, sex occurs only when females are in heat. In the matriarchal Bonobo society, sex occurs all the time, for procreation, for enjoyment, and sometimes merely as a form of social stress relief. It’s kind of like the Greek play Lysistrata, wherein the women refuse the men any sex until the men give up war. The Bonobo have largely given up conflict, replacing it with ready access to sex.

What do our two closest relatives have to tell us about human society?

In his landmark work, the Mass Psychology of Fascism, Willhelm Reich posited that the veneration of war and conflict coupled with sexual repression leads to a more violent and easily manipulated, fascistic society.

On its surface, American society is heavily sexualized, not repressed at all. But Reich didn’t mean the repression of all sexual symbols, but rather the displacement of healthy representations of sexuality with unhealthy symbols that debased and dehumanized, coupled with increasing representations of violence.

In light of that distinction, it’s easy to see how American society is sexually repressed when it comes to positive images of sexuality and the human body, while overflowing with negative ones and simply awash in violent imagery. To paraphrase Larry Flynt, in America it’s illegal to commit murder, but not to broadcast movies of it, and legal to make love, but illegal to broadcast movies of lovemaking.

Once, while watching the movie ‘Dead Calm’ on broadcast TV, I saw a naked rear end pixilated on my screen, I suppose to protect me from some terrible prurient urge. This was followed not 5 minutes later by the graphic, unpixelated footage of a man’s head being blown off. What kind of a society finds a naked ass more dangerous than an act of bloody violence?

Obviously, in the human mind, sex and violence seem to be linked in all sorts of complex ways. Look at how the torture at places like Abu Ghraib often devolved into sexual humiliation. The themes of procreation, survival, and death underlie all human activity, and imbue everything with their nascent power, which can be positive or corrosive. It can build a culture up, or debase it. And one man’s view of socio-sexual health can be another’s symptom of metasticized perversion.

For example: when Jonbenet Ramsey was slain, I became aware for the first time of childhood beauty pageants. I was profoundly shocked that these little girls were so sexualized and monetized. The pictures of six year old Jonbenet tarted up like a Vegas showgirl, complete with feathers and heavy makeup, seemed to bespeak some horrific underground subculture of kiddy porn purveyors.

Yet who were the perpetrators of this little girl’s debasement and objectification? Her very own quite conservative, mainstream, Republican, Christian parents, who doubtless saw nothing perverted at all in their actions. In fact, the same segment of society engages in so-called father-daughter purity balls, which ostensibly are about being chaste, but carry many disturbing psycho-sexual undertones, including ones that imply that women are chattel, their bodies and sexuality first owned by their fathers, and then their husbands.

Our culture is so out of whack that a nude adult body part is deemed threatening and perverse while the obvious sexualization of a child, albeit in symbolic terms only, is seen by many as wholesome.

Welcome to the topsy-turvy Chimp world that is America.

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