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The War About Sex, Part 2

21 February 1997

by Dan Murphy

Good evening.

Last week, we looked at a few aspects of the national war about sex as prompted by Valentine's day, one of the few pro-sex facets of our culture not under major attack from some quarter. This week might be called the war about sex part 2, but it will take a moment to get there, so bear with me.

Our story begins with reports in the press over the past week about Richard Jewell. Jewell, as you may recall, is the guy originally hailed as a hero for helping evacuate people from Atlanta's Centennial park before the bomb exploded there during the Olympics, and who later was widely reported in the press as being under suspicion for placing the bomb. No charges were ever filed, and the Justice Department eventually released a letter saying Jewell was not a target of investigation. Nonetheless, the suspicions remain, and nobody much thinks of Jewell as a hero these days.

It was exactly this fact that he was lamenting publicly when he observed that the city of Atlanta had just held a big parade for Evander Holyfield the boxer after winning the heavyweight championship. Jewell noted that this particular celebration practically shut down the town, and that we routinely hold huge celebrations to hail sports stars as heros -- stars who, by the way, also get paid millions of dollars for their labors.

What does this have to do with sex, you may ask? Remember, I said I was going to talk about sex. Well, this particular example got me to thinking. The city of Atlanta held a big parade and celebration for a guy whose only significance was that he beat the (blank) out of another guy. That right, he beat the -- a word I'm not supposed to say on the radio -- out of another guy, for money, and for this is given a big parade.

And equally to the point, although I'm not supposed to use a well-known four-letter word on the radio to describe what he did, millions of people could watch him doing it on nationally syndicated television.

Last week, I noted that many politicians and other public figures are still fussing about sex on television. This despite the fact that there is actually no sex on television. Oh, there may be sexual innuendo, jokes of dubious taste, detailed descriptions of scandals, and so forth, but there is no actual sex in the sense that there is actual boxing. You following me here? People who watch boxing on television aren't watching somebody talk about boxing, they aren't given titilating euphemisms for a gloved fist smashing into somebody's nose, and the blood, sweat, and possibly other bodily fluids are all right there to be seen on the big screen.

Now what do you suppose would happen if someone proposed to present a nationally televised exhibition of sex, just as real and explicit as the championship boxing matches routinely carried on the national TV circuits? I need hardly elucidate. It ain't likely to happen. The fact is, when it comes to the old cliche of sex and violence, it's clear that violence is the big winner. You can see, and you can buy, all kinds of violence in our society, but non-violent sexual expression continues to be vigorously repressed.

Another small chapter in that repression is beginning to be played out in the neighboring state of New Hampshire. A bill was recently introduced into the New Hampshire house for the stated purpose of prohibiting "sexually oriented businesses". Actually what the law would do is to allow cities and towns to prohibit sexually oriented businesses, but the sentiments of the bill's sponsors are clear from the opening paragraph, which says, quote:

"The general court finds that sexually oriented businesses present special dangers to the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the citizens of this state." And it continues, saying that the purpose of the bill is to "enable local governments to prohibit the sordid business of pandering... purveying graphic matter or performances advertised to appeal to the erotic interests of their populace."

Pejorative adjectives aside, the bill goes on with detailed definitions and descriptions to make it clear that it applies when any nudity at all is involved, excepting only for so-called modeling classes operated by art schools meeting a half-dozen specific criteria. Although that seems pretty sweeping, the bill also enumerates various kinds of sexual activities so as to prohibit both actual and simulated presentation of them.

We could discuss at length all the kinds of activities that would be prohibited under this bill, including avowedly non-sexual enterprises such as nudist parks and resorts, but that isn't the point. It's clear that whoever introduced this bill just takes a very dim view of most kinds of sexual expression and proposes to make sure no business is allowed to exist which offers any kind of support or outlet for it.

Now, New Hampshire is well-known as a conservative and Republican state, but it is usually a kind of Yankee, mind-your-own-business, and people-should-be-let-alone kind of conservatism. So, possibly this bill won't just breeze through the legislature. It may be too much to hope for, but I'd also like to see someone remind the framers of this bill that sexual repression represents a danger to the health and general welfare of the citizens.

And as for morals, which is more problematic: watching two people punch each other bloody until time or one of them passes out, or watching two people making love, consensually, joyfully, and passionately, with violence being done to no one? Opinions will differ on that question, of course, and that's why government at all levels should stay out of the business of pushing particular presumptions of morality into law.

For this week, that the view from the Outpost. For WMBR, this is Dan Murphy.

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