In the beginning was the word…
I’ve just read Raziel’s article, immediately below, along with those by Remittance Girl and Lisabet Sarai. At the heart of Remittance Girl’s editorial is the idea that “things that become ‘normalized’ can no longer be the stuff of erotic fantasy”. My thought is that if this were the case, then the thirst for the erotic would be a short-lived phenomena.
It isn’t. The fact of the matter is that every day a new generation is waking up to an entirely new experience of sexuality and eroticism. What that means is that erotic “normalization” is a myth. There’s nothing that can’t be the “stuff of erotic fantasy” because the pool of the curious is being endlessly renewed.
Similarly, I don’t buy into the notion of normalization because human sexuality doesn’t seem to work that way. I disagree that the power of the erotic fantasy is dependent on its being erotically forbidden (I leave it to Paglia, among others, who have thoroughly dismantled the vacuous ramblings of Foucault and his ilk). Remittance Girl writes that “my greatest antipathy towards the ‘normalization’ of the erotically forbidden is that it will lose its power to be erotic”; but I think her fear is misplaced.
No amount of feet, for example, will abate the fantasies of men and women with foot fetishes. In truth, all sexual desire, no matter how ordinary, can be understood as a kind of fetish. We our born to develop a fetish for sex and for each other. The varied ways in which we express that desire can be understood as variations on that first basic “fetish”. Later, as we mature, we reveal inclinations toward certain desires and fantasies that accord with our personalities and childhood influences.
This isn’t to say there aren’t pop-cultural elements that can become normalized or influence us (and which children are exposed to before they comprehend their significance — a Barbie Doll’s proportions for instance); but I think, and without going into detail, that a line can be drawn between that and the wide range of “the erotic fantasies” that reflect something more intrinsic to our personalities.
Remittance Girl begins her article by writing, “The term ‘normalization’ (and the verb ‘to normalize) has become very popular of late.”
There’s a reason for that. David Cameron, who she references, is a politician. Politicians are trained to think in terms of “framing” arguments (and of diverting attention from more pressing matters). Framing is a debate tactic. There have been a number of books written on the subject, most notably by George Lakoff, an author and professor of Cognitive Linguistics at the University of Berkeley. Framing the argument against certain kinds of erotica as a question of “normalization” is a useful and powerful metaphor, but it’s applicability to erotic fantasy and behavior thereof, as evinced in the studies mentioned by Remittance Girl, are non-existent.
A similar argument is used, for example, by those opposed to the legalization of marijuana. Opponents, who spend millions of dollars in think-tanks studying how to frame arguments in order to sway your thinking, discovered that referring to a certain class of drugs as “gateway drugs”, was a useful and powerful metaphor. Why? First, it powerfully links marijuana to far more dangerous drugs while implicitly suggesting that the legalization of one will lead to the use of the other. As you might suspect, just as with porn, that link has never been established. In fact, studies have demonstrated just the opposite, but the cognitive frame established by the use of the word “gateway” has done its damage.
If you’re opposed to abortion, are you anti-choice or pro-life? It depends on how you want to frame the argument.
Similarly, the very use of the term normalization effectively endorses the framing of the arguments made by individuals who are opposed to certain kinds of expression, certain kinds of speech, and who are ultimately opposed to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. The Burka, in truth, is the ultimate expression of that argument. My advice is to not adopt their metaphors.
The real issue is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. That, obviously, is not how Cameron and others would like to frame the argument. And that brings me to my next thought: the power of words.
I somewhat disagree with Raziel. Writers do have the power to change how others think and are responsible for what they write. I think it’s no mistake that the creation myth of one of the most influential and powerful religious organizations in the world begins with the statement “In the beginning was the word…” Though anyone might fairly point out that this is intended as metaphor, that metaphor survives because it was written and survives in words.
Religious organizations (let alone governments) have intuitively understood the tremendous power of the written word. There’s a reason Galileo was very nearly burned at the stake. There’s a reason the Library of Alexandria was burned to the ground and writers tortured and murdered in the name of God and country. There’s a reason the Gnostic Gospels – the gospel of Mary and Judas – were assiduously destroyed by the early church fathers (and very nearly lost to the world). There’s a reason Germany has banned the sale of Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
To my good friend and co-writer Raziel: you are Orr and your dreams and fictions do change the world. The framers of the constitution understood this when they wrote the constitution and demonstrated their understanding when they ratified the 1rst Amendment – the most important and liberating piece of writing and law in all of human history. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression is and must remain inviolable. My concern is that the moment any of us, speakers, writers and thinkers alike, make light of the power we have to change the world, we make it easier for opponents of free thought and expression, like Cameron, to eliminate our rights. If they are of such small matter, why defend them?
I don’t think they are.
I treat my ability to influence others very seriously. I’m careful about what I write and the way I write.
But I agree with Raziel in every other respect. I take responsibility for my power to influence, but not to effect. It is ultimately up to the reader to decide how our ideas will influence their own actions. We are not responsible for their decisions any more than their opinions are to blame for ours.
At issue is not whether our writing influences others. It does. Religious texts incite violence and murder (along with cooperation and good will), yet we don’t ban them. Our culture is saturated with stories of violence, revenge, murder and mass-murder (ever since the razing of Troy), and yet we don’t ban those stories. Our novels, myths and poetry are laced with betrayal, lust, hatred, enmity and yet we don’t ban them.
This debate isn’t about “normalization” or sex or erotica.
It is, quite simply, about freedom of speech and expression and the inherent responsibility of all citizens for their own actions. Once a citizenry becomes willing to surrender its responsibilities and decision-making to another, be it an erotic writer, a religion, or government, it invites the curtailment of free thought and expression. If the British populace is willing to concede that it cannot make decisions for itself, that a screed calling for the death of religious enemies will prompt it to murder or that an erotic story will prompt it to violate, then a loss of free speech and expression will be the result.