[Content warning for the under 18 crowd. Have your parents read this one first, and let them decide if you can too.]
The Anchoress has a post today about a Hyundai commercial that, while doing nothing to make you want to buy the car, does succeed in being offensive to Catholics. Not “big” offensive, a la the “Piss Christ” or the dung-covered Virgin Mary, but instead it is “little” offensive, in that it reduces to meaninglessness core Catholic prayer.
In a follow-up exchange of emails, the Anchoress introduced me to Lady Gaga’s brand new video, in which that attention-starved performer, accompanied by men in fishnet stockings (at least, I think they’re men), sucks a rosary into her mouth while lolling around in a red leather nun’s habit. Here — you can see it for yourself:
The Anchoress’ comment on the video is right on the mark: “It’s BORING.” Oh, God, is it boring. It’s a very expensive version of a first year art student’s effort to stand out from the rest of the class.
More than just being boring, though, Gaga’s gag-gag video perfectly exemplifies something I realized back in 1991 or 1992, when I attended my first (and last) San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. The Dykes on Bikes were impressive because of their sheer numbers but, really, how many naked ugly boobs can anyone look at, bouncing by on motorcycles? The thrill of the illicit lasts about 2-3 minutes. Than you’ve got just hundreds of uglies. (And let me be honest here: Outside of Playboy, Vogue, and a loving relationship, most ordinary women’s breasts, whether the women are straight or gay, are not Playboy or Vogue material.)
The Pride Parade interested me most, not because of what was happening on the parade route, but because of the guys and gals right next to me. They were outfitted in full bondage gear, and showing way too much of bodies I didn’t want to see. They looked intentionally perverse, which at least encouraged one to believe that what they had to say would be out of the ordinary too.
Their words quickly dispelled that little belief. Instead, their conversation was inanely trite: Several of them (they were apparently roommates or polyandrous lovers) were squabbling about who was responsible for having done the laundry and tidying the shared apartment.
What floated up into my brain as I listened to that hackneyed domestic bickering was a variation of Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil.” Arendt coined that phrase to describe the utter ordinariness of those who masterminded the Holocaust. People want evil to look evil, so that they can guard against it. It’s unnerving that evil looks and acts like the shlub next door.
My version of Arendt’s famous tag line was “the banality of perversion.” The people next to me were very, very ordinary, yet they’d dedicated their lives to distinguishing themselves from others by embracing the most unsavory sexual existence, one, moreover, that they insisted on living right out in public. Tragically, both for them and for the tone of popular culture, their exercise was, at best, momentarily titillating. When that short moment past, you just had spread before you too much flesh displayed unattractively in leather and chains.
The whole experience reminded me of the quip (and I can’t trace the source), that sex was a lot more fun when it was still dirty. If you openly display it on the street and try to pretend it’s just every day stuff, you don’t end up making the every day stuff sexy. Instead, you effectively reduce the sexy stuff to the boredom of day-to-day existence.
The joy of a normal life, a truly normal life, is that you don’t allow yourself to get blasé. If you live in the center of the path, which I always envision as a sort of Leave it to Beaver morality, you can still get excited by a jet flying overhead, a flower blooming at the roadside, a baby’s smile, or your lover wearing little to nothing in the privacy of your own bedroom. This is so much better than trying to live a life in which you constantly push your own sensory envelope. Rather than enriching your sensory life, it seems to me that, eventually, your perceptions become so calloused that there nothing left to bring you surprise or joy.
UPDATE: The Anchoress has riffed off her Lady Gaga is BORING statement, to very good effect.