The banality of perversion *UPDATED*

[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.

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    This is so much better than trying to live a life in which you constantly push your own sensory envelope.
    What a beautifully worded thought.
    Sorry, Book, can’t watch the video. By the luck of the draw, choice and a very quick thumb on the remote; I have avoided any and all contact with gagas, dancing with stars, reality shows (as if day to day were not enough) and most 21st century pop culture. Otherwise, I would feel like you did during the Gay Pride Parade everyday.

  • 11B40

    Life is like that.  When sexual disorientations become reclassified by supposedly educated professionals as “sexual orientations” who knows where it will all end.  As the Eagles sang, “Every form of refuge gas its price.”
    Me, I’m kind of hoping that someone puts Zombie’s photos of San Francisco’s “Up Your Alley Fair” to use during Mayor Newsom’s campaign for California Lieutenant Governor.
    Glad to see, though, that you’re keeping up with the shifting terminology as the “Gay” Pride Parade as been amended in the Orwellian fashion to the “Pride Parade”.   Why not?  It’s not like “It’s the homosex, stupid?”

  • gpc31

    Gotta love the Moe haircuts on the video, though.  Where’s Curly?  Nyuk nyuk nyuk.

  • Charles

    ” 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.”

    And that is why, I believe, the Amish, Orthodox Jews, and other such “comservative” groups have the healthiest, and therefore, the best sex lives.

  • Mike Devx

    Book, I didn’t make it past 2:00 on the Gaga video.  I tried, truly I did.  Perhaps there was a point to it all, a common theme eventually, that tied it all together?   I just couldn’t waste any further time.
    I expect the oh-so-artsy combination of S&M gear and fishnet stockings was intended to make some obscure sociological point?  Or perhaps someone said, “Hey, let’s combine S&M gear with fishnet stockings!  No one’s seen that before.”   As if that could possibly be a good point, that no one’s seen “a particular combination before”.  One would expect an eight minute video to actually develop a theme.
    A confusing mish-mash of unusual combinations of visual displays I suppose is all anyone reaches for today when creating “art”.
    The Hyundai commercial has been pulled from YouTube and I can’t find it anywhere… so I can’t comment on that beyond one thing: As is usual, the Catholic church seems ripe for satire and strange “humor” – a soccer ball with a crown of thorns, congregants kneeling to receive a communion of pizza.  I’d consider such things fair game if they would also produce corresponding imagery satirizing Islam.  But they never do.  Such one-sidedness is ALWAYS indicative of bigotry.  Whether out of fear of Islamic violence directed at them, or just hatred, when the focus is on one, it’s bigotry.  ALWAYS.

  • Charles Martel

    Book, what a well-written, well-reasoned essay. You da woman!

    Mike, the Catholic Church may be one of the only things left of the old West (America is the other) that is strong and courageous enough to, as Bill Buckley once implored us all, “stand athwart history and shout, ‘Stop!'”

  • debiesam

    Finally, someone who thinks the way I do about all the crass, outlandish costumes  in San Francisco. Booooor – ing! So much of the left is into “shock” as a value. They get off on shocking people. Whenever I see a transexual or transgender somewhere — the grocery store, for example  — I see someone desperately trying to shock people around him/her, and I sense the disappointment when nobody quite cares, when people just yawn and go about their business. As a society we’re pretty much shock-proof. I want to say to the left, “Get a life!”  But alas, I don’t think they’d know what I was driving at.

  • jj

    Practically everything looks and acts like the shlub next door, when you get right down to it.  Probably because no matter who they are and what they’re up to, they are the shlub next door – to somebody.  Take whoever is your ultimate model for evil, whoever is your ultimate model for good, and whoever is the exact middle of the scale – they all put their pants on one leg at a time, they all have to use the bathroom, at some point in their lives they all stubbed their toe and hopped around shouting – or muttering – imprecations about it.
    I think the “banality of evil” remark gets over-exercised.  Evil isn’t necessarily more (or less) banal than good.  Much of the banality is the stuff we all must share – like the bathroom, brushing our teeth, eating, drinking, blowing our noses.  Every couple of years I have to engage in some porch painting – so did Andrew Wyeth.  Despite that he was Andrew Wyeth, his Pennsylvania porch suffered through Pennsylvania winters and had to be scraped and painted on occasion.  Did he hire it done, or do it himself?  I don’t know, but I do know he was a pretty frugal – not to say ‘tight-fisted’ – guy who grew up as a country boy: I bet he did it himself.  Adolf Hitler had to go to the dentist now and then – so did Churchill and Roosevelt.
    Maybe the banality part of being human is good.  It reminds us that no matter how grand or terrible anyone is or becomes, we remain peas in the same pod.

  • binadaat

    well put. thank you.  As usual, you say it much better than I ever could.
    my two favorite sayings:
    Sex is not a spectator sport.
    Life is not a fashion show.

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  • Charles Martel

    I didn’t watch the video—I’ve seen Lady Gaga enough other times to be bored stiff by the experience. But I couldn’t help noticing in the “cover” of the video  it appears as if she is being attacked by an army of Moes.

    (Or am I thinking Shemp?)

  • garyp

    The biggest loss of the last fifty years is a sense of pride in being ordinary.
    The rich and famous were often almost pitied by people proud of their own accomplishments, their skills and hard work, and their family and communities.  The “elite” were seen as damaged by their power and wealth (it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter heaven, poor little rich girl, Prince and Pauper, etc.).
    Being a “self-made man” gave you self-respect and only the opinion of “good” people was valued.
    Now everyone wants to be “above average,”  to live like the wealthy, be admired like celebrities and to be able to pretend that reality is only for “little people.”
    Little girls dress like their favorite exhibitionists.  Little boys choose false dreams of being like some “gangsta” instead of a fireman or a cowboy.
    In a world where everyone feels that success is to be wealthy, fashionable and desired by all, no one can be happy because the best most of us can attain is to be comfortable, respectable and loved by our friends and family.  (Quite a lot really and not easy to attain even if we work hard at it)
    Lust for fame and fortune (especially easily attained fame and fortune) has always been seen as the road to ruin because it destroys most who seek it.  Unfortunately, instead of a few self-destructive people (the black sheep of the family) it is now entire societies that want to “have it all.”  Instead, they end up with nothing because they gave up the things they could have had, meaningful jobs, close families and supportive communities, for things the majority can never attain.
    Only when “celebrities” like Lady Gaga are despised as pathetic narcissists and dignity, not notoriety, is again in vogue, will our society have a chance to begin rebuilding a way of life that is fulfilling and constructive for the ordinary person.

  • David Foster

    Re Hannah Arendt’s line about the “banality of evil”…here’s Peter Drucker, writing about two men he knew in early-Nazi-era Germany. Hensch was a man from a lower-class background who became a Nazi (eventually an SS officer) out of ambition; Schaeffer was an editor who thought he could exercise a moderating influence on the regime:
    “Evil works through the Hensches and the Schaeffers precisely because evil is monstrous and men are trivial. Popular usage is more nearly right than Miss Arendt when it calls Satan “PRINCE of darnkness”…And because evil is never banal and men so often are, men must not treat with evil on any terms–for the terms are always the terms of evil and never those of man. Man becomes the instrument of evil when, like the Hensches, he thinks to harness evil to his ambition; and he becomes the instrument of evil when, like the Schaeffers, he joins with evil to prevent worse.”

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  • P. Possum

    While not being a GAGA fan, she has in the past shown some creativity. Unfortunately this particular exercise is not just artistically boring, it is artistically  borrowing. It is so derivative of the earlier works of another artist, Madonna,  that its hard to watch (just as were the original Madonna vids.) There are so many disreputable inclusions from the obvious stormtroopers carrying a Jewish star to the English bobbies and the Elizabethen headdress, I am not sure why she bothered to include the Catholic insults other than as a nod to Dirty Harry”s  “hating everyone”. I admire both the comments on banalities of evil and perversion. Considering the non-sexuality/exessive sexuality of the performers, perhaps the banality of Bi-coastal cultural wastelands should also be considered.

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  • pst314

    “I am not sure why she bothered to include the Catholic insults”
    It’s part of Original Sin: The desire to defile everything that is good and beautiful.

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