This story is part of The GW Hatchet’s 2006 Life Section Sex Issue.
Junior Jeffrey Parker, a history major from Winston-Salem, N.C., is spending the spring semester in Oxford, England, after also spending the fall term there. Twice a month, he will share his experiences and observations from England as one of GW’s many expats. God save the Queen.
Modern life. . . is so mediated that authentic experience is much harder to find . . . we’ve all got this idea of what [life] should be like-from movies, from pornography.
It tastes exactly the same. Jesus, halfway around the world, and it tastes exactly the same. It looks the same, too, just like on the poster. I’m at a Subway in Ireland, and I have the option of dressing my sandwich with Chipotle Southwest Sauce in a land where southwest means Cork and not Arizona.
But I have other concerns right now beyond my cheesesteak sandwich, namely the prospect of writing a column for the sex issue. What to write? I contemplated analyzing the phenomenon of every straight girl I know inevitably, when discussing Angelina Jolie and/or Jenny Lewis, getting a glazed-over look and saying “I’m not a lesbian. . . but I would totally have sex with her.” Then I realized that I was probably clueless, and my own admiration for the pair wasn’t going to provide sufficient insight for an entire column.
Then I thought about spending my thousand words or so lambasting Michael Bay. You see, I just found out that Scarlett Johannson wanted to do a nude scene in The Island, and Bay didn’t let her. That went out the window when it occurred to me that I cannot possibly discuss this rationally, as I still can’t process why the director hates happiness and freedom and America, which is the only logical explanation for his decision. Damn you, Michael Bay.
This decision is an important one for me, you see, because quite frankly the words “sex column” frighten me to no end, as I’ve been tortured by them over the past few years. For this, of course, I blame Sarah Jessica Parker.
It occurs to me that I’ll probably be the object of unquantifiable animosity for saying this (mostly because I received it firsthand in the form of a two-hour argument from a friend when I mentioned these feelings at Tryst this summer), but Sex and the City did a lot of pretty terrible things – it peddled a bastardized version of Third Wave feminism disguised as actual female empowerment, completely marginalized straight men who happened to not be terrible people and glorified a culture of unparalleled consumption.
Important though these objections are, perhaps preeminent among the sins of Carrie Bradshaw is that she convinced an entire generation of college students that they could write sex columns. Hundreds, maybe thousands, watched the show and dreamed of being the favorite quote of people unable to think for themselves on Facebook. I have proposed in all earnestness that we should burn most of these sex columns (other than those found in this issue, of course), only to quickly correct myself: we shouldn’t burn them, no, not anyone reading this. Instead, we should give them to blind people and illiterates to burn for us, as they are impervious to the verbal toxicity.
My six-week break between Hilary and Trinity terms began right after I received this assignment, so I hopped on a budget flight to Ireland to begin my search for the meaning of life (or at least my month of aimless wandering) with no real idea. I thought St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin might take my mind off the column for a while. Instead it hammered home the theme I knew I needed to talk about: porn.
Walking through Dublin at midnight, I saw the streets flowing with beer, vomit and unrealized expectations, and countless bodies diving headfirst in to the gutters to lap it up. It was all highly pornographic. You see, when I talk about pornography, I’m not talking about it in the literal sense of the word. I’m not concerned with Playboys hidden under beds, but with preconceived notions sold in the storefronts.
St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin isn’t Irish, but a distortion of the term reflected by American mirrors. Everybody had on comical green hats (mass produced and sponsored by a company I don’t recall), sometimes with comical false red beards attached. People flowed in and out of drinking establishments that, once you got past the testosterone-happy bouncers who were looking for any excuse to beat someone up, resembled not so much a pub as TGIFriday’s after five pints of Guinness. It all felt less like Dublin and more like a commercial for Dublin directed by Brett Ratner.
This is what I mean by pornography. Everybody’s been sold this image of what reality should be like – in this case, St. Patrick’s Day as an MTV video – and instead of rejecting this image in favor of authenticity; everybody tries desperately to make reality conform to what they see on TV.
It applies to more explicitly sexual situations, too. The last party of term at Pembroke was the Sexual Fantasies Bop, where everyone was supposed to dress up as a sexual fantasy. I contemplated going as David Bowie, mostly to further infuriate a friend of mine who became traumatized when I mentioned a rumor that he and Mick Jagger, um, might have been each other’s sexual fantasies at some point in the 1970s. A sample of his response immortalized in the glorious medium of America Online Instant Messenger:
“I listened to 40 Licks today, the best collection of music by the only band that I am always, ALWAYS, in the mood to listen to, and all I could think of was Mick Jagger getting it on with David Bowie. The only consolation I have is that I am SURE that Jagger was the one giving it, and therefore at no point subjugated by that freakish shemale. If you ever find out that David Bowie was ever on top, and you tell me, I’m envisioning a murder-suicide.”
So yeah, in addition to being able to go dressed as a glam rock alien, had I chosen that costume, I’m pretty sure my friend’s head would have exploded, which would have at least ensured that the party wouldn’t be boring. Alas, I was running low on eye shadow.
Instead of gracing Po Na Na (yes, that was the name of the club) as Ziggy Stardust, I ended up taking a Sharpie to a white T-shirt and adorning it with the simple phrase “YOUR MOM.” I couldn’t come up with anything creative, so I decided to be mean, which I figured is second-best at functions such as these. As painfully bad as this costume might have been, it obliterated the competition. A bunch of guys showed up drunk, loutish and attired in three-piece suits, affirming my suspicion that some girls fantasize mostly about rich assholes.
Most people came in costumes they found at local costume shops – nurses and school girls, cowboys and cops. And you know what? Most people didn’t look any more sexual than they do on any other party night. It wasn’t a letdown or anything; it just all seemed a bit ridiculous as people rushed to fill stereotypes like so many high school dramatists. I’m no Puritan and certainly don’t complain when a girl decides to wear a skirt made of less material than my wallet, but doing it within such a contrived structure all makes it a little less interesting. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that when everybody tries to replicate (often ridiculous) images from what they conceive as the popular imagination, chances are it all comes across as plastic and empty more than hot and bothered.
Oh, and that sandwich I was eating? The one exactly like all the others? It wasn’t very good.