I don’t doubt there are more prudish societies than America. Indeed, there is probably, somewhere, a society that is so prudish, the people do not even talk about how prudish they are for fear of unduly exciting themselves. At least in America we discuss our prudery.
But are we Americans really prudes?
Yes, Virginia, we are really prudes. At least our society as a whole is. And if you will not take my word for it, consider this:
Janet Jackson once exposed her nipple for less than two seconds on national television and caused a controversy lasting several days that at its peak swept aside major news stories. A school teacher was reprimanded then fired for taking her children to a museum that displayed nude sculptures. A grandmother was prosecuted for photographing her two partly-clothed granddaughters bouncing on her bed. Here in Colorado Springs, a woman threatened to sue a drug store for “trauma” after she accidentally received images of a nude man from the store’s photo lab. And a man in another state was once convicted of sex offender charges for walking about nude in his own home without closing his drapes.
The sad thing is, one could go on for page after page merely listing incidents of public prudery in America.
Yet, at the same time that we live in a prudish culture, we live in a immensely sexualized culture. That’s what I don’t understand: How a nation of prudes who cannot tolerate two seconds of Janet Jackson’s nipple without thinking their civilization will crash around them is also a nation of goofballs (for lack of a better word) who stick eight year old girls in thongs and fishnet stockings and then do not expect those girls to grow up with serious “issues”. It was certainly a bright day when we came up with that one.
As near as I’ve ever come to figuring out the contradiction between our national fetish with prudery and our national lust to sexualize everything, is that it’s not the same people doing both.
But the older I get, the more I doubt that.
It’s just human nature — not even limited to uniquely American nature, but universal human nature — to dress your six year old in an inappropriately revealing swimsuit for a beauty contest on Saturday and then write the FCC complaining about seeing Janet Jackson’s nipple on Monday. At 30, I would have put that sort of hypocrisy past us. At 54, I am an agnostic about whether it should be put past us.
I guess the one thing you can say about American attitudes towards sex and sexuality that is consistent across the board: American attitudes just don’t make sense.
Seriously, how do you account for the fact we are both a nation of prudes and a nation that sexualizes nearly everything? I need some help understanding this one.