May 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
In a recent article in the Middlebury Campus, Parton Sees Rise in Erectile Dysfunction, Saadiah Schmidt tells us that, “The last three years have witnessed an upsurge in the number of male students reporting erectile dysfunction and other sex-related problems at Parton Health Center…” The Director and College Physician, Dr. Mark Peluso, told Schmidt that, “in the majority of cases, the patients were habitual viewers of pornography, and had no difficulty with sexual performance when they were with themselves.” Peluso — and others who study the affects of pornography on habitual viewers — suggest that there is “an inverse relationship between porn and potency — as porn use increases, so do sexual insufficiencies,” Schmidt tells us. (There are plenty of studies looking at the effects of pornography, some debatable and challenging; linked in the previous sentence is only an overview for those unfamiliar. Another interesting article is Pornography’s Effects on Interpersonal Relationships.)
Schmidt’s article set off conversations — and consternation — around campus.
“I don’t believe it,” said some students.
“No way. Guys are confessing to having trouble performing? No way, man,” was another comment.
“I don’t think it’s just porn,” though, became the most common.
The sex and love lives of 18-21 year olds on a college campus are complex, to say the least. Trying to nurture intimate relationships during this transitional stage in life is very difficult, fraught with challenges that students, more often then not, are ill prepared to handle — but that we, faculty and staff may help confuse. Students are thinking about what their educations mean, where their educations will take them; they’re worried about a jobless future — perhaps no future at all; they’re struggling with tremendous amounts of work, stressful demands on their time and energy, and in-between all this they’re trying to carry on relationships.
For some, the minority that is mature enough to communicate meaningfully about vulnerabilities, it can work. For others, however, love is synonymous with “just sex,” which in college means “additives,” such as alcohol and (some) drugs. Love and sex are thus reduced to “grinding” in dark corners of clubs or “rooms” where faces are unseen, music pounds and in the end, there’s the “hook up.” (Film on hook up culture)
Most colleges and universities don’t recognize that life on campuses takes place in three educational-social spheres: the day-to-day going to classes across elysian quads, students smiling, nodding to each other — everything is cool; the other campus comes alive in the dark, and is totally different — usually between Thursday and Sunday, involving pre-gaming (drinking hard in someone’s room, though sometimes alone), before going to a party where the hope is to grind into the hook up among inebriated individuals too bleary eyed to see the other. The goal, apparently, is not even the raw sex, rather it’s the story to tell the next day. The last college sphere is the place of technology, which is 24-7 — cell phones, iPads, computers — where cyber-socializing, gaming, porn, course work that’s online, and the everyday construction of lives — ordering airline tickets, reading news and sports, facebook and twitter, and so on, takes place.
College life is confusing and pressure-filled, so how can meaningful, intimate relationships evolve when what a relationship needs most is time and consideration, understanding and humility, and patience? College life is an impatient one.
We have two competing narratives, at least, always ongoing on a college campus: there’s the life in the classroom — predictable, somewhat staid, the “work,” as students call it; then there’s the less predictable, anxious life in the dark or alone in cyber-connections with cyber-realities, images one projects into the ether, performances of a nebulous and insecure self, a kind of stepping out, slowly, of embodiments of something or other yet to be defined eased out carefully, timidly. And all of this anxiousness gets expressed in the after hours culture of the college night.
Life in college is thus always defined by disconnections, though everything is connected by the ubiquitous presence of manufactured time — usually not enough time. Not enough time to complete assignments. Not enough time to get to the gym. Not enough time to eat. Not enough time to sleep. Not enough. Not enough is the trademark of college life, though countering this — and confusing things and adding tension — is the ongoing narrative of higher education: the future will is full of hope, which translates into wealth and leisure for most students.
The college is therefore the microcosm of the world outside its pleasure dome, outside Xanadu, Coleridges image of Kubla Khan. It privileges a patriarchy that, if we look at our society, as Chris Hedges does in Empire of Illusion, particularly in his chapter, “The Illusion of Love,” we see a “society that has lost the capacity for empathy.” The “not enough time,” disconnected existence of rushing about pre-gaming, grinding, hooking up cyber – culture of college life lends towards a distancing from one’s sense of self, one’s intimacy with one’s sensuality and sensitivity. So we turn to the additives — the drugs and alcohol, and cyber porn where “the woman is stripped of her human attributes,” says Hedges, “and made to be for abuse. She has no identity distinct as a human being. Her only worth is as a toy, a pleasure doll … She becomes a slave.” The dominant heteronormative culture on college campuses across America privilege these vile descriptions Hedges gives us where the viewer of porn is “aroused by the illusion that they too can dominate and abuse women.” So it’s no wonder that erectile dysfunction, once the drinking accompanies the journey from grinding to the hook up, is increasing since the actual level of intimacy required in a sexual relationship is always being pushed aside by the pressure of college life that exist in its three dominant spheres — the academic, the night, and the cyberworld.
But here’s the tragic problem: students are reacting to what we, the adults, show them; we’re indoctrinating them into society like this. By not addressing that students’ behavior as somehow connected to our institutionalized rhetoric, we give it approbation.
“The most successful Internet porn sites and films are those that discover new ways to humiliate and inflict cruelty on women,” says Hedges. The idea, here, is to privilege domination, cruelty and exploitation, subjects that are kept at arms length in sociology courses and political science course, even in literature, but never are these subjects dealt with as sitting at the center of a confused maturation process that is made even more challenging by the false design of our educational environments that would rather build climbing walls and swimming pools and not confront the entire student. We like to only see the student from the head up, an empty vessel that needs to have our wisdom poured into them — climb a wall, exercise, and here’s what you need to know, only. The tragedy in all this is that, by not working with the entire student, we are slowly and carefully, systematically by design, moving our students away from any real understanding of themselves, the “stuff” of life needed for love and empathy. Anyone can have sex — but what is its meaning, its place in our lives?
Maybe we, the adults, have lost our connections to ourselves.
Hedges pessimistically ends his chapter on the illusion of love suggesting that “porn is the glittering facade, like the casinos and resorts in Las Vegas, like the rest of the fantasy that is America, of a culture seduced by death.” It makes sense to me. Are we, in removing students from close relationships with themselves, their internal selves, killing off their potential, their desire to be creative and to evolve? Is this, then, not a culture fixated on death? Is hook up culture — and erectile dysfunction, usually relegated, at the other end of the culture, to Viagra commercials during PGA tour TV coverage where old men golf, drink and can’t get it up — a sign of a culture moving towards death?
Are we witnessing the death rattle of dogmatic institutions unable to sustain themselves any longer and our students, in despair, sensing something is wrong, are merely acting out in a haze of confusion?
Vero Beach, Florida and the Manufacturing of Consciousness: How the GOP Will Give Obama a Victory in 2012
January 28, 2012 § Leave a Comment
At the height of the GOP primary race in South Carolina, I was in Vero Beach, Florida, and suddnely what came over me was the uncanny feeling that I was in-between worlds, a kind of vertigo, a foreboding I was not expecting since I was happily running up A1A.
In South Carolina, the reformed Catholic, Newt Gingrich, surged ahead by deploying a recognizable racist attack — Obama, the European socilaist, as food stamp president — rejecting his lobbyist self — though we know Newt was (Congress wrote the rules to ensure this kind slippage for themselves, post-Tom Delay, increasing their wealth on our backs) — and admonishing the poor for being lazy, resolving that it’s best to give poor children brooms and mops to clean schools.
In Vero Beach, as I went for runs, I was ovewhelmed by the illusion of reality — MacMansions by the sea (guilty: I was in one!), gated communities, vegetation that is not indigenous (all of it has been imported, except for sea graves and the St. Augustine grass,) and a constant burning of fossil fuels to maintain lavish lawns — mowers, blowers, chain saws, large trucks, off-road vehicles and yachts; the late-model luxury automobiles that are required in a place where pedestrain traffic is, as in L.A., non-existent and strip malls and golf courses that have become the new valhala.
And not a single person of color within sight — unless cleaning houses, mowing lawns and on garbage runs standing behind large trucks.
It’s not surprising that Vero has it’s own Disney Resort. The master of illusion has made Florida its own. Does this illusion follow the America psyche or does it help construct it, as do our politics, I wonder?
I was shaken by the very plastic nature of this living — and perhaps the very plastic, constructed lives we lead that scream unsustainability.
Vero Beach is the American Paradox: the extraordinary cost of creating and maintain such lavishness and the economic drain of a lifestyle that is characterized by total mechanization, as the pudgy elderly try to stave off the inevitable by walking and biking, their lives well kept by Latinos and some, very few, African Americans usually found at Publix markets, gas stations and sanitation trucks. The divide is the evolution of manifest destiny that has assumed a contemporary look and feel.
The BMW’s and Cadillacs and late model SUV’s abound. It is prosperity writ large; it is also a final sign, at the last third of someone’s life, that I’ve arrived, I’ve achieved. It’s what Mitt Romney argued in the GOP debate in Florida: this wasn’t handed to me, it was earned. This is the American way now.
But our American way has become divisive, we know that now — we can feel it. The left and the right are so distant from what we the people perceive our American mission to be, that we’ve lost any real understanding of Representative Democracy. Who is representing what and whom?
If it was only that we’re in an economic quagmire, the way out would be simple; we would collaborate and cooperate, plan and execute. But our condition is beyond being simply a bind — it’s a new construction that sprinkles old, recognizable American rhetoric over a new order that is redefining Representative Democracy: we no longer vote for people who represent us, the people; rather, we vote for representatives of multinationals and narrow special interests; we vote for extreme special interests that only comply with a very fine line defined by those holding the purse strings — or worse, with interests that comply with ultrathin social ideology, such as the complexities of marriage, civil unions and a woman’s right choose.
In an enlightening interview on the PBS News Hour, Thomas Edsall, a longtime Washington Post reporter, now a New York Times columnist and professor of journalism at Columbia University, who has written a new book, The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics, said, “Well, what’s happened, I think, in the past — really since the collapse, economic collapse, is that the country now is — has become dominated by the issue of debt and deficits.” Edsall goes on to say that, “Somebody’s going to take a hit. It’s no longer a nice and friendly game. It’s who’s going to get hurt. That makes for — we already had a polarized politics. When you add this notion that politics now is one not just of what can I get out of it, but what do I do to the people to get what I want, that makes it a much nastier and much more hostile circumstance.”
Thus our confusion. We don’t understand this bifurcation characterized by a nastiness and indifference to the well being of most Americans.
At the heart of this problem are the psychologies of liberals and conservatives, respectively, says Edsdall:
Liberals are very concerned with compassion and fairness. Conservatives have what one person describes as a broader spectrum, but not as much focus on compassion and fairness, but also on issues of sanctity, of a different kind of fairness. Their opposition to affirmative action, for example, is a different kind of fairness.
Edsall clarifies, saying, that
…the idea that conservatives are willing to inflict harm is not necessarily a criticism. If you are in a fight, and you’re fighting to protect what you have, being loyal to your own people is not necessarily a bad thing. If you and your family had to protect what your child is getting what your husband and so forth — if they face serious threats of lost goods, in effect, you’re fighting for them, and, in fact, if that meant someone else had to get hurt, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.
This is the crux of the matter because, as Edsall says, “There is a stronger natural instinct among conservatives to see contests in zero sum terms, (witness: GOP debates AND NEWT — which is why I’m reminded of Mussolini and Perón), that there are going to be losers and winners. Therefore, I want to get into this and be sure that I am the winner and that people that are around me are winners” (parenthetical inclusion mine).
This is short term thinking, not long term planning that is creative; it takes away and does not build. It is destructive in nature since it means, by design, to push certain people away.
In “The Obama Memos: How Washington Changed the President,” by Ryan Lizza (The New Yorker, January 30, 2012), we learn from Thomas Mann, “of the bipartisan Brookings Institute,” and Norman Ornstein, “of the conservative American Enterprise Institute,” in a “forthcoming book about Washington Dysfunction, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, that,
One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, and scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
Ultimately, this kind of hostility ensures that none of us sees clearly, least of all politicians. It’s by design. While Obama came into office with a spirit of change, trying to direct the country in new, fertile directions, Lizza tells us that the President, “was the most polarizing first-year President in history — that is, the difference between Democratic approval of him and Republican disapproval was the highest ever recorded.” Obama, we learn from Lizza, had to change in order to survive. And we also learn that, “Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street.”
It’s because of Obama’s accomplishments, I would argue, that, alongside dwindling resources, the Republican willingness to inflict harm, divide and (try) to conquer, even by waging war on voting, has become the strategy that is overwhelming this run to the 2012 elections.
What’s left, then, is a populace running towards Vero Beach, running to escape this violation of our rights, close our eyes, and enjoy what small, square plot of earth we can call our own, even though much of the American people will be left out.
Welcome to the new, uncanny presidential election cycle where we might see how inflicting pain may become the winning solution for the GOP — or it may undo them to such an extent that, perhaps, Obama’s willingness to work for change, his 2008 promise, can become something closer to the truth during a second term.
What we do know, is that the system is broken and it’s unsustainable. This is certain.
August 15, 2010 § 8 Comments
In 1996, Sports Illustrated named Tiger Woods “Sportsman of the Year.” Senior writer Gary Smith suggested that Woods was the “Chosen One,” a special person who would forever banish racial prejudice from golf. Woods once said to a journalist that he should refer to him as “Cablinasian” — his mother, Kutilda, is Asian, one-half Thai, one-quarter Chinese, and one-quarter white; his father, Earl, a graduate of Kansas State University, who pursued a career in the Army as a Green Beret and experienced intense action in Vietnam, is one-half African American and one-quarter American Indian and one-quarter Asian. Woods was even named after a South Vietnamese lieutenant colonel, Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, a friend of his father’s, a man whose bravery earned him his nickname. Not unlike our President, Tiger Woods is an amalgam of America. He is our American. He represents who we are. We look to find our story in his image. But things change. And in these changes, we find a troubled Tiger Woods that resembles the rest of us, the state of America itself. Tiger Woods is the athlete of our times, the sign of our times.
What is confusing, following Tiger Woods’ worst tournament performance ever, is that we’re not sure what we’re seeing. We want to look — but we also want to turn away, the weight of disappointment and disillusionment is too much. Woods is man alone, besieged by personal demons. His “tiger” has been cut down. He is a wandering soul, Ishmael floating on an empty coffin in a vast ocean, no trace of the Pequod. We fear we’re navigating open waters as Ishmael does in Moby Dick, an American tale about shipping off on a narrative not of our own making, that doesn’t even consider ours. Woods — as we are — is trying to understand it all. The narrative fell from his hands; it’s now intertwined with the American story in a fine coil. Woods is the American story writ large. That’s why we’re watching. Woods is a mirror of America and in it we find that we have fallen. We’re staggering with Woods, tied for 36th place, 1under par after the second day at the foggy, wet greens of Whistling Straights. Into the fourth round, Woods is in 31st place, 3 under par. Nick Watney, leading the group on Sunday, is 13 under par. It’s an American drama.
The first such prognostication of an American future comprised of extreme, almost orgasmic highs and dark and ominous lows where bearings are hard to find comes to us from literature, Henry James‘ The American. In James’ hands, Christopher Newman is the epitome of America’s individualism, self-determination, and pragmatism. Newman has risen economically — and he thinks socially. He has risen above his station using the inherent possibilities emerging in this new American economy.
In the opening scene of the novel, we find Christopher Newman, “on a brilliant day in May, in the year 1868,” a “gentleman.” In America, Newman has done something unthinkable in old Europe: through hard work and determination — and a marketplace — he’s risen above his station. He has stripped himself of an old class and entered a new one. He hasn’t inherited anything; he’s worked for his wealth. He’s a salesman. And where we find this new American, in the opening scene, is in the Salon Carré, in the Museum of the Louvre.
Newman is a strong sexual presence — as is America (even with the heavy hands of Puritanism and Christian fundamentalism weighty on our backs), as is Woods, as are the heroes we genuflect to. (Brett Favre will play for the Vikings because he’s a man, and his heroic sense of self keeps our own in place at a time when we need it most. We need him to play, as badly as he needs to play.) Newman is reclining “at ease on the great circular divan” that occupies the center of the Salon Carré, “his head thrown back and his legs outstretched” and “staring at Murillo’s beautiful moon-borne Modonna in profound enjoyment of his posture.” James tells us that Newman, on the ottoman, “had taken serene possession of its softest spot.” It doesn’t get anymore sexual in James. Legs outstretched, head thrown back, a moon-borne Madonna and the possession of a sweet spot. Newman is taking it all in. The experience is about him, not the Louvre, not the art–him, solipsism so refined that it becomes aesthetically and morally attractive. James is keen on making sure we understand this. Newman’s “profound enjoyment” is “his posture,” nothing else. The art is secondary, a foil for his fantasy,which reigns supreme. From hubris this profound, only a great fall is possible. This is the American story: we expect our heroes to rise above it all but we want them to fall, and fall hard and fast. This is how we live today, frightened that we may fall, quickly and precipitously, into an abyss. As our heroes rise again, we’re then appeased, our anxieties forgotten for a moment — a momentary stay against the confusion. We want to see our heroes rise again — the “come back kid,” Bill Clinton filled this void; President Obama, of mixed race, black, and far from a promising candidate early on, beat all odds and became the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. Hollywood, here, can only follow; it can’t make this up. And in this story is the idealism we cherish: hard work and determination, self-realiance, manhood, the male coming to the rescue of the down and out. We need this story like no other.
Ideologies are manufactured narratives meant to conceal control; that is, the purpose of an ideology is to ensure servitude, not allegiance to the self, to one’s own journey. Christopher Newman is in Europe to take. He doesn’t even want the original art found in the Louvre, James tells us, but rather, he prefers the copy. We prefer the illusion — the illusion of knowing, the illusion of loving, the illusion of community, as Chris Hedges argues in Empire of Illusion.
Tiger Woods lived in a bubble of illusion. As Christopher Newman embarks on a harrowing moral journey of discovery, confused by his winner take all attitude that runs counter to an old, traidtional — and conservative — culture, Tiger Woods’ evolution left behind the powerful weight that human emotions can bring on one. When he was but two years old, he would sit for hours in a high-chair watching his father hit practice golf balls into a net. One day he climbed down from the high chair and picked up a plastic toy club and took a swing almost the mirror of his father’s. At the age of 3, he appeared on the Mike Douglas Show and putted effeciently against a respectable golfer, comedian Bob Hope. By the age of 5 he could hit golf balls with power and control. By the age of 6, he had scored two holes in one. And by the end of the 2005 season, Woods had won 10 tournaments (4 Masters, 2 US Opens, 2 British Opens, and 2 PGA tournaments) and 45 PGA tournaments despite playing in only 20 events a year. To get here, Woods’ parents sacrificed a lot, paying for teachers and green fees. The parents never pushed — Tiger was driven. He played competitive matches with his father. Earl took to distracting him, suddenly talking when he swung or jingling the change in his pocket as he prepared to putt. Earl even clapped his hands. Both father and son have said that this psychological testing helped Tiger learn to control his nerves and concentrate.
This training is not working now. The development of Tiger Woods, as is evident, left a gaping hole where emotions rule. Never has Tiger Woods needed to confront his identity in such harrowing depths. What he carries is beyond jingling change in his father’s pocket. In many ways, we’ve been fooled by the same psychological testing: we’ve been merely sailing along on the illusion that something is going on in the world — the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Africa — but nothing is off center here; we’ve been coasting along, much as Ishmael first does on the Pequod or Newman does as he sails away to Europe on the burgeoning American myth of endless growth and possibility, without centering, without an anchor on what is virtuous. Tiger Woods is the exemplar of this model; his narrative parallels our own in that our hyperindividualism has concealed the web of deceit that created the mess we’re in now — and with no light in sight.
Tiger Woods has controlled Golf’s narrative since the age of 21, when having turned professional just six months earlier, stunned the sports world when he did the seeming impossible by winning the prestigious Masters Tournament on his first try in 1997 by a record-setting 12 strokes, establishing a new tournament record with a score of 270. At the age of 21, Tiger Woods was already in the rarified endorsement league of Michael Jordan. This “Cablinasian” representative of the melting pot, out of nowhere, through the American rhetoric of will, determination and hard work, guided by the gentle hands of his parents, rose to prominence. And America sighed relief, a “Chosen One” was born and his mild manner, professional interviews, and mere grace and beauty made us feel secure. This is how sports and media work to channel our ideals back to us in reassuring ways.
But none of this is real, even as we watch Woods struggle in the fog of Whistling Straights. The only thing real about this chapter in our story is the fog and the delay of game. Nature, the world around us, is suggesting that we’re not in control and the control we thought we had has created our downward spiral — as happens on the Pequod and as happens to Christopher Newman. Tiger Woods’ attempt to redeem himself is our very own.