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Debates and discourses

‘J-Lo alert! Give me that bloody remote!’
‘Don’t be a telly Hitler, Mum.’
‘Am not. Can’t blame me for having taste.’
‘Tu sei molto cattiva, e molto antipatica. E molto bassa.’

Peter is enjoying learning Italian for a trip to Italy. He can call his mother wicked, grumpy and short in two languages now. I return the epithets in a more operatic accent, but forgetting to put the male ending on the words, he gets to gloat.  Most of our altercations are about his calm assumption that the remote is his domain. I suppose he keeps me from fossilising by putting on MTV with Jackass and Dirty Sanchez, as well as the kind of music they play on that channel. Young blokes also seem to love cartoons, so in our house we also get a lot of Simpsons, South Park and Family Man. I like some of these and loathe others, especially Family Man. Where is the bridge over the generational taste-abyss? I am, despite slanderous aspersions from my offspring, a reasonably broadminded and curious person for my advanced age, so I find myself enjoying MTV when Gwen Stefani or Queens of the Stone Age come along. But I draw the line at 50 Cent and J-Lo and indeed any video clip that has herds of subservient ho’s waggling their reproductive facilities at arrogant, drug-fuelled males. This puts a lot of hip-hop and R&B outside my pale, because as Kath and Kim would say, they get up my goat.

But there are things we can all watch together without fighting. In March on the ABC there was that gorgeously grotty program The Bodysnatchers. Maggots being popped out of scalps and necks; tapeworm dramas; cautionary tales for the young fellers about the reason why you should never pee in the Amazon. It was all pity and terror with a lot of fear and loathing and EEEK! thrown in. Now that was good telly, there should be more of it: the whole family watched, spellbound, with only the weak-stomached protesting. One of my dearest friends, an 89-year-old retired missionary, and veteran of numerous bouts of malaria, loved it. It reminded him of his salad days in the tropics, helping people overcome these things. (Good missionaries were always just as concerned for their flocks’ bodily health as for their spiritual wellbeing.) Bodysnatchers was the perfect cross-generational program: something to disgust and delight, all without offending. A rare one, that.

There are things I’d rather not watch with the son, and it’s heartily reciprocated: stuff about sex mainly. We’ve never been prudes in our family, but neither are we the sort of people who wander round the house in the nuddy, chatting casually about their latest sexual encounter. If that makes me a repressed product of my upbringing, then good. Whoopee. There are things that a lad does not wish to share with his mum, nor she with him, unless they’re in a French movie or a play by Aeschylus.

So I was glad when he was out with mates when SBS showed that documentary about the author of The Story of O. It was depressing viewing, because it seemed to be saying that true eroticism was about self-abasement, and about submitting to bullying of the crudest, most schoolyard type. (School bullying is something that should warn us about people who like to ritualise cruelty and make little games of it.) The horrible degradations that were the products of Dominique Aury’s imagination were intended to give her lover pleasure. These tortures involved stuff that was outlawed in the Geneva Convention, so what makes it OK to define it as love? What on earth ever happened to female emancipation? The very thought of a beloved enjoying raping, humiliating and whipping would end the relationship for anyone who wasn’t nuts, surely. Real lovers fall in love and are ravished by the sheer sweetness of touching each other.

The whole idea that a woman’s ultimate rapture is to be controlled, enslaved and degraded is so damned old-fashioned, so bloody criminal. (Perhaps it’s because I was born in a town in England that spawned the Moors murderers that I don’t find the whole SM caboodle funny or even vulgar, just evil. That pair romanticised De Sade and read his books.) So how is it that the generally accepted definition of erotica these days always seems to involve the dreary leather-costume party of SM? Or is it that the really edgy stuff that people find hard to write about, to depict artistically, is tenderness and joy? Real sexual love, between enraptured equals, is perhaps as difficult to render convincingly as religious experience. The ritual crudities of fundamentalism and of sadomasochism are similar in the relation they bear to the real experiences of God or of sex. The horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay involved sexual degradation and the infliction of pain and fear, and were the product of the fundamentalist Christian Bush administration in horrible intercourse with the fundamentalist Islamic al Qaeda.

Strange, really. The most suppressed discourses in the world right now are the gentle message of Vatican II, the language of liberation, conservation and peace, and the celebration of loving, equal, mutual sexual attraction.

In the meantime in our house, we’ll continue to tolerate each other’s programs up to the point of nausea or embarrassment. We’ll be able to watch the animal documentaries, Media Watch, and Roy and H. G.’s new Memphis Trousers Half Hour. We’ll watch the news, some food programs and from time to time we’ll even turn the damn thing off and learn more Italian insults.

Juliette Hughes is a freelance writer.



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