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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reports of the death of Controller society have been greatly exaggerated
Posted by Jill | 7:11 AM

Interesting piece by Jesse Kornbluth at HuffPo:

That day after I studied the Abu Ghraib images, I stumbled over gay sex again. This time, it was in a conversation with a Media Guru about the upcoming Academy Awards. He saw a ratings disaster. "After Jon Stewart's opening segment," he said, "everyone will change the channel."

"What makes you think so?"

"This country isn't going to show up to watch 'Brokeback Mountain' win a bunch of awards."

He's probably right. It doesn't matter that "Brokeback" has out-earned all of the Best Picture nominees. Or that Bill O'Reilly's prophesy --- "This movie does not do big box office outside the big cities. It won't. They're not going to go see the gay cowboys in Montana" --- has been proven wrong, not just in "liberal" Missoula and Helena but in hard-core Billings and other "Red" strongholds as well.

So here's my question: Why are so many Americans --- most of them living where there's no uncloseted homosexual for miles --- so full of fear and hate for gay men? (Gay women are another story; just ask any horny guy.) Why is gay sex unacceptable within our borders, but ideal to export to foreign torture chambers? Why, of all our urgent issues, is homosexuality right up there at the top?

I thought of no end of reasons, few profound. So, on a whim, I phoned Philip Slater, the distinguished sociologist best known for his 1970 classic, The Pursuit of Loneliness. Dr. Slater has clearly taken oddball calls before; he was willing to think aloud with me.

There was a study, he told me, of reactions to heterosexual pornography and gay pornography. Two groups of men were tested: one gay, one of men who described themselves as "homophobic." Both were electronically wired so they could be measured for sexual arousal. Interestingly, the homophobes were not especially aroused by the male/female porn. What turned them on? The gay porn. Which presents the question: Why do homophobes hang around gay bars to beat up gay men when they could be at straight bars meeting women?

Then Slater suggested a more provocative question: Why are people on the Christian and political Right so angry when they seem to be winning?

I suggested some sort of twisted sexual rage --- their religions limited their sexual expression and that made them jealous of those who felt unfettered by religious constraints.

Slater had another response: The Christian Right and the political conservatives are not winning. And they know it. That's what infuriates them.

Slater briefly took me through a line of argument that he explains fully in a dazzlingly upbeat essay, America is Polarized. In brief, he sees America --- and the planet --- undergoing "the most revolutionary cultural shift in the history of our species." In response. we tend to join one of two camps: "Control Culture," which clings to rigid, traditional beliefs, and "Connecting Culture," which aims to knock down walls and boundaries.

To read this essay is to be greatly cheered. The spread of democracy, the Women's Movement, the global economy, the ecology movement, the Internet --- everything reasonable people care about is a manifestation of the Connecting Culture. And that culture is growing fast, fueled by technology, global communication, planetary awareness and what Slater calls "the decreasing utility of war."

Ever since we were blessed with the Bush presidency, I've been searching for a way to look at what's happening in this country that doesn't make me feel sick at heart. Slater may not have the ultimate answer --- but he gets you to 30,000 feet fast. From there, you can look around for yourself. At the very least, you can feel the beginning of compassion for those who feel the need to be in "Control" --- people so freaked out by change that they fixate on gays.

Alas, I wish I could share Slater's upbeat vision and buy into it the way Kornbluth does, but I think we're a long way off from vanquishing "The Controllers". For one thing, they now control all three branches of the U.S. government, and they are hard at work changing the entire legal structure to ensure their continued power, and in the unlikely event that they lose it, ensuring that the Controller legacy remains intact. For another thing, any essay which cites gains made 30 years ago and a bunch of lawyers arguing that chimpanzees should be accorded legal status as persons as evidence that things are changing is automatically suspect, as far as I'm concerned.

Yes, gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts, and many other states are scrambling to do whatever they have to in order to ensure that the same thing doesn't happen in their backyards. Yes, Brokeback Mountain is the odds-on favorite to win the Best Picture Academy Award, and next year Batman will be fighting Al Qaeda.

I do believe that once this country actually DOES become the repressive, Christian dominionist theocracy that is the direction in which we're headed, people will rebel and realize what they've allowed themselves to buy into. However, the legal structure will be such by then that it will be too late.
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