Rape Stories Shock
Yet May Excite Us Too
Prurient: having an excessive interest
in sexual matters, especially the sexual activity of others.
The narrative of rape in the news is almost
pornographic in nature. Designed to arouse
while it pretends objectively to present facts.
Facts alone don’t sell. Facts are boring.
They lack showmanship so they must be
dressed up in storytelling.
The storytelling of rape in the media is
one of sexual desire gone wrong.
It’s one of synchronized condemnation
and raw exhibitionism.
Prurience, pornography and the media have been
fellow travellers for a long time.
The perverse style of reporting sex scandals,
the ‘scratching for dirt’ behind the face
of public office, and the voyeuristic
pleasure derived from the ensuing revelations
aren’t new phenomena.
In the late 19th century such instincts were
alive and kicking. Alongside regimented
lifestyles and moral censorship there was deep
fascination in things erotic and the macabre.
Jack the Ripper, for example, became almost
a cause celebre despite the depraved savagery
of his attacks on prostitutes.
The fact that he has passed into mythology is
largely due to the prurient reporting of the times.
The Ripper killings led directly to
the birth of the ‘gutter press’.
Often associated with clandestine
or illicit pursuits, prurience can
evoke fear and desire.
we are both repelled and attracted by
the experience of sexual pleasure.
In the extreme, we are scandalised
by acts of sexual depravity and yet
morbidly fascinated by them.
This duplicity implies a struggle between resisting
and being carried along by instinctual drives.
Through repression of overt sexual behaviour,
they return as displaced and re-awakened
fantasies that work their way autonomously
into conscious life as odd, perverted
compulsions and fetishes.
She had grasped the inner meaning of the Party’s sexual puritanism. It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party’s control and which therefore had to be destroyed if possible.
What was more important was that sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war-fever and leader-worship. – George Orwell, ‘1984’
In Orwell’s dystopian world, “the sexual act, successfully performed, was rebellion.” In contemporary societies control over sexual activity is essential to maintain a ‘productive’ work force.
In today’s America, the level of ignorance and hypocrisy over sexuality is disturbing and breathtaking.
Debates surrounding any sexual or gender issues anywhere are always influenced primarily by religion and a core of their mean spirited, meddling followers.
The religious “shadow movement” in American culture has aggressively campaigned to set back women’s rights, especially those focused on issues around sex, abortion and birth control.
It has developed sophisticated techniques to influence mainstream politics, especially via the social-conservative wing of the Republican party.
It gives the movement power far beyond its numbers and a louder voice than a more silent majority. These people are brilliant political organisers. They are ideologues and crusaders. They believe if they lose, civilisation hangs in the balance.
Unique factors in American history also help to explain the situation. Religion continues to play a big role in public life. About 43% of Americans regularly go to church and it is hard to have a political career in the US without professing a deep faith.
The power of religion provides a ready-made vehicle for campaigning on sexual mores. It also means sex is the one part of life where the normal rules of the free market are given a willful pass. The only place in life in America where more freedom of choice is seen as bad is sex.
Many commentators say the hardline Protestantism of 17th-century settlers casts a long shadow over modern sexuality, leading to a distrust of sexual behaviour as pleasure and seeing it as a religious duty for reproduction.
But the image of America gripped by a fervent new puritanism is not the full picture. Any survey of the wider cultural landscape reveals sex has never been more prevalent in American life. On television and in movies sex is everywhere.
Reality shows like The Jersey Shore show their cast members coupling with each other and random strangers. Stars such as Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian, built lucrative businesses on the back of sex tapes.
Gossip websites debate the sex lives of celebrities with a prurient detail that would shock even the most infamous of scandal rags from Hollywood in the 1930s, and they do it for an audience online of millions.
Sex sells like never before, even for the most tangential of products. In sport there is even a Lingerie Football League, whose female players done skimpy outfits and teams have names like the Los Angeles Temptation.
The American sex industry is said to be worth more than $12bn a year. Recent regulations in California aimed at ensuring all porn actors have to use condoms saw protests that such a law would see the industry relocate, with a resultant loss of jobs and taxes.
At the same time porn actor James Deen has been cast as the lead in a new Hollywood film The Canyons. Deen has now become such a popular porn star – especially with young women – that he was the subject of a segment on ABC’s headline news show Nightline.
In fact, sexual freedom in America has gone so far that conservatives are not the only ones wringing their hands. The sexualisation of young girls who follow pop role models like Rihanna And Miley Cyrus – has outraged liberals and feminists, as has the growth of a casual “hook up” culture on American college campuses.
Sexually speaking, Americans have never been so inventive. The range of things that people do in their bedrooms is without doubt getting broader and the entertainment options around sex are also broader.