As the Fifty Shades... movie is set tempt teenagers everywhere this Valentine's Day, just over a month away, I want to share a passage from a novel I read recently, Michel Houellebecq's Platform, in which the plot revolves around the idea of mainstream European sex tourism to Asia. Here, the main character explains the attractiveness of the scheme, given the state of society nowadays.
"Offering your body as an object of pleasure, giving pleasure unselfishly: that's what Westerners don't know how to do anymore. They've completely lost the sense of giving. Try as they might, they no longer feel sex as something natural. Not only are they ashamed of their own bodies, which aren't up to porn standards, but for the same reasons they no longer feel truly attached to the body of another. It's impossible to make love without a certain abandon, without accepting, at least temporarily, the state of being in a state of dependency, of weakness.
"Sentimental adulation and sexual obsession have the same roots, both proceed from some degree of selflessness; it's not a domain in which you can find fulfilment without losing yourself. We have become cold, rational, acutely conscious of our individual existence and our rights; more than anything, we want to avoid alienation and dependence; on top of that we're obsessed with health and hygiene: these are hardly ideal conditions in which to make love. The way things stand, the commercialization of sexuality in [Asia] has become inevitable. Obviously there's S&M too. It's a purely cerebral world with clear-cut rules and a prior contract....Organized S&M with its rules could only exist among a cultured, cerebral people for whom sex has lost all attraction. For everyone else, there's only one possible solution: pornography featuring professionals; and if you want to have real sex, third-world countries."
- Michel Houellebecq, Platform, p.244
Platform was published in 2001, and this year Fifty Shades... is coming to the big screen, meaning that Houellebecq is something of a doomsday prophet. I don't agree with his "only possible solution," obviously, but I think his diagnosis is close to the mark. Unrelated to Platform but still on topic, Pastor Doug Wilson wrote an article a couple years back, when Fifty Shades... was first published, and he summarized the problems of the book like this:
Now someone might want to intervene in these our enlightened times and say that [sado-masochistic relationships] are all a matter of personal choice. Of course, he might hasten to add, bondage and degradation and torture are bad if you are not dealing with volunteers. But if such a course is mutually chosen... well, who's to say and all that?
The first concern is that if you create a world defined by the excitement of breaking taboos, then how is an insistence upon "mutual agreement" anything but the creation of the final taboo? And if there is no standard outside the mutually-expressed desire to play this game of destroy-the-woman, then there is no standard that will condemn somebody who decides to start playing this game for reals. It is dangerous to play rape in a world with real rape. In short, don't start what you can't finish.
But the second thing is that people do not arrive at the moment of such an emotional/relational choice with a clean slate. There are many women who accept men into their lives who treat them like dirt (and sure, they technically choose it), but they got to this point because their entire outlook and view of themselves was shaped by fathers who treated them like dirt, or that neighbor boy, or that leering uncle, and they most certainly didn't choose that. So do we seriously want to maintain that kicking a woman when she is down is not a problem provided she has previously been so battered and discouraged that she has stopped trying to get up? Of course not. And the fact that an abuse-prepping catechism like this one clearly appeals to millions of women is grand news for predatory (straight-toothed) men everywhere.Is this the movie that some teens are going to watch to learn how to kiss+ ? The fact that society will tolerate a (notoriously poorly-written) book trilogy and accompanying movie, and that the producers of said movie once stood before potential financial backers and said, "Yes, we are confident that this movie will make money," is a scary thought.