Thinking pop culture

Thinking pop culture

Politics, a Peep and a Pull

Source: Sydney Morning Herald (24 November, 2011)

There are lots of ugly reasons behind discrimination. One of the less hideous and less predictable ones is hiring/coupling-up with/living near people just like us.

As progressive as we might believe ourselves, most of our time is spent with people like us. Who share our values, our attitudes. Those who kinda even look like us.

I, for example, truly don’t know a soul who’d have voted for Tony Abbott. Equally, most of those I associate with are oblivious to taboos; to the notion that there are things we’re just not supposed to talk about.

This latter point perpetually intrigues me. For most of this year I’ve been writing a book about masturbation. The extent to which I talk about it - in turn, compelling friends and family to promptly shake off their squeamishness - might trick me into thinking that everybody is pretty much okay about it.

Everybody however, is not okay about it.

My book - it’ll be out next year - is about masturbation in the media. Hundreds of fictional examples paint a very clear picture of widespread cultural anxieties.

Masturbation, apparently, is embarrassing and disgusting and getting caught doing it is the most hideous calamity imaginable. Sure, there are the odd sexy exceptions, but generally the act is portrayed as a revolting, icky shudder-fest.

Paradoxically, of course. Because in real life most of us do it, revel in it, and scarcely do we feel much guilt. The screen’s story however, is quite different.

As though this year’s Woolworths vibrator brouhaha wasn’t enough of a wank, now we have the Indonesian newspaper Rakyat Merdeka getting in on the demonising. Australian television equally so: reports over the weekend repeatedly described the image as depicting a “lewd” act.

So in brief, we’ve got a cartoon Abbott, posed in his near-nudie glory, peeping on the Indonesians and self-pleasuring.

Far from a celebration of masturbation, far from an acknowledgement that this is a normal act that nearly everybody enjoys (and feels scarcely any compunction about), here is the PM - like so many of the screen’s masturbating deviants and lowlifes before him - getting his loathsome rocks off to the “salacious” state secrets of our neighbour.

Sure, it’s just a crude peeping tom metaphor. Sure, it’s just a cartoon. And sure, it’s just about one country shaming another.

But it’s masturbation that is the tool. It’s masturbation that proves the sucker punch. It’s masturbation that enables Abbott to be portrayed as filthy and deprave. It’s about the spotlighting of the one act that - even well into the twenty-first century - we’re still encouraged to find gross, offensive and condemnable.

Spying is portrayed as akin to peeping, phone-tapping to snow-dropping and espionage as the kind of porn that only the sleaziest scumbag could get off on.

A clever image, a crass image, and one that can only work in a world where autoeroticism still chafes.

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