Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Our Society’s New Cultural Communism

In the world that’s coming, if not everyone can possess a given desirable thing or trait, then it won’t be cool for anyone to do so.  And we won't simply adjust our concept of “normal.”  We'll abandon it.  Will this new society be more just?  

Society’s pendulum is always swinging.

Not so long ago, during the Victorian era, it was considered the height of lewdness for a woman to show her ankle in public.  In polite society, one never uttered the word “leg”; if you simply had to make some kind of reference to this human appendage, you used the word “limb.”  Even furniture was covered with long cloths or wrapped with skirts so as not to show table and couch legs. 

Men ogling women - 1960's commercial (You Tube)
The Sexual Revolution of the Sixties threw all that to the wind.  The women of Star Trek had their skirts cut up to there.  Catwoman—in a comic book-inspired TV show designed largely for kids, no less!—openly tried to seduce Batman while prancing around in form-fitting vinyl that looked as if it had been sprayed on.  Commercials infamously used sex to sell; one series of diet soda pop ads featured men openly ogling shapely women clad in bikinis or form-fitting slacks and blouses walking by to the strains of a tune called “Music to Watch Girls By.”  (“The girls girl watchers watch, watch what they drink,” one such ad warned women.)  The counter culture celebrated sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and so on.  Men who openly and eagerly expressed sexual interest in women—and women who appreciated that and avidly sought such attention—were the “norm.” 

Fast forward to today.  What does “normal” look like?  When it comes to all matters related to sex and gender, our society is suffering from multiple personality disorder.  On the one hand, we’re awash in pornography; the art is still not considered socially acceptable, but even so it frequently overlaps with the mainstream, with porn stars crossing over to general-release movies and TV, being interviewed on news talk shows, followed by gossip sites, and so on.  Yet in this same society today, if a man expresses sexual interest in a woman, he runs the risk of being held up as a sexual predator.  If an advertiser today suggests that some women are more beautiful than others--or, worse, implies that some narrowly-defined notion of beauty is the only desirable "norm"--then it’s liable to come under social media attack.

Victoria's Secret "Perfect Body" ad
 Critics fight back - from
Case in point:  Recently Victoria’s Secret, as Victoria’s Secret is wont to do, ran an ad campaign featuring young, slim, lingerie-wearing models, with the caption, “The Perfect Body.”  Until the very day the ad debuted, holding up beautiful women as such had been a perfectly acceptable advertising practice.  But this time three college students in Britain objected, and they took to social media to make their complaints known.  Writing on the petition-filing website, they bitterly attacked the ad as “irresponsible,” and called for Victoria’s Secret to apologize and make changes.  “This marketing campaign is harmful,” the women wrote.  “It fails to celebrate the amazing diversity of women’s bodies by choosing to call only one body type ‘perfect.’ ”  The ad, the students said, was harming women not just emotionally, but physically, by contributing “to a culture that encourages serious health problems such as negative body image and eating disorders.”  Other critics fought back by posting a mock ad featuring women whose bodies were not quite so slim and trim.

The petition gathered north of 20,000 signatures.  The upshot?  Victoria’s Secret waved the white flag, replacing the offending words “The Perfect Body” with the phrase, “A Body for Every Body.”  The moral of the story:  If not every woman can be held up as having the "perfect" body, then no woman gets to be held up that way.   Put another way, no one gets to be thought of as beautiful unless everyone does.  The entire notion that there's any such thing as "the" perfect body will have to be scrapped.

Call it Cultural Communism.  The premise is similar to that at the heart of Marxism:  If not everyone can be rich, then no one gets to be rich.  Strike the word “rich” and substitute any other value, commodity or privilege that’s esteemed by some but not available to all, and off you go.

Another battle front is religion.  Once upon a time Christianity was considered “the norm” for America, although allowances were made for Judaism.  But in recent decades, our immigration policy has featured visa preferences driven by the desire to have America look like the world.  And as a result, more and more, we do.  There are something like 4,200 religions around the planet.  Many of those have their own, unique holy days.  Obviously, it would not be practical for our government, schools, and workplaces to grant recognition and privileges to each and every one of those.  But increasingly, that is what’s being demanded.  What do to?  The only answer is the one that Montgomery County School officials came up with.  When Muslims demanded that the school holiday calendar recognize their Eid holy days—and that schools close on those days—officials did the only thing they could do.  They removed all religious holidays from the calendar.  Not every religion can have its holiday recognized, so now no religion gets its holiday recognized.  Cultural communism.

This is sexual harassment?  So says
The fight to extend this same principle to the eternal battle of the sexes is well underway.   The website recently posted a video documenting what it called one woman’s 10-hour ordeal enduring street harassment in New York.  The video did show unacceptable behavior.  But in its zeal to shame men who make inappropriate comments, the organization also pointed its finger at men who did nothing more than say “hello” with such greetings to the passing woman as “How are you?” and “Have a nice evening.”  The video branded any man who said anything at all as a harasser, which the website then equated to gender-based violence.  Mainstream media pundits and columnists applauded the video and added their voices to the finger-wagging chorus of shame.  Saying “hello” is an act of sexual predation?  In today’s world, yes.  Not every woman wants men to speak to them.  Therefore no men get to speak to women.  Cultural communism.

As with old-school Marxism, this trend absolutely does relate to socioeconomic status as well.  You see it pop up frequently in news reports and conversations about “income inequality.”  Not long ago a friend of mine, while rebutting on Facebook some comments I had made about Obamacare, tossed out this line to me:  “Come try some income inequality.  That would be good.”  Now, I have no idea how my level of income compared to his.  I will admit that I had a well paying job at the time.  If, for the sake of argument, I did make significantly more money than my friend—this is wrong?  The promise and lure of America never was that if you come here, you’d have the same income as everyone else.  The promise was that you’d have opportunity and a fair shot of getting ahead.  Not now.  Now, if you do get ahead, you’re committing an act of social injustice.  Cultural communism.

Where is this going?

It’s hard to say precisely, but some trends seem clear.  The rights of young men--especially "traditional" young men--not only will continue to erode, but the group itself will become harder to even define.  It seems likely that in polite, politically correct society, social media, and mass media, the concept of “normality” will disappear altogether, to be replaced by its opposite, diversity.  The average (but diverse) person will be celebrated; polite society will extol their rights and virtues.  Human nature being what it is, people’s actual feelings will remain what they are:  we all want to be beautiful, rich, and famous.  But it won’t be so cool to admit it—and if you reach one or more of those goals, it definitely won’t be cool to brag about it, and you will come under attack socially whether you brag about it or not. 

In the gender wars, same sex couples, transgender individuals, and the newly emerging genderqueer segment will continue to fight for, and win, new rights, recognition, and mainstream acceptance.  Among other things, every person will have the right to be addressed by the gender pronoun of his or her choosing.  New pronouns will have to be invented to cover some of those choices; this process is already under way.  The implication here is that when you meet someone new, you will considered rude or even sexist (we may have to invent new words or phrases to describe the offense—“gender chauvinist” or “genderist” perhaps?) if you assume you know that person’s gender identity based on appearance aloneespecially if, in making your assumption, it's clear you only allowed for two possible choices.  Instead, you’ll have to ask, or have someone who knows tell you.  With Facebook now recognizing more than 50 gender identity personal choices, this process, too, is already under way.

In terms of sexual preference, more than a hundred years ago some psychologists—notably Krafft-Ebing—began to recognize that homosexuality is just a different “normal.”  As already noted, in the not too distant future the concept of “normal” will be abandoned altogether.  This has profound implications for attitudes toward gender identity and sexual preference.  One way this will manifest itself socially in the future is that any book, movie or TV show that fails to showcase a diverse array of gender identities and sexual preferences will be considered politically incorrect and socially unacceptable.  Movies and books of today that don’t do so will seem quaint and unsophisticated, and will be regarded as antique cultural curiosities of no current relevance.  Even a casual glance at TV and movies of today shows that this process, too, is well advanced.

Some who've read an earlier version of this essay have had a negative reaction to the word "communism."  It's not meant here as a pejorative but rather as a way to summarize and illustrate the attitude of absolute equality that is beginning to emerge, and be required for, all elements of our society.  

Speaking personally, I don’t necessarily knock it—certainly, I don’t knock all of it.  The science fiction novel I’m working on now contains such diversity and acknowledges some of the trends of which I just spoke.  Some of these developments do advance social justice, and that’s a good thing.  Others—particularly the shaming of some of the men shown in the video—trouble me.  But right, wrong, or indifferent, I believe these trends will continue and that the logical conclusion of these arguments, which are succeeding, will lead us to the future I’ve described.  We are already well down the road.


If you found this essay to be thought-provoking, please share it.

Related:  The Sexual Harassment of the song “Pretty Woman”

My well-reviewed novel Messages, a TV news exposé and crime drama, is written largely in this style.  And I invite you to subscribe to this blog.

©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.


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