The Water We Swim In: From Jesus to Miley and Back Again

Last week I went to see the KOLT production of “My Own Stranger.”  Among other comments I wrote that love and redemption were the two great themes of Western Civilization.   These two themes have emerged in the last two thousand years as part of the greater Christian heritage.

Now “Christian heritage” may seem a bit much for those who claim no religion, or for those who happen to be dedicated to a different faith.  As a response I would say that we are all swimming in the same water.  Like or not.

There’s a great line in the move “The Devil Wears Prada” delivered by Meryl Streep. She tells her protege (Anne Hathaway) that the color of any given sweater isn’t an individual choice — there are thousands of hours of research, decisions, marketing and campaigning that drive the process of what gets produced. We are, she says, to a very large extent, programmed to accept certain ideas about fashion — or anything else. So we think we make “individual” decisions, but really we’re responding to a sea of stimulus that influences our sense of decision.  We are all subject to various shades of seduction. Like or or not.

One of the things that I found interesting in Sexton’s dilemma — which is to say her struggle to find a definition of sanity she could live with —  was that it seemed to be totally devoid of sexuality.  Well in reality that isn’t so at all: she was “wife” and “mother.”  But the sterility of the language in that one regard is rather striking.  Of course the play was 80 minutes of solid dialog, so I may have missed it.  But I doubt it.  My glands are still in good working order.

The idea of “repression” seems so archaic these days; everything has been so sexualized it’s rather startling to think anyone lacks the opportunity for expression or satisfaction.  But there is that nagging “Love” theme again — how does that relate to sexuality?

In Sexton’s case maybe nothing.  She may have been so preoccupied with her struggle that sexuality didn’t mean much.  But that element of repression is there.

But how, exactly, did we get from Jesus to Miley?  I doubt we were ever far from it.  Because, in spite of the preponderance of patriarchal determination, Jesus represents a rather startling amalgamation of spiritual and sexual.   His approach to life had a strong sensual quality.  He seemed to have no dilemma regarding sex — he forgave the adulteress.  He had a reputation for associating with whores.  He was vital, not at all “sterile.”

And furthermore I would assert that Jesus is the most feminine of heroes.  His manliness was tempered by a feminine reverence for women and children, widows, lepers, and those subject to injustice.  He wasn’t less of a man for being womanly, he was stronger for it. Not the kind of person who is repressed.

A tacit acknowledgement that we are all swim in the water of of creation and pro-creation.

Sexton seems to me to represent the last remnants of that social order that needed to repress women — and therefore sexuality (which is to say “choice”.)   Of course in the greater scheme of things what was happening was that women were being denied power.  What we call “Feminism” provided some antidote.  I think the argument against feminism is that it is really libertine by another name.  I don’t buy that argument, not one bit of it.  In any case that was the water Sexton was swimming in.

We are seduced by a sea of ideas — or not.  “Seduction” is another way of saying “delusion.” Theater is seduction, insofar as we chose to suspend our disbelief.  Sexton’s lack of sexuality may have been part of the greater seduction she was subject too.  Or perhaps she simply rejected the idea that she was “wife” and “mother” and nothing else.  An identity crisis so troubling to her that she took her own life.

The people around her might have been sterile as well, insofar as they did not (apparently) offer the love she needed.  In any case she found no redemption.  Which is another way of saying she could not find any way to forgive herself for being human — imperfect.

We are indoctrinated with “Love” and “Redemption” and then terrorized, seduced and thwarted by various images of physical perfection, sexuality, and definitions of who has power and who doesn’t.

I suppose fear of women is a natural phenomenon.  I confess I feel that way myself on occasion. Too often I suppose. Perhaps it will subside. In the meantime, finally, in a moment of capitulation, in what I hope is a surrender of small proportion but probably isn’t, I “googled” the word “twerk.”  Of course this means I am totally not “cool.”   Ah well.  Pity.

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