So This Is A “Culture?”
What is a culture? Right-wingers like to acclaim the myth that America is an “exceptional” country—the “shining city on a hill” and all those wonderful, marvelous cultural images. Dictionary definitions of culture include these statements: “The sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one group of people from another. Culture is transmitted, through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, a way of thinking, and art, from one generation to the next. It is a cumulative deposit of knowledge, experience, beliefs, values, hierarchies, religion, concepts of the universe, and material objects and possessions acquired by a group of people over a long period of time.” OK, OK, you get the drift!
A New Yorker cartoon catches elements of our culture in an obese man exiting a western saloon swinging door with cellphone attached to an ear, shielded by a 15-gallon black cowboy hat. He has a Glock in holster and ammunition belts surrounding his upper body. He wears cowboy boots with spurs — and carries a briefcase in one hand. Those are some of the material objects that distinguish us from other cultures. A book on beetles just published is a “spectacular sampling of the more than 350,000 species of beetles on earth.” This tome will probably not make the New York Times best-seller list but it does reveal that we are a very inquisitive lot. We were so inquisitive about 10 million years ago we got drunk when we sampled fermenting fruit that fell on the ground — after we had fallen out of the same trees. Our culture had discovered alcohol!
Now our scientists have discovered the ADH4 genes, which are the first alcohol-metabolizing enzymes to encounter ethanol after we binge it down. Some religions have banned alcohol, but our dominant Christian culture even uses it on altars. I also recall Jesus at a wedding … Perhaps some day our genes will evolve enough to process alcohol so we don’t get sick or go mind-bending nuts from drinking the fermented stuff. Alcohol still gives us heart disease, liver disease, and over time, still rots the brain.
College campuses seem to be flooded with the stuff, causing all kinds of problems for students, parents, and administrators. Even downtown Fargo is often decorated with the vomit from excessive drinking. I guess some economists could brag about the fact that the US beer industry employs over 2,000,000 workers, although of the top 10 beers sold in the US, none are owned by US firms. Most human drunks are not very amusing, but I still remember a raccoon that had eaten too many fermented plums or something at our lake place. He was entertaining for awhile.
I imagine that most readers are familiar with “Jackie’s” story of booze and rape as published in Rolling Stone magazine. I had some questions about how the reporter handled her story, but it was believable and I felt ashamed of my fellow males while reading the ten-page story. But we have to recognize that our culture is permeated and suffocated with booze at athletic events, weddings, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and occasionally at baby showers. At the University of Virginia, where Jackie was a freshgirl at the time of her rape, seniors have a cultural tradition called “the fourth year fifth” at the last football game of the year. The seniors are supposed to drink an entire fifth of booze prior to the game. That’s crazy, idiotic, and deadly. And some end up dead. That’s a great combination to end the season — alcohol and sex abuse. While working on my MA degree I tended bar at the classiest places in town, the Frederick Martin Hotel’s Skol Room and Treetop Room. Sometimes classy people aren’t so classy, so I have seen my share of the unaddicted and addicted throwing down fermented grapes, barley, and corn by the shot and glass. I must admit, however, that each day at five I drink an extra dry martini on the rocks as a testament to actor W.C. Fields, one of the most creative drunk persons I have ever read about. He insisted he did not drink water because “fish had crapped in it.” Salud! There’s no doubt our culture has a booze problem. How many times is booze a promoter of domestic violence? It seems every reported case contains a reference to excessive drinking of alcohol. Driving while drunk dominates news stories of deadly accidents. How many sober drivers go the wrong way on interstate highways?
Viagra and other sex-enhancing pills and condiments seem to be gaining more TV time lately. Those two old-fashioned bathtubs containing people holding hands must mean something. As a constant reader of poetry and prose I consider myself acquainted with obscure symbols and secret messages. Wouldn’t one larger tub be racier than two tubs from the 1890s? What am I missing? The Viagra ad with the woman slinking around on the bed talking about “curling up” with all those poor guys over 40 with erectile dysfunction is more direct, but what does her stroll on a dock while looking at a body of water mean? I have to get a book on erotic symbolism.
The sex doll industry is much more direct in its message. Lonely? Unable to communicate with the opposite sex? Need physical and spiritual relief? Buy a sex doll from Abyss Creation, one of the largest manufacturers of mannequins and sex dolls in the world based in California. Prices range from $6,500 to over $51,000. Like buying a car, the more intriguing options the higher the price. I would assume the cheap model is basically a stripped doll. The company’s Real Doll model offers these options: 20 different nipple textures, 16 different faces, 14 different hair styles, 13 different areola colors, 10 different eye colors, 9 different hair colors, 7 different lip colors, 6 different body types, 5 different skin tones, and 4 different pubic hair styles. Want face freckles? That’ll be $150. Want both face and body freckles? That’s $450 extra. (All of this information was gleaned from an article by Carrie Weisman in the December issue of AlterNet.)
When you have added up all your options, the company provides certain accessories free: hair wig, lingerie outfit, washing kit, lotion, hairbrush, powder, repair kit, and a instruction handbook. The silicone-based dolls also come with private parts, but if fascinated, do your own research. They are guaranteed to be anatomically correct. That’s as far as I will go. But this whole mess has become part of our culture. By the way, the company also produces male sex dolls, but they don’t sell many. At the present time the Love Doll makers have over 41,000 registered users, practically all male. All social media pages have channels dedicated to sex doll owners. Isn’t “culture” wonderful? Remember the chastity belts of old? Medieval knights locked up metal belts to make sure their wives remained faithful as they clanked off to kill somebody in the numerous Crusades.
I took the liberty of coining a word from “impregnable” and “pregnant,” which is the prerogative of English majors. According to a blurb in the most recent Harper’s, AR Wear has developed a modern personal chastity belt for the adventurous female. They are called Safety Knickers. This chastity belt is considered by the company as “unimpregnantable.” I hope that is clear. If a woman goes on a blind date or goes clubbing, she can wear a garment that is very difficult to remove “by force or stealth” if she is drugged (like Bill Cosby’s victims) or has had too much to drink—or falls asleep. The material, reinforced with straps and belts, resists pulling, tearing, and cutting. The “knickers” are relatively comfortable to wear according to the manufacturer, and fits rather smoothly under formfitting outerwear.
AR Wear does not reveal what the knickers are made of, but this is their sales pitch: “The waist, thighs, and central panels are protected with cut-resistant straps and webbing. Once the waist girth has been adjusted and secured with its unique locking device, the garment cannot be pulled down. Since a female’s waist measurement is generally less than that of her pelvic area, the waist strap can be locked at a comfortable position and still prevent unwanted removal. The thigh straps prevent the leg openings from being lifted or shifted to the sides. No product alone can solve the problem of violence against women. Nevertheless, a woman or girl wearing one of our garments will be sending a clear message.” Is this what every college coed needs to survive the rigors of fraternity row? What kind of modern culture would even consider that this is a marketable accessory -- necessity, even better than Fruit of the Loom panties or Victoria’s Secret magic thongs? The idea of chastity belts has been around for many centuries. Way-way back an Assyrian “mythical” queen named Semiramis feared for her son’s virginity so she forced all the women of the household to wear locked chastity belts. Evidently failure was not an option in this culture. By definition, a chastity belt is a locking item designed to prevent sexual intercourse or masturbation.
Female virginity used to be a big deal in many cultures, and still is a dominating factor in sexual relations in a few religions. Islam comes to mind with its sharia laws regarding marriage and social intercourse, but that’s another column. There is no concrete evidence that chastity belts existed before the 15th Century, but there are many myths, and perhaps true stories, about Crusaders in the 11th Century going off to fight Muslims in the First Crusade outfitting their wives and girl friends with belts to control their ferocious desires in case they gave in to temptation. I have never seen the design for a male chastity belt, but Wikipedia insists that they are now on the market. Well, back to genius Google for an answer.
To sum up this section, there have been several publicized incidents of chastity belt use in the last 15 years. In West Java race riots in 1998 Chinese husbands fitted their wives with Florentine-type plastic belts with a combination lock. I thought the combination lock was an interesting addition. In 2002 a Capetown jeweler sold a belt made of gold and decorated with diamonds and pearls to a Brit who said it was a wedding gift for his future bride. Figure that one out. It would make a great short story or documentary. USA Today reported in 2004 that an English woman on vacation in Greece set off the metal alarm in the Athens airport. She explained that her husband forced her to wear the cumbersome device so she would not have an “affair” on her vacation. In 2007 the Asian Rights Commission reported that Indian women in Rajasthan Province were being forced to wear chastity belts. One has to admit that humans make up one of the most interesting species on earth.
During the Middle Ages most European countries with kings and queens depended upon the feudal system, a political structure, for economic and political survival. The king would distribute lands to nobles who swore allegiance to him, who would then select knights, vassals, freemen, yeoman, servants, and peasants to serve the nobles and plant and harvest the land. A person could advance through the system by attracting attention from those above him in rank. All in all, it was a system that worked well as long as every group performed its role in war and peace. Knights and peasants fought side by side to preserve their community and the feudal system that fed and clothed all.
We don’t seem to do that anymore. In the wealthy town of Orinda, Calif. many residents employ live-in maids, nannies, gardeners and such from the Latino population near by. Vivian is the seven-year old daughter of a live-in Latino nanny currently attending an elementary school in Orinda. But Orinda residents do not want children of their Latino domestic help attending classes with their rich white kids. The school district is at the point of forcing Vivian to live in grandma’s house in Bay Point, a Latino enclave. This would break up the family because Vivian also attends church, extra gym classes, and youth theater programs in Orinda. The school district has hired private detectives to catch other “poor” people attending school in Orinda. The pissants can’t go to school there anymore. Not like it was 500 years ago in the feudal system when all children went to school in the castle of the lord of the castle. What a culture we are creating in the 21st Century.
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