It was a bizarre weekend for world events, made more bizarre by my unplanned Netflix viewing.
So first there was the Royal Wedding, of which I watched exactly none, cos, like, who gives a shit about the most privileged of the privileged doing the same thing that us regular folks do, only in funnier hats and on television? Sex and marriage and love and shit.
And then yesterday I watched the second series of the PBS documentary African American Lives, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. In the context of Prince William’s wedding it was a MAJOR mind-fuck: ultra-privileged white people marrying each other contrasted with genealogical investigations into the families of people who are descended from slaves. Example: Maya Angelou is the direct descendant of a white man who raped a woman he owned.
Then this morning I was walking the dog at 6:30am and saw a NYT on someone’s doorstep, with, well, this morning’s headline about the death of a dude who used the incentive of virgins, virgins, and more virgins in heaven for those who blew themselves up in the name of whatever it was they were blowing themselves up in the name of.
And finally this evening I watched the 2010 documentary version of Freakonomics. Did you know that Steven Levitt attributes almost half of the massive decrease in crime at the end of the 80s to Roe v. Wade? Because unwanted children are vastly more likely to get into some seriously bad shit, whereas wanted children are more likely to go to school and have jobs and stuff.
It’s all sex. The royal wedding, genealogy of African Americans, al Qaeda, Freakonomics. And putting it all in my brain at once has made me a little vertiginous, a little dizzy with the pervasiveness, the variety, the sheer ubiquity of sex in human history. Sex and marriage and love and babies who grow up to have sex and get married and fall in love and have babies (not necessarily in that order, but also not necessarily NOT in that order), who grow up to…
Virgins as a reward for service to a god. Women as property to be used for sex. Control of fertility as a strategy to build socioeconomic stability. And the uber-rich blowing literally millions of dollars to do something I could do for 40 bucks. It’s all sex – courtship, display, mating, reproducing… love?
One of the remarkable questions in the African American Lives documentaries was whether or not an enslaved black woman might actually LOVE a white overseer. If slave and overseer have children before Emancipation and then they live next door to each other (they can’t marry, of course, not legally) for 30 years, having more children together… does he love her? Could she love him? Is it strictly sexual on one side and strictly economic on the other? Or does affection grow?
Being human is complicated, not least because of our experience of sex. Between the hard-to-kill notion of women as property or status symbols and the not unrelated power of a woman’s control over her own fertility, we live in a constant state of dissonance. Are we free? Is there justice? What would that even look like, a world where no one sees anyone else as an object of possession or conquest?
But the tangle of these wildly disparate ideas has left one shining thought in my mind: that amid the noise and haste of the political world – a world of race and religion and economics and gender – two people may, astonishingly, implausibly, gloriously, connect. They may look into each other’s eyes and see the infinity of each other, and all the rest of it, the war and the injustice and the property and poverty, may wash away like dust under a rainstorm. Two humans, cleansed of culture and economy, can find the entire universe in each other’s eyes.
I hope Kate and William are happy. I hope everyone who was born an unwanted child has the opportunity to have only the children they want. I hope bin Laden’s widows find peace. I hope that you, all of you, can connect sexually with someone you care about without getting snared in the spider’s web of culture.
It’s been a bizarre weekend, friends. Take care of each other.