Here’s an old therapy joke:
A new patient comes to see a psychiatrist. The doc decides to give the patient a Rorshach Test, and shows him a series of cards with different inkblots on them.
“What do you see on the first one?” asks the shrink.
“That’s a man and a woman making love.”
“And the second one?”
“That’s a couple who just finished making love.”
“And the third one?”
“That’s a man asking a woman to make love, and she’s deciding what to do.”
The shrink asks, “Don’t you think it’s interesting that you see sex in every card?”
“Don’t blame me,” says the patient “they’re your cards.”
Playing the role of that patient this week is PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The animal rights group is upset with a photo in a recent New York Times food section. Accompanying a story on the guilty pleasure of crispy chicken skin, the photo shows a raw chicken posed jauntily—even seductively.
It’s funny, eye-catching, and sexy in a playful way.
But PETA went way over the top in objecting to it: “It’s downright offensive, not just to people who care about animals but almost to everyone,” said the group’s president Ingrid Newkirk. “It’s a plucked, beheaded, young chicken in a young pose. It’s necrophilia,” she concluded.
I’m certainly not the only one to note that perhaps PETA objects to someone stealing a page from their playbook. They’ve publicized their work by showing semi-nude models who’d “rather be nude than wear fur;” showing nude porn stars pleading with owners to spay their pets; and they’re even planning to start their own porn site, which will “reach a whole new audience of people,” according to PETA’s director of campaigns.
But this latest, um, catfight, goes deeper than mere hypocrisy.
Newkirk is complaining that a raw chicken—the kind you buy in the supermarket—has been posed in a way that’s too sexy. Worse, she invoked the archetypal monster of our time—the child molester. Newkirk said the photo showed a “young chicken in a young pose.”
She might as well have called the photographer a terrorist. For nostalgia, throw in “Communist.”
We live in a country where some people see sex—and therefore danger—everywhere.
Where you or I might laugh (or not) at a simple joke on Comedy Central about penis size, those uncomfortable with sex feel assaulted. Where you might ignore a tampon or douche commercial, they feel assaulted. Where you might be bored (or intrigued) by a Katie Couric episode about teen hookers, they feel assaulted. That’s a lot of assault.
If you’re not obsessed with sex, you might not even put these three experiences together in your mind. You might casually observe “dumb joke + health product + social problem (exaggerated or not).” But they perceive “sex + sex + sex.” And for them, it never stops; people obsessed with sex that they resent never have a nice day.
When people are obsessed by sex—not about doing it, but by the subject—they see it everywhere. Like a four-year-old in a candy store or an eight-year-old at a scary movie, they are simply not emotionally equipped to ignore what they see. We should feel sympathy for these people, but they make it difficult, because they deal with their upset in such an aggressive way. They want to strip the public sphere of sexuality—and they imagine the public sphere as practically the whole world. It includes Greek statues in City Hall, radio ads for birth control, string bikinis on the beach, vanity license plates, lube in the drugstore—the list is almost endless.
I’m tired of people obsessed with sex seeing it everywhere, feeling assaulted, and wanting to protect themselves from it by stripping my world of art, fashion, words, products, and, ultimately, eroticism. Let’s give these people compassion, not political or organizational power.