Lara Riscol examines how America treats sex, not violence, as the biggest threat to families and the nation.
“Just know that you are loved. And show your love. Every day, okay? That’s what matters,” I said as I hugged my 10-year-old son goodbye at his robotics camp not too far from Aurora.
We had just talked about the cowardly gunman in gas mask and body armor mowing down mostly young people at The Dark Knight Rises midnight premiere, killing 12 and wounding 58, some badly. We talked about America’s glorification of violence and sacrosanct gun culture, making mention of gun control taboo no matter the carnage from a formerly banned assault rifle firing a 100-round drum magazine.
I’d rather talk about sex.
America treats sex, not violence, as the biggest threat to families and the nation, starting with Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings bestowing action flicks that brutalize half-naked nymphets a PG-13, but anything suggesting female pleasure the deathly NC-17, as happened with the marital cunnilingus scene between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine. A common argument against gay marriage or condom commercials is, “What would I say to my kids?” as if sex talk destroys childhood innocence.
Some awkwardness aside, sex talk has come naturally as I raise my son, whether explaining how babies are made, or naming body parts and their functions, including the clitoris, or explaining gay and transgender people in our lives. The Batman massacre so close to home forced our first big “violence talk,” done through my reluctance and tears. How do you explain something so sad and senseless to your baby, who not too long ago donned superhero costumes, often demanding to know the good vs. bad guy in movies or the news, because the good guy always wins, right? No matter the justice delivered, no one wins when the dreams of a 6-year-old girl just starting swim lessons, or a newlywed celebrating his 27th birthday, or a U.S. Navy vet who served three tours of duty in the Middle East are forever snuffed.
On the day America awoke in pain to another historic shooting spree, the designated hate group Family Research Council—media-coddled Christian right defender of “faith, family and freedom”—skipped the relevant violence talk in its daily email alert for its usual, more politically potent sex spin. FRC head Tony Perkins, who a few days before the national tragedy met with Mitt Romney about picking an anti-abortion VP, offered at the bottom of his Washington Updatecursory condolences to the families of the Aurora shooting. His lead outrage instead slammed President Obama for allowing more than 300 uniformed military members to march in the upcoming San Diego gay pride parade. Next he praised the Republican-led congressional vote to block Pentagon funding for allowing same-sex weddings on a military base.
Right. Guns don’t kill, celebrating gay love does.
The day of the Denver-area’s second gun massacre, the Colorado-based media powerhouse Focus on the Family emailed its Citizen Link Report entirely on Congress endorsing sexual abstinence policy and blasting comprehensive sex education, declaring teens must be taught there is no safe sex unless within a monogamous lifelong marriage.
Right. We must protect our kids. Guns don’t kill, sexual knowledge does.
During a radio interview with the Heritage Foundation—the conservative think tank behind federally funded “abstinence-only-unless-married” legislation—Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) blamed the latest slaughter on “ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs,” and wondered why theatergoers weren’t packing heat to stop the bloodshed. Townhall columnist Doug Giles also blamed the victims, saying he carries at least one gun everywhere he goes just to stop some James Holmes wannabe: “the good citizen is to get equipped with a gun—a fire-breathing dragon of a weapon…[m]ake it like a cell phone….”
Right. No one’s truly free as guaranteed by the Second Amendment until you make a hunk o’ steel “an additional appendage to your body.”
American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer—returning star at FRC’s annual Values Voters Summits that parades pandering Republican incumbents and candidates, including Romney six times—joined the conservative chorus for more guns. The evangelical radio talk-show host also wrote on that dread day in a winding rant on premarital sex, cohabitation, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancies and births, that we got what we wrought for pushing God out of the public square.
Right. Laws against easy access to 6,000 rounds of ammunition and semi-automatic weaponry that can shoot 60 bullets a minute, a la Aurora, won’t help protect us from deranged killers; compulsory posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools will.
As America mourned, the National Rifle Association opened its nightly online newscast with 35 seconds on “the unthinkable tragic shooting that shocked the country today,” though it’s more déjà vu than unthinkable, more shameful than shocking. The next news outrage lasted for more than 10 minutes bashing the United Nations for negotiating a global treaty to curb arms sales. The UN is a favorite punching bag of the Right, seen as a prophesied enemy to national sovereignty, and any hint at taking away guns is an attack on our God-given freedom.
But when it’s easier to buy a gun in some states than a sex toy, how free are we? Do we fear pleasure more than violence?
Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan argued it was time for the MPAA to revamp its ratings system, pointing out that while Europeans are easier on sexual content than we are, they are much tougher on violence. He said the MPAA needs to take responsibility since violence in movies and video games is here to stay “unless a religious theocracy takes over this country.” But the Christian right has taken over the Republican base, and its theocratic assault entails regulating sexual freedom, not violence in entertainment or real life.
When Glenn Beck’s The Blaze posted the “Dark Knight” deceased, the first comment said, “Thank you LIBERALISM! You should be proud of the AMERICA you have created.” The sex-obsessed Bryan Fischer, who campaigns against JCPenny for having Ellen DeGeneres as its spokesperson, tweeted, “Shorter liberalism: it’s exploitative to use Aurora shooting to call for revival but not to call for gun control.”
But addressing policies on weaponry again used to litter a community gathering place with lifeless bodies, fill hospitals that will send survivors home to face lifetime disabilities, and leave loved ones with a gaping hole in their lives, is responsible citizenry. It’s being human. Launching culture war salvos to further your anti-sexual freedom, pro-gun industry agenda is dehumanizing to diverse Americans doing their best at life, including in that theater opening night.
The ABC News story FRC linked to as a greater outrage than the latest mass shooting, quoted Air Force Tech Sgt. Erwynn Umali marrying his partner, Will Behrens, on a military base, “One thing that we know and want to show our kids [two each from former wives] is to be true to yourself and love everyone no matter what,” he said. “This is a victory for us because our kids still love us and we love each other and that is what they see.”
The family of six all went to Disneyland after the ceremony.
These are some of the “good guy” stories I hope to talk to my son about as more prevail in America’s no-win culture war.
Support victims of the Aurora shooting.
Lara Riscol is a journalist who questions the stories we tell ourselves about sex. Published in The Nation, Salon, AlterNet, RHReality Check, Religion Dispatches, plus chapters in several college textbooks, Riscol explores where public debates and private lives collide, with focus on politics, pop culture, media, religion, and feminism. She’s writing a book called Ten Sex Myths That Screw America: a pleasure polemic.
Image of gun and condom courtesy of Shutterstock