COMES NATURALLY #52
Spectator Magazine - November 15, 1996
(c) David Steinberg
By the Time You Read This Everything Will Have Changed: Some Happy Thoughts on Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Anne Rice and Where We Seem to Be Headed
Behold the Naked War Hero
"I have seen corporate America naked and it is not pretty." -- Lily Braindrop Burana on being a sex worker, September, 1993.
It's been unusual the past few weeks: I actually look forward to groping my way down the front porch each morning, digging the paper out of the bushes, and unfolding it to see what the world has done to itself since I last checked.
It's been fun, day after day, to see what mistake Bob Dole has made in the past 24 hours, to watch him self-destruct in increasingly intense, increasingly self-absorbed little spasms of geriatric confusion. This man with his traditional values, his traditional mindsets, and his almost stereotypically traditional electoral rhetoric really doesn't have the first clue about what really matters these days. Now there's nothing new about old-style pols being patently absurd, but this time the gap between the old way and the new reality is showing, and that hasn't happened so clearly since the days before Ronald Reagan. I have to say it does brighten my days.
The emperor has no clothes! Lots of us having been saying that for years and years and decades and years. Now, all of a sudden, everyone's saying it and seeing it: The man in the gray suit and the gray mood is utterly, unquestionably, stupidly, archaically, unimaginatively, hollowly, pathetically, and totally asexually naked in his inability to get real or get effective. Stalled in neutral and cursing the mud.
It's positively inspiring to see guys like Bob Dole spout their simpleminded, mean-spirited, red herring, antisexual, reality-free foolishness and -- for once -- be properly and profoundly ignored by hundreds of millions of people paying attention to the more important things in their lives.
Last I noticed Dole was frantically using newspapers and television to implore people not to read newspapers or watch tv. Seems he wants people to quarantine themselves away from all that infectious liberalspeak that must be to blame for why no one is rallying around his impassioned slogans. Dole proposes that people cut themselves off from media input and simply make up their own, information-free minds. "Why won't anyone listen to me?" fumes Bitter Bob at the top of his lungs, but across the land -- not just here in the ultra-liberal, hippie, anarchist, godforsaken, sexually perverted anomaly known as the Bay Area -- people have clicked their mute buttons and see nothing more than a pathetic old man, lost in the past, ranting silently into the void.
Ranting to millions of people who don't seem to care about what we have to say is a feeling a lot of us know intimately well, and it's just so satisfying to watch those smug, righteous bastards who are so used to having everything their way be the ones who are spasming in frustration for a change. It's enough to make a nascent populist like myself begin to have some real faith in the bottom-line sensibility of the American people again.
A Word About Planned Obsolescence...
I am aware, in case that's not clear, that I'm writing this column through a time warp. This is always the case. Because of production and distribution technicalities, it's two and a half weeks from the time any of us turns in our copy until any of you read what we write.
That's publishing, although Spectator's lag is somewhat longer than other papers. Usually it's just a curious reality tweak, but this time it's a little more significant. As I sit here taping away at my keyboard, my calendar says it's October 28th. Election fever is everywhere. The newspapers are full of it; television is full of it; my mailbox is full of it. By the time you read this it will be November 15th (assuming you buy and read your Spectator at the first possible opportunity because you can't wait to see what I or Carol Queen or Dave Clark have to say, or because you can't wait to scan the latest photo layout or because you can't wait to get laid or telelaid) and the election will not only have happened, it will already have atrophied into old news. But, over here in the land of October 28th I have to write about the election because that's what's more important than anything else, sexwise as well as non-sexwise.
So at the risk of being hopelessly obsolete, I am going to continue. I just wanted you all to know that I'm being obsolete on purpose....
Crystal Ball Gazing
I'm going to go ahead and assume that by the time you read this Bitter Bob will have been roundly and soundly trounced everywhere from California to Michigan to New Jersey to Florida. If that doesn't happen I'm going to look a little stupid and smug myself, but that's the chance I take when I let myself get going, so what the hell.
Let me take a guess: By the time you read this, Clinton will have been elected in a coast-to-coast landslide, with Dole getting less than 100 Electoral College votes and less than 40% of the popular vote. The Democrats will have made gains in the House of Representatives, maybe even enough to take control of the House away from the Gingrich Gang. The Senate is hard to call, but that could go over to the Dems as well. Even if the Republicans mange to retain control of both houses they will have been sufficiently humbled to have to drop all their big mouth bravado for the foreseeable future.
The California Assembly will have tilted over to the Dems and probably also the state Senate. Maybe not, but it feels so good just to predict it. With a little luck, Bill Baker will be history, and Margo St. James will have a steady paycheck and the responsibility for keeping municipal politics interesting for the next few years. The sudden sensibility of the electorate will be enough of a comeuppance to make Dan Lungren wonder if he might just be better off leaving Spectator (no to mention Garry Trudeau) alone. On the other hand, knowing the strength of Lungren's ego, any slap to the right wing is more likely to make him decide to save political/sexual/morally righteousness face by steadfastly harassing Spectator all the way to the Supreme Court.
Cadillac: A Good Car to Drive After a War
By the time you read this there will also have been an endless orgy of journalistic whooping and hollering and interpreting. Hundreds of dead horses will have been beaten thoroughly into the ground so many times that nobody will be able to stand it any more, like opening the refrigerator door and staring at turkey yet again two weeks after Thanksgiving. (Anyone want a turkey salad sandwich?) Lots and lots of Republicans will be peeking with glazed eyes out from their various fallout shelters, deciding whether it's safe to come out and claim early salvage rights to the hulk of a wreck, once known as the Grand Old Party, that lies, ugly and smoldering, right in the middle of the mall, threatening to bring down property values. First, of course, they will have to decide if they even want to save the old bird -- the thought of cleaning her up to fly again will be more than just about anyone can bear. But after a short pause they will, of course, decide to do just that -- a battered and bleeding political party apparatus with a century and a half of tradition being better than no political party at all. Besides, it would simply be too embarrassing to leave the carcass around smelling up the landscape just as the Christmas shopping blitz is getting under way.
But who's going to help the drunken old geezer home to sleep this one off and come out smiling? Who's going to inherit the estate and who's going to get the blame for its downfall? That's been the real question driving the strategies of various GOP hotshots for the last month or two. Arlen Specter will be saying "told you so" about the issue of abortion rights. Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition will be saying exactly the same thing. Colin Powell will be thanking his lucky stars he wasn't tempted into the cauldron and won't say one mumbling public word about anything for a very long time. Newt will say more than he should and much less than he wants to and every word will come back into his face like spitting into the wind. Jack Kemp will sit back with a satisfied smile on his face, mission accomplished, biding his time, needling Newt from time to time and enjoying every time he takes the bait.
Bringing the 70's into the 90's
You see -- I'm going to say this one more time -- the old order really is rapidly fading, and if that particular literary reference goes by you it just proves my point. The language Dole speaks isn't getting any traction because the people who speak that language are dying and the newer souls who have come along in their place to populate the purple mountains' majesty with the fruitiest of plains have brains that are wired completely differently from the dearly beloved departing. The kids of the 60's and 70's have grown up now, and they/we are voting and dancing and (yes) -- despite the abstinence pleas, despite the AIDS hysteria -- fucking their parents straight out of office.
Clinton played this one just right: mobilize the new against the old, the women against the patriarchs, the compassionate against the grouches, the vibrant against the decaying, the believers in imagination against the staid, the visionaries against the cynics. We all know how disappointing and how just plain bad Clinton can be. I've got no need or desire to apologize for his wrongs. He's a compromiser on issues that many of us don't want to compromise on at all. And beyond questions of tactics, he's also just wrong on some big issues, most importantly about welfare and the whole bogus bootstrap thing.
But Clinton really is a product of the radical 60's and 70's. He did protest that dirty, nasty war in Southeast Asia. He did inhale. He did fuck around and party during that window between the arrival of cheap and available birth control and the arrival of AIDS. The image he projects -- both visually and politically, embodies much of the spirit of that era, even as that spirit gets mixed into the political realities of the contracting American empire.
Photos of Bill and Hillary are lively, vibrant, even sexy. One photo I saw the other day on a greeting card struck me particularly strongly. It shows Bill and Hillary in 1979 -- gawky, playful, curious, alive, hopeful -- and very young. I'm told that this particular greeting card is tremendously popular now in all the stores. It reminds me of how we all were then, and that in the division during those times between Us and Them, Bill and Hillary were among Us. I believe that they truly embraced (and still embrace) -- as so many of us did and do -- the basic promise of those times: the possibility of making a difference, of making the world a better, fairer, and more humane place -- big time.
Sure Clinton is a conniver and a manipulator. (Those of us who don't have the stomach for such garbage don't get to play electoral politics on the national stage, in case you hadn't noticed.) But he still seems to hold himself to the standard of serving the public good from a humane and generally power-balancing perspective. He is, basically, still on our side in the Great Cultural War. He may not be willing to be thrown out of office for Joycelyn Elders or for gay marriages, and he may protect his political ass more than some of us like. But the result is that his political ass is going to be around for another four years and I'm predicting that we're all going to be glad it's there.
What Anne Rice Could Have Told Bob Dole
Now that I've got my rose-colored glasses in full bloom, I want to say a little something about Anne Rice who turns out to be a devoted sexual optimist herself. If you won't take it from me, take it from her: things really are gradually tilting in the direction of sexual openness and tolerance, doom-and-gloomers notwithstanding.
I went to hear Anne Rice speak at the Herbst Theater a week or two ago, part of the City Arts and Lectures series. She is, of course, riding high -- an eclectic pornographer and gothic novelist, obsessed with the dark, obsessive, and romantic sides of human nature who finds herself embraced and popularized by a culture that would be expected to despise and vilify her. Speaking of the response she and her work have received from the American mainstream, she makes a strong case for how far this country has come with regard to tolerance for and acceptance of sexual expression outside the sweet and lovely mainstream.
Rice notes delightedly that her richly sadomasochistic Sleeping Beauty trilogy -- The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty's Punishment, and Beauty's Release, published beginning in 1983 under the pseudonym A. N. Roquelaure and now proudly embraced as her own -- is tremendously popular, accepted, and adored throughout the country, most particularly in the Bible Belt. What's more, she notes from her book signing travels into the hinterlands, just about everyone seems to fully embrace the rich eroticism that suffuses her Vampire Lestat novels. That Lestat is turned on to men, and young men at that, she notes with a grin, doesn't seem to bother anyone, even when she calls it to their attention. Ten years earlier, Rice accurately observes, nothing like that would have been possible.
Now, I have long been an admiring fan of Anne Rice -- the woman as much as her writing -- so I was especially delighted to hear her echo my own hopefulness about these things, and to know that she proclaims such views to more people in a week than I have the ability to reach in a year. I was also pleased to hear her use her immense popularity as a foundation from which to advocate quite directly for sexual tolerance and diversity, and for the unfettered depiction of sexual desire and fantasy in all their arcane forms. When asked by a member of the audience to do the erotica vs. pornography saw, Rice emphatically declined to make the separation. "I see no difference," she said. "What I write is pornography, plain and simple. I simply have chosen to write the pornography I wanted to read, but couldn't find in bookstores."
In an "only in America" sort of way, Anne Rice is now probably the most popular and influential writer of, and advocate for, s/m and pornography in the country. She has been a powerfully significant factor in mainstream culture's embracing of s/m -- more significant, sadly, than brilliant commentators from within the s/m subculture like Pat Califia, more significant even than Madonna. She has also become a leading advocate for the primacy of sex itself, and for women's right to define and express their own sexual preferences and fantasies.
"We don't really know very much," she said in a 1990 National Public Radio interview, "about what women want [sexually] because women have been told so often what they should want." As for sex in general, she said she was most interested "in the idea that sex is really good, that we in the 20th century have achieved something wonderful in divorcing sex from superstition and approaching it from a psychological and ethical point of view."
According to Rice, the important thing about sadomasochism is that "many, many millions of people have those fantasies.... Men enjoy those fantasies, and I think that is often true of women as well. I myself am a rather strong woman. I am not easily dominated by anyone, but I enjoy the fantasies.... There is no direct logical connection [between fantasies of being dominated and wanting to be dominated in real life]. Women the world over apparently buy bodice ripper romances that are filled with s/m."
Her closest friend and inspiration, she said proudly, was gay pornographer John Preston, who recently died of AIDS. "It was not his writing that most inspired me," she told the exceptionally regular, proper, and mostly female audience at Herbst with tears in her eyes, "it was his honesty, his courage, and his integrity."
Into the Sunset as the Music Swells....
And so we speed toward the Millennium with a generational changing of the guard in national politics, and a respected literary figure like Anne Rice touring the Bible Belt, praising gay pornographers for having the courage to stand behind and document their unconventional passions while she does just that herself -- not only surviving, but also becoming gloriously successful and adored by millions of fans for publicly and artistically being her unconventional sexual self. This is what Bob Dole failed to understand about the American people: Something there is that likes a person who has the courage to speak unpopular truths about themselves, straightforwardly, with dignity, with pride, without apology.
Back in the days of hope, when Bill Clinton's perspectives on life and politics were being forged, a guy named Martin Luther King was wandering around the backwaters of the politically disenfranchised, exhorting people to haul themselves up from despair. His slogan for getting people to believe in the possibility of change was "the truth shall make you free." Maybe, just maybe, he was right after all.
[This column was originally published in Spectator Magazine (see www.spectator.net). If you would like to receive Comes Naturally columns, and other writing by David Steinberg, regularly via email, send your name and email address to David at email@example.com. Columns are sent as blind carbon copies, meaning that no one will have access to your name or email address.]
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