Friday, June 4, 2010

Sinister brilliance

Last month when I was in Venice, I happened upon a small stationary store and went inside looking for envelopes. The clerk apologized that he did not have the size I was looking for, but suggested as an alternative that he as an artist would be able to draw my body in his small studio around the corner. I wondered if my request had been lost in translation, but the nature of his alternative translated quite clearly.

“Oh,” he said sympathetically as I struggled to come up with a pleasant way to turn him down, “I see you are shy.” He sounded like he felt genuinely sorry for me.

Shy, I thought. Is that what they call it now?

Evidently any self-respecting, confident woman would take off her clothes for any stranger off the street who asks. Evidently it is only the “shy” ones who would hesitate.

Something strange has happened to our culture. There is a startling reversal that had my college friends protesting the objectification of women by staging skits wherein they present themselves as sex objects. There is a peculiar inversion that had the American lit class for whom I graded reading a short story that portrays prostitution as an act of power that allows women to rise above the slavery of marriage. There is a downright eerie scheme that I watched allow an American authority figure to exploit a vulnerable Muslim friend of mine last year and champion himself as her liberator for doing so.

Seriously folks, it’s brilliant. If we could trace this reversal to a single person, he would be a genius—a sinister, conniving mastermind. If someone can convince a woman that her freedom is found in treating herself like a cheap commodity, that her power is found in being exploited, that those who consume her like a fine wine (or a cheap beer) are her champions, then he would be a more cunning scoundrel than I could ever be.

It is times like these that I would love to write a satire on our culture, and then am saddened to realize I can’t. Our culture is already its own satire; some mastermind out there already beat me to it.

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