Friday, June 03, 2005

"It's [just] my aeroplane..."

I consider myself a reasonably worldly-wise fella. Sufficiently street-smart, culturally savvy. ["Savvy" is an enjoyable word. It should be used more often, as should "parlance."] I'm not quite to the point of familiarity with all manner of ribald terminology or off-color commentary (a stance I'm proud of and strive to protect). I don't watch Howard Stern, so I don't know what the kids are calling things these days. But I know enough to play off things i don't know, and I don't get shocked easily.

Living in this world, and in this culture specifically, one has to develop a bit of a thick moral skin. Not to say that you should be calloused to impure things, but if you allow every offensive thing to get you upset, you will live your entire adult life in the throes of indignant apoplexy. [There are people who function in this manner, who boycott, protest, and complain about every element of popular culture that does not perfectly fit their preferred moral guidelines. Granted, such watchdogs of cultural decency are actually (shockingly) correct in some of their stances, but the trembling, spit-spraying fury with which they attack such objectionable endeavours leaves many others (who would normally agree) cold.]

"More matter, less art." Apologies. To the point, then: though I consider myself somewhat "seasoned" in worldly matters (mentally, if not otherwise), lately I have been confronted by what seems to be my own naivete.

Example: In reading Norrie Epstein's "The Friendly Dickens" (which I heartily recommend), I was shocked to read some of the author's assertions--which she seemed to indicate were common-sense, or at least, widely-held beliefs.

For instance, she states that Dickens often included rather troubling sexual subtexts in his works, insinuating the things he could not directly address. The villain in "Oliver Twist," the detestable Bill Fagin, was a pedophile? I never would have gotten that. Of course, I read the book in high school. I was admittedly much more naive in high school. But even now, I find this harder to believe. She went on to describe the "homoerotic undertones" in "Great Expectations." I mean, hold on a minute there. I never EVER got that from the book. Pip had several close male friendships--but to that degree? Hardly so. Nevertheless, Epstein disagrees.

[Had I the text at hand, I would insert the C.S. Lewis quote here about true loving friendship between men being such an uncommon thing that it is often mistaken for eros. It is found in "The Four Loves" by Lewis, a book I would recommend to anyone who has ever or will ever love anyone in any way in their lifetimes. If this condition doesn't apply to you, you needn't bother with it.]

Thus, I've been reconsidering exactly how "wordly-wise" I am. The answer seems to be, not much. And honestly, I think that's just fine by me. If it be naive to not read Dickens through a Freudian lens, well, there it is. No complaints here.

Truth be told, I'm quite tired of the over-sexualization of classic literature. There's enough sex in there already; no need to hunt for more.

In other words, let it be what it is, and stop reading your own coital preoccupations into it.

On a related note, this new realization of naivete gives me pause when it comes to music. Some pop songs are clearly intended to be lewd ("Baby Got Back", for example; Sir Mix-a-lot is no herpetologist, so any discussion of South American reptiles is obviously figurative). But some others are less so.

Red Hot Chili Peppers is a band famous for their, um, "antics" (e.g. multi-purpose footwear), but what to make of songs like "Aeroplane"? Is there some nefarious subtext I'm missing?

Should I be embarrassed when I sing along with the chorus at the top of my lungs?

These are the questions that plague the moralists among us, here in the early part of the twenty-first century.

[Have a good weekend, kiddies.]

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