It might well be argued that the idea that you shouldn’t show nude pictures to children is a religious taboo.
It might equally be argued that all ideas about ethics and behaviours are religious taboos. But most of us think, that “you shouldn’t kill anyone without a very good reason” and “you should remove your footwear before coming into a place of worship” are in rather different categories. The danger of puritanism is that every personal taboo is raised to the level of a universal moral imperative.
I avert my eyes from certain images; therefore, everyone should be obliged to wear blindfolds.
If we allow churches and mosques to enforce the head-covering taboo, it is only a matter of time before the Home Secretary makes a rule that all ladies have to wear a headscarf in public
The solution to this is to send purity patrols into Wee Free Churches and rip the hats off all the ladies. I understand this has literally been tried on French beaches.
The more we tolerate people’s religious taboos, the more taboos fringe religious groups will think up. If we say “That’s all right, you don’t have to come to morning prayers if you don’t want to” then pretty soon the guru will decide that members of his sect are also not allowed to participate in egg and spoon races, flower-pressing competitions or Sociology.
The more taboos a religion imposes, the harder it is for members of the sect to integrate with the wider culture. The less the religion integrates, the more likely it is to survive. This is one of the reasons successful religions have long lists of obscure prohibitions.
Do you remember that scene in Twelve Angry Men where the Bigoted White Juror fumes at the Nice Hispanic Juror?
“Why are you always so goddamn polite??”
“I think” replies the nice Puerto Rican man “For the same reason you are not: it is the way I was brought up.”
Young children tend to split the world into good and bad, wrong and right, naughty and nice. Tell a small child that he can go to the end of the path, but no further, and he may very well try going two steps beyond the gate, to see what happens, but he generally won’t run down the street and across the road.
Sophisticated parents don’t treat this as a bold act of defiance, but merely a way of understanding where the boundaries are. Sometime around puberty, we start to be able to make finer judgments: to be able to understand concepts like “this thing is forbidden, except when it’s allowed” and “I’ll make an exception just this one time, because it’s an unusual circumstance.” Ask a young child if a starving person can steal food, they will probably say “Stealing is naughty”. Ask a teenager, and they’ll admit that it’s a difficult question.
Political conservatives and religious fundamentalists often have, or pretend that they have, the moral perspective of an eight year old. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. Something can’t be good on Monday and bad on Tuesday. God created Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve. Situational ethics and postmodernism will lead to the downfall of society.
Why does Andrew think that black face dolls, public nudity, and the word fuck are generally inappropriate? For the same reason that you do. It is the way we were brought up.
I don’t buy the theory that a naturist is harmed by the sight of pants in the same way and to the same degree that a puritan is harmed by the sight of genitals.
I don’t buy the theory that the same liberalism which says that a Muslim lady has the right to keep her face covered if she wants to also says that a humanist has the right to not see ladies wearing burkas if he doesn’t want to.
I don’t buy the theory that the same liberalism which says that a transexual person should be allowed to go to the lavatory if they need to also says that a prejudiced person shouldn’t have to use a cubical adjacent to one that might have a transexual person in it if they don’t want to.
Some people say “If Christians are allowed to take Good Friday off work it logically follows that Satanists should be allowed to carry out human sacrifices” but they don’t really believe it.
I think that under most circumstances, where it is reasonable, all other things being equal, we ought to respect people’s religious traditions. And we pretty much agree on when things are equal and when they are not. We are mostly cool with Jews abstaining from pork pies; but not with Jews saying that no-one else should eat pork pies and definitely not with them closing down Melton Mowbray in case someone inadvertently walks past a pork pie factory.
I think that most adults can see that an anatomically accurate representation of an adult nude figure in a book about human anatomy is semiotically different from an accurate representation of an adult nude figure in a life-drawing class; and an adult actor taking his clothes off in an erotic movie sold only to adults is not doing the same thing as he would be if he sent a stranger an unsolicited explicit e-mail. We grok that you can take your clothes off in a sports-centre changing room but not in a sport-centre bar.
Contexts may overlap. There may be misunderstandings. Sometimes we may have to say “Whoops, so sorry, I thought the door was locked.” If I thought I was watching a documentary about professional footballers and suddenly found myself looking at a group of nude men in the shower, I might well say “That embarrassed me.” I might even say “That made me feel violated and dirty” or “That made me ritually unclean and unable to take the sacrament” or “That brought on a post-traumatic shock reaction because I was assaulted by a person with a similar body part some years ago.”
Which is why we tend to put warnings on that kind of material. “Contains nudity”. “Includes images which you may consider indecent.”
Some people might think that a sign saying “WARNING: If you come through this door you might catch a glimpse of a naked man” placed outside an exhibition of Greek Sculpture—or, indeed, a men’s changing room—was silly and unnecessary. Others might find it quite helpful.
But it really wouldn’t be a threat to free speech, democracy, and the continuation of western civilisation.
Nor, come to that, would a couple of judicious fig-leaves.
There is a lovely chaotic old fashioned toy museum in Sidmouth—less an exhibition than a repository of Teddy Bears and models trains and Muffin the Mules and Star Wars Lego that people have donated over the decades.
I can’t directly recall if the have any gollywogs on display, but I would be surprised if it didn’t.
I assume that somewhere in the world there is an International Jam Jar Museum. If there is, I imagine it includes jars with the offending character on the label.
I felt some sympathy for the enthusiasts who had restored an old bus, complete with a very old fashioned advertisement for Robertsons Marmalade on the side, and were asked if they wouldn’t please mind removing it.
Anatomically correct images of naked men could be exhibited in such a way as to constitute pornography; but equally clearly they could be exhibited in such a way as to not constitute pornography.
And, as a matter of fact, pornography may be relatively innocent or very harmful indeed.
I once saw a movie which consisted of nothing but still photographs of gentlemen’s private parts. It was second feature to an extremely dull film about Italian nuns, I seem to remember. I think the point was that if you show a sufficient number of such images (dicks, I mean, not nuns) they cease to be dirty or prurient or embarrassing and just become, I don’t know, skin.
Yoko Ono made the same point about bottoms in a film called Bottoms.
As a matter of fact, my willy wouldn’t drop off if a lady caught a glimpse of it; and the lady wouldn’t go blind if she accidentally caught a glimpse of my willy.
People who have done the naturist thing says it stops mattering after about three minutes. I believe the showers at Glastonbury are co-ed.
If we could just get over ourselves a lot of the difficulties would go away. We’d instantly deprive flashers and streakers of their power and put a lot of pornographers out of business.
Sometime around 1986, comedian and Blackadder perpetrator Ben Elton did a comic stand up routine.
He asked what the world was coming to when a primary school teacher putting sun-cream on a six year old kid might be thought to be committing a sexual act; but the President of America ejaculating into the mouth of an intern might be thought not to be.
He was being disingenuous for comic effect. What Clinton claimed was that what he had done in the Oval Office did not strictly amount to sexual intercourse, a significant legal distinction if what you are being accused of is telling lies. Many of us think that, given what we now know about Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, quite a lot of clergymen and a fair number of PE teachers, a rule which says that teachers can’t touch kids, at all, for any reason, ever, is quite a sensible rule to have.
I was reminded of the joke when two news items invaded public discourse at the same time.
A pub in England was temporarily closed because it had a collection of several hundred black-face rag-dolls on display. I think the police actually confiscated the collection, but outraged citizens donated new dolls so the display could be restored. Everyone involved asserted that there was nothing racist about the display. That the pub was called The White Hart was probably an unfortunate coincidence.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned school teacher was sanctioned for showing an carved marble penis to his art class.
What, I found myself asking, is the world coming to when a renaissance sculpture might be considered pornographic and a display of gollywogs might not be considered racist?
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