This all started as an attempt to answer the question "Why do senators fear nudity?" I have always taken it for granted that lawmakers restrict sexual expressiveness in the media, no matter how tastefully portrayed, yet I had never wondered why this is true. What motivates lawmakers to restrict sexuality when images of violence run rampant? I found some answers in Elaine Pagels' insightful book Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, particularly in her discussion of the work of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine argued that humans could not help but succumb to lust and be controlled by it. He considered anger to be preferable to lust, since anger could be directed and focused. Coming out of a history of persecution, Christians could be unified by anger and find a common identity, distinct from the free sexuality and pagan beliefs of Rome.

In our society, these conflicting forces are still present. In many ways the struggle is still as unresolved now as it was then. A resurgence of sexual expressiveness in the '60s and '70s has given way to a resurgence of repressiveness in the '80s and '90s. Images of sexuality have dwindled, while images of violence have increased.

This discussion is far from complete, as cycles of expression and repression have been rising and falling over the centuries. This pattern, of rejection of sexuality, imposition of the will of the state, need for "control," and substitution of anger for lust, has repeated itself since Augustine's day.

The Puritan values of repressed sexuality, and focused work ethic derive from Augustine, and the United States was a haven for Puritans fleeing persecution in Europe. Sexual freedom has risen and fallen in the '20s, in Hollywood films, or more recently in the '60s, when freedom of sexual expression was used almost as a weapon against that state. The state absorbed some of this openess and allowed sexual explicitness into film and media for a time, only to gradually shift again to the "Just Say No" mentality of the '80s and '90s. Film images shift away from sex towards violence, with men getting into more fights, and rarely getting into bed.

Again personal restraint and government intervention are seen as vital in the process of controlling a growing population in the US. The War on Drugs -- largely an economic war -- battles over abortion and teen pregnancy, and crime all point to attempts to control conflicting view points, as the unifying force of religion fragments into factions.

Most recently the Internet has opened up channels for sexual explicitness that is beyond the immediate control of lawmakers. The state responds predictably, asserting control by restricting even trivial sexual expression.

Viva Augustine!

Copyright © 1996
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