The puritanical urge

I was in Publix a few days back–a rarity, I’ll admit, and not something I try to do often–and noticed that Publix has taken to putting opaque covers over the Cosmo and Self magazines. It seems, you see, that customers have complained about–get this–how risque the covers are.

The ultraconservative Wal-Mart chain has also started protecting us from the evil of women in naughty dresses by covering women’s magazines as well.

I don’t get it.

We live in a culture totally steeped in sex. Those magazine covers look the way they do for a reason–because they sell magazines, which in turn sell clothes, cologne, perfume, and fad diet books. The most popular brand of shampoo and body wash in America, Herbal Essence, is supported by an advertising campaign in which a beautiful, soaped-up model moans in ogasmic ecstacy while an announcer breathlessly declares that the product is “a totally organic experience.” It couldn’t be any more blatant if the announcer said “Buy our product–it’s great to masturbate with.”

So what it comes down to is that we, as a culture, are both fascinated and repelled by sex. We want, hate, and fear it; we can talk about it, but only in a juvenile locker-room “nudge nudge wink wink” kind of way. Serious conversation about sex (or, God forbid, actually doing sex!) is beyond the pale.

It’s kind of ridiculous, really. We can watch movies about chainsaw-wielding maniacs who dismember sorority girls by the bushelful, but if someone actually has an orgasm on screen, it gets slapped with an NC-17 rating to protect us from the horror. We literally hate and fear sex more than we fear death.

What the fuck? How did we get so dysfunctional and schizophrenic? It affects every part of our social discourse. Our national government is overrun with cheating, philandering divorcees like “bouncing” Bobby Barr (the man who made Larry Flynt say “My god, that man’s a pervert!” after he was caught cheating on his wife with three prostitutes in a seedy hotel) trying to pass legislation to “protect” the “sanctity of marriage” (by, if you can believe it, forbidding people to marry). We’ve got a music industry that exerts pressure on its artists to censor themselves to please retail outlets like Wal-Mart, which appears to believe that carrying music with racy lyrics will inevitably lead to the utter collapse of Western civbilization and a corresponding decline in gross sales.

It’s ridiculous and it’s embarrassing. We as a culture need to grow the fuck up already.