March 19, 2012

Shame Is The Desired Outcome

shame open.jpg
do you see?

Part 1 is here.   If you're from Metafilter, you should probably stop reading now.  There are a few articles at McSweeney's I'm sure you'd enjoy.


If the movie was a straightforward Hollywood docudrama, you'd never hear about it unless you watch the Lifetime Channel .  But-- you heard about it.   What did you learn from what you heard?


One of the big deals of this movie is the NC-17 rating, which you might expect for a movie about sex addiction.  Except that there is nothing in this movie that would deserve an NC-17.  There is way more nudity and sex in The Hangovers and Brandon's date was never shown with jizz in her hair like Cameron Diaz.

Maybe it was the penis.  In an early scene, Brandon walks naked to the toilet.  We see him from the living room, bathroom door wide open and back/butt to us, and you can see his penis hanging past his testicles as he is peeing.  When he is finished peeing, he then closes the door to take a shower.  This scene isn't an accident: it took three takes.

First question: why didn't he pee in the shower like everyone else in NY?  Maybe because he's not a pig.  Ok, second question: why close the door at all?  Or, why not close it for both peeing and showering?  In my freshman year of college I lived in a house with both XX and XY and everyone urinated with the door closed; but everyone then opened the door during a shower.  Freshmen.  The exhibitionism was a deliberate boldness, a dare, wrapped in the hope of sexual maturity that pretended to have forgotten to close the door.   By senior year, however, everyone was showering and urinating with the door open because whatever.

So the answer to why Brandon does it that way is: I don't know.  But I know why the movie did this: it wanted to show Brandon's penis in a way that doesn't make the censors go bananas.  In a movie about sex, even a showering penis would be too sexual.  To unsexualize a penis you have to show it peeing, which is why none of my freshman roommates ever let that happen.

So the movie wants us to see the penis (voyeurism=tickets) as a source of envy-- this is a perfect male specimen-- but they want to make sure you don't get too turned on. But there was a big penis showering itself back in Sex And The City II-- Dante, played by that guy on Dancing With The Stars, and that was five years ago, and only rated R.  So now the question is, why is Brandon's penis, even peeing, so much worse than Dante's SATC2 rated R penis?

The answer is: you're supposed to want actor Michael Fassbender's penis, but not character  Brandon's penis.  "This penis is very bad."


Take a look at Brandon.  When media wants to depict a sex addict they depict the wealthy, the good looking, the powerful, the well hung.  There are plenty of slimy basement dwelling janitor sex addicts out there, but they are represented as sex offenders.  There are also plenty of gay sex addicts out there, but they are represented as gay.  Both of you are dismissed, the world has no time for your nonsense.  The sex addicts we see in movies and on the news are:  rock stars, politicians, sports guys, CEOs.  If you think about the demo primed to receive this depiction of lothario as sex addict-- women over 35, i.e. the demo for Shame--  sex addiction needs to be seen as terrible because it is terrible for them.  It may also be terrible for the sex addict, but fuck you, we have a society to run.

When you see the word "society" look ahead and to the right, psychiatry is in a window with its scope on you.  Sex addiction rarely breaks laws so it can't be punished, and there's no God so the immorality of it is debatable, i.e. inconsequential.  It must be a disease, that way other people don't want to catch it.  All psychiatric treatment of constructed syndromes isn't about cure but about regression to the mean, where mean= cubicle drone.  In other words, the point of offering Priapos treatment isn't that the patient gets better-- no one cares about him-- but that everyone else watching understands what he did is deeply whacked, so don't get any ideas.

When a politician is exposed for enjoying the kind of penetration that society's media arm has always promised is available to all-- self-fulfillment, be yourself, she's an adult and can make her own decisions, as long as it doesn't hurt people it's your choice!-- what other prohibition does society have against him?  Shame, aka psychiatric illness, that's it.  You can't tell him it's "wrong" to do what you've encouraged him and everyone else to do for three decades, which is why stupid people quickly turn to the default: "well, he lied about it under oath!"   Oh, so that's what makes him a sociopath.

And maybe you're a boring non-sex addicted male with a wife, two kids and a longing for a Chevy F10 Blazer so you don't buy this sex addiction gimmick, "come on, that's just an excuse!" and in that complaint you've met them halfway-- the debate is about that guy, is he or isn't he, and not about the existence of sex addiction.   The system is perfectly happy to give Tiger Woods a doctor's note if he's willing to appear on TV saying he has a doctor's note.  Saying Tiger isn't a sex addict means that there are sex addicts, and so you should start wondering whether your woman is wondering if you are one.  Better erase your cache.

time sex addiction condom.jpgthe condom is there to remind you that it's not about poor judgment

When you make behaviors a disease, individuals lose and systems win, this is always true, they benefit in still being able to call something "shameful" without needing to take any responsibility for its creation.  You'll see this in surprising places, for example organized religion.  You would think the church has a ready condemnation for too much casual sex yet it still calls it an addiction, not because millennia old religions are progressive but because if sex addiction is a disease then it can strike anyone, and that it seems to be particularly prevalent among deeply religious people from bin Laden to all of Utah, well, that's just the bad luck of DNA, there's nothing about religious institutions that both draw, and create, that pathology.  And so you are free to speculate if the vow of celibacy has anything to do attracting the kinds of genetically predisposed sexual deviants disorder patients who would never be able to plug into the system normally on their own, but don't you dare wonder if it is significant that so many Catholic priest molestations occurred not in a hotel or a van or a Dunkin Donuts but inside the church itself, no one is to ask whether the setting and the costumes were not incidental but integral to the satisfaction.  And even as I write this I shudder at the possible significance of it.   No.   Biology and Jesus have no time for Freud's lies.  See you in church.

The point here is not to be anti-religion, nor to claim that people who feel shame (not guilt) and disgust after their sexual experiences are not suffering.  The point is to reveal that any individual's suffering is secretly nurtured to maintain the integrity of the larger system.  You're expendable.  Eat it.


The point of treatments of "shameful" behaviors isn't to help you (though it might), but to give the system the right to decide what's pathology and what isn't.  "It's based on internal suffering."  No.  No it isn't.  When they screen you for alcoholism they ask you about guilt, when they screen you for sex addiction they ask about shame. Do you know why?  Because it's not based on internal suffering.

Here's a backwards example: Tucker Max.  His most recent book has more sex in one chapter than all of Shame.  The problem is he seems to enjoy it.  Is he a sex addict?  Not yet, but he damn well better be.

sloppy seconds tucker max.jpgthe other Radiation King

Right off, Tucker Max, and Brandon, represents a problem for society: Tucker is a reasonably attractive male with a law degree and money who has not only not plugged into the system as required, he's circumvented it for his own purposes-- and then publicizes it.  If he was an overweight cart fetcher at the A&P with a cleft palate and a strabismus his sexual exploits would conceivably be even more amazing, but no one would care because the threat to society (as distinct from his entertainment value) would be nil.  This is also why no one's made a movie about TyJeezey and the 500 baby mommas he's slept with.  TyJeezey and Cart Fetcher aren't relevant to society-- people like them passing on matrimony and Rocking The Vote would be a miniscule problem easily handled by giving them SSI.  Ta da, now you're invisible.   But Tucker Max can't be fired, and unless people stop buying his books he won't become invisible.  If more people like Tucker-- e.g. educated, attractive, wealthy, and public-- opt out, the whole thing falls apart.

The typical way sex addiction is packaged by the media is to show all the harm that comes from it, i.e. self-loathing, i.e. AIDS, i.e. divorces, i.e. suicide, i.e. murder, i.e. heroin, i.e Shame.  Unfortunately for the system, the Tucker Max Trilogy doesn't involve any of these, but the narrative desperately awaits them, wants them, which is why you can be certain that if his fall ever comes, no matter how it comes, it will make it to the front page of Gawker.   Then he could be a sex addict (or bipolar, or etc); but without the fall, he cannot be a sex addict or bipolar or etc.  So while America waits for the rape charges or the racist voice mails to his  Russian girlfriend, on to plan B.

Plan B is: instead of shaming him, shame you.

If his only audience was college men no one would have a problem with him because then he could be dismissed as wishful thinking, i.e. what keeps the college boys from following his lead is the implicit criticism that if you like Tucker Max, you must be a loser who can't get girls, or a rapist (reinforced by e.g. a story that is entirely about Tucker Max yet has nothing to do with him at all.)  Unless your identity is already well established, known, you can't risk someone "misinterpreting" your liking him, so people try to put some distance between them, which is why every time someone writes anything positive about Tucker Max there's a disclaimer: "love him or hate him..."  "he's a rude, disgusting misogynist, but..."

That's the trick of Shame.  "He's an attractive, wealthy, guy with a big penis (did you see it, ladies?) but he's not using it properly..."  Brandon's sex addiction makes him very un-desirable, no one watches Shame and says, "wow, I want to be Brandon" and no woman says, "wow, I want to be with Brandon."  The opposite is true for Tucker Max, who is popular with women, especially the very women that he "degrades."  Now what does the system do?

There's only one thing it can do: say that these women don't know better, that they're broken women from broken homes... that they're not real women.  Note that if this were true you'd think someone would want to help them, educate them, elevate them, but it doesn't want to "treat" them, it only wants to "diagnose" them as a warning for everyone else.  In other words, the system sacrifices them. They're expendable.  Eat it.

The sad paradox of this system is that on the one hand it hates Tucker Max et al for how they degrade women, but on the other hand hates those very women even more for liking him.  He's a human you hate, but you hate them as a group.  Surprise: your misogyny > his misogyny.  You should hang that above your bed, especially if you are a woman.  

I will delicately avoid all jargon: this is understood as a) defining yourself based on who you hate ("I'm not like those sluts"); and b) secretly believing that only you have-- deserve-- free will, other people (Tucker Max, the women who like Tucker Max) are just too dumb to handle it.   I could say that that a) and b) are causes of totalitarianism or characteristics of narcissism, but it's more useful to say that a) and b) are why you are not happy, and it's more useful because that's the only thing you really care about anyway.


Back to Brandon.  What Brandon doesn't realize is that his movie is inseparable from the commentary that comes with it, it relies on it. In fact, the movie itself is less relevant than the commentary, the movie is an excuse for the commentary.  You lose or gain nothing by knowing that Tree Of Life's brother committed suicide when he was 19, but it is absolutely vital that you-- you who saw it and especially you who didn't-- know that Brandon is a "sex addict", i.e. bad, i.e. not the system's fault for demanding you consume but only the right amount, i.e. don't get any ideas.

If you weren't told he was a sex addict, what would you have thought Brandon's problem was?  That he was mean; that he may have had sex with his sister; that he was cold, distant, and infinitely narcissistic; that he watches cartoons; that he had a crazy sister.  You would have looked at the sex as a convenient way of escaping those things, as a consequence of those things, and maybe you would have lingered long enough on his furtive attempt at a normal relationship to ask whether the pathology wasn't there and not 15 minutes later with the hooker.  But you were told you were seeing a movie about sex addiction, of how sex addiction destroys your life, so the Marianne debacle and the cartoon watching was to be understood as a consequence of that addiction.  But "sex addiction" wasn't what wrecked his life at all.  Do you believe if he refrains from porn he will be happy?

To make sure you never consider this, they tell you upfront the context in which you are to understand this movie, even and especially if you never actually watch it.  Fortunately for Brandon he's just a fictional character and doesn't care about being used as means of social control.  He's expendable, but, let's not forget, so are you.  Eat it.