I must comment on Joanna Schneller’s recent article about penises in The Globe and Mail. She complains that penis jokes have become predominant in television shows and movies and are therefore lowering the general cultural tone. On one level, I’m quite glad that Schneller is talking about penises. I believe they are the elephant in the room that comprises western culture.
But hey, it’s not their fault.
We live in a phallocentric culture. It should come as no surprise to anyone that people are making penis jokes from time to time in a culture where the penis rules (after all penises can be bullies, and bullies are terribly tempting to make fun of!).
The penis remains largely invisible in our society. And yet our cultural values are predominantly male. People who make a success of their lives must be strong and brave -- and well, hard. And those values are associated with the active partner in sex. We pay lip service to feminine values on Mother’s Day – to vulnerability, grace, gentleness, sweetness, love, and acquiescence. But those who exemplify the feminine virtues do not receive our highest admiration. Ultimate praise is reserved for the active, (phallic) dominant, achievers. Men hold the power. They run everything, and the only fundamental difference I can find between men and women, is that men have penises and women don’t. Courbet painted a beautiful portrait of a woman’s vagina called The Origin of the World. But in fact we all know that the world did not begin between a woman’s legs. Women were only given the power to procreate after a snake screwed everything up.God created the world, and he was a man.
So if we live in a culture where men (and male values) rule, why are penises so invisible? Well we are certainly embarrassed about our essential phallocentricity – that is part of it. But the reason phalluses are generally not talked about is because they are so terribly sacred that they must not be treated casually, i.e. considered as normal aspect of, let’s say, nudity. In other words we don’t want those penises pulled out unless we mean business, and unless the penis is at its active best (i.e. erect) So why would penis jokes, and even the odd penis sighting in a Hollywood movie (ie Michael Fassbender’s baseball-batty member in Shame) be typical of a culture that worships the phallus and is also terrified that something may threaten its ascendency? Well a joke releases, momentarily, some of the incredible seriousness that surrounds issues raised by the heterosexual ‘act of love’ (Will he get it up? Will he impregnate his wife? Will the human race, please God, continue?). And laughter -- as per usual -- triggers a release of this fear.
So the penis can carry on.
So, I would certainly have to agree with Joanna Schneller in two respects: not only are penis jokes cropping up in mainstream media somewhat more than usual, but they certainly are “a way to seem subversive without actually being subversive.”
But Schneller’s explanations for the recent media obsession with phallic jesting are less convincing. She says: “access to Internet pornography has created a world of sexters for whom nothing is off limits” and “the current generation of twentysomethings, raised with less homophobia, is embracing Kinsey’s theory that all sexuality is on a continuum.” I don’t think we can blame sexting (there was sex before sexting and penis jokes galore, too). And though our hypocritical, politically correct culture pays lip service to a sexual continuum, you won’t find adolescent males in high schools embracing the term ‘bisexual’ (these days only a very few timid college age females are willing to do so.) No, don’t worry -- we aren’t becoming (sigh!) – yet again -- more ‘sex obsessed’ or ‘decadent.’
Hollywood and TV are obsessed with dick jokes because the mainstream media is an extremely closeted place. Though cultural commentators still get giddy with optimism when a new gay character arrives in a movie, (“Is Gay the New a Trend?” etc…) Ellen still has to be squeaky clean (ever heard of a dildo Ellen?), K.D. Laing must remain largely silent, and when it comes to all those out gay movie stars…um Rupert Everett anyone? The Hollywood Gentleman’s Agreement About Homosexuality has sealed so many pairs of otherwise gossipy lips that John Travolta can get caught kissing some dude on an airplane runway but hey – it just turns out that’s the way he always greets his baby’s nanny.
Schneller mentions the uncontrolled priapism in the upcoming hockey movie Goon starring Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel. Well when I recently caught the sodomitically obsessed trailer for the film I thought “Wow – this movie is a big inside homo joke that the producers, the writers, and all the straight boys on the set are having with Seann William Scott!” (Scott is rumoured to be gay). Can’t you see the whole cast (along with Seann) giggling away in the out-takes over Seann’s necessary closeted faggottedness? But the only glimpse we get of that from Hush Hush Homophobic Hollywood is, of course a plethora of silly onscreen ‘did you drop the soap?’ gags.
The penis jokes we see in popular culture are the result of a sexually repressed, homophobic entertainment industry. All that pent up sexual energy and all those lies … well they have to go somewhere to find a release.
The result? What Joanna Schneller seems to think are too many penis jokes.
But as far as I’m concerned (you may have guessed my inclination in this direction) there can never quite be enough.