Anne Taylor Fleming Essay on The Contradictions in American Society

February 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, essayist Anne Taylor Fleming reflects on contradictions between America’s public and private face.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: Welcome to Travel Land U.S.A., a rolling highway of x-rated offerings available in small-town, low-slung motels, and big-city, high-rise hotels. It’s not just Vegas or L.A. — entertainment capitals that produce and promulgate this stuff — it’s right across the churchgoing heartland, too.

Of course, you don’t have to leave home for any of this stuff. It’s available 24/7 on your own TV, on a premium or pay-per-view channel. And for that matter, you can surf the Internet in your robe and slippers, mug of morning coffee in your hand, and see all manner of fiercely explicit sexual acts.

Again, when did this happen? And what do we really think about it? We have “Desperate Housewives” on ABC’s big new hit doing all manner of silly, trampy things, all in supposedly good commercial fun, and a big hit right across the country. We laugh at this campy new nighttime drama, while bemoaning Janet Jackson’s exposed breast at the Super Bowl. Or Nicolette Sheridan, one of those desperate housewives, flashing Philadelphia Eagles Star Terrell Owens on the Monday night football pre-game. Do we not protesteth too much?

Our best-seller lists are now cheerfully full of x-rated vixen scribes hawking advice on “how to make love like a porn star,” not to mention the fact that some of our biggest, richest corporations, like Time/Warner and Comcast and Viacom, are the providers of the means by which Americans, snug in their family homes, can watch those vixens do their non-literary thing.

This is one weird country. You can’t help but think that sometimes. We tolerate our own contradictions, our own, if you will, hypocrisies, certainly when it comes to sex. Adamantly churchgoing and God-believing, we can talk family values in public while watching porn in private. There are, in fact, programs just to help preachers who are self-confessed pornography addicts — sick, sad, troubling, laughable, and I guess hopeful all at the same time.

No doubt it’s just human nature, especially in a country that prides itself still on a having a rectitudinous public face, and always has, right back to the Puritans, who, while publicly prim and proper, committed their fair share of private sexual deeds, or misdeeds, from adultery to bestiality. The recent film “Kinsey,” about the famed, or infamous, mid- 20th-century sex researcher, goes right at the heart of all of this, and has predictably kicked up the same-old controversy.

SPOKESMAN: A 12-year-old would know most of the biology which I will have to give you in formal lectures.

ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: An important pioneer who helped lift the puritanical lid off of America’s sexual habits, his supporters say. A smut-peddling bisexual whose work was shoddy and helped send us down our slippery x-rated slope, his detractors say. And who, speaking of hypocrisy, distributed the film? Fox Searchlight, owned by big- time, well-known conservative Rupert Murdoch, who also owns DirecTV, one of the major providers of pay-per-view porn.

Welcome to the divided soul of America. It’s doubtful that that divide will be healed or breached anytime soon, not because it runs through the country dividing right from left or red state from blue state, but because it runs right down the center of our individual souls.

I’m Anne Taylor Fleming.