Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Monday, September 13, 2004

According to the Kinsey Report...

Brief and erratic posts continue as this week finds me moving at last (mutter, mutter) and next week finds me undergoing indoctrination (oh, wait, no--'orientation'--my bad) for the upcoming course I'll be teaching. Such fun--nothing more productive than sitting in a large room with a number of alternately bored, cranky, and obstreperous graduate students and new-minted Ph.D.s who can't seem to figure out that if everyone just shuts the f--- up and doesn't ask pointless, politically motivated questions we can all wrap this noise up and go home in time for the first episode of TNT's nightly showing of 47 "Law & Order"s. My stomach acids are already churning with anticipation, and, yes, I've started grinding my teeth in my sleep. Life is good.

So I'll just comment briefly on how much I'm enjoying the latest dust-up over Alfred Kinsey, occasioned by the upcoming biopic starring Liam Neeson as the good doctor, directed by Bill Condon of Gods and Monsters and Chicago. Bids fair to be an Oscar favorite, given early buzz and its subject matter. (Historical dramas always do well by the antediluvian members of Academy, since most of them are old enough to remember the events of, say, Braveheart and Gladiator. I'm convinced that the only reason the bathos-ridden Titanic won Best Picture is because the members all marvelled at how the recreation of the sinking was exactly as they'd experienced it. Note to James Cameron--if I'm more moved by the destruction of a stained-glass cupola than I am by the death of the lead character, then, sir, you have made a serious mistake somewhere along the line.)

But said biopic has given Kinsey's moralistic detractors a fresh opportunity to raise their ugly heads. And by 'detractors,' I don't mean those who argue against the scientific validity of his findings--by now, just about everyone has come around to the fact that Kinsey's sampling was too narrow and too non-random, that his findings were skewed by the interview process, and so forth. Not a problem there--hell, Kinsey himself knew that his findings had been seriously hampered by the politics of his time, and was more interested in getting the ball rolling on a scientific study of sexual behavior than in producing the definitive document on the subject. Like Freud, Kinsey is someone whose stature depends more on what he started than on what he achieved. But some of Kinsey's findings--the prevalence of masturbation--the frequency of the female orgasm and the discovery that (surprise!) women generally want sex just as much as men--the significant percentage of homosexual activity/orientation in the population (probably the most disputed of his findings, but still important in that it raised the issue and transformed the subject from a Freudian 'illness' to an alternate and not automatically unhealthy means of sexual activity.) (Freud, too, gets credit for transforming homosexuality from a depraved, sinful act to a psychological state of desire--true, he interpreted it as a mis-orientation, but he also rendered it morally neutral--a major leap forward to the achievement of tolerance.)

Needless to say, though, Kinsey's findings appalled and continue to appall those who consider sexual suppression--sexual self-denial--a major tenet of morality--who regard all sex except that conducted between a married couple for the purposes of procreation to be a capital 'S' sin, and who regard Sex as the Original Sin (which it wasn't--ambition for power beyond the limits set by God was the Original Sin, if we go by Genesis. Sex just came afterwards--almost as a consolation prize for getting kicked out of Paradise. Regardless--) Thus Kinsey has become something of a monster to these people--his arguments for tolerance and sexual self-discovery have been interpreted as an encouragement for the corruption of our society--a degeneration into a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah. (As a side note, I have a question--what were people doing in Gomorrah? We all know what the Sodomites were doing--all kinds of nasty man-on-man action and male-female hook-ups that did not involve Tab A fitting into Slot B. And there may have been donkeys involved somewhere. But what about Gomorrah? What were they up to? Why isn't there a category of 'perversion' named after them? What up? OK, end of digression.)

And so, being horrible, horrible people, these moral guardians have decided to discredit Kinsey the only way they know how. Now, you or I might, if we wanted to discredit a man's scientific findings, engage in a little research of our own--might use strict scientific methodology (maybe improving upon the failings of Kinsey's techniques) to collect evidence that argued the contrary. And maybe these people did attempt to conduct such a study. But guess what? If they did, then whatever they found didn't contradict Kinsey enough. So they did the only other thing they know how to do--they followed the old law of rhetorical subterfuge: if you can't attack the subject, attack the speaker. And so Kinsey has been accused of everything from pedophilia to Mengele-like methodology--needless to say, his (probably factual) bisexuality has been used to smear him--and the admittedly unusual (but not really abusive) circumstances of his marriage have been presented as dysfunctional to the point of Ike and Tina. Likewise, they've made much of the fact that Kinsey interviewed actual pedophiles (not really that odd in a study that tried to be comprehensive as possible) and presented their testimony in the neutral terms of science (again, proper to do, since science itself is about the gathering and interpretation of facts--moral judgment of those facts is something that has to wait until science has done its job. Consider--the more we know about pedophiles, the more we can do to protect our children from them, and the more we can--God willing--help them to avoid committing acts of pretty close to simon-pure evil. If Kinsey's interviews gave us any insight into the mind of pedophiles, then God bless him, frankly.) Said neutrality has been, of course, interpreted by these kind folks as 'approval' and 'endorsement.'

In other words, according to these guiding lights of bodily purity, a bad man produced bad science, which means it's still evil and perverted and unnatural for you to play with yourself, little Timmy. And one bizarre individual in particular, the so-called "Dr." Judith Reisman (whose professional credentials are so suspect as to make Dr. Laura Schlessinger look like a graduate of Johns Hopkins) has made it her mission (and, oh, coincidentally, her cottage industry) to destroy Kinsey. She has used incredibly suspect data--accusations decades after the fact by bitter converts and the like--to claim that Kinsey was not just a pedophile, but engaged in the systematic torture of children by forcing them to masturbate while timing their responses--similar vile charges abound, about as believable as the occasional witch-hunt claims that pre-schools have Satanic churches in their basements. "Dr." Reisman, by the way, got her professional start as the musical director of the Captain Kangaroo show. I leave that fact entirely uninterpreted--res ipsa loquitur. But regardless of the utter lack of substantial proof of her claims, and regardless of the fact that Reisman receives most if not all her funding from conservative Christian organizations devoted to--among other things--the 'curability' of homosexuality--there are those who will take any opportunity to smear those with whom they disagree.

And thus Reisman is a voice heard on Schlessinger's show, on O'Reilly's--on those who earn their bread with their choreographed crusade against the 'evils' of American society. (Isn't it interesting, by the way, that liberals are inevitably accused of 'hating' America, while those who, like Schlessinger and O'Reilly, do nothing but castigate our society for its hateful moral failings, don't get tapped for this same solecism? Of course, they avoid the accusation by calling such moral failings the product of a 'liberal sub-culture' that seeks to pervert the 'real America'--ignoring, of course, the fact that the 'real America' produces and supports the 'liberal sub-culture' every chance it gets. Why else would violent rap sell so well in white suburbs? Anyhoo...)

Kinsey's dead. Long dead. He can't defend himself against these despicable lies. But so what? The nice thing about such clashes is that the guy who's right--the guy who helped us progress into a clearer understanding of the world--usually wins. Who remembers the name of the Pope who excommunicated Galileo? Who remembers the name of Socrates's accusers? Who remembers the name of the nobleman who had Voltaire beaten by thugs, or the clergymen who tried to prevent his burial in the Paris cemetary? Kinsey'll win this one, folks. He may not have been right in the details, but he nudged us from a society in which we were living a collective lie--the lie that said that we were not sexual beings at our core--that our sexuality did not play a major role in our identities. For that--for being someone who bravely--hell, heroically--pushed towards the truth--he wins.

For those who'd like the documented version of Reisnan's crusade against Kinsey--did I mention the fact that the Kinsey Institute at U of Indiana called her a liar, that she sued them for defamation, and that her case was not only dismissed, but dismissed with prejudice?--please go to: www.jesus21.com/poppydixon/sex/kinsey/judith_reisman.html It's a good read...


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