Culture Notes


Issue: "Motel 1600," Sept. 6, 1997

The next fashionable perversion

Now that homosexuality is becoming socially acceptable to the pop culture,new forms of perverse sexuality must come to the surface to provide the tang of forbidden fruit. The latest sexual preference to come into fashion is sado-masochism. Sadism (getting sexual pleasure from inflicting pain) and masochism (getting sexual pleasure from being hurt) have long been fixtures of the homosexual subculture, as in the lifestyle of Gianni Versace's likely killer Andrew Cunanan. The heterosexual version lies behind many of the more grotesque crimes of our day. But now it is being welcomed into pop culture. Its imagery of dungeons, chains, and torture devices has been a staple of MTV and heavy-metal music. Its fetishes of leather, spikes, and bondage-not to mention its literal love of violence-have become commonplace in movies and on HBO sex shows. Now there is an S&M restaurant. La Nouvelle Justine, named after the novel by the Marquis de Sade, is a New York eatery whose abusive waitresses are called "dominants" and whose vinyl-clad busboys are called "slaves." In its torture-chamber decor, guests can sip "necrophiliac" martinis and from the "special fare" menu order a spanking. For all its theme-park fakery, the cafe shows S&M coming out of its dungeon.

Stay out of this park

The new cartoon show South Park features round-faced 8-year-olds and the bright colors of Saturday-morning kids' programming. But this late-night offering from the cable network Comedy Central is rated TV-MA, making it one of the first non-scrambled programs to earn the most restrictive rating. With the first episode titled "Cartman Gets an Anal Probe," the show is built around self-conscious vulgarity and in-your-face tastelessness. The 8-year-old characters curse, lose control of their bodily functions, talk about sex beyond their years, and are subjected to grotesque violence. One gimmick is to have little Kenny get killed in every episode. In the first installment, he gets eaten by rats. Future shows promise to feature his getting shot and having his body impaled on a flagpole. Comedy Central promised the creators of South Park that they could have a free hand, without worrying about network censorship. The show is aired after 10:00 p.m. and is clearly rated for mature audiences only. Critics of the network's rating system have argued from the beginning that its net result will be an increase in objectionable programming. Hiding behind the cover of a restrictive rating, programmers will be liberated from all restraints. That seems to be the case with South Park. Since much of its humor comes from the way it violates the ideal of childhood, it seems far more harmful than the regular sex and violence of late-night TV. The show is already developing a following among the hip of all ages.

Mickey feels the squeeze

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There is evidence that the Southern Baptist-inspired boycott of the Walt Disney corporation may actually be working. Theme park attendance is flat. The Disney-owned TV network ABC is laying off 200 of its 5,000 employees in light of its low ratings. Disney's summer movies, including the much-hyped Hercules, have been box-office disappointments. And Disney's stock is down 8 to 10 percent. Whether or not Disney's woes are directly attributable to the boycott, it is clear that the Southern Baptist initiative is striking a chord among Christians and the nation as a whole. According to a USA Today poll, almost half of the American people (49.5 percent) support the boycott. In the meantime, more churches and Christian leaders are rallying behind the Baptists. Chuck Colson has joined James Dobson and other conservative evangelical leaders in publically supporting the boycott. The Church of the Nazarene and the Presbyterian Church in America have gone on record criticizing the Disney corporation's pro-homosexual policies and its drifting away from the family values that were once the company's stock in trade. Perhaps the best evidence that the boycott has teeth is that Disney executives, after snubbing Baptist spokesmen since June, are now expressing a willingness to talk with their critics.


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