By Mr. Fish
I used to be 11. Occasionally, I am 11 again. I’m OK with that. I have a theory that by the time people reach 13 they’ve experienced every age they will ever experience in their lifetimes; 14 does not exist. Nobody, for example, has ever been kinder or more conniving than he or she was at age 6, nor has anybody ever had an orgasm that was more mature than one had at 13. All that any of us have after we turn 14 are the prejudices and affections that were formed during the previous 13 years, and that, after slightly more than a decade’s worth of rehearsal with our families, friends and neighbors, will then find either confirmation or argument with the outside world.
Of course, sometimes, after suffering a certain amount of pain over some of the more incessant arguing with the outside world, we might look for and find other people lucky enough to have formed personalities more nobly equipped to communicate peaceably with the parts of the outside world that exist contrary to our makeup and we learn to either pantomime their comfort or to seek lifelong distraction inside their joy. And they don’t even have to be real, these pacifying people, nor do they have to be people, necessarily; sometimes they’re simply movies or sermons or books or television shows or political platforms or advertising campaigns. If we’re lucky we might be able to convince ourselves, lying on our deathbeds, that Jesus Christ can’t wait to shake hands with us because we’re such close friends with Spock, Oprah Winfrey, Giorgio Armani and every bald eagle in North America.
The 13th century Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi said that a person was just as aware of what his or her life was about as a pencil was of what it was writing. Of course, if Rumi were alive today he’d be Afghan, having come from the Balkh region of Persia, and he’d no doubt spend an inordinate amount of time in airport security having both his accent and his sneakers checked for explosives. “We said remove your head, A-rab, and place it into the plastic tub for X-ray!”
(Pause to allow for sound of veteran clapping his hooks together.)
Freezing my nuts off at 3 a.m. on the rooftop of a parking garage at a movie theater on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Calif., in the spring of 2005, I found myself thinking about the Susan Sontag quote that said 10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and that 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and that the remaining 80 percent could be moved in either direction. Down below dressed in rubber and plastic and burlap and armed to the teeth with battery-operated weaponry and corrective lenses strode hundreds of space aliens, robots, senators, queens, lords, storm troopers and an elite battalion of disparate knights, call them Jedis of chess and masturbation, into the lobby for the 3:30 showing of “Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith” (or Shit, if you decided to defer to the greater wisdom of the spell-checker on your laptop) and I rushed to join them, eager to mock them while secretly hoping that the movie might blow the mind of the 13-year-old that I knew piloted my orgasms and yippied and yahooed at fireworks and excessive violence and defecating zoo animals and the non-taxing demand of reacting to something completely meaningless. My costume?: somebody way too cool to give a sith, of course.
Watching the movie I was reminded of something that a 20th century Spanish poet said about the United States of America. He said that it was the most primitive society on Earth with the greatest technology.
During the springtime of my first pass at 11, in 1977, I both saw the original “Star Wars” movie and had my first look at hardcore pornography. The movie, everybody knows—many too well; the magazine, given to me by a bearded 10-year-old named Riviera Kamero, was called Tailgunner! and specialized in ridiculously huge close-ups of vaginas pried so ghoulishly wide open beneath lighting severe enough to cook a hotdog that they ceased being genitalia and came to resemble brutally frank dissections of rodents. Thrilling to both and embarrassed by neither, I spent my prepubescent years attempting to move inert objects with my mind while simultaneously memorizing the contents of Tailgunner! as if pressing the most vital information from a topographic map into my brain in preparation for some future hike reputed to strand and then murder those unrehearsed as to the treachery of the terrain.
So what did one have to do with the other? What did trying to master telekinesis ultimately have to do with my greater understanding of each glistening fold and each ripening contour of the female thingamajig?
Maybe it was this: Contrary to the popular idea of feminism, I decided that experiencing a woman as a sexual object wasn’t inherently a bad thing. I, for one, love being objectified during sex, particularly when the object that I’m being thought of seems able to exist without the incessant commentary of my personality to define or justify it; like a sunset beautiful without the explanation of science, or a poem moving without a syllabus, or a smile infectious without the psychological profile to categorize it. Or, more specifically, a 20-inch wiener dog playful enough not to require any interference from the sap holding the leash. What was bad, I decided, about thinking of people exclusively as a sexual object was that you missed being able to experience them as anything else, thereby making them completely invisible when dressed and breathing normally—a point of view, mind you, that I had when I was 5 years old and surrounded by girls just as likely as I was to nose-pick and swear and piss in the woods. Feminism suffers, I think, when it attempts to deny a woman access to the complete freedom that comes with all that lies between despicability and respectability.
A cunt and a vagina, it turns out, are exactly the same thing. (Pause, repeat.)
“Star Wars,” thusly, became for me a similar victim of pigeon-holiness; that is, neither a work of great hero mythology that informed some deeper understanding of the human soul nor a huge, steaming piece of pop culture so idiotic that exposure to its stench had the unfortunate effect of retarding the otherwise perfectly indifferent perception that we lived in a completely Wookie-less universe (if you call that living). Specifically, while the entire “Star Wars” saga might be little more than an exercise in crappy storytelling, perhaps even an unwitting champion of lazy politics predicated on the notion that there existed absolute good and absolute evil in the world and that people might legitimately be objectified as either black or white chess pieces and that the gigantic mechanism of the cosmos was a fair and noble construct that rewarded the pure and punished the wicked, it was still nothing but a fairytale concocted by a high-functioning imbecile, a genius of bone-crushing mediocrity named George Lucas whose story was no more or less outrageous than the Bible or the Constitution or the Quran. What my thoughts about feminism taught me about Lucas was that I shouldn’t objectify his idiocy, nor should I objectify the idiocy of what the Bible or the Constitution or the Quran demanded of the portion of the world begging exemption from surrendering to a global world order unfamiliar to them.
I figured that as long as George Lucas kept his moral perversions behind closed theater doors then he wasn’t hurting anybody. Same with George Washington. And, dare I say, Osama bin Laden. As long as the door that we’re talking about is kept unlocked and has a WELCOME matt on both sides of the door and all the EXIT signs inside are clearly marked. Or, at the very least, if not all that, then at least a sign at the door warning of the health hazards of entering: Exposure to philosophy enclosed has been known to cause rampant self-aggrandizement and complete mental breakdown and corruption of all human decency and, ultimately, completely meaningless death.
In the spring of 2004, I downloaded a video file onto my computer and watched U.S. contractor Nicholas Berg getting his head sawed off by a bunch of Middle Eastern men in ski masks. After all, I figured, if you’re interested in what death might look like, having heard about it your whole life, what kind of pictures can you expect to get of all the informative beheading and de-limbing and vaporizing of all the innocent civilians that the United States does from 15,000 feet up, where the only indication that you might get of having committed all that killing is perhaps a tiny green light flashing on a computer screen, the same technology used to indicate when the french fries are ready to be removed from the fryer at McDonald’s? I then spent the next 20 minutes following the Berg beheading calling friends to tell them not to do what I’d done, that my whole physiology had changed as a result of what I’d seen and that I would forever be at least one degree colder at my core. I explained how the execution wasn’t interesting to look at on any level whatsoever, making me worry that Hollywood might not be doing its job. Tragedy, it turns out, plays a lot better when it’s massive and when a lot of people die all at once and from some distance, as in “Titanic” or “Godzilla” or even, truth be told, the daytime toppling of the two tallest buildings in the world by two crashed airplanes, horrible sadness and bone-crushing dread aside. Sure, if Berg had been torn apart by a disintegrating skyscraper shot from a news camera in New Jersey or if he’d been seized by a Tyrannosaurus Rex and then eaten, his murder might’ve been easier for me to process, but only because my eyes would’ve mostly been on the dinosaur and not on the agony of the dinosaur’s lunch, baby-faced and wearing an orange jumpsuit and barefoot.
The 11-year-old that I once was was the one who wanted to see the beheading, and not because when I was 11 I was particularly enamored with the brutality of torture, vivisected rats aside, but rather because most 11-year-olds want to see things that they’ve never seen before, whether it’s a baseball game or a moon rock or the birth of a litter of slimy purple puppies; newness, tragic or comic, is the reason why we wake up in the morning.
Think and Do:
A friend of mine once told me that the best indicator of a video store’s quality, back when there were video stores, was whether or not it carried gay porno. “A place brave enough to stock ‘Shaving Ryan’s Privates,’ ” he explained, “is not concerned with promoting a version of the world where only one kind of joy is tolerated, or where a difference of opinion is considered either too embarrassing to contemplate or too contrary to go divinely unpunished.” He loved how for a lot of super-benevolent, love-thy-neighbor, Christian-types the only purpose of fucking was for the procreation of more and more Christians who would promise to be intolerant of any orgasm that didn’t contribute to the breeding of more and more intolerance of any orgasm that didn’t contribute to the breeding of more and more intolerance of any orgasm that didn’t contribute … well, you get the idea. Anyway, he saw procreation-exclusive screwing as being roughly equivalent to telling people that they were only allowed to die of old age. “And that’s why we’re completely fucked as a species,” he said, “because most people in the world don’t realize that trying has nothing to do with it.”