There was no grand battle, but 2013 may enter the crimson register as the year the sexual revolution expired. I was going to say “died,” but death is too weighty. Death is real. What has happened to the sexual revolution, instead, fits more aptly in the category of market sensations, pop-up phantasms, beauty creams whose dubious chemistry degrades over time. Having long ago become a commodity, it simply exceeded its shelf life.
I suppose the same could have been said, and probably was, at many points since the Summer of Love, the gay uprising, Betty Dodson’s first masturbation clinic, Marvin Gaye’s release of Let’s Get It On or any other signal marker of the movement for sexual freedom that flowered in the late twentieth century. But 2013 felt somehow pivotal, mainly because from pop culture’s highest-profile sex-charged offerings, there was nothing to feel.
Really feel, in-your-soul feel—not just talk or argue about.
I’m referring to the year’s top-selling song, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” and its biggest spectacle, the televised performance by Thicke and Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards, with subsequent catapult of Cyrus to the status of It Girl, Dirty Girl, Cover Girl, Queen of Pop, Sex Symbol, you name it.
Leave aside arguments over whether Thicke ripped off Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up” (obviously he did) or whether Cyrus disturbed parental censors (that is pop culture’s signature). Leave aside arguments over cultural appropriation; those are as old as culture itself. As signs of the sexual zeitgeist—and popular music, the soundtrack of social life whether one switches on or not, has long been as good a gauge of the spirit of the time as anything in America—what both phenomena represent is the triumph of banality, of marketing over sentiment, of un-freedom packaged up and sold as freedom. They reduce men to dicks (in both senses of the word), women to pussies, give no quarter to the actual blurred lines of human sexuality and take cover in cheap irony.
That is not to underrate cock and pussy, by the way. I don’t buy sexual economics theory: the proposition that sex boils down to a bargain between body parts, and that fundamentally for women, sex must be rare, special and endured so long as the guy brings home a fat paycheck, while for men any hole will do. In other words, that people by nature put a price tag on everything, especially their genitalia, and then hunt for buyers, with men pricing themselves in the bargain basement and women secreting away in the diamond vault at Tiffany’s. If that theory were valid, then what we call female promiscuity would not be a feature of certain tribal cultures the world over, men would never want to marry, country songs wouldn’t exist, Girls would have no audience, and women would never, ever take up with losers. (Gays and trannies, sorry; sexual economics theory leaves you out altogether.)