Friday, September 16, 2005

LUGs Forever

Ross Douthat has a macro post on the CDC sexual behavior data, in which he notes as an aside that female bisexuality has become
a significant phenomenon nonetheless - and I'm willing to bet that if you broke it out by age and class, bisexuality would be even more common (and increasingly common) among upper-middle-class young people. If the experience of human history shows anything, it's that a large percentage of any given population will experiment with opportunistic homosexuality if the taboos against it are lifted - and at least in our country's more exclusive circles, the lesbian-experimentation taboo is dead . . .

So this long profile of Jen Sincero, seems to be hitting at the right time: Sincero is the author of The Straight Girl's Guide to Sleeping With Chicks--a book about being a heterosexual girl who likes to make it with other girls. As a publishing endeavor, this project has Can't Miss written all over it.

I don't have anything to add to serious discussions about human sexuality, although comments like this one make me wonder if the trend is liberation, or just another instance of women going out of their way to attract male attention by any means:
Ashley, 20, a student at Northern Arizona University, agrees. "It's become this totally hot thing," she says. "And the reason why is that it promises this sexual experimentation to guys. They think, 'She'll kiss another girl; she's gotta be pretty wild.'"

Ashley hasn't made out with that many girls: "I've only done it like a dozen times." It's been fun, she says, but mostly because of the titillation: "There's people watching it, and that makes me feel good. The first time I did it at a party, I thought, 'So this is what it takes to get the guys' attention.'"

You decide if this is benign or a case of women desperate for male affection. (You know you're old when you read Ashley's quote and instead of thinking, Hot!, you worry that she didn't have a capable, present father while she was growing up and hope that she'll spend some time working on her sense of self-confidence and self-worth.)

In any case, what interests me most is the proximate causes of what destroyed the "taboo" against LUGiness in the first place.

While the LUG phenomenon has been around for a long time, it used to be kept quiet. At some point it became a sign of rebellion and then it morphed into a hallmark of elite chicness. And then it spread into the mainstream of popular culture as just another thing that people do.

I would suggest that the LUG phenomenon was in its quiet phase all through the '40, '50s, and '60s and didn't become marker of youthful rebellion until the '70s (which, as David Frum reminds us, is when the '60s really happened).

Sometime during the '80s, LUGiness began to travel upwards through the social strata until it became the province of the very, very chic. By 1990, you had a daring, NC-17 art movie with Uma Thurman playing June Miller and Maria de Medeiros playing Anaïs Nin. But movies are lagging social indicators, so it's hard to figure out exactly when this shift came.

But I would argue that it's easy to pinpoint the death of the LUG taboo in mainstream popular culture: 1994, with the airing of Friends. Friends was one of the prime culture movers of the '90s. It sparked dozens of spin-offs, helped popularize the coffee-house culture that Starbucks was trying sell America, revitalized the formula sit-com--it even ushered in the age of the nipple erection on network TV. (I've always believed that this last bit is what helped popularize the show in the first place. Tune in to NBC on Thursday nights and see a really funny show about nothing followed by three hot chicks with their headlights on!)

One of the enduring sub-plots lurking beneath the show's patter was the undercurrent of Joey and Chandler wanting Monica and Rachel to hook up. This became a running joke as the show went on, culminating in an episode where the guys agree to give the girls back their apartment if they'll make out in front of them for five minutes.

Because of Friends, lots of other LUGiness made its way into the culture in the '90s, from popular movies such as Bound and Wild Things and Cruel Intentions to the girl-on-girl action in Ally McBeal, all of which was done on a totally commercial level--no NC-17 or obscure art-house stuff here.

If the taboo against casual female bisexuality is really dead, as Douthat suggests (and I think it is), I think we can credit (or blame) Friends for killing it.

Update, 2:38 p.m.: Kathy of Cake Eaters adds something very, very astute:
Jonathan ultimately places the blame on Friends with Monica and Rachel making out in front of Chandler and Joey to get their apartment back. I think Jonathan's partially correct: Friends showed two women making out. What he misses, however, is that these two female characters were making out not because they were hot for one another but because they were trying to get what they wanted (their apartment) from men. That's when the taboo died: when it became cool to use said bisexuality to lure men into handing over what women wanted. Female bisexuality became a tool to manipulate men. Everyone knows that hetero men adore it when women get busy with one another. There's nothing new in that bit of information. What is interesting in all of this, however, is the lengths women feel they need to go to to get what they want. If making out with a woman will get them something, well, they'll do that.


Anonymous said...

I liked Ross' data and analysis. And I agree with you both, JVL, the taboo against LUGism is dead. (Long live the taboo!) I think that in addition to the pop culture references you cited, the effects of MTV's the Real World and Road Rules cannot be overlooked. Their recurring cast lists always seem to include at least on gay and proud person and one repressed tolerant person who has never been exposed to...yada yada yada

In addition, teen and tween favorite, "The O.C." had a plot line involving female experimentation. Friends may have killed it, but other shows and storylines are figuratively beating the dead horse.

But the question you raise is the key, to my mind. Is it liberation? Really? Even at LUG bastions, is it liberation or making the best of a target poor environment by re-classifying targets (a little military lingo, there). My brother-in-law in his youth (this was all of four years ago) found himself in trouble for hosting parties where the girls made out with each other for the entertainment of the boys. They were in middle school. The salience of your comment wondering if Ashley "didn't have a capable, present father while she was growing up and hope that she'll spend some time working on her sense of self-confidence and self-worth" is dead on the money and doesn't make me think I am old.

Ironically enough, the tenets of paleo-feminism which talked about liberation morphed into a culture of sexual license. And now, as feminism succeeded at marginalizing fathers, we see many Ashley's who rather than experimenting to liberate themselves from the overbearing patriarchy, instead experiment to entertain and attract men. One wonders if the now gray old ladies of paleo-feminism have noted this and can see the humor.

Anonymous said...

I have 2 daughters and another one on the way. I'm going to go kill myself now.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, thank you for making me laugh out loud. You thought you only had to worry about the boys.....

Good luck, Anonymous, you will need it.

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of "Friends" killing the taboo perhaps we could thank the mainstreaming of porn for putting the taboo within the target sight of a prime TV program....

This is just speculation but there seems to be 2 trends- one is the tendency of porn to include more raunchy action such as girl-on-girl behavior to more anal sex than say 20 years ago (or even shorter period of time- I defer to the experts on this)

The other is the more commented on mainstreaming of porn. I would be interested to hear what the writers or producers would say about their reasons for including such language but certainly it couldn't have been that far out for them to put it into the show. A good segment of their viewers probably were regular watchers of girl-on-girl and might even have had a VHS or DVD by their TV.


Anonymous said...

Jon, I'm taking over this thread!!!

Mike, I think the mainstreaming of porn was less critical to this particular bit of data. These kids were in the 15-17 age range from the survey. So while, they likely have seen more pornography than many on their computers, they would have had less access to DVD and VHS tapes. However, the mainstreaming of pornography cannot be ignored when considering the macro issue, such as the Ashley's out there.

Case in point, pornography is mainstreamed on regular television. E! has a television series that follow's Hugh Hefner's girlfriends. A&E was and perhaps still is considering a reality show with Jenna Jameson. MTV, Spike, and countless other channels heve helped the Playboy rennaissance, by holding events at the mansion, with Hef and the girls. One does not need the magazines or the videos/DVDs to see that being a pornstar (not like the typical middle school viewers of these channels and programs really understand the emotional devastation non-sociopaths/non-drug-addled people feel from such behavior) is a cool thing. They printed up and sold tee-shhirt proclaiming that fact if I remember right.

While I think the videos did not have an impact on this set of data, I do think the overall impact is rather high.

Joe(who obviously finds this topic more fascinating than work)

Celtic Gypsy said...

I am 30 years old and bisexual. I can honestly say that I have fallen in love with both sexes. I am attracted to both sexes, and not because it will get me more men. That (thankfully) never crossed my mind. However, I am afraid that many of today's girls (that were raised by the bi moms of my generation) are way too used to seeing women with men and other women and have been jaded by it. They think it is so normal now that they do not realize that it is suppose to be for love and not pleasure. They do believe that it is to get whatever they want. One of my best-friends has two teenage step-daughter that are bisexual. I have talked with them about it. They have came to me with questions because they know I am bi. One of the girls honestly likes girls more than boys, but dates boys so that she can have kids one day. (That is so messed up that I don't what to say.) The other girl is bi for the soul purpose of attracting boys and getting the boys to give her anything she wants. One boy bought her over $100 worth of stuff just because she "made out" with another girl, for him. I (personally) believe that there are females out there, that are like me, who honestly fall in love with both men and women. There are females out there (like my friend's step-daughter) that use bi-sexuality as a means of getting anything that she wants.