Remember when you could put on an album to put you and your date in the mood? For me it might have been Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Van Morrison's Tupelo Honey, or Joni Mitchell's Blue.
Has sex become so co-opted in pop culture that we've lost our collective sensuality? From music videos to hardcore porn, television, the Internet, and DVDs, most, if not all forms of entertainment are flooded with bigger, better, harder sex with little sensuality and certainly very little romance. (And don't get me started on love.) But is it good sex? Is it rich with passion and sensuality? Is it truly love-based, or just a facsimile of our collective Freudian desires?
And what of romance? Does romance no longer matter? Is it just about instant gratification, getting off on Internet porn or a stack of DVDs, like using your mobile phone to instantly reach out and touch someone -- just a technical device for pleasing ourselves? This past Saturday, while waiting to return to New York from Macworld Expo 2007 in San Francisco, I happily joined resident Internet sexpert Emily Morse, host of the wildly successful podcast Sex With Emily, during her weekly Free FM live call-in show to try to answer these questions; to examine pop culture today, engage her audience, and discover what is it we seek in entertainment when we need emotional attachment to physical bliss. As I prepared for her show, I wrote down some notes about works in film, fiction, and music that remain near and dear to me, from obvious movie choices such as 9 1/2 Weeks to such books as My Secret Garden by Nancy Friday to the sensual music of Marvin Gaye begging "I Want You" or Barry White pleading in his basso profundo, "Baby, baby don't say maybe."
In my late teens/early twenties, movies, music, and literature were a powerful aphrodisiac for a young collegiate trying to score chicks after a night of beer drinking and pot smoking. I had a short stack of "go to" records that were certainly my favorite "make out" albums. The above-mentioned Blue showed a young lady that I was a hopeless romantic and feminist-friendly lad. The lyrical classicism of Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert was a powerful aural elixir. Or I might recite my bad poetry or read passages from a Henry Miller novel. But as I grew older and roamed the romance-hungry streets of New York, it became a bit of a slippery slope.
Today it's even more treacherous. Certainly mainstream Hollywood continues to churn out barely believable romantic comedies and dramas, but how often are audiences treated to truly sensual and erotic experiences in current cinema -- start to finish?
I'm hard pressed to name a contemporary American movie to rival the tragic love story with the seductive but emotionally damaged siren Beatrice Dalle in French import Betty Blue (1986). With Marlon Brando and Maria Schneider letting it all hang out in 1972, Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris is often cited as one of the great triumphs of sexuality in cinema. And Kubrick's powerful adaptation of Nabokov's novel Lolita (1962) and Sam Mendes' American Beauty (1999) represent pinnacles of forbidden jailbait fruit on celluloid. There's the heightened sensual/erotic experience of watching Anita Ekberg frolic at night in Trevi Fountain in Rome in La Dolce Vita (1960). Or perhaps the couple sharing prawns in the one of the food scenes in the Japanese classic Tampopo (1985). Okay, the wildly inventive musical Moulin Rouge! directed by Baz Luhrmann with Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor -- two non-American actors -- has its romantic moments between the two doomed lovers. But please, I'm curious to discover a recent American-made film that is a truly romantic, sensual experience start to finish. Marilyn Monroe in the comedy Seven Year Itch directed by Billy Wilder was fetching and seductive throughout, but that was released in 1955!
The Bond films have afforded many "male" erotic moments. From Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in Dr. No to Ms. Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger to Jill St. John as Tiffany Case in Diamonds Are Forever -- she was my favorite red-headed siren in her day -- Bond had his way with a bevy of beauties in every single movie. Too bad only Sean Connery and now Daniel Craig seemed remotely believable in the role of male seducer. However, I must give major props to Roger Moore's suggested bedding of Britt Ekland's Mary Goodnight at the end of The Man With The Golden Gun, though novelist Ian Flemming had left that very open-ended in his novel.
In literature, I have favorite books that have romantic or erotic moments, but I loathe indulging in fiction that is considered romantic. I'm most often interested in the quirky or weird, i.e., Geek Love or Perfume: The Story of a Murderer or any Tom Robbins' novel. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that an ex-girlfriend forced me to read The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. But when another friend suggested I give Andrew Miller's Casanova In Love a try, I enjoyed it. Ditto for The Anatomist by Agertinia novelist Federico Andahazi. However, there is a scene in Mario Puzo's The Godfather where the brash, hot-tempered, and married Sonny Corleone has sex with Lucy Mancini, a bridesmaid in his sister Connie's wedding, that is among my most cherished and powerfully erotic literary memories. Years later I can even remember the page number. As a teenager it was better than any Penthouse Forum letter for my pubescent fantasies, a full-on projection of Viking maleness and what could be if you had your way with women. There is no romance here, but a powerful visceral experience that jumps off the pages.
And certainly the explicit eroticism of Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer is rightfully deserving as one of the most groundbreaking and important works of the 20th century, especially when one considers that it was published in 1934. How audacious it must have been during those prohibition days. And it still is. But as we navigate the world of the Internet, TV, film, radio, and mobile devices delivering content to us instantaneously, what do you reach for when you want indulge in romantic, idle diversions.
What presses your collective buttons, dear audience?