Wallace Shawn on the function of the Times, power, conservatism, and the human sexuality taboo

“My local newspaper, The New York Times, for example, does not include images of naked people. Many of its readers might enjoy it much more if it did, but those same readers still might not buy it if such images were in it, because it could no longer present the portrait of a normal, stable, adequate world–a world not ideal but still good enough–which it is the function of the Times to present every day. Nudity somehow implies that anything could happen, but the Times is committed to telling its readers that many things will not happen, because the world is under control, benevolent people are looking out for us, the situation is not as bad as we tend to think, and although problems do exist, they can be solved by wise rulers. The contemplation of nudity or sex could tend to bring up the alarming idea that at any moment human passions might rise up and topple the world we know.

But perhaps it would be a good thing if people saw themselves as a part of nature, connected to the environment in which they live. Sex can be a humbling, equalizing force…When the sexuality of the terrifying people we call ‘our leaders’ is for some reason revealed, they lose some of their power–sometimes all of it–because we’re reminded (and, strangely, we need reminding) that they are merely creatures like the ordinary worm or beetle that creeps along at the edge of the pond.”

Excerpted from Shawn, Wallace. 2009. “Is sex interesting?” Harpers, August. Wallace Shawn has recently published a book about sex.

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