When Awareness Leads to Desensitization
I remember once — what seemed like a thousand years ago — I sat in the audience during a taping of Saturday Night Live. To give you an idea of how long ago it was, Eddie Murphy was the brand new talent on the show — not even host material at that point. We, the audience members, sat through the rehearsals as well as the live show and I distinctly recall an incident occurring, one that for some reason I would never forget.
Murphy was doing his ad-lib schtick and during his routine he said, “Oh God!” Immediately, the director stopped him to give him notes.
“Eddie, could you do that again please, but this time, don’t say the word God. We can’t say God like that, on TV.”
I hadn’t known that, but apparently at the time, that was protocol. Those were the days when television commercials didn’t slander other people’s products — by name — and you didn’t say the word God. At least not in comedy.
Words like ‘bitch’ were still highly charged secrets, and no one ever called anyone a bitch unless it was in a private setting and meant to deeply wound whomever was on the receiving end. The N word was even more taboo. Pop culture hadn’t yet discovered these words, and television — the media — had not yet found a way to exploit them. Those were the days where we still respected certain words and that respect not only taught us discretion — it allowed us to retain a certain dignity.
We didn’t call our friends bitches and we didn’t say things ‘sucked’. That guy wasn’t a ‘dick’ (though he was an asshole) and ‘porn’ was not thought of as an industry. Porn meant adult bookshops in seedy neighborhoods and films that very few people actually saw, unless they were spotted renting a betamax tape in a back room wearing a trenchcoat with nothing on beneath.
Porn stars had yet to become idols and their sexual prowess had yet to be emulated. We still had pubic hair back then, and breast implants were truly a novelty. We had sex like people, not like sex machines, and even though we always wanted to look better than we did, we weren’t in the mindset to despise what we came into the world with, as hairy, lopsided, flabby or flat chested as we may have been.
We now live in a time where nothing is sacred, mainly because we now feel that everything we hold precious or forbidden is worthy of scrutiny and analysis. We simply do not let anything sit anymore. If it exists, our culture will shine a spotlight on it. And if it’s private, personal or secretive — we make sure that it doesn’t stay that way. All things, all words, everything from your darkest fantasy to the size of your labia are now public knowledge. And if, for some reason, you’re not swag enough to comply, you’re considered a repressed prude who can’t handle the truth.
So, as we press for truth, for reality, we ‘murder’ that song, we tap the shit outta dat ass, and fuck knows, we rape everything we can place the word rape in front of, simply because we can — pop culture requires this. You hear me, mah nigguh?
Teens tell each other they’re going to rape each other in text messages — and this is what they call hot. “I am so gonna rape you when I see you.”
The funny thing is, we call this awareness. We’re the people who left sacred behind because sacred was a front for ignorance. Sacred belonged to a world where we hid what was going on behind closed doors, because so many bad things were taking place and knew we had to expose them, to better the human condition. Things like child abuse, rape, brutality towards women — we needed to expose these things in order to help prevent the situation from escalating.
But our awareness has spilled over on to everything. We live in the “Let’s talk about this,” generation, and where open communication on any number of subjects can be productive, there comes a moment where all of it becomes over exposed. “Rape Culture” brought about the terrible awareness of the injustice of rape, and yet, the word itself has now become a pop term, used casually and even frivolously.
Bitch, porn, nigger — mainstream terminology now. No biggie. But rape and murder? MURDER? How can we expect to take anything seriously when words like rape and murder are not only associated with their definitions but with getting laid and having fun. “They murdered that team! What an awesome night in basketball!”
Years ago, as I noticed awareness slowly starting to turn into desensitization, I envisioned a large billboard hovering over Times Square, advertising a Calvin Klein product — except there would be no product displayed. Instead of a bottle of cologne or a man in underwear, there would be an enormously enlarged naked penis, with the words Calvin Klein beneath it. And, in my mind, I imagined that everybody on the street would be over the shock value within minutes being that by then, an exposed penis might be the only way to sell a box of Cheerios.
Similarly, yesterday, I went online to research something for an article and I was instantly confronted by extremely photographic close-ups of vaginas. I understood that the photos were there to cause awareness and for that, they were indeed helpful — but, I also knew that those vaginas were not all being looked at for the sake of awareness. And it hit me: today’s youth has only to get online to become one million percent familiar with every body part, every secret, every intimate idea — every undiscovered thought…is there any territory that is not immediately open for discussion? Is there anything left for us to find wonder in?
Have we killed all the mystery in our attempt to own knowledge?