Tag Archives: popular culture

How Men Are Set Up To Fail With Women

When it comes to seeking love and sex, I kind of need to be on top of things. I’m trying to get into the business of writing sexy romance novels. I’ve got another novel coming out in a couple months and a couple manuscripts I hope to submit to my publisher very soon. If I want to tell quality romance stories with the right amount of sex appeal, I need to know about the dynamics of these intimate processes.

Unfortunately, that’s a lot harder than it sounds and few people who aren’t billionaire rock stars/supermodels would contest that. Finding love and finding sex aren’t always mutually exclusive, but they tend to be linked for reasons I don’t think require much explanation. Humans are a sexual, passionate species. Ideally, we should make the process of seeking those experiences clear, efficient, and understandable.

I’ll give everyone a moment to stop laughing because I know we’re a long way from that ideal. In some respects, we’re doing the exact opposite. We’re actually making it harder on ourselves to find love, sex, and everything in between and I’m not just talking about the effects of recent sex scandals. We’ve gotten to a point where men and women aren’t just on the same page. They’re not even reading the same book.

This brings me to a recent article from Cracked.com. I know they’ve been hit or miss lately. Between their poor understanding of what makes someone a pervert and their knack for complicating ideas of consent, they’ve had a bit of a regressive streak lately. They’ve been less focused on humor and more focused on pushing the kind of everything-is-sexist agenda that is rarely funny.

This time, however, they’ve managed to step back from that agenda and offer some insight into the other side of that equation. Yes, women do face their share of challenges in pursuing love and sex with men. Sifting through the crop of potential partners, trying to figure out who one wants something meaningful and who just wants a quick romp, is frustrating and the source of nearly every romantic comedy ever made.

However, the other side of that struggle with the men, has its own set of challenges and our culture does plenty to add to the difficulty. Since I am a man and I’m familiar with some of these challenges, I feel it’s worth talking about. I’m also glad Cracked.com took the time to write something like this. For those interested, here’s the link:

Five Ways Society Trains Men To Expect Sex From Women

This is one of those articles that will likely generate plenty of discussions among feminists, MRAs, egalitarians, and romance fans, like myself. There are some parts of it that still come off as overly-gendered preaching. However, I think the article presents the situation in a way where those discussions need not involve threats or insults to each other’s mothers. Then again, this is the internet.

Chief among the arguments that this article makes involves how our culture, from movies to TV shows to comic books, gives the impression that good men have do things a certain way to get love and sex from women. However, those things rarely involve the kind of work, strength, and achievements that women and men alike find attractive.

Instead, sitcoms and romantic comedies constantly feed men the idea that just being meek, passive, and constantly friend-zoned will eventually earn them their dream girl. At no point is there any effort to actually find out what that dream girl actually wants in a lover because that just wouldn’t make for a good romance movie, even if it makes total sense. The article puts it even more succinctly.

The idea that women will eventually find their lengthy secret crushes cute if they cling to them is an anxiety-reducing godsend. So they keep waiting and waiting for the “right” time. But that time never comes, because their life isn’t being written by a hack. So they get bitter and frustrated, because they don’t just feel rejected; they feel ripped off, like they were owed love, but it was somehow denied them.

It’s basically an extension of the old “nice guys finish last” diatribe that I’ve criticized before. I admit that even I bought into that growing up and my lack of romantic interest from other women is testament to how flawed this concept is. It also says something that my favorite romantic movie, “Crazy/Beautiful,” does not follow that trope.

It gets even worse than that, though. Beyond presenting a false understanding that good men have to be meek to get the girl, there’s also this weird/unhealthy idea that every romantic pursuit has to be its own epic narrative. In the same way people erroneously believe they’re the hero of their own story, they believe they’re one of the lovable nerds in “The Big Bang Theory” who ends up with the cute girl.

Never mind the fact that some of the romance in that show may be very unhealthy, there’s a sense that sex and romance has to fit into this narrative or it’s a total failure. There’s no room for more mundane notions that a guy just asks a girl out, she says no, and they get on with their lives. That story just seems wrong and doesn’t fit the epic love story/sexual conquest that men build up in their minds.

This is where it gets really soul-crushing for men looking for that kind of romance and sex that bad Julia Roberts movies are made of. For men who try to play by those rules, being the meek and lovable underdog that they think will get them love and sex, what happens when it fails? What happens when Leonard Hofsteader doesn’t get the girl and ends up alone, heartbroken, and frustrated?

It can be pretty traumatic and the article points that out, giving the impression that men have no room for error. If they fail to get the love and sex they seek by playing by the rules laid out in every romantic comedy ever made, then they will die poor and lonely.

So Nice Guys see countless stories wherein women vent about creepy encounters they’ve had with men who interrupted their days, and it freaks them out. That venting is understandable — I’d be angry too if I was constantly getting harassed about my chiseled good looks while trying to run errands. But Nice Guys end up under the impression that every encounter ends in either a sweeping success or a reminder of why mace was invented. They think there’s no margin for error, because there’s a constant fear that failure will end in loneliness and humiliation. There’s a brutal contradiction. Nice Guys are told that they need to meet new people, but also that if they fuck up even a tiny bit, they will be mocked.

This is also where some of the gender disparities really show, especially from the male end of the equation. That’s because within this epic romance narrative that men think they’re part of, there’s one component that amplifies the tension between gender. It has to do with who decides the when, where, how, and why of love and sex.

Even within a society where women are vulnerable to various forms of sexual misconduct, they are still very much the sexual and romantic gatekeepers, as the article calls it. In that narrative, the women are the ones who decide whether or not anyone has any sex. The women are the ones who decide whether or not a relationship ensues. It’s not like sex and romance have any cooperative elements, right?

That last part was meant to be sarcasm, but it’s no laughing matter in the context of the narrative that men think they have to follow. So much of it is built on the idea that women are the final decision-makers. It’s an idea that frustrates men and is rarely acknowledged by women, creating the kind of inequality in a relationship that is rarely healthy.

It’s a component that does more than just set men up for heartbreak and women up for frustration. It can be downright unsexy when it comes together. The article puts it better than I ever could.

So while many men from generations past thought that the female orgasm was a myth and that a clitoris was an African insect, most Nice Guys readily accept that a woman’s sexual satisfaction is important. But in getting that message across, we’ve accidentally started telling men that while it’s wrong to try to seduce women in most situations, when sex does happen, you’d better be goddamn incredible at it.

Think about the disconnect in that dynamic. Since women are the sexual gatekeepers, men can’t readily seduce a woman without coming off as a creep or a Biff Tannen wannabe. Even when they do get the go-ahead for sex, if they don’t satisfy the woman with the prowess of Wilt Chamberlin on crack, then they’ve failed.

Considering sex, like anything in life, takes practice and cooperation, this kind of imbalance is bound to make for some less-than-romantic situations that’ll leave everyone involved unsatisfied. Men, particularly, build up all these expectations around what they think movies, TV shows, and bad porno says is important and grade themselves on that steep curve.

It’s not too hard to imagine why men get so frustrated and women are so disappointed, which only serves to heighten the hostilities between genders. Real life simply doesn’t play out the same way that movies, sitcoms, or sexy romance novels do. If they did, then there would be no appeal to those things in the first place.

That’s probably the most important take-away from this article. Yes, there are still parts where it tacitly mentions the ongoing sex scandals that make men groan, but the message is fairly concise. The way we’re going about finding love and sex is exceedingly imbalanced. It’s making men and women despise each other far more than they should.

Being the optimist I am, at heart, I believe that our inherent desire for love and sex will gradually change this narrative. Men and women, as hostile as they can be to one another, still seek love and the toe-curling pleasure that comes with making it. It may take time and more frustration, but we’ll find a way to go about it. Genuine love and great sex is worth it.

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Five TV Shows That Could NEVER Be Made Today (Thanks To Political Correctness)

It’s amazing how much our culture can change in such a short period of time, relatively speaking. It wasn’t that long ago that mixed-race couples were considered scandalous, depicting a toilet on a TV show was taboo, and Bill Cosby was a respectable public figure. Whether it’s decades, years, or just a few weeks, things can change quickly.

That change, however, isn’t always logical or in the right direction. Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the appeal of fidget spinners. While I like to think that most change in society is progress, I don’t deny there are instances where we all take a step backwards and sometimes fall on our asses.

This brings me TV, an undeniable catalyst for cultural change. For more than a half-century now, TV shaped, re-shaped, and upended our culture in all sorts of ways. From Elvis’ scandalous hips to the rise of music videos to shows like “Breaking Bad,” TV has been a force for better, for worse, and for just pure entertainment value.

There have been any number of shows, specials, and moments from TV that have come to define our culture. However, there are some shows that, if they happened today, would generate a very different response than they did when they first aired.

I’m not just talking about shock value or controversy either. I mean that if some these shows debuted in the current year, they would generate the kind of outrage, whining, and protests that flood social media and spur the kinds of debates that can only ever end with someone comparing someone lese to Nazis.

These are sensitive times for reasons I don’t think I have to articulate. We’ve made progress in some ways, but may be regressing in others. Some blame feminism. Some blame toxic masculinity. Some blame greed, bigotry, or political correctness. Some even blame the illuminati, but that may be pushing it.

Everyone seems to see something wrong in the culture of the past and the present. Everyone likes to blame someone or something different. More often than not, it’s a confluence of forces that make certain TV shows of the past ill-fit for the present.

Some of that is due to seriously outdated views and stereotypes. It’s entirely understandable why those shows would never work today. Most sensible people wouldn’t argue that. There are some shows, however, that would generate enormous outrage for petty, asinine reasons.

What follows is a list of classic TV shows that, whether due to content, style, or theme, would never air today. It would just be too controversial and not necessarily for the right reasons. It may reflect a lot about the sensitive nature of our culture today, but in many respects, it also shows just how erratic our collective tastes can be.


“All In The Family”

This one should be pretty obvious. “All In The Family” was already controversial in its day. It subverted the whole idea that a father figure in a sitcom should be respectable, upstanding, and just. Archie Bunker is none of those things and the show was memorable because of it.

Much of the show was built around Archie being a bigot, but a lovable bigot. In this day and age, that sounds like an oxymoron. At the time though, the early to mid 1970s to be precise, it worked for the same reason Sheldon Cooper works in “The Big Bang Theory.” You can be an asshole in a sitcom, but you can still be lovable.

Unlike Sheldon Cooper, though, making Archie’s bigotry lovable today is next to impossible without making him a B-list villain in a Tyler Perry movie. In nearly every episode, he says a line that would’ve caused legions of anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-bigot crowds everywhere to erupt on social media. Anyone who even pretended to laugh at that show would be crucified as a Nazi sympathizer.

Beyond Archie Bunker’s bigotry, though, the overall themes of the show would be enough to make it too controversial for TV. The show routinely mentions “the good old days.” Today, though, that idea has been taken to mean the days when people could be assholes to minorities and get away with it. However anyone may feel about the show or its message, it just would just cause too many shit storms to air today.


“South Park”

I know this seems odd because “South Park” is still on the air, having just completed its 21st season. However, even long-time fans of the show can probably appreciate why it should be on this list, especially when you consider how different the show was in its early days.

Even back in the late 90s, this show generated more than its share of controversy for its vulgarity, profanity, and tendency to kill Kenny every episode. It’s the finer details of those controversies, though, that ensure the “South Park” we saw in those earlier seasons could never air today.

Eric Cartman alone would’ve made the show too controversial. Like Archie Bunker, his overt racism, anti-Semitism, and attitudes towards the poor would’ve triggered plenty of outrage. Add depictions of sacred religious icons and characters like Big Gay Al to the mix and the show wouldn’t have made it past the first episode.

The fact that “South Park” is still on the air is less a testament to its staying power and more a testament to its ability to adapt. It is not the same show it was when it debuted in that it doesn’t confront controversy the same way it used to. Even with that adaptation, it still couldn’t debut today, not with someone like Eric Cartman on the cast.


“Two And A Half Men”

This is another show that ended in 2012, which isn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. Even so, a lot has changed since “Two and a Half Men” debuted in 2003 and not just with respect to Charlie Sheen’s public persona. In terms of the premise and structure of the show, it could never air today without generating way too much backlash.

This is one of those shows that would enrage both feminists and men’s rights activists, alike. Beyond Charlie Harper’s blatant womanizing, treating nearly every female character a disposable sex toy, there’s also his overly emasculated brother, Alan. In addition to having an ex-wife who routinely screws him over, Alan is needy, submissive, and constantly mooching off of everyone around him.

Even by beta-male standards, Alan Harper is an affront to any man with any measure of self-respect, just as Charlie is an affront to any woman with a shred of feminist inclinations. Granted, that didn’t stop the show from being funny. I admit I loved this show while it was on, even after Charlie Sheen got replaced by Ashton Kutcher. However, its brand of humor would just never work if it aired today.

That says nothing about the depiction of the dim-witted kid, Jake Harper. His depiction would come off as more tragic than lovable than it did in 2003. In terms of the sheer volume of people this show would offend in the current year, “Two and a Half Men” is in a league of its own.


“Baywatch”

First off, I need to make clear that I’m not referring to the sub-par movie that never should’ve been made in the first place. I’m referring to the original “Baywatch” TV show that debuted in 1989, much to the joy of straight heterosexual males everywhere. The show, with its premise built around beautiful women in bikinis and David Hasselhoff’s chest hair, had plenty of appeal.

That appeal is still there today. There’s always appeal for beautiful women and manly men. However, these days it’s become distressingly taboo to admire beautiful women in any capacity that isn’t associated with Wonder Woman movies. We’re at a point where just looking at a beautiful woman is considered harassment by some people.

It’s for that reason that “Baywatch” would never work today. I can already imagine the various angry protests it would incur. People will claim the show contributes to female objectification, rape culture, toxic masculinity, and all sorts of buzzwords meant to make anyone feel guilty for committing the terrible sin of admiring a beautiful woman.

I’ve made clear how absurd this trend is. However, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. As a result, “Baywatch” would just be way too controversial and would probably draw the ire of every feminist or uptight religious zealot with internet access. It’s sad that this world would deny us a show that so nicely depicts Pamela Anderson’s bouncing breasts, but that’s the world we live in.


“Married With Children”

Once again, this show finds a way to be relevant on this site. I’ve mentioned it before in breaking down other topics. I’ll probably mention it again because it touches on so many important aspects of men, women, and family life. Despite that relevance, there’s no denying that “Married With Children” could never be made today.

The list of people this show offended, beyond the angry woman that tried to get it canceled, is as vast as it is comprehensive. This show cracked jokes about women, teenagers, marriage, genitals, animals, fat people, minorities, transsexuals, homosexuals, and pretty much every other minority group you can imagine.

It cracked these jokes in the backdrop of a sitcom that went out of its way to subvert every feel-good family drama that ever existed, so much so that it was originally called “Not The Cosbys.” In many respects, “Married With Children” went even further than “South Park” and “Two and a Half Men” in crafting a sitcom around every offensive trope in the book. It did this with a bravado and glee that you can’t help but respect.

That kind of antipathy to everything that’s supposed to make a sitcom endearing is a big part of what made “Married With Children” so successful. It came along at just the right time to subvert existing trends in TV, creating characters and icons that were raw, unfiltered, and offensive. That timing is also why it could never be made today.

Between the fat jokes, Al joking about shooting his wife, and Kelly Bundy being a stereotypical dumb blond, “Married With Children” would find a way to upset everyone. However, I still think those same upset people would laugh at the show. It was just that funny. It’s a big part of why the show still ranks as one of my personal favorites.

Even if “Married With Children” could never be made today, it still reflects an attitude that I think many people feel whenever anyone gets upset over a TV show. In a sense, it serves as the model for how a show can be so offensive, yet so funny. The fact we’ll probably never see anything like it again makes it all the more special.

 

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FCC Official Retires (Due To Porn) And (Overdue) Lessons We Should Learn From It

FCC sign is pictured. | Getty

Every now and then, there’s a news story that sounds like it came from The Onion, but it’s actually real. Personally, these stories tickle me like mountain of puppies. They show that, as crazy and distressing as this world is at times, it can still be pretty damn hilarious.

There’s actually an entire subreddit dedicated to these kinds of stories. They have funny headlines like “Kids Work Harder When Dressed As Batman, Study Says” and “Property Prices Lower On Streets With Silly Names, High School Students Find.” Again, these are not clips from The Onion. They’re real and they’re more hilarious because of that.

It’s for that same reason that when I saw this particular headline, I laughed and smiled like a kid in a room full of chocolate and kittens. If you’re having a bad day, just read it over a few times and let the world around you become inherently better.

Politico: FCC Official Retires Amid Complaints About Porn Viewing

As someone who regularly writes about the folly of regressive sexual attitudes, this kind of story is as informative as it is hilarious. That’s because when it comes to sexual regression, the joyless suits at the Federal Communications Commission are right up there with the Vatican. Remember, these people made a national scandal of Janet Jackson’s nipple, for crying out loud.

To be fair to the FCC, which tends to be an exercise in inanity, they get some pretty crazy complaints from citizens who grossly overestimate the destructive power of female nipples. Between complaints about shows like “South Park,” the WWE, and Miley Cyrus, they can’t help but be a little uptight. Fair or not, this story is another testament to just how powerful our collective sex drives can be.

While article singles one particular official out who accelerated his retirement plans after word of his porn viewing habits came out, it goes onto note that this is not an isolated incident. This one unidentified worker isn’t just the FCC equivalent of the town drunk. Apparently, FCC employees viewing porn is major problem. This is a direct quote.

“An investigation that began in January found “pornographic and inappropriate images” indicating the employee used his FCC-issued computer and the agency’s network in violation of commission policy, according to a new report from the FCC’s office of inspector general.”

Now, it goes without saying that viewing porn at work is a bad idea. There’s a time and a place for certain things. Even aspiring erotica/romance writers understand that. Unless you’re a porn star or working in the porn business, you should generally avoid putting that sort of thing on your browser history.

However, this story with the FCC and porn viewing is extra revealing in that it exposes something about our culture that we rarely acknowledge, but sort of assume in the back of our minds. Some of it has to do with our sexuality. Some of it has to do with the institutions we empower to control it. In the end, though, most of it has to do with how futile our efforts are when it comes to contain our sexuality.

Think back to when Osama Bin Laden was killed in the famous 2011 raid. Not long after his compound was raided, word got out that Bin Laden had a pretty extensive collection of porn. For a man who often bemoaned the decadence of America and the west, as a whole, this was a moment of egregious hypocrisy on his part.

However, not a whole lot of people were all that shocked by this revelation. Most found it funny. I doubt those same people aren’t that shocked by news that people at the FCC, the same organization that often clamps down on porn, has a problem with its employees viewing it. Again, we found it hilarious and rightly so.

Think about that for a moment, though. What does it say about the situation when we find it funny and not abhorrent? The fact we’re neither surprised nor disgusted by the fact that both the FCC and Bin Laden love watching pron in their spare time reveals something about our attitudes towards sex that’s worth scrutinizing.

The FCC certainly isn’t the first organization to decry porn as immoral. Islam isn’t the first religion to denounce it, either. In fact, there’s an ongoing anti-porn crusade unfolding in the Mormon-heavy state of Utah. That’s also inherently hilarious because Utah also happens to be the state with the most porn subscriptions, which kind of reinforces my point.

These efforts, regardless of whether they’re sincere or misguided, are doomed to fail. On some levels, we even realize that. We wouldn’t find stories like this so funny if they weren’t. I don’t doubt that some are still genuinely shocked, but I think the overall lack of outrage surrounding these revelations tells us something about our understanding of human sexuality.

On some levels, we know the FCC and Utah republicans can never hope to succeed in their goals. They’re never going to successfully censor porn. They’re never going to control our sexuality. We still empower them to at least give the perception that there’s some sort of government/spiritual guardian protecting us from the really kinky stuff that we can’t handle. As I’ve said before, perception tends to kick reality’s ass.

Overall, though, we know the people behind those efforts are still human. As such, they get horny like the rest of us. When that happens, they seek an outlet and it shows on their browser history. None of that surprises us. It only becomes hilarious when they’re supposed to be the ones setting a better example, but fail miserably. We’re never surprised that they fail. If anything, we expect it.

It’s for that reason I wouldn’t put this sort of story on the same level as Pamela Anderson’s hypocrisy on porn. Sure, the FCC and Utah republicans are trying to regulate or censor porn, but they’re not going out of their way to condemn other people for using it. They’re basically taking on the impossible task of regulating human sexuality. Even they have to know on some levels that they’re going to fail.

That, beyond the inherent humor, is the biggest take-away from a story like this. We know what the FCC and other organizations like it are trying to do with sex in media. We know it’s a losing battle, but we let them fight it anyways because it gives us the illusion that we’re making an effort to sanitize the kinkier parts of our sexuality. It’s because it’s an illusion that we can find stories like this so funny.

Funny or not, there’s still a danger in letting organizations like the FCC make that kind of effort to censor our sexuality. Remember, this organization made a big deal about a goddamn nipple. At some point, those kinds of efforts stop being hilarious.

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Teaching About Sex, Consent, And Relationships (Through Video Games)

Let’s face it. Most kids aren’t that eager to learn about the stuff that their teachers, parents, and school administrators want them to learn about. They’re not interested in knowing the skills that will make them healthy, productive, tax-paying consumers who will keep society running. They’re interested in the skills that will make them popular and/or get them laid.

The deficiencies of our education system are many and I’ve made no secret of my disdain for the experiences I had within that system. However, I don’t want to dwell too much on that this time. Talking about how much I hated high school is rarely that sexy.

Instead, I want to focus on something that most kids are eager to enjoy and how some people are using that to improve their understanding of sex, sexuality, and relationship. What could kids possibly excite kids that much to learn about something that they would rather not learn from the same gym teacher that makes them run laps in winter?

The answer is more obvious than you think. It’s video games. Admit it, that almost makes too much sense.

There’s no question that kids love playing video games more than learning about quadratic functions. According to a survey done by the MacArthur Foundation, approximately 97 percent of kids between the ages of 12 and 17 play video games. When it comes to statistics and surveys, you can’t get much more definitive without asking kids whether chocolate fudge tastes good.

Kids might not be able to agree whether Superman could beat the Hulk, which he totally could, but they agree that video games are awesome. So if kids love video games so much, why not use that love to teach them valuable lessons about sex, relationships, and consent?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m not being facetious either. It’s not about the medium or whatever asinine controversies it may have. It’s about working with what kids already love and using that to help them in valuable ways. It’s not that radical a concept. Hit movies have been made about it.

When it comes to teaching kids about sex, though, I wouldn’t expect Edward James Olmos to star in a movie about that. That doesn’t mean the concept is entirely flawed. Teaching kids about sex is hard enough. Teaching them in a way they’ll remember and take seriously might be beyond the power of Hollywood.

That still doesn’t stop some from trying. In a story by Kimberly Lawson at Vice, an associate professor of medicine at Yale University has helped create a game called PlayForward: Elm City Stories. It’s a fairly straightforward, two-dimensional role playing game that is less about killing aliens or Nazis and more about guiding players through a narrative, showing how their decisions affect them along the way.

That’s not quite as radical as it sounds. Role-playing games represent a large chunk of the video game industry. Major game franchises like “Mass Effect” and “Final Fantasy” are built around the idea of having players make choices and face repercussions of those choices. Take away the aliens and the monsters, though, and you’ve got a solid basis for understanding real life choices.

PlayForward: Elm City Stories plays less like Dungeons & Dragons and more like the classic board game, Life. In it, you play as avatar in a fictional, but fairly realistic city where you have to navigate a variety of activities and make choices along the way.

Some of those activities involve who you your friends are. Some involve going to certain events and parties. Some even involve whether or not to make out with a cute girl. It may sound mundane, but like most RPGs, the appeal is diving into the world of the character and leading them through it. Here’s how Vice describes the experience.

Players have to make important, life-changing decisions, including whether or not they should go upstairs to make out with someone, if they should use a condom or not during sex, and whether they should accept pills found in someone’s grandmother’s medicine cabinet. At any point, they can fast-forward to the epilogue to see what their character’s life looks like at 30, based on the decisions they’ve made.

Through that experience, players learn about more than just saying no to the guy on the street corner offering a free hit of crack. They experience both the short-term and long-term impacts of their decisions. Given the notoriously short attention spans and limited foresight of kids, that kind of insight in indispensable when teaching them about sex and relationships.

It’s no “Super Mario Brothers,” but the lessons it conveys are more valuable than any princess. It puts the players in a position to choose the right and wrong path. It shows them just how right and wrong those paths can be in the long run for their character and themselves, by default.

Beyond just consequences, the game gives players a chance to explore situations involving intimacy, consent, and relationships. Their choices help forge the relationships they have throughout the game. To get a better outcome, they actually need a better understanding of intimacy and consent. The fact that gives them tools to apply those lessons in the real world just a pleasant side-effect.

In a sense, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is coming along at the perfect time. We live in a world where sexual harassment and sexual assault are heated issues. We, as a society, are not as willing to turn a blind eye to these sorts of indiscretions anymore.

Just punishing the Harvey Weinsteins of the world isn’t enough, though. We need to teach the emerging generation that there’s a time and a place to show a beautiful woman your genitals. Knowing those circumstances will be the difference between having a great sex life and being sued into oblivion.

Kids aren’t going to learn those skills through lectures, after school specials, and cute puppets. Some of the most effective learning methods involve active engagement with real activities that offer real rewards. In that sense, video games are the perfect medium for that kind of teaching.

While I doubt that PlayForward: Elm City Stories will win any game of the year awards, it sets an important precedent that is worth building upon. Saving princesses and shooting killer aliens is still fun, but learning about relationships, consent, and sex will take a player much further in life.

Kids, and people in general, learn best when they don’t know they’re learning something. Video games may still have a nasty reputation in some circles, but it offers opportunities to teach valuable skills that aren’t easy to teach, especially to hormonal teenagers. We should take advantage of those opportunities and hopefully, PlayForward: Elm City Stories is just the beginning.

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My Top 5 Favorite Fan Theories

There are many guilty pleasures on the internet these days, although only a few require a total clearing of your browser history. I don’t deny enjoying some of those pleasures, but there is one in particular that I’ve grown fond of in recent years. It’s one of the few that requires extra thinking, but in a fun, non-tedious sort of way.

I’m referring about fan theories, also known as the biggest chunk of Reddit that doesn’t involve celebrities answering random questions about their genitals. Now, I didn’t realize how much I loved fan theories until I started exploring them. Like pumpkin spice lattes, they’re one of those strange novelties you don’t know you like until you try them.

I didn’t even know they were a thing until Cracked.com started doing articles about them. I was among those who didn’t bother reading too much into a TV show, movie, or song. I just took them in, singled out the ones that had beautiful women in bikinis, and enjoyed the extra butter in my popcorn. Fan theories inspired me to dig a little deeper and sometimes, it can change the overall experience for the better.

Granted, some fan theories are going to be much more absurd than others, as many “Game of Thrones” fans will attest. Some are so absurd that creators have to come out and shoot it down, as a “Friends” co-creator had to do when a theory involving Phoebe and meth-fueled fantasies gained popularity. Yes, these theories can get that crazy.

Sure, those crazier fan theories are good for a laugh, but I prefer fan theories that add nuance and depth to the story. Even if they require a few contrivances here and there, I find that they enhance the overall impact of the narrative. Sometimes, they can even clarify some ambiguous plot points.

As a general fan of stories that have impact, both in the heart and in the loins, there are certain fan theories that resonate with me more than others. That’s why I’d like to list my top five favorite fan theories and why I think they improve the overall story. If nothing else, I hope it gets people to watch a little closer at the media they consume. They may surprise themselves by how a little imagination can add to the experience.


Fan Theory #1: James Bond Is A Title, Not A Name

This fan theory is beautiful in its simplicity. It doesn’t require a huge stretch of the imagination. If anything, it helps connect a few dots that you didn’t even know where there. No matter which version of James Bond you prefer, from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, this theory fits into it.

The concept is simple. James Bond, like the 007 designation itself, isn’t the name of an actual person. It’s a title. This doesn’t necessarily mean that every James Bond movie ever made fits into the same continuity. It just means James Bond is less a person and more a concept.

He represents the epitome of a spy, a badass, and a smooth-talking ladies man. In every era, from the Cold War to today, there’s a need for men like that. James Bond represents the ideal for those men. Like Navy Seals, only a few have what it takes. Those select few earn the right to go by that name that makes women of all eras swoon. I find that inherently poetic.

If you subscribe to this theory, it even enhances other movies. It ties directly into a theory about the movie, “The Rock,” and somehow it makes Sean Connery even more badass. The sheer reach of this theory is part of why it’s my favorite.


Fan Theory #2: Stan Lee Is The Watcher

As a die-hard comic book fan, which I’ve made clear on many occasions, this theory is near and dear to my heart, if only because it further immortalizes the legend that is Stan “The Man” Lee.

As anyone who has seen a Marvel movie since 2000 knows, Stan Lee often appears as a cameo in every movie. From a hot dog vendor in “X2: X-men United” to a Fed Ex guy in “Captain America: Civil War,” he seems to pop up everywhere, regardless of which studio owns the movie rights.

Well, this fan theory takes those appearances and turns them into something more than just a fun gimmick. It says that Stan is actually playing the same character in all his appearances, namely that of Uatu, The Watcher. Those who know Marvel lore understand why this is a big deal and why it makes so much sense.

The Watcher is like a cosmic historian, documenting and cataloging every major event in the Marvel universe, going back to the beginning. He’s been known to change appearance and show up unexpectedly throughout the comics. Who better encapsulates that spirit other than Stan “The Man” Lee?

This is actually one of those theories that became so popular that it was effectively confirmed in “Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2” wherein Stan Lee is shown interacting with the Watchers. It could mean that this theory might expand the breadth of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, a feat that only Stan himself could hope to accomplish.


Fan Theory #3: R2-D2 And Chewbacca Are Secret Rebel Agents

I don’t deny it. I’ve seen every Star Wars movie to date in the theaters and I love every one of them, Jar Jar Binks notwithstanding. I know there’s a popular Jar Jar fan theory that helps make “The Phantom Menace” somewhat more interesting, but I don’t think it does much to enhance the overall saga.

That’s why this theory about R2-D2 and Chewbacca is much more intriguing. It claims that at the end of “Revenge of the Sith,” R2 did not get its memory wiped. Why would it? It witnessed the rise of the Empire and the fall of Anakin Skywalker. That’s very useful information for the future rebellion.

However, R2 and anyone else associated with the old Jedi order needs to lay low once Palpatine comes to power. That’s where Chewbacca comes in, who already established a relationship with Yoda in “Revenge of the Sith.” By becoming an agent of Yoda and the rebels, he can coordinate with R2 to spread intel among the rebellion right under the Empire’s nose.

It also explains how he ended up with Han Solo, a smuggler who constantly annoys the empire with his criminal activities. By being on Tattooine, he can keep an eye on Luke along with Obi-Wan while relaying intel.

More than any other theory, it provides connective tissue between the prequels and the sequels. It also makes R2 even more lovable, which in and of itself is quite an accomplishment.


Fan Theory #4: Andy’s Parents Are Going Through (A Nasty) Divorce

Honestly, who doesn’t love “Toy Story?” I question the emotional health of anyone who doesn’t. It’s such a fun, upbeat story full of heart and emotion. It helped make Pixar the gold standard for animated movies that make adults cry like children.

Well, get some tissues because this fan theory makes “Toy Story” just a little bit more emotional, if you can believe that. It helps make sense of why Andy is so imaginative, preferring to play with toys for hours on end in his room. The answer is simple, but solemn. His parents are going through a nasty divorce.

While there’s nothing in the movies that directly hint at it, the absence of Andy’s father is somewhat telling. Some eagle-eyed fans have even pointed out that Andy’s mother isn’t wearing a wedding ring. That hints that there’s something amiss in his home life. Either Andy’s father left his family or he got kicked out of the house. It also explains why the family was moving in the first movie.

I like this theory because it adds some context to Andy’s home life. It makes me understand why he loves his toys so much. He creates these wonderful worlds in his mind to escape and cope with a tough situation. Compared to what he could’ve done, I think it’s both healthy and refreshing.


Fan Theory #5: The Dinosaurs In “Jurassic Park” Are NOT Dinosaurs

The appeal of “Jurassic Park” is pretty easy to understand. In terms of summer blockbusters, it checks all the right boxes. It involves cute kids, running from monsters, and wondrous imagery that doesn’t entirely rely on CGI. It’s so wondrous that you don’t care that the dinosaurs in that movie look nothing like actual dinosaurs and the science behind making them is impossible in the real world.

That’s why this fan theory is so compelling because it adds an extra layer to that wonder. Simply put, Jurassic Park has no dinosaurs. All those creatures you see in every movie aren’t based on any actual creatures that once lived. They were all genetically engineered to simply look like what people think are dinosaurs.

While that may help make sense of why the creatures in the movies don’t resemble anything we see in the fossil record, it adds an even greater amount of intrigue to “Jurassic Park” because it gives Dr. Hammond a more subtle motivation. Why would he even ask a couple of paleontologist to visit his park in the first place?

This theory gives a more clear-cut answer in that Hammond knew that if he could fool a couple of paleontologists, then he knew he was onto something. He could call the creatures in his park dinosaurs instead of some zoo for genetic monstrosities. Remember, he wants to appeal to family and kids.

This theory, like the Stan Lee/Watcher theory, actually got some level of confirmation in “Jurassic World.” In that movie, Dr. Henry Wu flat out says that “there are no dinosaurs in Jurassic World.” Everything was engineered to up the spectacle. It’s one of those theories that makes too much sense, but in a good way.

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(Possible) Taboos Of The Future

Whenever I talk about the future on this blog, which is an awful lot for an erotica/romance writer, I always feel I need to make the same disclosure. I’ve made it before whenever I try to make predictions about the future. I still feel it’s worth making because I don’t want to give the impression that I’m smarter than I actually am.

Here’s the honest truth. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen in the future. Nobody knows for sure what kind of technological breakthroughs there will be. Nobody knows for sure how our understanding of physics, biology, and chemistry will change. Nobody knows for sure whether Kardashians will be broke and sell insurance tomorrow.

It’s the same advice I gave everyone frustrated by news, politics, and everything in between. Nobody knows anything. They can make educated guesses that may or may not be accurate. Some are far less educated than others. At the end of the day, though, nobody really knows for sure.

I say all this because I’m going to take a moment to predict and/or speculate on what sort of taboos we’ll have in the future. I talked a bit about taboos and why they exist. No matter how advanced we get as a society, relatively speaking, there will always be sort of taboo operating behind our social norms. Most of those norms will have to do with sex, gender, and how much poor people are screwed over.

Now, those dynamics might change when technology like brain implants or smart blood become sufficiently advanced. They might change even more if we adopt policies like a universal basic income. For our entire existence, as a species, we’ve been at the mercy of our caveman brains, whose wiring is basically set by the painfully slow processes of evolution. Once that changes, then all bets are off.

With that massive flaw in the dynamics of taboos, I’m still going to try and make a few predictions. If you think I’m stupid, dead wrong, or just plain trolling, then please know that I’m at the mercy as the same limits as everyone else. I’m just as capable of making a stupid predictions, just like the idiots who thought the internet was a fad.

So, with no illusions as to the accuracy of my predictions, here are the taboos that I believe we’ll see in the latter parts of the 21st century. Some of them deal with technology. Some of them deal with social policies. Yes, some even deal with sex. I’m sure that will shock no one. Whatever they involve, the issues are the same. These will be things that will carry with them an odd, but unique stigma for future generations.


Taboo #1: Having Babies The Old Fashioned Way

I’ve talked about artificial wombs before, primarily as a means of leveling the playing field between genders. Initially, the technology will be used to save infants born prematurely and help infertile couples have children. This is all technology that’s in development right now and we’ll likely see it refined within our lifetime.

It’s when you push it out beyond that when things get really interesting. At some point, using artificial wombs will be healthier, more efficient, and more convenient than old fashioned birthing. It’ll probably be a lot more comfortable too. Talk to any woman who has ever endured the joys of childbirth without pain killers and they’ll tell you how much they’d love to see technology like this advance.

So if there’s a method for making babies that’s safer, easier, and involves much less screaming, why would anyone opt to make babies the old fashioned way? That’s like people who opt not to drink unpasteurized milk, which is fraught with a lot of health risks.

We may come to a point where people who give birth naturally will be seen as irresponsible, reckless, and downright weird. Whenever the health of babies is an issue, taboos tend to follow. No matter how advanced we get as a species, our concern for the health of infants will still be an issue.


Taboo #2: Identifying As A Gender And NOT Going Through A Complete Transition

This taboo is something we’re already seeing, to some extent, with ongoing transgender issues. At the moment, most of those issues involve discrimination, harassment, and the “ick factor” that a lot of minorities tend to deal with at some point in their history. Those issues are relevant for a reason, but that reason will change considerably in the future.

At the moment, sexual reassignment surgery is a messy, expensive, tedious process that’s full of various risks. It’s also not entirely perfect. Transgender women still can’t give birth and transgender men still can’t father children. They can look like their preferred gender all they want, but the biological mechanisms within still won’t be the same.

With advances in biotechnology, especially advances like smart blood, we may advance to a state where we can basically shape-shift our bodies the same way Mystique from the X-men does. If someone wants to be a particular gender, then the technology will be there for them to make that transition so completely that nobody would ever know they went through such a transition.

When that time comes, the act of being transgender won’t be taboo. However, those who identify as another gender, but don’t go through a transition, may get their share of odd glances. That would be like someone offering you a limb you once lost and then refusing it. If you can be whatever gender you want to be, why would you continue to live in the wrong body?


Taboo #3: Allowing Yourself To Be Sick

This also ties into biotechnology and the advances we’ll make in fighting disease. Tools like CRISPR are already in development. There may come a time in the near future when nearly all disease, especially the infectious kind, is effectively cured.

So when those diseases are gone, why does anyone get sick? Why would anyone even allow themselves to get sick? Throughout history, society has had all sorts of rules and rituals as to how they treat the sick. A society full of sick people is an unstable society and it’s always in everyone’s interest to minimize that.

Like with those who drink raw milk or religious groups who refuse modern medicine, there may be a segment of people who choose not to use tools like CRISPR or smart blood. When those people get sick, they’ll likely be major anomalies in a society where most of these diseases are cured. Like someone getting measles again, it’s a dangerous act that will likely carry plenty of stigma.


Taboo #4: NOT Being On Some Form Of Contraception

This is where our sex lives come into play. Admit it, you know I was going to get to something like this. I’ve talked a lot about contraception and the future of birth control, often with plenty of side-notes as to how this is going to affect our sex lives and gender dynamics. Naturally, that’s going to include plenty of taboos.

In a future with artificial wombs to grow the population, the mere act of not being on contraception will be inherently risky. Pregnancy already kills a lot of women, even today with all our advanced medicine. In a future where we don’t need women to put themselves at that kind of risk to grow the population, why would society even encourage it?

While this may be outrageous for those currently locked in the pro-life/pro-choice debate, technology will change the dynamics. If birth control technology gets to a point where it’s safe, effective, and cheap, then it requires people to go out of their way to avoid using it. Like people going out of their way to avoid seat-belts, we’ll see that as irresponsible, reckless behavior.

This would definitely have huge implications for our sex lives. In a world where contraception is the default setting for everyone, people would likely treat sex as something separate from reproduction. We’ve already done this with food, thanks to technology, so it’s possible sex will undergo a similar process.

Like someone who tries to poke holes in condoms or get pregnant from a partner, which does happen, people who forego contraception will likely become deviants who disrupt the norms surrounding sex and reproduction. Deviants often put a face on taboos and it’s rarely a pretty face.


Taboo #5: NOT Being Healthy Or Physically Fit 

In the same way that not being on contraception will be taboo, not being fit could also become an anomaly that someone has to go out of their way to achieve. That’s hard to imagine now with obesity being a major issue throughout the industrialized world. Right now, the weight-loss industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that’s full of fads, diets, and pills that turn peoples’ insides into raging tire fire.

In the future, advances like smart blood will make obesity nothing more than a subject of niche genre porn. Even those without eight-pack abs can still be healthy and fit because enhancements to our biology and brains will make that as easy as downing a tub of ice cream on a hot summer day.

Biotechnology will basically allow us to hack the biology of our bodies and make it so we don’t have to eat and work out like the Rock to be fit. We just need something like smart blood in our bodies to let it know that we want it to look a particular way and anything that might make us not look that way should go straight to the colon.

In that future, one where women all look as fit as Jennifer Lawrence and men are all as toned as Hugh Jackman, being unfit and unhealthy would be a conscious choice rather than struggle. It would also make people more prone to health issues and illnesses that would burden a society full of beautiful people. That would definitely make it a taboo.

I’m not saying those who opts not to use this technology to look as sexy as possible are wrong or bad people. They may have legitimate, personal reasons for doing so. However, that choice makes the society around them seem less healthy and less sexy. That’s usually an easy way to become taboo and not look good while doing it.


These are just a few ideas. Again, it’s very likely they’ll be dead wrong. Most reading this blog might not even live long enough to see some of them. Either way, it’s fairly certain that we’ll still have taboos in the future that seem weird to every other generation that ever lived. It’s just a matter of how weird they get.

With that in mind, I’d love to hear what others think might be taboo in the future. Please let me know in the comments. If enough people submit them, I’ll do another post on this subject. I’d like this blog to be more interactive. This is just one opportunity for doing so.

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Weird Taboos (And Why They Exist)

When it comes to taboos, we love to laugh at the crazy practices of the past while ignoring the equally-crazy ones in the present. We look at how ancient people used to sacrifice goats, sheep, and parts of their genitals and laugh and/or cringe. Then, we go back to wearing our lucky underwear because we think it’ll help our favorite football team win.

The failure to see the irony in that sentiment reveals the power of taboos. I’ve talked about them before, but usually in a narrower context. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m naturally going to focus on the distinctly sexy taboos, as well as the overtly non-sexy ones. I doubt that surprises anyone.

However, taboos actually get much more ridiculous than what we can or can’t do with our genitals. You don’t even have to go back to the Bronze Age to see them. Some of those taboos happened within the past two centuries. Some of our grandparents were alive when they were popular. It’s kind off funny when you think about it, but it’s also kind of tragic.

Recently, our old friends at Cracked.com did a little article on some of the weird/crazy taboos we had in the past. They called it “15 Everyday Things That Used To Be Scandalous.” Today, they seem so innocent. Back then, though, they were a big deal. Breaking them meant social stigma, condemnation, or even arrest. These days, most people are just concerned about becoming an internet meme.

Make no mistake, though. A lot of these taboos are pretty ridiculous, even by non-21st century standards. There’s a damn good reason why they didn’t last or fell out of favor. We humans may be slow when it comes to embracing social change, but we eventually get around to it. It’s just never as fast as we’d like.

To give you an idea of how ridiculous those taboos were, here’s a quick sample from the Cracked article. Remember, they may seem crazy now, but there was a time when simply talking about it would earn you unwanted attention from the nearest constable, priest, or parent/teacher association.

Entry 15

Entry 14

Entry 12

Entry 7

Entry 6

Entry 1

I know. They are pretty ridiculous. I mean soda pop and reading at night? How could that possibly count as taboo? You can kind of understand why people would be a little reluctant about women in bikinis, especially in the days before internet porn, but soda pop?

Ridiculous or not, there are a few common themes in these taboos. If you go back far enough and look at some of the most overt taboos, you’ll notice how a lot of them deal with female sexuality, rebellious teenagers, and empowering poor people in any way. I know that all sound like stuff that angry rich old men whine about when they haven’t taken their meds, but it actually runs much deeper than that.

Taboos don’t happen in a vacuum. People don’t just make them up because they want another excuse to be a dick to each other. We already have plenty of those. There are reasons they often take the shape they do. It’s rarely due to some grand, patriarchal/communist/hippie conspiracy. A lot of it just has to do with people being weary of things they don’t see as “normal.”

I put “normal” in quotes because the very concept of “normal,” even in a legitimate scientific context, is laced with bullshit. However, there is something to be said about the unspoken social norms under which we all live. Those norms, as crazy as they might be, are an integral part of how we function as a society and a species. The fact those norms tend to screw up our sex lives is kind of a nasty side-effect.

The way it works uses a mix of both caveman logic, faulty brain writing, and skewed common sense. We, as individuals and as groups, tend to function better when there’s a sense of predictability. If we can be more certain of how people will react in certain circumstances, then that can help us create a system, of sorts, to carry out the various functions of a tribe or a society.

Think about it. The systems we have for standing in line, driving on the highway, and complimenting someone’s ass all have certain checklists of sorts that we go through in our minds. Not all of them are enforced by laws. Some aren’t even enforced by anything. It’s just one of those basic understandings that we all collectively acknowledge, albeit indirectly.

Here’s a simple example. When I was going through the soul-crushing process that was high school, there was this unspoken taboo on the bus. When you got on, you never just sat in the front seat. You always went to the back and filled it up from there. If you did dare sit up front, you got weird looks, as though you’d just rubbed your ass on the window. Nobody ever talked about why we did this. We just did it.

That’s a fairly simple display of how unspoken social norms manifest. Considering it happened in high school, it wasn’t even the tenth most awkward thing I endured. However, it does help put some perspective into these ridiculous taboos.

Now, take that perspective and add a little sex appeal to it. Suddenly, you’ll sense a few assholes tightening. There’s no getting around it. Even in 2017, we still have weird attitudes towards sex, especially when it comes to female sexuality and teenage sex. We have almost as many weird attitudes about the poor. As such, it makes sense that so many of our taboos are built around both.

To understand the ridiculousness behind those taboos, you have to imagine yourself in a society that’s very different from your own and operates under a very different set of social norms. That’s not easy for some people. Being an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I like to think I have more imagination than most.

You’re living by a certain set of norms and practices. They don’t always seem logical. Maybe you never wear red clothes on a Friday. Maybe you salute every pregnant woman you meet in public. Maybe you shave your ass every other Tuesday as part of some elaborate cleansing ceremony. It can be anything really. The key is that it just doesn’t have to be too detrimental to our ability to survive and reproduce.

By living with these norms and practices, they start seeming right. They seem like this is how society is supposed to function. Anyone who questions them might as well be promoting dead puppies on every street corner. You, and everyone around you, are convinced that these taboos have merit, even when they have no logic behind them.

That sentiment is understandable to some extent, but it’s when you inject sex and social class into the mix that it gets really messed up. As I’ve pointed out before, people have all sorts of weird hang-ups and attitudes about sex. Some of them have some merit, such as the real health issues that often come with sexual promiscuity. Others are more subversive.

The key to any successful society is some measure of stability. To have stability, you need some level of control over various social functions. Like it or not, sex is a major social function. Without it, societies can’t propagate. New generations can’t take over for those that die off. Naturally, people are going to put a lot of emphasis on it, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly.

This is why you get societies where most marriages are arranged and marrying for love is actually taboo. It’s also why controlling female sexuality is so heavily emphasized. They’re the ones who carry the babies inside them. They’re the ones who nurture them after their born. Since sex makes babies, people are going to want to control it to some extent, as fruitless an effort that might be.

It’s just as bad for the poor. In every society thus far, there has to be some sort of underclass that toils in factories, farms, and various low-paying, low-skilled labor. I say there has to be because, until we can get robots to do it for us, their work is literally the foundation on which civilization is built.

That puts the rich despots, kings, and business people in a tough position. They understand on some levels that if the poor knew how much they were being screwed over and how their toil subsidized the obscenely lavish lifestyles of the rich, they wouldn’t be too happy about it.

That’s why having taboos that discourage laziness, education, and questioning persist. That’s why there’s an entirely mythology around the “dignity of work.” They’re an indirect way of maintaining existing social norms and protecting whoever happens to be benefiting from them from the horrors of inconvenience.

Not every taboo can be attributed to repressing sexuality or keeping the poor in their place, but the dynamics are the same. They have just as much potential to be ridiculous, illogical, and even downright cruel, as many boys can attest. So long as our caveman brains keep using them to preserve our social norms, they’ll always be here. I just hope we can one day ditch those that involve mutilating our genitals.

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