Tag Archives: taboo

The Doug Stanhope Principle (And Why We Should Apply It)

In my experience, comedians offer the most memorable and insightful commentaries on otherwise serious issues. Even if they’re just trying to be funny, which is their job, I think those commentaries have worth beyond the laughs. There are even times I think comedians don’t realize just how insightful their humor can be.

I’ve made my love of comedy known before and not just through my weekly Sexy Sunday Thoughts. I’ve cited accomplished comedians like Christopher Titus when exploring very non-funny issues, such as jealousy. I don’t just do this to help lighten the mood on a site I want to keep light and sexy. I do it because comedy can reveal more than the breadth of our sense of humor.

With that in mind, I’d like to cite a comedian by the name of Doug Stanhope. I’ve never mentioned before, but has been one of my personal favorites for years. He’s not on the same level as a Jon Stewart, George Carlin, or Lewis Black. However, given his brand of humor, that’s not too surprising.

Stanhope’s comedy is decidedly NSFW, touching on issues that would give most network producers brain aneurisms. His opinions are overtly harsh and unconcerned with your delicate sensibilities. If you’re wondering just how harsh he can be, here’s a quick taste.

That said, he is not a shock comic in the tradition of Howard Stern or Andrew Dice Clay. Stanope’s comedy, as crude as it can be at times, is very smart. One bit in particular stands out. It comes from his “Deadbeat Hero” album, one of my personal favorites and one I think every comedy fan should listen to at least once.

In that album, he talks about a number of issues, but one in particular stands out. That issue is marriage, one I’ve discussed too on this site, albeit not with the same level of humor. On this topic, he makes one of the most insightful observations I’ve ever seen on a treasured institution.

If marriage didn’t exist, would you invent it? Would you go “Baby, this shit we got together, it’s so good we gotta get the government in on this shit. We can’t just share this commitment ‘tweenst us. We need judges and lawyers involved in this shit, baby. It’s hot!”

The bolded parts are my doing because I think the implications of that question go beyond the comedy, more so than I think Stanhope himself intended. In a sense, it reflects the paradox of marriage and traditional romance that I’ve talked about before in that we see it as natural, yet we need all these social institutions to protect it.

The fact those institutions exist is a subtle, but telling sign that these traditions aren’t as natural as we think they are. More than anything else, they’re the product of taboos and social norms that people cling to out of fear, familiarity, and ignorance. I won’t go so far as to call it a form of excuse banking, but I think it highlights our imperfect understanding of human nature.

One of Doug Stanhope’s greatest strengths as a comedian is his ability to break down a treasured and cherished concept in a way that’s both revealing and insightful. What he did for marriage with this one question immediately makes us ponder the flaws in our current understanding of it.

Once we stop laughing at the punch-line, though, I would take it a step further. I would ask that question again in more general form as a means to help us scrutinize our traditions, values, and everything else we hold sacred. Sure, that’s bound to make some people uncomfortable, but that’s exactly the point of certain brand of comedy, especially Stanhope’s.

Like the Simpson Filter I coined earlier this year, let’s coin another using this question. Since I’m not a branding expert with only a fraction of the wit of Doug Stanhope, I’ll call it “The Stanhope Principle.” The core of that principle can be summed up in one simple question.

If something didn’t exist in its current form, would you invent it that way?

Sure, it’s not nearly as funny as Stanhope’s bit on marriage, nor is it meant to be. In essence, it’s a question meant to get your brain thinking about things that it usually doesn’t think about. In some cases, they’re issues you’ve gone out of your way to avoid.

Take any current issue, be it a major political controversy or a certain state in your personal life. Now, apply the Stanhope Principle and try to answer the question honestly. Here are just a few possible examples.

  • If our tax system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our health care system existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our current relationship existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If the job we worked existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?
  • If our website/blog/product existed in its current form, would we invent it that way?

If you ask that question and answer it honestly, which is key, you might be surprised by what you find out. You might think your personal relationships are functional, but applying the Stanhope Principle could expose flaws that you’ve been overlooking or ignoring.

Apply in a larger context, such as politics, marriage, and gender issues, and the insights get a bit more complicated. Given the current inequalities that still pervade in our society, as well as the double standards we apply, the Stanhope Principle reveals the breadth of the flaws within these institutions.

It can be distressing, acknowledging those flaws. That’s usually where the excuse banking enters the picture, but that can only further mask them. Another honest application of the Stanhope Principle will only remind us of those flaws and even reveal how we’ve made our situation worse.

Ideally, the Stanhope Principle should be a basis for improvement. A good example is Apple, one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak probably didn’t know they were applying that principle, but they were.

They saw the current state of computers. They saw there was a lot of room for improvement. Given how cumbersome computers were for much of their early history, they decided to innovate and create a better way of using them. The result is a company that is worth over half-a-trillion dollars.

Applying the Stanhope Principle for worked out pretty well for Apple. I’m not saying it can make everyone a billionaire, but it does help break down a situation and an issue in a way that allows us to see the bigger picture.

More than anything else, it exposes the imperfections of our current situation. For some, it motivates them into improving their situation, be it a relationship, a business, or a social policy. For others, it’s an uncomfortable reminder that there’s a flaw in that they need to cover up or mask. In that sense, it should be easy to see who are more likely to become billionaires.

There are all sorts of way to apply the Stanhope Principle. I’ll certainly try to apply it to future issues that I discuss on this site. For now, I just want to offer my sincere thanks to Doug Stanhope and the principle he inspired. He has made the world inherently funnier and more interesting to explore.

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How To Break A Taboo (Or Stop It From Becoming One)

It’s not easy talking about taboos, sexual or otherwise. It’s kind of in the definition. Taboos, by default, are hard to talk about and hard to make sense of. Some don’t even make sense indirectly. If you’ve seen more than two seasons of “South Park,” you understand that.

In talking about weird taboos and the quasi-logic behind them, I try my best to make sense of them. We all have to do that to some extent over the course of our lives. I just try to do it in a way that’s sexy and could potentially lead to sexy stories that I can turn into novels.

While every taboo is unique in the sense that it’s uniquely weird, they are prone to fads, trends, and people just getting bored of them. As I’ve pointed out before, there are certain innocuous behaviors that we do every day that most used to be on par with public masturbation.

A lot of taboos fade over time, often as new generations enter the picture and form taboos of their own. Some linger and refuse to die gracefully. That’s why we still have blurred female nipples on cable TV and not a hint of BDSM in the “Wonder Woman” movie. I refuse to believe that there’s any justification for blurring nipples on network TV in the area of ubiquitous internet porn.

There’s no doubt that we’ll be dealing with taboos for as long as we’re a bunch of cavemen running around with smartphones and nuclear weapons. That may change when we get around to upgrading our brains, but even that may inspire a whole host of taboos that we can’t begin to imagine, although I did try.

For now, there aren’t many ways to break a taboo or stop something from becoming taboo. In some cases, it’s downright impossible. No matter what you do, people are going to get weird around certain proclivities, some of which involve some pretty kinky fetishes. Look up something called “cake farts” and try to find a way to not make that weird.

While there may not be a way to completely eliminate some taboos from our society, there are some ways to confront them. It is possible to break certain taboos and/or avoid them from becoming one altogether. Now, that’s not to say it can be done overnight or with a few strategic tweets. People are really stubborn when it comes to taboos, but they will come around if the conditions are right.

With that in mind, here are some of my tips on breaking and/or circumventing taboos. A lot of these tactics can apply to the sexy kind of taboos, but they also apply to others, many of which involve poor people and minorities. Again, don’t take this as a magic pill or something. Breaking taboos is hard and for good reason. We’re a petty species, but we can be reasonable if the conditions are right. That’s a big if though.


Tip #1: Make Taboos Profitable And Lucrative For Business Interests

This probably won’t surprise anyone who tips generously and has never found used bubblegum wrappers on their pizza. Money talks. It talks a lot. It also influences, more so than we’re comfortable admitting. It can, and often is, a source of corruption. In some parts of the world, that corruption is a big part of the economy. When there’s money to be made by politicians and business people, it can get messy.

That said, it’s a two-way street. Money and business interests can be corrupt, but that same corruptive force can be channeled. We’re seeing that with the growth of the marijuana industry. We saw it with the rise of the porn industry. These industries generate billions of dollars. That’s a lot of money by any measure.

No matter how regressive or uptight people may be, when there’s money to be made, people generally follow the money. A taboo that makes nobody any money is easy to clamp down on. A taboo that generates billions of dollars and significant tax revenue is a lot harder to fight.

While I don’t agree with Gordon Gekko’s famous quote about greed, it can sometimes work to others’ advantage. When it comes to legitimizing a taboo, being profitable and taxable on some level really goes a long way. At some point, the money just overpowers the weirdness.


Tip #2: Make Taboos Expensive To Preserve

This is more a preventative than confrontational measure. After a taboo becomes entrenched, it can usually find ways to endure any number of expensive lawsuits and litigation. Just look at the Church of Scientology. Truly robust taboos will find ways of exploiting the legal system to their advantage.

If you have a chance to be proactive, though, the legal system can work for you. It’s not too hard to sue for discrimination or harassment, these days. If you’re a minority, it’s even easier and you may end up on the news with Bernie Sanders. They key here is to focus more on the bigger picture, though. One lawsuit alone isn’t going to break a taboo. Many lawsuits, however, will make it impossible to maintain.

This is how a lot of our modern anti-discrimination laws emerged, using a series of successive lawsuits that made preserving old taboos too damn expensive. People may be stubborn, but when it comes to getting their lawyer’s bill, they will eventually grit their teeth and change their perspective. Even if they have the money to pay the lawyers, you can’t always put a price on frustration.


Tip #3: Make Sure Taboos Scare And/Or Inconvenience Rich People

This is one of those uncomfortable, if not infuriating, aspects of taboos and social norms. There are usually a disproportionate number of them that are directly effected, or in some cases imposed, by the rich and powerful. Taboos can be a form of excuse banking, helping rich people justify their treatment of the poor and minorities.

That’s how many people justified segregation, slavery, and feudalism. The system was such that any changes would’ve grossly inconvenienced the rich and powerful. In some cases, it might have completely ruined them.

Say what you will about rich people. They can afford to accept such criticism. They, like any other rational human being, seek to preserve their resources and their power. That’s the entire theme of the “Star Wars” movies. If giving minorities equal rights or allowing women to show their tits in public somehow undermines profits or power, then you can bet they’ll fight it with every ounce of their considerable resources.

Conversely, the act of frustrating the rich can help break taboos and even end them. Rich people want more money. Powerful people want more power. One of the major problems with segregation, among many, is that it effectively cut off an entire customer base. Once minorities could work and earn money, they wanted to do what everyone else does and spend it. The desire to spend money knows no race or gender.

Eventually, rich companies will want that money. At the same time, powerful people will want those votes and support. At that point, a taboo’s days are numbered. Being a racist asshole may be fun for some people, but it gets old fast once it starts costing money.


Tip #4: Make A Taboo Boring Or Bland

I’ve spoken before about the power of boredom. It can create super-villains and drive teenagers to cold-blooded murder. It is a powerful force, one that’s plenty powerful to break a taboo.

It’s not easy, though. In fact, I would argue that this is probably the hardest tactic to use if you’re trying to combat a taboo. Taboos usually emerge because something gets a rise out of people, often revulsion or outrage. It’s hard to temper that sort of thing. However, it can be done.

It’s happening right now with taboos surrounding marijuana. When I was growing up, the mere mention of marijuana conjured fear and horror. These days, it mostly conjures scenes from Seth Rogen movies. You could make the argument that public attitudes changed because of growing awareness of the effects of marijuana compared to alcohol. I would argue that the debate just got too boring.

Now that marijuana is becoming a full-fledged industry, there’s a financial incentive to break the taboo. However, it’s the lack of horror and outrage that comes with smoking a joint these days that really undermines the taboo. Say what you will about Seth Rogen. The man isn’t exactly scary. Without that fear, boredom usually follows.


Tip #5: Give A Taboo Political Connections

This is another aspect of making a taboo too expensive to preserve. Sometimes, it’s just not enough that taboos cost businesses money, as racial segregation often does. Even when the economics are on your side, you still need powerful allies when combatting or preventing a taboo.

This is where it pays to have powerful friends who owe you money and/or favors. You don’t always need compromising pictures of them either, but that can help. This is a big part of how the gay rights movement got off the ground. They had the support of billionaires and well-connected individuals who could influence people in power. Money talks, but sometimes political connections shout.

Again, it can cut both ways. There are billion-dollar organizations that fight to preserve taboos, but at least it’s a level playing field. Unlike the working poor, some taboos have billionaires who spend time, money, and favors to fight them. That’s a big part of how same-sex marriage became legal.

So as a rule-of-thumb, it helps to have both rich people and powerful connections in fighting a taboo. Granted, those same taboos could use similar tactics, but they’re at the mercy of the same limits. That means that if, despite the battles between billionaires and power brokers, a taboo simply doesn’t jive with our caveman brains, then it’s going to fail in the long run.


Tip #6: When In Doubt, Turn A Taboo Into A Party

This tactic is probably the most enjoyable, as well as the most satisfying. We humans love to party. We’ll look for any excuse to throw a party, have some fun, and take our clothes off without public shame. Taboos can be serious, scary, and depressing. Parties are the exact opposite of that.

Fighting a taboo with a party is like fighting fire with a waterfall. It’s using a diametrically opposing force to combat something. Mix in music, dancing, alcohol, festivities, exposed body parts, and an excuse to leave work early and you have the perfect antidote to a taboo.

This is what Mardi Gras does once a year. This is what Brazil does with Carnival. Taboos, reservations, anxieties, and fears all melt away in the spirit of having fun and enjoying yourself. This is especially potent for sexual taboos. These taboos, and the social norms built around them, tend to be frustrating and difficult for those who preserve them. A party is like a release, one that’s easy and enjoyable for all those involved.

So if you want to start the ball rolling on breaking a taboo, don’t hire a lawyer or make friends with a billionaire. Start by throwing a party. Make it fun, festive, and happy for all those involve. No taboo will stand a chance.


There are probably more tips and tricks for beating taboos that I didn’t list. There are likely a lot more that I didn’t even think of. Again, I’m not an expert. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer who tends to overthink certain subjects more than most, be they comic books or sleeping naked.

While I don’t expect these methods to spare us from a future of censor bars and blurred tits, I hope it makes people aware of the mechanisms behind taboos. They’re rarely logical and they tend to reflect certain proclivities in our society that we’d rather ignore. If we’re to make progress as a species, though, we should confront them and, if necessary, kick them in the ass.

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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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