Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Soft Machinery

Sexual intercourse might indeed have been invented in 1963, as Philip Larkin opined in "Annus Mirabilis", "Between the end of the Chatterley Ban / And the Beatles' first LP", but it took a further four years for yours truly to become aware of it.

It must have been a Friday or Saturday evening, since my parents had allowed their seven year-old son to stay up for Granada's weekly movie review Cinema. As the presenter headed towards the commercial break, he cued in a clip from the newly-released sf romp Barbarella, in which the insane scientist Durand Durand slides the eponymous heroine into his Excessive Machine; no sooner had items of her clothing begun to disgorge themselves from a slot at the torture device's base than the adverts rolled.

I don't think my parents were even watching the programme, and they were certainly unaware of the tension I was experiencing as the seconds ticked away and the promised continuation of the extract approached. Nor was the tension lessened when it finally arrived, as the now-naked Jane Fonda (her nudity implied rather than explicit, of course; this was 1967, after all) mimed an orgasm so apocalyptic that she sent the electronics into meltdown. Okay, so maybe Meg Ryan's restaurant routine two decades later in Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally... was a degree more realistic (albeit no less theatrical), but Fonda's perspiration-drenched performance was primo erotica.

In retrospect, the imagery was pure SM, but I was rather too young to latch onto that aspect; instead, it imbedded in my psyche a profound (if nascent) lust for the flame-haired Ms Fonda, simultaneously awakened and reinforced when I finally caught the complete movie in my early teens. Even now, I get an instant hard-on whenever I meet alien blondes in thigh-length plastic boots and see-through brassieres. Especially the females.

Most sex is like that: learned behaviour. One of the psychologists consulted for the recent Channel 4 documentary on serial murderers, To Kill and Kill Again, reckoned that the United States had no history of gas mask fetishism because its citizens never shared the British experience of sheltering from German air raids during the Second World War. The roots of Jeffrey Dahmer's paraphilia, meanwhile, lay in the coincidence of his childhood experiments with gathered roadkill and puberty; the overlap between death and desire proved a recipe for homicidal necrophilia and cannibalism.

Which leads me to wonder what lessons our own culture is currently absorbing from the barrage of advertisements, magazine features and tv images that daily pummels our consciousness. Wear the right cologne, eat the right ice cream and drink the right coffee, and you seem guaranteed a night of passion (although it apparently takes four years' coffee intake before you get your leg over, so it's only recommended for the extremely patient).

Of course, you could always invest in one of the numerous video sex manuals which sneaked hardcore bonking back onto the rental shelves in the autumn of 1991, after a gap of more than six years. Quite how Pickwick convinced the British Board of Film Classification that penetrative sex should evade the censor's scissors so long as Dr Andrew Stanway popped up from behind his desk first to offer a few handy hints is difficult to say, but The Lover’s Guide opened the floodgates, with VCI's Love Variations: Inspiration For Lovers one of the more absurd subsequent entries (there's not even a pretence of educational content, not least because there's no dialogue, just a series of sexual positions demonstrated in various rooms).

What worries me is the psychological imprinting these videos could be responsible for, as an entire generation gains its first sexual conditioning in the company of a grey-haired GP whose delivery is only marginally more effective than Group Four. Five years from now, might the likes of agony aunts Irma Kurtz and Miriam Stoppard be deluged with enquiries from those unable to achieve orgasm unless a middle-aged doctor stands in attendance and shouts directions?

Me, I support a return to Victorian values. After all, any woman whose husband sported a bolt through his wedding tackle has got to be worth emulating.

[First published in Gaijin #4, May 1994; an annotated version appeared as an instalment of my long-running column Fannish Memory Syndrome in The Drink Tank #200, February 2009]

1 comment:

  1. Great post and I can relate to your comments about Fonda's Barb role. One question, do you meet many alien blondes then?