Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Vampire Armand -- A Thought Piece: Part 2

The Introduction and Part I may be helpful for understanding this part... or maybe not. This may be off the deep end. You tell me.

"Loaded words and phrases have strong emotional overtones or connotations, and evoke strongly positive or negative reactions beyond their literal meaning." from Wikipedia on "Loaded Language"

One of the things with words is they only have strict dictionary meanings in dictionaries. Once they leave our mouths or enter our ears they start to accumulate baggage. Our personal feelings change the meanings of the words beyond what they mean in a dictionary. Just like someone who is allergic to peanuts doesn't look at a peanut butter and jelly sandwich the same way I do. Word allergies, and even thought allergies, temper the way people encounter words and thoughts in a way that wouldn't be indicated just by the pure definitions of the words on the page. (Yes. I believe there are words and thoughts people encounter that cause them to react violently in much the same way a person reacts to exposure to say, poison ivy.)

Writers use words on purpose to get a reaction from their readers. I'll talk about one of Anne Rice's word choices later. Right now though I want to talk about "sex." The word and our relationship with the word. Not the act itself.  Sex is something I'm going to say almost all animals have. It's how almost all animals reproduce. I'm hedging here so I don't have to list all the exceptions. But sex happens. I just described it as an act four sentences ago and you went along with it without even stopping at the idea of sex as an act. But that's not all sex is when people are involved.

I'm going to posit that there are different kinds of sex. There's the kind of sex that is the act of having sex with the intent of making a baby. There's sex that is something done between two people as a way of expressing their love for each other (with or without baby expectations/hopes). There's the fun sex-play of people playing at sex. There's the violent sex that is less about the act of sex than about the domination or violence of one person over someone else. All those things are sex. There's the sex of the willing who are talked into it and later regret it. There's the sex of the unwilling who are unwilling to say no. There's a LOT of different types of sex and how does one know what is meant by the word? What baggage do we bring to the table when we see the words used? What preconceptions do we bring to a passage like:
"Give me your mouth, give me your arms," I whispered. My hunger startled and delighted him.
He laughed softly as he answered me with more fragrant and harmless kisses. His warm breath came in a soft whistling flood against my groin.
Now, what if I told you the people involved there were of vastly different ages and Anne Rice describes the one saying "Give me your mouth..." as a boy, not a young man or man, but "boy." Does it change your perception of what's happening here? Or what's being done? What if the "boy" being described is 17 years old? In medieval Europe when the average life expectancy was 35 so he'd be middle aged?

People have sex and I believe it's possible for a person to have sex, playful sex that doesn't mean anything... but for other people to believe that it has all the baggage they bring to the idea of sex. Just because professional baseball players take the game seriously and make millions of dollars playing it doesn't mean that a pick-up game in a schoolyard in summer is also a serious affair as well. Sometimes a baseball game is just a baseball game. And sometimes sex doesn't have baggage attached to it whether you or I think it would or should or not. Our expectations of what's going on in any sex act between other people brings our baggage and expectations into it in a way that we can't remove ourselves from. We know we're doing it and we do it anyway. If we asked them what they thought of it and their answers weren't in line with what we thought their answers should be would we believe them or believe they were wrong and self-deluded? How many people believe that Anna Nicole Smith loved her rich husband and happily, lustily, excitedly did the dance of the two-backed beast with him? It's possible... but how many people bring their own baggage to the table and say "No. She's wrong. What I know from my house in Podunk, Iowa having never met or seen them in person is more correct than what they say." We do it all the time when sex is involved.

We've, as a society, seen sex become some weird schizophrenic thing alternately glorified by Hollywood as the goal of all relationships, no matter how brief... and demonized on news-shows, talk-radio, and daytime TV as the cause of all ills in our culture, whether it's due to too much sex on TV or because as some would have us believe, all sex is an act of violence by its very penetrative nature. But sex, even when it's alluring, it must have terrible consequences... All slasher movies worth their salt when I was growing up involved teen-agers trying to have sex and whenever they would be close to it... an ax or machete would come through the bed or wall at them. Sex is bad! But WOW is it fun! If only you can survive it.

Anne Rice talks about sex a lot in this book, and describes it, and doesn't really beat around the bush too much about whether or not the participants are willing or not. There are a variety of different sex acts in the book with a variety of willing and unwilling people involved in them. It's the whole range of sex. It's not pornographic. Marius and Armand are far too classy for that even if Anne Rice isn't. ;^) 

When she talks about sex she's counting on us readers bringing our baggage to the table. She's counting on our reaction to the book making it either horrific or titillating, scary or gross, exciting or ultimately just weird. In general, I believe in a group of 10 readers who read this book for the first time I think there will be 9 different interpretations of the sex in the book and 1 person who didn't finish it because they were too offended by it all. The sex isn't the main part of the book, but it will, I believe, generate the most widely divergent views based primarily on the loaded language involved in describing what happened. And I think she does a superior job at not using loaded language (other than "boy" a lot) but when we would try and discuss it we WOULD use loaded language that would betray our feelings about the various acts as they happened... assuming we talked about the sex at all. We may gloss over it by saying, "I skipped those parts. I didn't like them." There are parts of Heinlein I do that with (Number of the Beast anyone? shudder.)   

Sex. Thank God it's only 3 letters long if it were any bigger think of how many more places we could hang our baggage!

The Vampire Armand -- A thought piece: Introduction

The Vampire Armand -- A thought piece: Part 1
The Vampire Armand -- A thought piece: Part 2
The Vampire Armand -- A thought piece: Part 3
The Vampire Armand -- A thought piece: Conclusion
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