A Sexual Imagination is Not a Crime

Leggy sexy model

(photo: Serguei Kovalev)

Christopher Hitchens once said that the trouble with biographers of Thomas Jefferson, is that there appears to be the collective assumption on their part that the great man was without a penis. I’m reminded of this truth in reading about the very hot water Mr. Al Franken –the all-but-certain Democratic nominee for US Senate in Minnesota– has gotten himself into, over a satirical and sexually explicit essay he wrote for Playboy magazine in 2000. Hot water originating not only from GOP women, but also from within the Democratic Party.

The piece is without doubt salacious, even enormously kinky (naughty NSFW excerpts available here). But one could be forgiven the crime of commonsense in expecting that a writer tasked with composing anything for such a magazine on contract, would tend to produce something somewhat sexually suggestive if he wished to be paid. One might even go so far as to posit that writing something entitled “Porn-o-Rama,” for an unabashedly pornographic publication, isn’t all that shocking. I mention the title because in defiance of reason we are told by Liza Porteus Viana that the title itself (and neither the publisher nor the substance of the essay), is what is most politically objectionable here.

Now, Mr. Franken and I are no political allies. I’d struggle mightily to think of another issue on which we share a common view. But there is this one. That is the fact that both of us happen to like sex, women and ambitious fantasies about both. And that we tend to think about such things with some pleasure and longing, and then tend to write about them in rather lascivious terms when given the chance. It’s only a pity in my view that my love letters to my girlfriend do not command Playboy’s commission fees. I can personally attest that they exceed Mr. Franken’s alleged obscenity by several orders of magnitude.

In Dan Franck’s poignant romantic novel My Russian Love, there is a moment when the protagonist unexpectedly encounters a married couple he knows, who are asleep in a profoundly intimate pose. He is surprised. It occurs to him that he had never thought this couple capable of such an embrace, and he is stung by his own feelings of envy for their unintentionally revealed passion and humanity. I’ve a similar experience with Mr. Franken, due to this essay and the great and greatly unjust criticism it has sustained. Honestly discussing sexual perversion in literature and one’s capacity to imagine it is not a confession of infidelity to virtue, but something a rational mind should covet.

One does not have to read too deeply into the classics to discover the Greek word Olisbos, which is the vanished name of an ancient consumer product: a calfskin dildo, that Greek women were much enchanted with. Given the homosexual proclivities of so many ancient Greek men, it’s perhaps not surprising to learn that the market for such utensils was quite profitable. Nor should it be surprising that having never seen one (leather does not endure the millenniums well), you can nevertheless picture it in your mind with me, even with my barest of descriptions. You are not wicked for the thought, I assure you.

It is normal to love and to lust and to think. It is normal for a writer to write about these thoughts. It is not abnormal to find people who do seeking public office, and it should not be. True, it is as normal to accuse and appoint oneself above literary display of such feeling. But I for one envy Mr. Franken his willingness to reveal humanity to an audience. Even as it were, before he was aware there would be spectators of more purtain appetites than the Playboy subscription base customarily affords. That’s something that any writer would understand implicitly, and such an understanding is something one might hope the voters of Minnesota have the intellectual acuity to share. If Mr. Franken is to be defeated –and I would not vote for him myself– let it be for something other than the public recognition that he has a penis and an imagination.

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