Luis M. Luque is still struggling to finish his first novel. He served as a U.S. Navy mass communications specialist for 20 years and now works as a writer-editor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is also a 2010 graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program. He and his wife, Vera, live in Newnan, Georgia.
The Age of Shamelessness By Luis M. Luque
The world has come out of the closet. I don’t mean that literally, of course, or even sexually. I mean it as a comment not only on the end of privacy, but also on the epidemic of immodesty and outright shamelessness that continues to spread faster than Ebola through a crowded hut. Once upon a time, when an athlete made a game-winning play, he smiled, ran the bases, politely tipped his hat to the fans, maybe jumped into another player’s waiting arms.
Afterward, he thoughtfully congratulated his teammates for their fine play and the opponents for their competitive spirit. Today, players thump their chests, dance, blow kisses at the fans, point to their numerous tattoos, make obscene gestures, or cross themselves and point at the sky as if God were on their side. Then, for the cameras they piously talk about “heart” and “courage,” rarely acknowledging luck or the tens of millions spent to acquire more and younger talent than the opponent’s owner chose to pay. Naturally, they’d never dream of discussing the possibility that they are on a better doping schedule than their opponents!
Still, if shamelessness were confined to the sports world, it would be a forgivable occupational hazard. There must be a bit of Hector “Macho” Camacho, Muhammad Ali, and John McEnroe in all athletes. Modesty, after all, never made a game-winning shot, buckled a championship belt, or signed a contract worth more than the budget of a small nation. Modesty never lied about taking performance-enhancing drugs despite hitting 73 home runs in your late-thirties, winning seven Cy Young Awards, or seven consecutive Tours de France.
Hollywood, too, is one of the usual suspects. It’s easy to find fault with the brazenness of the Housewives of Anywhere, the wacky costume-wearing “singers” who audition for American Idol, or the Honey Boo Boos, the bearded Duck Dynasty stars, and Hillbilly Handfishers of the world, none of whom I suspect betray even a twinge of embarrassment when drawing on their salaries from an ATM.
Once upon a time, Elizabeth Taylor was widely reviled for her extramarital affairs, and Charlie Chaplin and Errol Flynn actually faced criminal charges for such carrying on. By contrast, Kim Kardashian settled for $5 million with Vivid Entertainment over the release of her sex tape, making more than a few cynics wonder if the “leak” of all the moaning and backdoor escapades was planned from the beginning.
Today, the story lines of the so-called “reality” shows are typically more embarrassing than the lineup of shirtless, toothless, drunken, bleeding, beer-swilling, speech-slurring, trailer trash featured on Cops in years gone by, and yet, none of it raises an eyebrow today. The fights, the string of bleeped expletives, and the constant parade of blurred and pixilated flesh have become so commonplace as to command all the attention of a mile-marker on the Las Vegas strip. And I haven’t even brought up The Jerry Springer Show.
To say the world has changed is to spout cliché. In 1961, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested, in San Francisco of all places, for daring to utter the word “cocksucker” in his standup routine. A couple of decades later, Meryl Streep received an Oscar for her performance in Sophie’s Choice in which her Polish character mistakenly refers to a seersucker jacket with the same word. Compare such quaint “obscenities” with the scene a couple of months ago, when “performance artist” Deborah de Robertis casually walked into the rarified air of Paris’s Musee d’Orsay, sat down in front of Gustave Courbet’s infamous 1866 painting, L’Origine de Monde (The Origin of the World), and celebrated or “reinterpreted” the painting by raising her dress and baring her vulva to onlookers (Not wearing underwear helps.) She was met with applause before security guards eventually took her away.
“No request for authorization was filed with us,” a museum spokesperson felt compelled to say. “And even if it had been, it’s not certain we would have accepted it as that may have upset our visitors.” I love the uncertainty of the statement.
“There is a gap in art history, the absent point of view of the object of the gaze,” de Robertis later explained. “In his realist painting, the painter shows the open legs, but the vagina remains closed. He does not reveal the hole, that is to say, the eye. I am not showing my vagina, but I am revealing what we do not see in the painting, the eye of the vagina, the black hole, this concealed eye, this chasm, which, beyond the flesh, refers to infinity, to the origin of the origin.”
Whatever you may think of such artistic interpretations and arcane explanations, there is no doubt we live in an age of shamelessness. We reveal it in any number of ways, from our endless stream of meaningless Tweets, statuses, “likes,” “pins,” and Instagram photos, to the way we talk down to customer-service help over the phone. “You’re in America. You need to speak English and stop jabbering. Get somebody on the phone I can understand.” Never mind that the person on the other end is likely in India and working in the middle of the night to help you turn on your laptop or unfreeze your e-reader. That’s beside the point. We need help, and we need it now.
In many more ways than one.
Some of us have made heroes of people like Jenny McCarthy, whose knowledge of anatomy is probably limited to the nude photos of herself in Playboy. But her conspicuous lack of medical training has not stopped McCarthy from opining on the causes of autism or turning herself into a human megaphone against childhood vaccination. We have the shameless Anthony Weiner, who can—seemingly with a straight face despite his unfortunate name—run for mayor of New York City after having been caught sexting photos of his namesake to several women, none of whom was his wife. Former DC Mayor Marion Barry is in the news again, recently denying he ever smoked crack cocaine, despite video evidence and positive urinalysis results that confirmed the presence of cocaine and marijuana in his system. Yes, we believe you, Marion. It was all a government frame-up, of course.
A more recent and entertaining version of Barry is former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who last year refused to resign his office despite video that showed him smoking crack, and later, his reluctant admission that he did in fact smoke it, “probably in one of my drunken stupors.” Referring to allegations of his abuse of alcohol, Ford said, “St. Patrick’s Day got a little out of control. I can’t change the past. I have to maybe slow down on my drinking. I don’t know what else I can say.” Neither do I.
Then there’s former Vice President Dick Cheney, who recently rewrote American and Iraqi history via a Wall Street Journal op-ed that suggested symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s or a Nixonian ability keep a straight face while ignoring reality. Cheney should consider becoming a poker player.
The shamelessness will continue until shame is no longer recognized as a natural human emotion, until natural selection eliminates it from our DNA. We’re almost there.
(photos: Wikipedia & ESPN.com)