Being an American citizen, I enjoy the freedom of expression enjoyed by artists in this country. However, I wonder sometimes if we grasp some of the ironies of how we express that freedom.
I am from Italy, which is known as one of the most romantic countries in Europe, a destination for lovers who come to visit from all over the world. So, perhaps I have a slightly different perspective on how Americans express themselves, particularly with regard to romance and sensuality. In Italy, we embrace these concepts in everything we do – the way we dress, the way we cook, the way we dine, and the way we live.
Americans, I sense, have a split personality with regard to sensuality and sexuality. As a result, many people keep both of them hidden for fear of corrupting children. My point is, there is a difference.
For instance, if any part of the human body that would traditionally be covered by a bathing suit on a typical American beach is shown in a film, that film is rated for adult content, usually getting an “R.” If it is shown in a TV show, the scene is either deleted, or the “naughty bits,” as the British call them, are digitally pixilated out. And of course those areas are not necessarily even covered by bathing suits in Europe, as many of the beaches there are clothing optional.
In this type of censorship, there is no accounting for context. It’s not about the type of scene, but rather the anatomy. If it is a romantic scene, with a context of love and respect, soft lighting, and appropriate mood, it is considered just as “dirty” as a scene in which naked women are running around and shown as sexual objects and nothing more.
The same goes for modern art. Gallery shows in which the human form is depicted tastefully and sensually are regarded as pornography by many “morals” groups, leading some Congressmen to suggest that public funding from the National Endowment for the Arts should not be awarded to any artist who deals with the nude form. The chilling effect, when we approach the sensual and the sexual in the same way, is that we teach our children that nudity itself is a dirty thing, and that they should all be ashamed of their bodies.
That is why young adults in America go directly from puberty straight to pornography – because they do not have anything in between, such as public art or other forms of healthy nudity – things that would help them develop an understanding of sensuality.
Here is the ultimate irony. While we demonize certain parts of the human form, we don’t demonize treating women as sex objects at all, because we use sex to sell just about everything in the consumer marketplace. In TV commercials, young, attractive, and barely dressed women sell everything from cars to beer, weight loss plans to gym gear, breakfast cereals to vacation destinations – even snack foods practically guaranteed to make the men who eat them incredibly unattractive to the women used to sell them.
The difference here is context. We enter the world naked. It is our most natural state as humans, yet the naked body is considered dirty and inappropriate for all time zones. Meanwhile, treating women not as people, but simply as objects of sexual desire, which demeans all women in the process, is perfectly acceptable.
We need to create an environment in America in which sensuality is not confused with sexuality, so that we can all enjoy a freedom of expression that is based in context and meaning instead of an unhealthy and negative obsession with sex.
(Born in southern Italy, Tiberio Simone is a James Beard Award-winning chef and co-author of La Figa: Visions of Food and Form www.LaFigaProject.com, a coffee table book that features a spectacular collection of sensual photography – models wearing nothing but Simone’s edible creations.)