Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sexcidents Will Happen

Ooh, another hardback entry in the "sexy medieval" genre. You remember Sex with Kings, a salacious historical romp, The Other Boleyn Girl, another salacious historical romp, and of course, take your pick of erotically-charged rehashes of Camelot.

Now we have the academicky East, West and Sex, a new book that gleefully probes the tendency of Western men to patronize Asian prostitutes. Author and "rice daddy" Richard Bernstein enthusiastically flouts the wisdom of Edward Said, and agglomerates North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, China and Japan into "the East." The premise of the study is that the cliché is true and there does exist an admirable sexual permissiveness in the East that presents a lovely opportunity to "liberate" European men from their Judeo-Christian prudishness.

This is a laughably naive view of prostitution, and totally one-sided, as it skips right over the moral disaster of keeping sexual slaves. Laura Miller is right to point out that it's not some advanced sexual culture that beckons to Johns, Juans, and Giannis. (Even if it were, Western women should be lauded for demanding liberation even if it makes them less likely fantasy objects). The economic reality of the East-West duality is simply that our side can command more stuff from their side, hookers being similar to cheap plastic tchotchkes in this respect. An ascendant China may start to minimize the disparity between buyers and sellers--lock up your daughters, struggling British financiers!

This WSJ review takes the book completely on its own terms, as a self-serving justification of abhorrent exploitation. For a glimpse inside the moral reasoning of today's high-financial world, feast on this incredible excerpt:

There may have been -- and may still be -- an inequality of bargaining power in many of the sexual transactions in question.

Really? An inequality of bargaining power between a globetrotting merchant and a harem girl? Perish the thought!

Elsewhere Johann Hari identifies the irony of these transactions' long-term cultural effect: although harems may have helped to loosen up visiting Venetians, it was the missionaries that won the argument--puritanism has successfully taken root in Arabia, India and points east. The Slate reviewer also makes the connection between the sexcapades of American soldier/suitors in Vietnam and the long, shameful bloodbath that occurred there. To say nothing of the rape that created Latin America. Would Bernstein say that opening up Western libido is worth the human cost of colonialism? Because that would make him a total perv.

Whatever the advance on Bernstein's book deal was, I will double it if he will go to Thailand, set up shop in a tin-roof shack, and celebrate the happy communion of cultures by pleasuring whatever strangers force themselves on him.