Friday, November 19, 2004


Just because an issue doesn’t irritate my moral sensibilities doesn’t mean it isn’t a real question. I have a rather leathery heart, after all. But I just can’t escape the feeling that all the hand wringing and Presidential commissions about stem cells and genetic engineering are mostly an empty ritual, moral busy work that allows politicians and religious entrepreneurs to demonstrate their earnestness without confronting the irresistible changes in human life that really bother them. A clone, for example, is nothing more nor less than an artificial identical twin, so that even if there were some reason to create a lot of people in this fashion—unlikely, since human beings can already be mass produced by unskilled labor—the resulting pairs would be no more alarming than any other Terri and Toni or Mike and Nick. Meanwhile, there really is something icky about the radical franchising of our existence and the emergence of the electronic hive mind. Nobody knows what to do about Walmart, so we get excited about steroidal outfielders or designer babies instead. Something similar takes place in the hysteria about decency on television. While Janet Jackson’s boob is apparently a national security issue, the plot lines of shows like CSI are grotesquely and entertainingly perverse. I came to during one episode last year, suddenly startled by a story that revolved around semen detected in a discarded wad of chewing gum. Indeed, in their endless attempts to achieve more and more extreme effects, such shows reflect the characteristic stylistic frustration of the Marquis de Sade whose tableaux are also finally thwarted by steric hindrance and the limitations of human sexual stamina. Apparently, we have to get excited about Howard Stern’s use of the word “fuck” because we certainly don’t want to take judicial notice of the hypersexuality of the rest of the media.

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