When I was in high school I participated in a staged reading of a friend’s play about male bulimia. Yes, it affects guys too, you see. And if you’re like me, and have suffered through plenty of bad theater (and TV) in your life, you are familiar with the message play (or the “very special episode”) where a writer, with the artlessness of an adolescent, makes a well-intentioned case to raise awareness for something. My favorite is Dorothy on the Golden Girls getting chronic fatigue syndrome.
I call them “Tell somebody!” plays. Because more or less that’s always the last line.
Easy A, now playing at a theater near you, makes, I feel, a more artful case for awareness-raising. In this case the issue is that people have sex.
Now wait a minute, you say. I’m not positive, but I think I already know that people have sex. I hope you do. But the fact of the matter is that while we may be living in an oversexed culture – references and innuendos abound – we are often surprisingly mum about the Main Event itself, and especially about the fact that teenagers are participating in it. With any luck, they’re doing so more often and more successfully than the rest of us. Don’t they say a guy hits his sexual prime at 18? Get to it.
But just think about how many cultural references you’ve heard to “the talk” and compare it to how many times you’ve actually seen “the talk” represented in a way that doesn’t make a parent just seem like an idiot.
Easy A centers around an extended comparison to The Scarlet Letter, and features an English teacher who is better looking but not as funny as I am. In my first ever American Lit class, I started with Mary Fisher’s 1992 speech to the Republican National Convention (the link is to American Rhetoric – good for what ails you). This speech is famous because it provided a nice, blonde, white woman poster child for AIDS awareness. If the GOP was going to ignore AIDS when HIV-positive Mary Fisher – one of their own – asked them not to, then Kushner was right and they were just heartless bastards.
Fisher asked that the GOP lift the “shroud of silence” around AIDS. She wanted to turn the “whisper of AIDS” into a battle cry. It takes about ten minutes to get a room of teenagers to tell you that “shroud of silence” is a metaphor, but in the meantime they understand the main issue: Tell somebody! Or, let’s talk about it!
Fuzzy English, or “terminological inexactitude,” as Easy A calls it, can happen by omission too, you know. Not talking about something can be just as misleading.
We did start talking about AIDS, thanks to Mary Fisher and many others, and so it’s hard for some teenagers to imagine a time when we didn’t. Of course, now the issue with AIDS is that its victims – the poor, the foreign – have become invisible to some of us again. I for one was shocked, and embarrassed with myself, to volunteer one day in New York at a center for those living with AIDS. I guess I thought that was over in this country.
And then the 21st century brought strange things like President Bush leading Christian conservatives to increase aid to Africa and fight AIDS there, while outlawing anything but abstinence-only sex education in his own country. Say who?
Teenagers have sex. And we’ve all seen the studies that say virginity pledge kids do even more freaky stuff because Bill Clinton warped our definition of sex forever. Not talking about it, and not passing around the bucket of rubbers, is a big bad idea.
That’s why I think Emma Stone’s Olive is a fine descendent of Hester Prynne. That book’s all about sex, by the way, which people seem to forget. I mean The Scarlet Letter boils down to two people who could not keep their clothes on. This is why I played “Sexual Healing” and had my students write love letters to each other when we read it. It’s the one thing the much-derided Demi Moore version got right: two naked people showing their appreciation for each other. Olive points this out to her teacher, saying that she thinks the book is inappropriate for her age group.
But she also ends by telling us, about her new love interest, “I think I’ll lose my virginity to him. Maybe in five minutes, maybe tonight, maybe sixth months from now, or maybe on the night of our wedding.” You’ve got to love that. It’s really about finding when the time is right for you.
(But really, guys, if you can find a willing partner, don’t let 18 pass you by).
Then, in a moment of defiance to make Michael Hardwick proud, she adds, “Either way, it’s really none of your business.” That’s right! But we’re glad we’re talking about it, in general.
The whole movie errs on the side of disclosure (another blog tie-in). There’s a charming bit with the dad being ironic about his son’s adoptedness (the son is black in a family of whiteys), and another of my favorite lines is when he asks the kid, “Where are you from, originally?”
Some kids are adopted. Tell somebody!
These things help make up for the movie’s inevitable shortcomings – some of their jokes are too (get it) easy. I think they dispense with the Christians a bit too glibly, but you just have to get behind (get it) a movie that makes gay jokes about Huck and Jim.
If only the people who made that movie could deal with this recent Katy Perry Sesame Street kerfuffle. It was brought to my attention by my friend Kim that parents were complaining about a music video Perry made for the show which is currently on youtube. They raised such a stink (why is the squeaky wheel of squeamishness always louder than the one of liberty?) that Sesame folk decided not to air the clip on their show. The parents should have had a problem with the fact that Katy Perry songs cause brain damage by seeping into your cerebellum at night and distorting your previously sensible taste in music. But they just didn’t like her cleavage.
I agree that cleavage can be a distraction from education. To teenagers. But I was in a kindergarten class this Monday, and I really think this debate would have eluded them. And the younger kids, well, I only stayed in their room for five minutes, because it was a terrifying baby-doll graveyard.
People have cleavage. TELL SOMEBODY.
Finally, I have to mention that a friend of mine put tape across the front of her copy of The Vagina Monologues so that the title was obscured. When I asked why, she said so she could read it in public and not have people (moms) come up and scold her. This is sensible, but made my heart hurt.
Lucky for us, as part of the theater group I’m starting in 2011 (too many websites!), I’m as of this morning an official V-Day sponsor!
So, VAGINA VAGINA VAGINAS. Tell somebody.