Princess Diana was a sex worker, of course she was. Where did you think royal heirs came from? Her job was to produce two male children who were healthy and the result of sex with Prince Charles, no one else. If the sons were good-looking, fairly intelligent, and free of major inherited disease (hemophilia is a well-known problem in the descendants of Queen Victoria), then that was all anyone could ask. Maybe Diana just had trouble knowing when to stop.
Maybe her sexiness could have been balanced with a little more, um -- what to call it? That sort of controlling quality that Camilla has and also maybe the Duchess of Windsor, allowing them to console and encourage an uncertain stud prince. Diana wasn’t that great at mothering grown men, but she was wonderfully skillful at raising her two small boys. That’s sex work, too, you know, but there was a whole-heartedness there, a “true” love, that Charles didn’t seem able to return, maybe because Charles’ mother had a double burden -- producing children at the same time that she was the very young Queen. Once Diana had given birth twice and the boys had gone off to school, she was more-or-less “over.” Out to an elegant pasture.
Then she could enter upon the “allure” part of sex work that Elizabeth II never went near. The only real mistake she could have made was getting pregnant by someone other than Charles: there are some who fantasize that she did and was killed for it. That’s part of allure, the mystery and illusion of happy endings based on nothing more than emotion. Or she could have sunk into depression and near-criminality.
I say that sex is an unfinished revolution because it is an aspect of social order. Most of we polite sorts have internalized “rules” -- and even some of the renegades believe in them enough to organize their lives around defying and undercutting the rules (or so they think). But now those rules are disrupted by what we know about the genome, by the daylighting of sexual practices (what homosexuals and heterosexuals “do” are the same except for accommodating differences in anatomy), by female control of pregnancy, by differences in economics and government, and by the devastating consequences of planetary lethal pandemic. We have not developed a set of rules that can guide us through all this as individuals, much less as a society, even if we had a unified society -- which we don’t.
Where do such rules come from? Religious institutions are too attached to the past and self-protective to be very helpful. The media are too hysterical and novelty hungry. Novels themselves are a formula industry, less interested in exploration than they ought to be. The only real source of change is the living experiments of real people. What they teach us sometimes has a tragic price. Do I need to list them? No list would be complete. The variations are too many. The influences to consider are too subtle, too sweeping, pitting one individual’s intentions against the juggernauts and behemoths of nations and their diasphoras. As if any individual could really know their own minds very clearly anyway.
This week among my steady procession of Netflix discs was “Powder Blue” which is notorious for two strip club dances, one a pole dance that begins with the woman in a suspended gauze cocoon and the other a floor performance involving throwing hot wax from burning candles onto her body. I think it is significant that the director, Timothy Lin Bui, is Vietnamese-American. Here’s what we think of as sexual to the point of needing to be R-rated. That is, supposedly hidden but available on television.
This woman has a slender, nearly Asian, kind of beauty. She is a skilled dancer. No contact is allowed -- this is a display, unpartnered. (If it were partnered, it might be X rated. We protect men.) It is a fantasy, but a fantasy of awakening in the first dance and suffering in the second dance. In the plot this woman is a mother but the boy is in a coma and we know nothing about the father. The plot hinges on HER father, whose convict past is veiled and diluted by Ray Liotta and Kris Kristopherson, raffish old men. Likewise, the “pimp” is Patrick Swayze, protective even in disguise. (We already know he’s a “Dirty Dancer.”) The romantic partner (Eddie Redmayne) is sexy in a child’s innocent way -- so blue-eyed. In short, this tangled web of child’s storying and imaging (there are several plots) spreads out to the side, never driving down into what people now call the “vertical.” One could meta-theorize in all directions but we actually are kept as much on the surface as we are in regard to the Royal Wedding.
This movie was panned, I think partly because there was too much for the audience to think about, much less for a relatively inexperienced director to manage, partly because it was from “outside” (Vietnamese-American), and partly because of the cheesy ending. (All the dead people go to heaven.) Compare and contrast Helen Mirren’s “The Queen” or even Judi Dench’s “Mrs. Brown,” where a sharp understanding of cultural obligation is illuminated by human need. It’s not a matter of nakedness -- Mirren is famous for naked -- or a matter of sentimentality -- Dench is the most sentimental actress since Helen Hayes -- but an awareness of the trade-offs in life, both in sex and love.
Perhaps there are times and places -- brief and small, I suspect -- when sex and love have their place in the culture, attuned to function smoothly as families renew themselves and realms survive births, deaths, wars and plagues. Some South Sea island, maybe? A Shangri La in a high mountain valley? A plains Indian tribe before the Euros showed up? A little village like Valier? NOT the English royals.
Sex is not a given “thing” but rather a classification of transactions between human beings. Not according to gender or age or class or wealth or even instinct and hormones, though reproduction is a key part of it. Investigating the possibilities is a constant source of stories. We are titillated (what a word!) and horrified by the sex lives of the Middle Eastern tyrants as well as the contemporary English royals, to say nothing of the Kennedys. History-making, life-smashing, personally fulfilling, emotionally exalting, and always profitable, sex will never be finished. It is always triggering new revolutions.
This new English Royal story has already begun in a way that would once have been covert (these partners have openly lived together) and more investigated than would once have been possible (Kate’s genome and potential fertility). Everyone is acutely aware of national worry over money, the class status of commoners, and the cultural variety of the Commonwealth. The Queen likes this new Princess -- we all do! This brood mare appears to be a winner and William appears capable of flight. His own helicopter team accompanied the golden coach through the streets. And yet Catharine’s elegant wedding dress was somehow reminiscent of the last turn of the century, when Elizabeth II’s mother was married.
Let the revolution continue!