Thursday 17 January 2008

Releasing the monkey

So I have a topic today, after a few somewhat heated email exchanges on the topic of 'cute'. Cute, as in this kind of thing. You know, the tiny baby animal, helpless in human hands, abandoned by its mother, rare endangered species with spiral tail, almost-human-looking kind of cuteness, that reaches just about every human being with any kind of a heart at all. It's one of those aspects of human hard wiring that reaches in and goes click every time, in the normal, healthy human being, especially female ones, who want to take it home and nurture it to maturity, or knit it a jumper for wearing at the first suitable opportunity.

We were talking about pictures of puppies in the window of a pet store, and the similarity of the puppy factory system to a whorehouse. Except that the she-pooches that are kept pumping out puppies are more like sex slaves, and not for the he-dogs' exclusive pleasure either, but for the pleasure of the pimps who own them, to make cash by selling the infants that result from their mating. So you could say that in that sense, it's even more repulsive than a regular old east european-style sex slavery brothel. Because here, the prostitutes are expected to actually give birth to their clients' offspring, which are then sold to people who have either responded in their simple human hard wired way to small baby helpless things in a window, or have desires about saving things and being saved (yeah, ok, they might just want a puppy, also. But that's not so interesting).

I have a friend who has recently returned from Zambia, where she and her husband were running an NGO for a few years. She told me a story about a man who approached her husband with a baby monkey inside his jacket, and offered it to him in return for her husband handing over some cash (with sinister overtones of what might happen to cute baby monkey if he didn't). Ok, so this is a slightly more intense version of the topic at hand, including as it does, the fact of cute chattel in nefarious and perilous hands, but we're getting deeper into the topic.

My friend's husband did consider giving the man money on the condition that he release the animal back into the wild, but realised that he would, in all likelihood, just go and hunt it back again, and sell it to somebody else (for meat or companionship). And given his understanding of the complexities of living in rural Zambia, and the Way Things Are, he just hissed at the man, and walked sadly away. The best he could do under the circumstances. Life is tough, sometimes.

And then I read a story about a diplomat of some advanced middle age, who walked into a lap dancing club in Estonia and saw a 20 year old lapdancer, "whose body invited sex, but whose eyes screamed 'save me'" and so he left his wife and three children to do both those things to her. And six years later, they are living together in a little flat in London, and she is performing in a more upscale venue now, a theatre in the West End, in a show where she tells the stories of her terrible childhood, combined with a little belly dancing. There are rumours of Angelina Jolie playing her in a movie, but her lover considers Angelina Jolie to be "too old" for the part.

Sometimes there's just a magical hook-up between the damned and the saviour-in-waiting. And when that moment happens, wherever the rendezvous finds the people concerned, what happens can be electric and overwhelming, accessing our deepest instincts: sex, nurturing, needing and offering shelter and basic resources. Skip two meals and watch yourself be conquered by the desire for food. It can block out the light of the sun.

And so we can become starved in other ways, too. Starved of the sublime, for instance. Starved of joy. Starved of the decadence of love without agenda. Starved of places to play. Starved of productive, fulfilling work. Starved of meaning in life. Starved of opportunity to be creative. Starved of community, of companionship, of high level human interaction. And then you walk in the door of an arts centre, a slight sweat on your brow... and a curator sees the puppy in you... or you have a random conversation in a bar with somebody who seems to be having the human experience of life too, and the synapses click and click again and want some more.

When we're starved of things, we go around with that hungry look in our eyes. A gay friend of mine once talked about the amount of information that is routinely exchanged by the barest glancing eye contact, on an average night in a gay bar. Novels of information up- and downloaded in miliseconds, everybody scanning everybody else for signs of being exactly the right fit, the right combination of understandings, of longings, cravings, needs, and that exactly right balm to send the needs and the cravings away for the night. Keep the wolf from the door (or invite him in to savage you). Until the next night, at least.

And so we howl in the night. And we write. And we sing. And we paint. And we dance with the fever until our need is fully sweated out of our bodies. For the night.

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