As a Cameron Diaz fan, on the opening weekend of Sex Tape, I dragged my spouse to the theater. Not surprisingly, I was disappointed by the comedy starring Diaz alongside her Bad Teacher (one of my favorite movies!) co-star Jason Segel. Lamely, as much Sex Tape is about not understanding how the cloud works it is also about a couple looking for a shortcut back to the way things were before kids and house payments. How? By objectifying each other instead of actually talking things out. Making a sex tape is a technological version of putting a mirror above the bed; only the camera lens is the mirror and there’s a whole audience on the other side of it.
However, since the movie had put me in the mind of sex, technology and desperation, I could not let the weekend pass without watching a classic film that no one or their mother cares about. anymore
Twenty-five years ago this summer Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape was released. The story of a marriage undone by the double whammy of infidelity and the arrival of a college chum with a video camera starring James Spader and Andie MacDowell, Soderbergh’s splash onto the international film scene explores intimacy, sexual and emotional impotency and how technology can ultimately make our conversations about sex more honest and forthright.
Yet over the past twenty-five years we have not come very far in our discussion of sex and technology. Why? Our cultural conversation has yet to catch up to the proliferation of sexual images and stimulation. In the 21st century where the Internet has performed a coup of epic proportions on the human libido, most of us enter the terrain of sexual relations armed with our smart phones without a clue about how to build the fire of intimacy.
Why would we? On social media, we mostly give answers to questions no one’s asking but us, mainly how cool am I? In response to our own insecurities, we’re not getting off; we’re showing off, which doesn’t have a damn thing to do with intimacy of any kind. The more intimate you are with someone the more you discover about yourself. Social media, on the other hand, gives us practice cutting this process off at the pass because posting on feeds is mostly about experiencing ourselves as well as having other people discover us as personas, not actual people. In a recent viewing of Sex, Lies and Videotape I was surprised by just how many humane reminders the film provides for navigating sex and technology in the 21st century.
Here’s my top four.
Women Talking About Sex is Sexy
According to incidences of sexual assault ranging from the Steubenville case to the more recent crime involving the Houston teen “Jada,” it’s apparently not entirely uncommon for teenage boys to think they are racking up the stud points by documenting their rapes of non-responsive, inert girls. In the film, the only thing that can get Graham off is a close up shot of a woman’s face talking about things such as discreetly masturbating in public or seeing male genitalia for the first time. On the videotapes oddly enough, the women are not just images; they are speaking and feeling subjects. And it’s these scenes of the women recounting their sexual histories that are the sexiest in the film.
Telling the Truth About Sex is the Sexiest Thing in the World
Unhappy in her marriage, the vulnerable southern belle Ann played by Andie MacDowell is sexy and beautiful because she tells the truth. Even if the truth is she’s never had an orgasm and feels uncomfortable masturbating. Her spitfire sister, a bartender artist named Cynthia oozes sex appeal not only because she has a lot of sex, but because when her lover who also happens to be her sister’s husband rings her up for a booty call she turns him down when she doesn’t feel like it or has something better to do. She’s not only honest about when and how she wants sex, but she’s also clear that her brother-in-law is scum and that so is she for sleeping with him.
Asking Interesting Questions and Listening to the Answers Leads to Orgasms
Recovering from a former life as a pathological liar, Graham paradoxically needs honesty to come and the way he gets it is by facilitating self-reflection on the part of his interview subjects by asking questions that puts the women more in sync with who they are than impressing the person they are talking to. In order to let down our guards, most of us have to be in a safe space. Graham creates one by listening and asking questions, which is great foreplay.
You Don’t Have to Take Your Clothes Off to Get Naked
One of the film’s most intense scenes takes place in a restaurant in the middle of the day when Graham and Ann are talking about therapy. Graham admits that not only is he impotent, but that analysis didn’t work for him while Ann naively explains how deeply she knows her therapist. Graham advises Ann to only take advice from people she’s slept with and Ann finds this amusing and puzzling, as I imagine the audience does. At the same time, if we strip this adage of its literalness the character is suggesting that we only take seriously advice from people we’ve been intimate with. In other words, advice from people whom we have been inside and who have been inside us, advice from people we have been naked with even when we were wearing clothes. From that standpoint, opening a message and finding a penis or a pair of breasts shows a lot of skin but very little soul.