I began writing my first blog posts when I was in Italy in 2006, chilling on a train. Here are three of the finer ones tackling sex, technology and how Italians managed to institutionalize chillness.
Slut: Worst Word in the English Language
It has become cliché to complain about the double standard of sexuality concerning men and women. A guy that has a lot of sex is a “player” or “the man” while a girl is a “slut” or “whore.” We all know it, we all think its more or less ridiculous, but we keep the double standard going by using those negative, loaded words. Every time a person calls a girl a slut, a guy somewhere is left unsatisfied because the girl he likes doesn’t want to be considered a slut. The girl, of course, is left unsatisfied as well and confused about the sex role she is supposed to play. The word slut has survived for a long time, originating in the Middle Ages, yet it still retains so much venom and power. The synonyms to slut seem so dated nowadays, it makes you wonder how the word slut made it out of the 19th century: tart, floozy, tramp, scarlet woman, hussy, trollop, harlot, strumpet. These words show just how dated the term slut really is. The last time any of these terms were used in the vernacular, women couldn’t vote.
Slut, however, remains as powerful as ever. It has transcended the simple language and has become a brand. Are you a slut? Are you a Playboy? Once something becomes a brand, people use the word to compare their friends and themselves. The coolest girls I know have embraced the word and made it their own, but in a world where female sexuality is taboo and confusing (i.e. Britney Spears being a virgin for so long) it is difficult not to have to deal with the slut brand.
If you consider yourself a feminist (or at least someone who views men and women as morally equate) you should never use a word that stigmatizes a woman freely embracing her sexuality; if you’re a guy that wants to get laid, you should never use a term that would make women less inclined to sleep with men.
I was riding on a train from Porto San Giorgio with three good friends and I couldn’t speak a word to any of them. Witness the power of the iPod. Lots of people enjoy verbally fellatiating (one of my favorite words) Steve Jobs, the leader of the cult of Apple, and sometimes I get on my knees and pay my respect, but over the last year I’ve become increasingly angry about how the iPod insulates me from the real world. In my eyes, it’s contributing to a social transformation that will ultimately end much of the randomness, the unpredictable, the dangerous, and the thrilling parts of life. I will elaborate on that topic more in future entries but for now, I’m going to keep it simple.
I was at a wedding earlier this summer and the father’s speech at the reception got me thinking. He said, “One lonely night on the F train, I met a beautiful girl. Little did I know that 40 years later I would be sitting with her as we watch the last of our five daughters get married and start a family of her own.” I ride the F train sometimes, and I see beautiful girls on subways relatively frequently, but since I’m listening to my iPod and they are listening to theirs, I’d have to come up with a pretty sick line if I’m going to interrupt both of our listening experiences and start a conversation. Back in the day, I would be bored and so would she and I could start the conversation with a simple “hi.” Now, when people get on the train, they can rest assured they will not be interrupted by a random person as they listen to their desired song. We can all rest assured that nothing potentially unpredictable or thrilling is going to happen and continue listening to Stadium Arcadium for the 5th time…
I’m no luddite, I love technology and think it will be the salvation of our species, (see the FAQ about the site) but we must realize we are sacrificing the often surprisingly delightful randomness of life for ease and utility. I am in Italy and just bought a cell phone after nearly a week without one. When I was alone, I actually felt alone: an emotion I haven’t experienced in a long time. It brings me back to my childhood between the time I started taking mass transit without an adult and when I got a cell phone. A time when if I got lost, I had to figure out what to do: it was a little scary but it was thrilling. I was taking on the world alone and it made me feel like a grown up. I wasn’t insulated but an active participant in the action taking place all around me: listening to the sounds of the train, following the plot of other passengers’ conversations and simply enjoying the reality of travel.
Watching doors open and close and people’s mouths move to the sound of Broken Social Scene is fun, but it removes us from the world we live in. We are surrounded by millions of people just like us, living lives, dealing with problems and being happy. It’s easy to forget that exceeding simply and important fact when they appear to be characters living in a world where you chose the soundtrack. What if one of those characters could be a future spouse or a potentially thrilling hook-up? When the doors of the train open and they walk on, are you going to be ready to enjoy the randomness of life or will you be listening to the same song you’ve heard a dozen times?
The Italians have got it made here. They’ve done the whole empire thing and now they relax. They don’t make shit loads of money but they don’t need to. It’s not a motivation of life. Your economist friend may see that as a negative, but if a happy and satisfying life is what you look for, Italy has everything you need.
Chill is basically institutionalized here. The effect of nothing being open for three hours in the day (from 1am-4pm) ripples through the entire culture. If you aren’t working in an intense industry, you’re free to do anything but consume goods (minus eat food and drink espresso and wine.) Unless you are the economist friend, you’ve realized that consumerism does not produce a happy populace and a healthy culture. Money is money, but life is life. Anyway, it’s a big stab in the heart of consumerism and makes people value each other more.