The movie pickin’s being slim, especially since our small town’s only theater closed a few months ago, a friend and I recently set off for the mall-plex in the next town to see the latest Meryl Streep film. My friend likes Streep so much, she’d watch her wallpapering the powder room; I just wanted to see a film on a big screen on Saturday night instead of Netflix on my laptop.
Hope Springs, indeed. Apparently the directors hoped that Streep could rescue this turgid, cliché-laden vehicle from the mire, and amazingly, she does, with a little help from Tommy Lee Jones as the bored, frustrated accountant husband. But what truly surprised and saddened me about this film was not good acting saving a dull script. It was that the damned thing was so realistic. Almost four years ago, the last time I was in a relationship with a heterosexual man (which I’m pretty sure will be the last time I’ll be in a relationship with a heterosexual man), I heard things from him about sex similar to what came out of Jones’ character’s mouth. My friend had just emerged from a two-decade marriage that had finally foundered, and he was bored, frustrated, and sick of catering to women’s lack of interest in sex. (Not to go into personal detail, but I’ll say that I was and am considerably less inhibited than Streep’s mousy little housewife character.)
This is the sad truth of Hope Springs: the film plays in Peoria because perhaps millions of folks in the U.S. are having problems with their sex lives. The right wing in this country has been successful with their anti-sex campaigns of the last few decades – not in lowering rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, extramarital sex, or queer folks coming out and having sex, but in increasing ignorance and making people feel weird about discussing their sexual attractions, interests, and tastes, even in private with their own partners.
I have to admit, movies like Hope Springs and many of the documentaries produced by the wonderful Media Education Foundation here in Western Mass truly shock me. I live in and work for a bubble of people and organizations that are progressive, mostly leftist, and at the very least liberal and LGBT-friendly. We may not spend much time talking about sex, but no one seems afraid of it, when I go hiking in rural areas with my women’s outdoor recreation group many of us swim in the nude, and there’s a general air of relaxation and acceptance, as long as no one’s frightening the horses.
Watching Hope Springs made me realize that seeing a marriage counselor and talking about one’s sex life with a therapist and one’s spouse may be a revolutionary idea in 2012, and that is exceedingly sad. Not that the sexual revolution of the 1960s and ’70s was great for everyone involved – as a number of feminists have pointed out, it was a typical revolution in that it benefited men more than women. Not that the early years of the AIDS epidemic weren’t horrific for many communities. But at least people were talking about sex and learning how to protect themselves from a deadly disease. Hope Springs feels like a throwback to the ’50s, when nice girls didn’t, when only crazy rich people went to analysis. It also feels like the usual cliché about the heartland – no one in Omaha has ever been to therapy?
Many months ago I thought about writing a blog post called “What I can’t write,” and sex was on the list. But the more pop culture crud like Hope Springs I see, the more MEF films about the right wing’s “virginity movement” and corporations using sex to sell products to children and teenagers (talk about perverted!), the more I think that writing about healthy sexuality is the antidote. I don’t need to go into detail about my personal proclivities on the World Wide Web. But I’m going to stop fearing writing about the entire topic of sex. It’s obvious that people in the U.S. need to engage in more dialogue, not less, and if I can use my tiny blog to aid the conversation, why not?