Porn and Beans
Pierre Tristam/Candide’s Notebooks, April 12, 2006
While our Lord and Savior president continues to ensure that America’s near future will be defined, much too early given America’s age, by the usual trappings of imperial reckonings — defeat, decline, ridicule — it’s good to know that civilization’s forward march is not without its advocates elsewhere on the planet. “It is an ‘objectively determinable factual reality’ that beans,” South Africa’s daily Mail & Guardian reported on its front page yesterday, “make you fart.” This, the paper said, according to South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority, which was compelled to rule on the matter following a complaint by the country’s Dry Bean Producers Organisation against a television commercial for Wildeklawer Sweet Onions. “The commercial,” the paper goes on to tell us, “shows a rugby player sitting in a change room with his coach. The rest of the team is standing outside the door refusing to enter. The lone player is eating a can of beans, and his coach asks: ‘Why, Roy, why? With sweet onions there are no tears, no burn and definitely no stink.’ The pay-off line is: ‘Wildeklawer Sweet Onions. Stinky is out. Sweet is in.’” Naturally, the beans association was offended by the suggestion that its product foments anything less than fibrous pleasures. “The producers claimed the commercial failed to recognise that gas formation due to beans was ‘merely a temporary condition which occurs while a person’s body gets used to the added fibre and prebiotics contained in beans.’” Well, yes, but those are mere words lost on the broken wind. Beans will be beans, while the truth about flatulence shall, we can now rest assured, set us free.
Equally vivifying is the somewhat belated if arousing report out of Saudi Arabia that the House of Saud has decided to phase out salesmen at lingerie shops, and to replace them with women. I wasn’t aware that men had been fitting alphabetical cups and prophet-approved thongs on Saudi minarets and oases all these years (let it be said, incidentally, that one of the great western misconceptions about Islam is the assumption that it is, in matters of sexual ululation, synonymous with puritan prudishness and bores. The assumption is of course misguided. Islam and sex, behind closed doors anyway, are a pair to be reckoned with). Then again despite my Mediterranean memories I wasn’t aware that leave-no-hair-behind shaves, oases included, are an Arab tradition. What this has to do with lingerie shops’ future in Saudi Arabia isn’t clear. Not yet, anyway: Political and social developments for women, and men for that matter, are as rare as monsoons on the Arabian peninsula. But as often as not it’s not in the most obvious ways that revolutions begin their grind from nowhere. The fax machine, it turned out, played a role in 1981 Poland as pivotal as the pamphelteering presses of 1789 France. Maybe Saudi Arabia’s lingerie revolution is the beginning of Wahhabism’s unveiling (the Religious Policeman, one of the Peninsula’s most curious commentators, has not yet weighed in on the matter.) The Saudi government is on a campaign to employ 200,000 women—“receptionists, tailors, banquet hall employees, nutritionists, governesses, photographers, beauticians, caterers, and hospitality and recreation industry workers,” as Arab news describes what will be tolerated of the kingdom’s condescendingly pampered slave class. But first, be sure that the right hands are fitting that leather and lace around Jeddah’s prized real estate.
Further east civilization’s march carries on as a court in Bombay ruled unconstitutional a law banning bar dancers, while the surest sign of civilizational improvements — the quick sell-out of Playboys hitting newsstands for the first time in Indonesia — has been greeted with the tepid protest of 300 fanatics who, and this assumption is not quite out of the wilds of the Yukon Territory, would not turn down a chance to be lingerie salesmen at Victoria’s Secret. Their protest is not nearly as pathetic as one playmate’s plaint that her front-paging Playboy in Spain should in no way have been seen as an endorsement of her appearance in the Indonesian edition. (The magazine has more editions around the world—22, at last count—than the United Nations Security Council has members—15.) Indonesia’s Playboy at any rate carries no nude pictures, which not only defeats the purpose of the publication but gives a much greater share of Indonesia’s 245 million people reason to riot and rave. Then again, Playboy’s pseudo porn, more fit for an afternoon around Plymouth Rock than a satisfying lust around more tropical palms, has always defeated the purpose of its intentions. Surely Indonesians have learned, as have we all, that there’s always a route around the regressive and the inane, prohibitions against full, frontal, glossy and unhinged nudity being as literal and symbolic of those inanities as any. As the great Indonesian writer—and constant victim of Indonesian censorship—Pramoedya Ananta Toer once wrote, “It is really surprising sometimes how a prohibition seems to exist solely in order to be violated. And when I disobeyed I felt that what I did was pleasurable. For children such as I at that time - oh, how many prohibitions and restrictions were heaped on our heads! Yes, it was as though the whole world was watching us, bent forbidding whatever we did and what ever we wanted. Inevitably we children felt that this world was really intended only for adults.”
And guess to who the inaugural Playboy-Indonesia interview is devoted? Pramoedya Ananta Toer.