Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy New Year

Miss L and I kicked off the New Year with a little trip up to New York City. No, we weren't there for New Year's Eve. We hopped on the Double Happiness bus (aka Chinatown bus) in Baltimore and rode up early the morning of the first.

The first day of the year is kind of a surreal time to go to NYC. The sky was gray and overcast, and it was breezy but not too cold. The odd part wast the extreme lack of people. You could easily (and safely) saunter across Broadway Avenue in the middle of the day, against the traffic light, without any fear of a car running you down. Most of the tourists were probably on their way home by then, and New York residents must have been sleeping off their New Year's Eve fun. Probably 3/4 of the businesses---high-end fashion shops all the way down to the seediest, greasiest pizza parlors---were closed for the holiday.

So we spent a lot of time just walking though mid-town Manhattan. Our hotel was in the Murray Hill area, a 15 minute walk from Times Square, so most of our time was spent walking the desolate streets there. We did, finally, hit a museum late in the afternoon. The Museum of Sex.

It was much larger than I was expecting. There were three main exhibits, each one a good size, and a fairly decent gift shop. The first exhibit, Men Without Suits, looked at the image of the male nude across time. Starting with pre-classical greek sculpture and carrying all the way up to photographs for Abercrombie and Fitch magazine ads, it attempted to look at how the male image was perceived and what that meant to the culture of the time. Primarily comprised of photographs of artwork, it also collected some video when you reach the 20th century. Unfortunately, by the time the exhibit reached the 1800's it was solely about homosexuality. While that's certainly a large part of the purpose behind male nude art, it's not the only purpose. Questions like the beauty of the male form (or even lack thereof) were not explored so much as the sexual nature of the form. Robert Mapplethorp, for example, photographed the nude male partly to be controversial, partly to highlight his sexual preference, but primarily because he found the form beautiful and was able to communicate that through his art.

The 2nd exhibit, Stags, Smokers and Blue Movies, was stronger even if it was a bit more uncomfortable to go through. You walk through a darkened room with multiple monitors near the floor showing blue movies from the turn of the century to contemporary times. As an added effect, they ran ambient noise of pre-recorded catcalls and laughter to simulate the environment of seeing a dirty movie with all your guy friends. This seemed the main point of the exhibit, to explore the odd idea of watching movies meant to stimulate your sexual side with a group of people. But some of the changes across time were also interesting, particularly the roles of women. Early on, women were solely the object of desire, and were often passive participants in the sex acts. But as time went on women became more active, and even at times became instigators of sexual laisons. The "progress" oddly mirrors women's more active role in our own society.

The museum ended with a small exhibit appropriately titled Sex Machines. Collecting photographs and working models of machines made by amateur inventors---often built out of spare parts in their own garages or barns---displayed a very odd cultural phenomenon that probably wouldn't be happening without the internet. Motorized sexual devices (trying to keep it clean here) attached to saddels, chairs, metal boxes, or hand-held ones made out of what were once power drills were the norm. Oddly, almost all the devices are designed and built by men but are designed to please women. The only exception to this being the disturbing latex sculptures of the Real Doll company. Considering men in general are pretty selfish about sex, it was interesting to me to think about these men across the country building these industrial strength devices to please women. I don't know if it's a sense of power for them, thinking they will be satisfying women all over the world or something completely different but it was an interesting idea. There may even be a story in it somewhere.

The next day we spent going through the Natural History Musuem, which was wonderful but doesnt' really need a review. It's just a like the one in D.C., or whatever city you are in, but bigger.

Anyway, it was a good start to the New Year for us and I hope everyone was able to celebrate it in their own way.


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