Letters to the Editor

Americans obsessed with sex; clashing over David Horowitz.

Published April 30, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

Live nude girls

Stephanie Zacharek's attitudes and comments about nudity in movies show exactly what is wrong with the American approach to nudity. Unlike Europeans, we equate nudity with sex. If there is a naked body in an American film, you can bet it is sweaty and heaving. Zacharek, too, mentions nudity only in relation to sex scenes. When is the last time, for example, that you've seen a naked body portrayed matter-of-factly in an American film? Americans are obsessed with sex (whether as prudes or voyeurs), and until we get over it, we'll either see no nudity or just more gratuitous nudity. Neither is particularly grown-up.

-- Stephan von Pohl
Oakland, Calif.

Contrast the energy with which the MPAA exerts its influence over sexuality with its total abdication of responsibility with regard to violence. While glorification of violence is certainly not the only cause, or even the main one, of the carnage in Littleton, it is probably one of the building blocks.

We quickly accept censorship of sexuality in rating codes. But if the MPAA were to classify "Face-Off" or "Basketball Diaries" as NC-17, or better yet, X, imagine the hue and cry.

Isn't there something wrong when we, through our acceptance of the MPAA ratings, imply that seeing a woman's breasts or a love act may warp a child's mind, while the viewing of 30 murders in two hours is something perfectly acceptable?

-- Tom Scott
Encinitas, Calif.

There's one issue that Stephanie Zacharek neglected to mention, one that would have really proved her point. It's the issue of body doubles, who do 90 percent of Hollywood's nude scenes, and are unsung and unappreciated. If actresses like Reese Witherspoon were sincere in their allegedly righteous, Andrea Dworkin-esque sense of sisterhood with women exploited by the male-dominated Hollywood power structure, then why do we never hear a word uttered in sisterly solidarity with women who actually do the nude scenes they refuse to do?

-- Peter Muir
Alameda, Calif.

I understand Zacharek's overarching point that nudity has been made much too taboo by our puritanical culture. However, the Reese Witherspoon quote served no purpose in her article, mainly because it's obvious that Witherspoon is talking about young actresses posing for pictures for magazines and papers, and not about the nudity displayed by onscreen characters. Furthermore, I find her reaction to Reese Witherspoon's comment frightening. Witherspoon is showing incredible maturity and foresight through her realization that one's self-esteem cannot come only from one's looks. And to realize it when caught up in the swirl of Hollywood movie culture is even more amazing. I only wish more young actresses and young women had the same courage that Witherspoon obviously has.

-- Aditi Rao

Enemy of the people

Since David Horowitz took it upon himself to quote (rather unscrupulously, I'd say) from an e-mail of mine in his column, I wonder if you would do the honorable thing and publish my complete response to his baiting challenge to debate the current state of the academy. His article has elicited angry e-mails to myself and the administration at Smith College (my employer).

It all makes me wonder what on earth Horowitz is whining about. From my perspective the only censorship going on is being performed by his loving fans. I would only add that what I take away from my brief ideological encounter with Horowitz is that he lacks a sense of humor and fancies himself smarter than the rest of us, which wouldn't be so bad (very academic qualities, actually) if not for the fact that he also likes to quote out of context (not very academic).

-- E.C. Graf
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
Smith College



Mr. Horowitz,

I would gladly crush you in a debate on students' so-called "right not to be ideologically indoctrinated in the classroom." Your phrase "students' academic freedom" is already a laughable oxymoron, as if students ever had such a thing or ever should. Even your friends on the far right, like Bennett and Bloom, those self-appointed high priests of morality and education, would wince at your suggestion that students should be allowed one iota of freedom to choose their own education. The result would be an endless stream of courses on MTV and human sexuality -- i.e., anything but your sanitized right-wing corpus of books designed to build that good little neo-Nazi character with an English accent that you all fawn over. So until I hear from you (though I doubt that I will), I'll be running five miles a day, taking gingko biloba and brushing up on my Lenin and Althusser!!!

Yours in the struggle,
E.C. Graf

P.S. Gee, what will we read in Professor Horowitz's class? Aww shucks, let's just listen to Charlton Heston read the bible on tape, call it a pass/fail humanities course and get on with engineering and biology.


What I find fascinating about people like Professor Graf is that they have absolutely no sense of self-irony. The classic study of academic freedom by Columbia professor Walter Metzger ("Academic Freedom in the Age of the University," 1955) devoted a whole section to students' academic freedom as the right to have access to diverse perspectives and not to have the political views of professors imposed on them. The tragedy of today's academic environment is that the witch hunters are not outsiders to the university as McCarthy was, but the faculties themselves. Note the professorial disrespect for conservatives and for the rights of students in Graf's fulminations, and imagine the plight of a conservative student in one of his classes.

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Let me make sure I have this straight: Horowitz is invited to speak at Bates. A driver picks him up at the airport and takes him to an apartment provided at the school's expense. When he drops in, unannounced and without an appointment, to take lunch with the dean, he is shocked and obviously suspicious that the dean could in fact have anything to do. Nevertheless, Horowitz's meal is provided him, albeit in a cafeteria he clearly considers inadequate to his stature, his palate or both. He sits in on a class where he is treated with every courtesy and included in a class discussion, during and following which he ridicules the professor. Before his speech, he attends a reception in his honor. He is miffed that it is not sufficiently attended by those with whom he disagrees, but lauds the valor of those brave few who do attend. He then gives a speech that, by his account, is listened to politely. However those pesky "leftist" youngsters apparently have the temerity to ask questions and even challenge his assertions during what we can only suppose was a question/answer period.

I don't know whether it would be fair, as Horowitz begs of us, to call him fascist. But, if he asked nicely, I'd be more than pleased to call him an arrogant, ill-mannered, self-important and -- thank goodness -- largely irrelevant ass.

-- Robert J. Kuntz, Jr.
Miami, Fla.

Horowitz has hit the bull's-eye perfectly with his piece "Enemy of the People." As a student in a small liberal arts graduate institute in the Bay Area I've experienced just about everything he writes about in most of the classes I've attended.

My particular field is the fourth wave of psychology, often called transpersonal psychology. An overview of the paradigms of consciousness is a core course for the program I'm in. Instead of examining the history and development of thought throughout history, from Plato and Socrates to Thomas Khun and Ken Wilber, the students of this course were indoctrinated into Systems Theory, the writings of Fritjof Capra and feminist psychology. There was absolutely no questioning of what was being read and discussed in the classroom. The times I've raised objections to what was being "taught" I was confronted with incredulous stares and even contempt. I have often thought the classroom in today's universities has become nothing more than an extension of the therapist's office -- a place where these "students" can come for the unconditional love and acceptance they feel they never received from their family and friends. Bring up personal responsibility to any of these future counselors and educators and you'll be met with all the systems in society that turn individuals into victims.

I've not given up on the university as a place where all ideas can be openly discussed; I am just much more aware of the difficulty I face in bringing up viewpoints that are openly censored and condemned by the left.

-- Daniel Crandall
Orinda, Calif.

I'd just like to respond to the question Horowitz asked of the liberal Bates students challenging him, since the response he received was, I think, not quite accurate.

Horowitz asked, "Where do you put Oprah Winfrey in your hierarchies?" and the young woman he asked responded, "She's a token." My response to the question would have been, "She's an exception."

Just because Horowitz can point to one individual who has surmounted race and gender discrimination doesn't mean that that discrimination doesn't exist.

If Horowitz were to look more closely at the racial and gender backgrounds of the richest, most powerful people in American society, perhaps the "white male oligarchy" might not seem such a stretch. Then again, if he were not a member of the privileged few himself, perhaps he'd be less inclined to dismiss such ideas as "Marxist fantasies."

-- Patrick Enright

Bates College is in Lewiston, not Portland, Maine. While this may be a slight distinction to Horowitz, as the two towns are only about 35 miles apart, it's a large distinction here. Lewiston is a struggling, impoverished mill town, with high unemployment, since the mills and shoe factories keep closing. It needs all the distinction it can get.

-- M.B. Davidson
Portland, Maine

Lip balm anonymous

So, according to Carmex president Paul Woelbing, Carmex doesn't contain "even 1 percent" salicylic acid. That's good to know, since by the time the concentration reaches 17 percent, you've no longer got Carmex, but Compound W, a wart remover which kills skin. Also present in Carmex is alum -- potassium aluminum sulfate -- a chemical derived from alunite, which forms in volcanic fumaroles where sulfuric acid interacts with the soft rock feldspar. Alum is a potassium salt, an astringent which binds and tightens moist surfaces, which is why home canners use it to make stiff, crunchy pickles. A pharmacist once explined to me that "medicated" lip balms use alum in order to help stop bleeding lips. But when was the last time you saw someone with bleeding lips?

So while I know from experience that there's nothing like a Carmex kiss, I'll be remaining a Chapstick man, since I'm not interested in putting wart remover or blood-coagulating chemicals on my lips, in any concentration.

-- Kip Leitner

I learned from Mary Roach's tired refueling of the Carmex conspiracy that she is no different from any other journalist who will obfuscate or exclude salient facts if it makes the story scarier or sexier -- or, in this case, goofier. I'm referring, of course, to this passage:

"What about that last one?" I outline the salicylic-acid-on-healthy-lips theory.

"It's a tiny amount," he says. "Not even 1 percent."

"So why put it in if it doesn't do anything?"

Woelbing tells me what he told the 150 people who wrote to him: "If you're having trouble, we suggest trying a more neutral product, like Vaseline."

As a journalist who asked Woelbing this very question ("Building the Balm" -- Chicago Reader, 6/19/98), I'm in the unique position of knowing that Roach chose not to include information that would have resolved the question. The insidious-sounding salicylic acid is actually a chemical name for aspirin. It's put in Carmex as a painkiller. I can't believe Woelbing would have made that mysterious-sounding dodge in favor of the very simple answer he gave me. I suspect Woelbing's suggestion came in response to a different question, because he gave me that answer when I asked him how he responded to some of the more outrageous claims on the LBA Web site.

-- Mike Sula

I enjoyed your article on Lip Balm Anonymous but found it odd that you used the line "woe-beset women of the LBA Web." After browsing the site and reading the testimonials from Dirk, Kevin, John, Brian and Thomas, etc., it seems that lip balm addiction doesn't have a gender bias. I myself keep tubes in my pocket, in my backpack and on my bedside table.

-- Charles Frisk

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Stephanie Zacharek