Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Oh, Daddy

Can I possibly say anything sensible about a book I finished reading eleven days ago? That’s ancient history, as I’ve finished another one and I’m about one fifth of the way through a third since then.

Yet, the whole time I was reading “Lot’s Daughters: Sex, Redemption, and Women’s Quest for Authority,” written by Robert M. Polhemus, I was thinking this was something I wanted to talk about. Because, basically, he’s found a way to turn the Oedipus Complex on its head, and discovered an equally potent mythological tale that’s wound its way through our society for thousands of years. Polhemus is talking about what he calls the Lot Complex, which is to say the tendency for older men and younger women to get it on.

I have to say, when I was growing up in the Church, I never really heard the whole story of Lot and his family. Somehow, the way I learned it, all I knew was Lot was a good man who was saved when Sodom (and Gomorrah) was destroyed, and that his wife couldn’t resist the urge to look back and thus was turned into a pillar of salt.

Here’s the nitty gritty of the tale that they left out in Sunday School classes. See, Lot was hanging in Sodom, and two angels stopped in for a visit. Of course, they didn’t tell anybody they were angels, but Lot was properly hospitable to strangers, so he invited them in and tried to make them comfortable. Now, it wasn’t easy to be comfortable, when apparently every man in the town was gathered outside Lot’s house demanding for these two newcomers to step outside and let everybody fuck them.

As I said, Lot was a good host, and he didn’t think it would be good for his guests to take it up the ass from however many men there were in Sodom. So, he offered up his virginal daughters to the crowd, saying they could be had for the taking if these men would just leave his guests alone. Silly Lot. In a town like Sodom, where apparently debauchery was the rule of the day, nobody got to remain virginal unless very specifically nobody else wanted anything to do with said virgins. So, of course the people of the town said no to the girls, and give us the new guys.

That’s when the angels said, “Okay, you guys are in trouble now, because we’re here from God, and He said we get to destroy your whole town.” (Presumably, there was some roughly similar tale taking place in Gomorrah, but that destruction is relegated to very deep background in the Bible, only being mentioned as happening at the same time, shorn of detail.) The angels were proud of Lot’s very nice gesture of offering his daughters in their place, so they told him he and his family could take off before the holocaust.

Well, sir, Lot, his wife, and his two daughters packed their things and got out of town before the sun rained down and blew up Sodom. The wife couldn’t resist a backwards glance at the life she was leaving behind, which makes sense because it clearly must have been great for this one Godly family to live in such a disgusting place. God, not being one to mess around with those who didn’t stick to the letter of his commands, turned the wife into a pillar of salt.

Believe it or not, now comes the weird part. When next we see Lot and company, it’s a day or so later, and they’re hanging out in a cave, believing themselves to be the only survivors of the human race. (Apparently, the angels didn’t fill anybody in on all the details about Sodom and Gomorrah being the only two truly wicked cities in the whole world.) The daughters get to thinking, “You know, it’s up to us to regenerate the human race, and there are no other men but Daddy.” So, they take turns getting him drunk and “laying naked” with him. It only took one time each for them to get pregnant, and their descendents turned into the races of the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Check this out, though. The Moabites begat and begat until they begat Ruth, who begat some more until begetting King David, who begat and begat until finally we reached the birth of Jesus. So, ultimately, Jesus was a result of this incest. Why did they never tell us this stuff?

The story itself is plenty weird for modern readers to get their heads around, but what Polhemus does so brilliantly is use it as an archetype for the history of women actually moving on to take some power back from men. I’m not saying there aren’t places in this book when I wasn’t a little bit confused as to how he thought that was a powerful thing, but starting from the very thought that the daughters made their own decision to carry on the race while Lot himself needed to be ploughed with liquor to stiffen up and do it, Polhemus actually does have a way of making you think about what he’s saying.

Onward through art, literature, film, and politics, Polhemus puts a new spin on everything from Lewis Carroll to Shirley Temple to the Bronte sisters and on to Monica Lewinsky. Obviously, he’s mostly dealing with symbolic incest, or simply the Daddy/Daughter concept of inter-generational sexuality (which doesn’t even always turn out to include sex). Here’s where the time lapse between reading this and writing about it fails me, because I really can’t give you enough specifics to show what I’m talking about. I can, however, point out that Polhemus is an astoundingly witty and perceptive critic of all sorts of things, and he will make you notice stuff you’ve never noticed before. Read it, folks, and prepare to have your minds blown.

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