To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix's memorable acid-fueled trope: I stand up next to a virtual mountain…and chop it down with the edge of my penis. It occurs to me that in case you didn't catch it the first time I'd better, Hendrix-style, say it again: I stand up next to a virtual mountain…and chop it down with the edge of my penis. Now, some of you out there will be only too ready to complete the verse for me with the assertion that, mutatis mutandis, I must be a voodoo child (or even "chile"), so bewitched am I by the way the new media have made available to the solitary onanist such a vast plurality of heaving flesh. But I say "Balls!"—being of the English persuasion—for hasn't the vast majority of sexual activity, inasmuch as it can be quantified at all, always been virtual?
For every real glimpse of heaving flesh au naturel there have, since time out of mind, been many thousands of artificially paradisiacal ones constructed in the eye of the nonbeholder; for each whiff of the perfumes that mask—and mingle—with the odors of our desiderata, our lizard brains have always summoned up an olfactory superabundance so that we may flare our nostrils as we slumber in the seclusion of our subterranean nests. For touch and taste it's the same: When it comes to sexual imagining, the most bottom-feeding and pedestrian among us are transformed into deep-chested Kenyans running tirelessly for mile upon mile across the eroticized uplands.
Of course, I'm not about to deny the enormous impact the internet has had on certain aspects of both our social existence and our imaginative lives—to do so would be worse than reactionary; it'd be like struggling into a temple garment of the mind, and as I believe I've implied above, I'm keener on LSD than on the LDS. The Arab Spring has transmogrified into a long, hot summer of droning predation—and that summer has faded into a shivering Syrian winter. Now we have another long, hot summer, and many seem to feel that this accelerating gyre of political events must have something to do with the new media—that the web, girdling the earth, has been yanked so hard, Ceres starts up. Maybe—maybe not, but there's a difference between a change in pace and a direct change. If the new media have a message, it's simply: Buy More New Media. So while we may find ourselves paying more to view, no one has been able to convince me that the fundamental terms of our most passionate endearment have been altered. And let's recall that while this may seem to be all about me—since it's my penis up against that virtual mountain—most men, in my experience, regard their man-or-mousehood as the measure of all things.
If there's one certainty beyond our mortality and the fiscal question, it's that the perverse—like the poor—will always be with us. Sacher-Masoch was a near-contemporary of Freud's, and the repression cooker that was Viennese sexual life constrained within the Ringstrasse has long since exploded, splattering successive generations with its glutinous debris of symptoms and interpretations—yet just as not many of us really experience pain as pleasure, so a vanishingly small number find the idea of suiting up in a giant oven mitt and being caressed by another…giant oven mitt remotely arousing. If you're like me—and if you've read this far, I think it's safe to assume you are—your most commonly entertained sexual fantasy is probably having sex.
By "having sex" I don't mean you are confined to a stereotypical repertoire of positions, partners or practices—far from it—but only that what you commonly while away your time in suited meetings imagining is having sex with another living, breathing, emphatically sentient and responsive human being—not some cyber zombie of a Second Life avatar. And since we've been hardwired to feel this way by a selection process that's been going on ever since Mitochondrial Eve waved good-bye to her hairy and pungent ape consort across the steadily widening gulf of the Rift Valley, I see no reason to believe it's going to change anytime soon.
Each successive generation gives birth to its own panicky anxiety about the virtualization of the sexual act. I recall, as a young man, going to see Wim Wenders's movie Paris, Texas, in which a radiant Nastassja Kinski funnels her dewy beauty down the line of a telephone-sex parlor—a few years later "Buffalo" Bill Clinton was getting his rocks off from reading excerpts from Nicholson Baker's telephone-sex novel Vox, which was given to him by a certain intern. The somewhat viscid circularity of this situation—telephone-sex novel incorporated into telephone sex—shouldn't distract us from the constants: Telephone sex has dried and blown away, to be replaced by live-chat interactions on the web; what remains, of course, is the novel and sex itself. Go back another 20 years and it was the movies and photography that were the great objectifiers: taking bodies—almost entirely female ones—and reducing them to so much less than the sum of their erogenous zones. Retire—in good order—a further couple of decades, and certain printed words are held to be shibboleths too damaging to be printed, lest their mutterers find themselves on a one-way trip to Sodom with a refreshment stop at Gomorrah.
I would say fuck that if this weren't precisely what we're trying to get away from here. Because, let's face the facts: It's the puritanical and the repressed who've always been the most filthy-minded among us, right back to that miserable moment when a fig leaf was tacked on to Adam's penis so he could no longer use it to measure anything at all and, instead, had to rely on an idea of a dick. Still, it should be no surprise that as technological means of reproduction become more and more sophisticated, the proportion of the perverse who—in the psychoanalytic jargon—negatively cathect with these objects increases. I write this strange lexical entry in the week that the British police agency charged with tracking down pedophiles involved in the web-based dissemination of images of child sexual abuse announced that it is targeting some 50,000 potential suspects. Ach! How, upon hearing this baleful news, one longs for the innocent era before the web, when child sexual abuse was conducted exclusively up close and personal by men in positions of trust and authority—teachers, priests, scout leaders, politicians and the like.
Enfin, let us stand together up against that virtual mountain and chop it down with the length of our penises, our breasts and our clitorises—and while we're at it, let us bury it in the depths of our vaginas and crush it between our own entirely real thighs. Just as the male sexual impulse tends, entirely healthily, to superabundance, so will imagery of all sorts ever be subjected to the same multiplier. I've no doubt that within a half century there will be computer programs that allow their users to experience a believable simulation of the act of love—believable, that is, for those whose imaginations are painfully straitjacketed by inhibition, inexperience, religiosity or all three. For the rest of us, virtual sex will be there—we may even, from time to time, dip our wicks in its pixels—but just as young men need to be educated emotionally to understand that movies and pictures are at best a substitute for, or a temporary adjunct to, the infinitely creative organ that lies between their own jug ears, so they must be steered out of the shadow play of their smelly little bedrooms and into the sunny uplands of someone else's.
As for poor Jimi, I always thought it a strange quirk of the virtual that one of his final communications with the world was an answering-machine message—and this was in 1970! Sex, death and technology, see—Freud would've approved.