An obscenity at the movies

I saw Kinsey today, the movie about the pioneering sex researcher of the 40s and 50s (a household name then, at least, demonstrated by the series of New Yorker cartoons shown having fun with him at one point). A very good movie, unusually accurate in its historical recreation of the period, and one which I hope will go a long way to breaking down our societal reticence to talk about sex-- perhaps one day it will even be discussed freely on daytime talk shows, for instance.

I jest, of course, because this is Hollywood as usual rushing in to take a firm stand on a subject which has been settled for thirty years, at least I expect there are very few ticketbuyers for art cinemas who haven't long since come down on the side of Kinsey, not to mention Masters, Johnson, Alex Comfort and Dr. Ruth, in regard to things like acceptance of premarital sex, homosexuality, etc. It's gotten to the point where it's more daring, more provocative to take the opposite tack, to come out in favor of demureness and chastity, as Tom Wolfe does in his new novel-- behaving like it's 1950 is the one perversion that no one can imagine indulging in today.

But if sexual puritanism has all but vanished, our own age is hardly free of bugbears and complexes of its own. And it was at this movie today that I was exposed to something genuinely obscene-- something which shocked me to my core, something which violated my values utterly, something so depraved and corrupting that I immediately sought ways to protect the children from it, lest society itself crumble under its onslaught.

It's called Orville Redenbacher's Kettle Corn. Now the late Mr. Redenbacher has joined his fellow midwesterner Dr. Kinsey in the next world, so we should not blame him for what is being done in his name. Kettle Corn implies some sort of premium product-- this seems as if it might be the Redenbacher of Sonoma next to all the usual Redenbacher plonk-- but it is nothing of the sort. It is, simply, popcorn which instead of salt and butter, tastes of a glossy, shellac-like sugar-coating. Imagine eating warmed Sugar Pops, and you have the very sensation.

Now, no one would ever say that it has been difficult to get a sugar fix at the movie theaters. I was once supremely fond of Junior Mints, washed down with Dr. Pepper. But popcorn was the savory, salty alternative, a living link to the saltier days when our grandfathers munched on peanuts over a dark beer, interspersed with a deviled egg or chewy sausage, and left the youngsters to suck down sugar in the form of licorice or horehound sticks. To take such an honest, time-honored snack and infantilize it with sugar is truly repellent...

...But of course, though I say time-honored, there is one significant change in movie popcorn in the last few years. Which is, as we all know, that the nutrition nannies made theater chains give up the trans-fatty delights of coconut oil in favor of canola or Olestra or some such allegedly less deadly 10W30 concoction. Is it really coincidence that after one such momentous change like that, the first in decades, the floodgates to other bastardizations open?

It makes me wish for a Hollywood epic which would rip the veil off the face of today's puritanism and finally let us speak, open and freely, of the desires burning inside us. Imagine a tall, handsome crusading scientist, working late into the night until his own questing mind begins to see the truth, then fighting the prejudice all around him to gain exposure for his radical ideas. Imagine him on trial for his job, maybe even for subversion against the state, and using this persecution as a chance to directly confront the sins of the age. When you take away coconut oil, he tells the hostile court, you do not kill the desire for its buttery goodness inside our hearts-- you only deform it, so that twisted new ideas like sugary-sweet popcorn take its place, making children of us all. We will only be free when we admit that all men are brothers, that our love is normal, not something to be ashamed of, that there was nothing wrong in a snack eaten under circumstances which meant that most of us would only have it once or twice a month anyway.

Here would be a hero whose message would truly ring out amid the oppression we face today. For that reason, expect to see it at your local movie theater in about thirty years, at which time they'll be selling sugar-dipped hot dogs and God only knows what else.