Saturday, September 10, 2011

Revisiting Abstinence In Media

cross posted from my Media Justice column

As I prepare for a new season of some of my favorite shows (can’t wait to check out the Sons of Anarchy (which I’ve discussed here before) I’ve been indulging in watching some of my favorite shows that I own on DVD. One of the shows that I’m constantly in awe of is Pushing Daises.

Pushing Daises is one of those rare shows that is not only entertaining with a strong, funny and intelligent script, but also mixes magical realism into the plot. One additional element to this show that I really adore is the representation of abstinence as well as the create ways characters find to express their love and attraction to one another. I find this type of narrative often omitted from stories of courtship or experiences in dating and forming relationships. Check out the trailer below:

I find this series extremely useful when discussing abstinence. Not only does this show center abstinence since this is a reality for the main characters, but it also offers a look into how we can be and get creative in our expressions of love and attraction to others that is safe in many ways. The premise of the show is that Ned (Lee Pace) is a pie maker who works with Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) but also has a secret power, which is where the magical realism comes in, in that he can “awaken the dead” for one minute, but if he leaves them alive something/one else must die in its place. He may touch them again and they are dead for good. Ned is using his power to help solve crimes of people who are murdered with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). When his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) is murdered he awakens her but is so caught up in his love for her he does not touch her again. Their entire courtship and relationship centers around Chuck and Ned not touching one another’s skin, which of course limits their ability to show love and affection. But they find ways to do so.

This show is one of the few that has only had two seasons but has been so influential, at least for me as an educator. Using this in a classroom setting for a sexuality class is how I envision this piece of media being a good guide into conversations on affection, attraction, abstinence, limiting transmission of STIs, and safety. For example, take Ned and Chuck’s experiences kissing one another. This is something that if done without any barrier methods for Ned and Chuck, can result in Chuck’s death. As a result, they get creative. Check it out below:

Chuck and Ned use plastic wrap as a barrier method to protect themselves from coming into skin-to-skin contact with one another. This may not be a perfect example of reality, but it is a good example of how using plastic wrap can be used as a barrier method. For example, it’s not rare to hear that plastic wrap (as long as it is not microwavable) can be used in place of a dental dam to limit exposure to bodily fluids when engaging in oral sex. They also do similar things when holding hands as they wear gloves. Early in the show they did not hold one another’s hands, instead they made eye contact and held it and held onto their own hands. It’s a great example of showing affection towards someone by holding hands, but it’s also a great example of a safe activity that may limit STIs. The use of a glove for this safety speaks also to the use of latex gloves as barriers for various types of sexual activities.

Ned also finds his co-worker Olive is infatuated with him and desiring him as well. Their experiences are ones that are honest, hopeful, charming, and realistic for many folks. Being able to talk to someone we are attracted to, have a crush on, or want to get to know better takes courage. Olive is all of these things and so much more! Take a look at the witty and fun exchange Olive and Ned often have here.

Ned and Olive’s relationship is one that evolves in ways that I find realistic and supportive. At the end of season one Olive goes to a convent and there discovers that Chuck’s birth mother is also her Aunt Lilly. Here we have a narrative of young mothers being sent away to birth their children. This was not uncommon in many communities at particular times in the US, but today we don’t really have young mothers being sent away for fear of embarrassment (of themselves or their families) as we did years ago. Here’s a great clip of how Ned discovers the secret Olive has discovered.

I also appreciate how Ned and Chuck discuss their relationship with one another. Sometimes these conversations are scary and difficult to have, but Ned is very much the type to “spit it out” to get the conversation going and the statement out! This is a characteristic I enjoy about Ned, but also one that I can relate to because often when you think about something so much you become anxious, often some folks may just blurt out what is on their mind to find piece of mind. Here is the exchange Ned and Chuck have about being in a relationship with one another. Chuck wants to be realistic and acknowledges that Ned may want and need different types of affection that she cannot give and share with him because of their situation. Ned’s response to Chuck’s statement is that “just because we want things doesn’t mean we need them to be happy” and reminds Chuck that he wants to be with her even if they cannot be together in certain ways.

I find this interaction between Chuck and Ned one that speaks to how relationships may work even if/when one sexual encounters are not at the center. In our society we usually assume that a partnered, monogamous couple, especially one that is married and/or in love are engaging in sexual activity. Rarely do we imagine that their relationship works for them in ways that bring them both joy but does not include sexual activities. It really does challenge our way of thinking about relationships.

This is such a great show and I miss it dearly! Not just because it’s great content and stories, but it’s also useful in the classroom and entertaining. I’ve yet to find another show that embraces all of these conversations in such a unique and complete way. What are some forms of media that you all enjoy that discuss and represents abstinence that is accessible?

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