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Jewish World Review Nov. 11, 1999/ 2 Kislev, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office -- WE ALL KNOW about "Clinton fatigue.'' How about "sex fatigue''? They're not unrelated.

It used to be the intriguers of the "right-wing conspiracy'' and the Grandma Grundies of the Moral Majority who had dirty minds who plotted to turn back the clock. But a craving for at least a little of the Victorian sensibility is becoming mainstream chic.

The New York Observer, known for observing hip trends in the worlds of the trendy hip, ran this headline: "Enough! The Overexposure of Sex Is Ruining the Mood for Everybody.''

The Culprit? The "Big He'' himself. The following paragraph would be X-rated in pre-Clinton days, but now it's part of White House history. Talk about a legacy:

"One doesn't have to look too far in the past to discover who is partly to blame for the sick-of-sex feeling,'' writes Alexandra Jacobs in a front page story in the Observer. "When America read the details of the Starr report, it was not just the fact that the President was indulging in a 21-year-old intern that sickened, it was the grossness of the sex, the image of the leader of the free world masturbating into a sink, the stomach-churning ickiness of the whole affair, that lingered in one's mind. No longer can most Americans look at Bill Clinton without feeling a certain uneasiness, as if he, like Ben Stiller in "There's Something about Mary,'' has a perpetual glob of semen hanging from his Presidential ear. In a certain way, one could say, Bill Clinton ruined sex for America.''

Television, naturally, is the quickest place to confirm this. "Ally McBeal,'' which began as a charming, witty gentle satire of the life of a single female lawyer in post-modern post-feminist, urban America, wins top ratings for this season's first two shows. In the first, Ally, who used to be looking for a meaningful relationship, indulges in a tawdry quickie with a stranger in a car in a car wash as the brushes and water punctuate the raunchy rhythms of the coupling.

The second episode focuses on Ally and a competitive and sexy woman law partner in an on-screen kiss. It's getting difficult to push the envelope. In two earlier episodes Ally had kissed a woman, but she was only play-acting to fool onlooking men. This kiss is for real.

Nicholas Baker, author of "Vox,'' the novel about phone sex that Monica gave to Bill, agrees that things have gone too far. "We need a tropical foliage of forbiddenness,'' he says, "... a little mini-Victorian episode to kind of help things along.''

In fact, sexiness as an image is a cliche, something behind the curve, trite. A creative director of Barney's, the chic, expensive, pacesetter clothier in Manhattan, says sex isn't any longer fashionable. He avoids it in his window manikins. "If you see a man with his shirt slashed to the waist and a woman looking wantonly at him, there's nothing more corny.''

To the baby boomers who came of age with Bill Clinton, sex was a political statement. When the personal became political, fundamental issues of ethics and morality were blurred for the next generation. "It is not young people who degenerate; they are ruined only when grown men have already been corrupted,'' wrote Montesquieu, the 18th century French political philosopher.

Bill Clinton as the first boomer president brought his sexual politics into the Oval Office and undercut his political leadership with immorality (and immaturity). The consensus of the citizenry was that he should get a pass on his sexual tackiness. The Senate ultimately chose to separate the personal from the political. He remained leader, such as he was, of the Free World, but at considerable cost.

Bill Clinton's sexual excesses reflected and encouraged cultural excesses. But they also brought a new awareness that surely there was something better, both personally and publicly, even if it looked a lot like our parents' morality. Some people make fun of George W. for having missed the cultural revolution when he was at Yale. He sowed "wild oats'' but not as an expression of political creed. He didn't suffer the arrogance of sexual liberation. That's one of his assets.

A growing number of Americans want to put back a little foliage of "forbiddenness'' in their personal lives -- and in the Oval Office, too. Tacky decadence in sex and politics is more than a little fatiguing. It's de-moralizing and depressing, too.


11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate