Sex as a Tool, Sex as a Weapon of Revolution

the Alyssa Milano sex tape satire

Last Tuesday, the humor site Funny or Die “released” actress Alyssa Milano’s sex tape — or, rather, her pretend sex tape. The clip, which is a little over two minutes long, shows Milano about to get it on with an unknown man on a rose petal-covered bed. Just as she positions the camera to film, her “partner” comes up behind her, grabs her, and the camera is kicked off position, focusing on the television instead, where an anchorman is talking about the situation in Syria.

Viewers can continue to track the “action” in a mirror near the television, but for the most part, the bulletin about Syria dominates the next minute. Milano’s statement is clear: people care more about celebrity gossip than they do about what’s actually happening in the world, and the only way to reach them is to make sex the Trojan horse. But sex isn’t always just a Trojan horse. Over on Salon, Katherine Frank has an excerpt of her book Plays Well In Groups: A Journey Through The World Of Group Sex:

In a political address on Iranian state television from 2005, the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned of the conceivable success of a “velvet” revolution: “More than Iran’s enemies need artillery, guns, and so forth, they need to spread cultural values that lead to moral corruption … a senior official in an important American political center said: ‘Instead of bombs, send them miniskirts.’ He is right. If they arouse sexual desires in any given country, if they spread unrestrained mixing of men and women, and if they lead youth to behavior to which they are naturally inclined by instincts, there will no longer be any need for artillery and guns against that nation.”

Conservative fears that desires for greater sexual freedom among a populace will beget desires for other social changes are not completely unfounded. [Iranian American anthropologist Pardis] Mahdavi, for example, traces the emergence of Iran’s Green Revolution of 2009 to the social and sexual changes she witnessed during her fieldwork. Youth who had begun rebelling by sneaking out of their homes wearing makeup, listening to illegal music, and throwing sex parties eventually became more explicitly critical of repression. They began organizing and actively challenging their leaders. The Green Revolution erupted after the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with protestors literally taking to the streets. Sexual experimentation alone, Mahdavi cautions, does not automatically transform society. But the disenchantment that had been building in Iran, along with the fact that people had begun stealing moments of freedom and pleasure, created changes in their thoughts and actions—not just around sex, but toward everyday life more generally—that did spread to the political realm.

The Arab Spring—a wave of political demonstrations spreading over the Arab world— officially began on December 18, 2010, the day that a twenty- six-year-old Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of the governor’s office in Sidi Bouzid to protest mistreatment and corruption. Bouazizi’s action sparked other protests throughout the country; news of the situation spread rapidly around the world through reports on Facebook and other websites. Although police attempted to squash the demonstrations, unrest grew. Within weeks, the Tunisian president fled the country after twenty-three years in office. Protests and uprisings have since followed in other nations, including Egypt, Libya, Syria, Morocco, and Yemen. Each of these political movements is unique, with its own history and complexities, and the outcomes have varied. Scholars see common threads across the uprisings, though, such as slow escalations of discontent, marginalized youth, and the multifaceted use of social media sites and the Internet. Beyond kindling new visions and desires, the Internet allows for rapid information flows and international connections never before possible. A 2011 study found that nine out of ten Egyptians and Tunisians reported using Facebook to organize protests or disseminate information during recent political struggles. Whether increasing openness about sexuality is best seen a precursor to the Arab Spring or a consequence of the ensuing regime changes is debated, but sexuality is linked to visions of change put forth on both sides of the struggles.

Read “Sexy spring: How group sex will liberate Iran, China” on Salon. Header image features a clip of the Milano satire “sex tape” on Funny or Die.