Revolting principles

Senator Rick Santorum is a disgusting man. His statements on same-sex relationships and abortion are morally repugnant, but that’s not the entirety of his revoltingness. Santorum’s rhetoric is designed to disgust. When he compares gay sex to incest and bestiality, he’s tugging at your sense of taboo so he can elicit the same revulsion that he obviously feels. There’s no ethical association between gay sex and the rape of children or animals – the only common feature is that they fall into the group called “things that make Rick Santorum go ewwwww”.

But “ewwwww” is a politically powerful sentiment. This post from Mind Hacks (quoting from the Boston Globe) explains how a sensitivity to physical uncleanliness tends to be partnered with a consciousness of moral uncleanliness:

“Research has shown that people who are more easily disgusted by bugs are more likely to see gay marriage and abortion as wrong. Putting people in a foul-smelling room makes them stricter judges of a controversial film or of a person who doesn’t return a lost wallet. Washing their hands makes people feel less guilty about their own moral transgressions, and hypnotically priming them to feel disgust reliably induces them to see wrongdoing in utterly innocuous stories.”

Santorum’s comments present homosexuality as disgusting by association; fair play then for Dan Savage to turn that around and reinvent the senator’s surname as a noun meaning “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex“. Ewwwww! It’s a similar situation with Santorum’s opposition to contraception and abortion. Aside from the right-to-life issues (I’ve detailed my opposition to those in this post), Santorum worries that the ability to control fertility makes people do gross stuff: “[Contraception is] not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (Santorum sounds like a man who gargles with bleach after a dry kiss. He probably keeps borax in his bedside cabinet instead of lube.)

And, again, opponents turn the force of unpleasantness against him, as in this post by Medhi Hasan for the New Statesman:

“When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, Santorum and his wife spent the night in a hospital bed with the body and then took it home where, joined by their other children, they prayed over it, cuddled with it and welcomed the baby into the family.”

Hasan isn’t explicitly judgemental here, but his inclusion of it in a list of curious facts about Santorum makes it clear that this is meant to be another “ewwwww!” moment. There are powerful feelings of disgust around the handling of dead bodies, and an unsympathetic presentation of a family’s mourning for a stillborn child can conjure up a slightly nauseous reaction. Wonkette went for a clearer – and crueller – version of the same gross-out slur back in April. But the story is politically empty. It doesn’t articulate any pro-choice argument. It’s just your basic ewwwww.

The acquittal today of Michael Peacock on obscenity charges for the distribution of videos featuring anal fisting and watersports is one example of the ewwwww not being all-powerful. I seriously doubt that everyone on that jury felt entirely comfortable with the acts depicted. Some probably considered the material revolting. But all the same, they unanimously accepted that acts between consenting adults do not merit legal censure. What a victory it would be if we could get the ewwwww out of politics altogether.

Text © Sarah Ditum, 2012; photo by ozgurmulazimoglu, used under Creative Commons

2 thoughts on “Revolting principles

  1. Well, as an American voter during this election year (*meaning, poo-slinging galore and no end to the advertisements on TV), I have to be honest and tell you that while I am A. a lifelong Democrat and B. no friend nor supporter of Rick Santorum’s and C. won’t ever vote for him….in fact, you have absorbed some “lefty liberal” talking points about him that are not true.

    As I tell my other Democrat friends, some of whom are on the attack towards literally anything the former Senator says or does — if you engage in ugly accusations and slurs, then you take the whole debate down into the gutter. And you don’t fight against things you disapprove of by telling untruths or half-truths.

    Mr. Santorum DID NOT EVER SAY that gay sex was “just like incest or bestiality” nor did he compare it to “man-dog sex”. That is an egregious, politicized misquote. In fact, he has talked with sympathy about gay people. He belongs to a religion, however, that says gay sexual relationships are a sin. (BTW: probably 60% or more of Americans belong to such religious faiths, including Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, etc.)

    I am afraid I don’t get the comparison to insects. I am not aware how any of the US candidates for the Presidency (or even the current President) feel about bugs.

    And activist Dan Savage — don’t be so quick to assume he is on the “up and up”. He’s a nasty spiteful person, and his attacks on Rick Santorum really transgress public fairness — how would you like it if someone disagreed with you, and decided to smear you with very disgusting allusions to the name “Ditum”? to humiliate not just you, but your family and children?

    As a US citizen, I object to ANYTHING that exists to shut down dialog or freedom of speech. Mr. Santorum may object to things like gay marriage, abortion or even contraception (*not so odd for a practicing Catholic, even in the UK) BUT he has every right to believe what he wants. And every right to talk about what he believes, without harassment. HE is not personally harassing any gay people (he’s out of office, and has no political powers AT ALL) nor putting up websites saying that Dan Savage is the official name for fecal slime.

    As far as his stillborn baby: people grieve in different ways. I doubt anyone would be showcasing this if it was Mr. and Mrs. Obama grieving over a stillbirth! Is it a bit odd? A little, but not as crazy as people make it out to be. For example: people in Madagascar not only revisit the remains of their dead relatives, but cook and eat some of their flesh. To us, disgusting. To them, reverential.

    I had a colleague at work who lost a full-term baby to stillbirth — and yes, she cuddled and took picture with the baby, dressed him in the clothes he had received, passed him ’round to her family to hold. It was a very healing form of grief-work for her.

    In short: there are plenty of POLITICAL reasons not to vote for Mr. Santorum (assumign one is a US voter). It is not necessary to smear a candidate because you disagree with him! and one of the biggest reasons not to do this? It comes back at you, only worse — and in time the whole system is about namecalling, not who is the best candidate for the job.

  2. I can’t help feeling you’ve completely failed to read what I wrote, because this is a piece about how the Santorums’ grieving process is nobody’s business but theirs. However – Santorum really did say that gay sex was like dog fucking and incest, and it really doesn’t matter what church he belongs to. If your faith allows to slander other people’s consensual sexual relationships, your religion is full of bull and you deserve to be likened to a frothy mix of etc etc. By the way, you may not have noticed, but he is seeking the highest elected office in the country at the moment and has made marriage part of his platform, so yes it does matter.

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