I’ve always wondered why my Indian friends were usually the most conservative. Growing up on Bollywood movies featuring crooked cops, handsome heroes and beautiful women with delightful voices, I knew that the country – if anything – was just as diverse, as unpredictable, as unique, as anyone else. Finding out that they had given the world karma sutra however prompted the questions of what went wrong between then when women knew and practiced (sometimes only within marriage settings) the secrets of sexuality and now where an imported religion (mostly Catholicism) defines their outlook on life.
One of my most defining perceptions of the American society obtained also through popular media while growing up is sexual liberation. Much more than what obtains in Indian movies, American movies gave us the concept of deep kisses with men to whom a woman wasn’t married, random sexual contact after a few dates, sometimes after a few drinks, infidelity portrayed beautifully as art sometimes eliciting sympathy from the vulnerable audience, and gratuitous violence. A little boy on the streets of Mushin today still assumes that all it takes to get an American girl is to take her to the movies a few times – all conditioned perceptions. The often conservative nature of the American society is thus a source of shock to the immigrant trying to figure out what just happened. The United States exports perhaps the largest number of porn videos to the rest of the world, has nudity and sexual jokes in most of its most famous non-porn movies, yet impeached a sitting president having, or for lying about, oral sex. Explain that to a seven year old. I never quite understood it.
So, there was Weiner the congressman who tweeted his genitals, and Schwarzenegger who fathered a child with the maid, then Edwards, then Gingrich. Sufficient examples in private and public life of the country I live in show just how liberally the most powerful people there take the sanctity of marriage that many of them have sought to define, and “protect”. It is thus always a surprise when a thing such as gay marriage becomes such a big deal that it has to take almost divine intervention to get passed in the country’s third largest state. Not to take anything from the efforts of the legislators and the activists who achieved what they did a few days ago in New York, my immigrant sensibilities took a few moments to process the fact and realize that the America I had envisioned/perceived since a very long time while growing up is just now coming out slowly of its own closet. And that this is why it all seemed so jubilatory (if that’s a word), and not that there was something really extraordinary that happened in the passing of the law by the NY city legislature. The contrast between what already obtains and celebrated in the country’s popular culture and what the society accepts and sanctions in its laws and public behaviour is going to be subject of much rumination for a long time to come – especially in the mind of migrating visitors like me.
Coming up next, who knows, maybe marijuana? Obviously, you haven’t seen The Hangover. At least now I understand why those who watch Nollywood movies outside of Nigeria expect all Nigerians to speak, act, and behave in a particular way. And what about juju. Don’t ask me. It is not recognized by Nigerian law either.