The ultimate taboo

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This article is published in number 17 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until April 27, 2021

If you show it in public you go straight to jail for outrage of modesty. In sacred art it is often represented by a snake crushed by the feet of the Virgin Mary. Even when they are made of stone, they are mutilated or cut entirely. The Christian tradition, then, has tried to make it pure, legitimizing its seed only in the sacred bond of marriage. The centuries are entwined, the common sense of modesty changes, revolutions pass by, but the male sex has remained the taboo par excellence.

At some point in the 1970s, it also becomes a “crime”. The feminists in revolt declare that “the penis is fascist”, “coitus is a trivial and arbitrary act” and that it was necessary to “defeat the male culture of rape” and “refuse penetration.”

The French writer Michel Tournier called it “the troubled flower”: the male sex is no longer an erotic symbol, but only a political image, even aesthetically very ideological. He becomes addicted, then loser, finally pending, a symbol of all the insecurity neuroses feared by Woody Allen. In the early 1980s, psychoanalyst Billa Zanuso published an essay programmatically entitled: Penis Envy: A Review. From castration we thus pass to an almost civilized order: the penis is no longer a removal to be hidden in the unconscious but a fact of life, a provider of physical and spiritual well-being. The penis is. Also for women. A change in image, driven by the gay hedonism of the Eighties, which produces Umberto Bossi’s “celodurism”, the power of the penis expressed by Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos or the gas lighter Firebird of Alessi under the cylindrical shape of the penis.

Nobody evokes the shadow of the biblical Sodom, if in the street advertising billboards dish out hunks who, like the provincial bullies of the past, stuff their pants to show off more bullying genitals. And we come to today’s news: it is not only the phallus that is liquidated like an improper weapon, the male nude tout court has also ended up at the bar. The controversy is sparked by the advertising of Valentino that sees on stage, naked like a prawn, a long-haired model that dangles a handbag from his foot. At such an image of fluidity and androgyny, no one would have raised an eyebrow just ten years ago. Today, even in this country of Kazzian apprentices, sex archivists, intercourse librarians, that ambiguity disturbs, unleashes keyboard lions and causes scandal. The reason is simple: the fear of not existing as a “gender”. Because the body has always been a symbolic field on which endless political, cultural and social battles are played, which change according to cultures. Ambiguity means that traditional securities find themselves in tension with each other, one step away from the tilt of the senses.

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