Monday, July 28, 2008

How Taboo Are You?

National Geographic Channel is advertising a new season of Taboo. The network says, “Taboo takes you on a journey beyond the comfort zones and across cultural borders to explore rituals and customs that are acceptable in some cultures, but forbidden, illegal or, reviled in others. Understand seemingly bizarre and shocking practices from around the world.”

The promos seem to indicate it’s the kind of entertainment that indulges prurience while assuaging the conscience by claiming to be “educational” (sort of how the original magazine worked for school boys). It also seems geared to persuade westerners that their own (mildly felt) taboos, like those against sex change operations, should be taken even less lightly given the really bizarre things those Third Worlders do.

At the series’ website there’s a game you can play called “How Taboo Are You?” The test asks a series of “Would you rather” questions dealt from a deck of cards. For instance, “Would you rather be suspended by hooks or eat a scorpion?” Or, “Would you rather get a full body tattoo or join a fight club?”

After answering dozens of questions, it turns out I’m 31 percent more taboo than other Americans playing the game. Given that the questions deal with sex change operations, participation in naked man festivals and being whipped, you might be tempted to alert Bishop Finn about his newspaper editor.

But wait.

Turns out I’m more taboo than most people because I would consent to a great deal more gross-outs and indignities than most responders when the alternative was “Swapping Spouses”.

According to National Geographic those practices considered most taboo by players were:

1. Sex Change Surgery

2. Impaling (through the lips with rods)

3. Suspension (by hooks)

4. Croc Skin (by burning)

5. Stomach Scrape

6. Neck Rings (Thai neck stretch)

7. Fire Ant Glove

8. Dog (eating)

9. Whip-Off

10. Full-Body Tattoo

The least taboo practices were:

1. Christian Nudists

2. Fugu (eating blowfish)

3. Naked Man Festival (participating in)

4. Swapping Spouses

5. Snake (eating)

6. Fight Club (joining)

7. Lover's Scar (carving)

8. Scorpion (eating)

9. Branding

10. Spiders (eating)

So most responders think pain, humiliation and eating gross food is far worse than cheating on your spouse and committing adultery with your friend’s spouse.

I think and hope these were cynical answers. If the questions were posed more personally – “Mr. Smith, would you rather cheat on your wife with Mrs. Murphy or eat sautéed snake?” – I think more people would go for a bit of culinary adventure. I’m fairly certain most husbands I know would also undergo physical pain and humiliation before cheating on their wives.

If that’s not the case, then the whole body of world literature on love would make no sense and we have reason to wonder whether the natives on the tube or the boobs watching it are the greater primitives.

For the record, I’m not claiming any personal moral superiority here. I saw the promos while watching “Night Shift: Repo Men”.