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Contentions

O Times, O Mores

The New York Times has published a disturbing front-page story about a sexual revolution taking place among Chilean youth:

It is just after 5 p.m. in what was once one of Latin America’s most sexually conservative countries, and the youth of Chile are bumping and grinding to a reggaetón beat. At the Bar Urbano disco, boys and girls ages 14 to 18 are stripping off their shirts, revealing bras, tattoos and nipple rings.

The place is a tangle of lips and tongues and hands, all groping and exploring. About 800 teenagers sway and bounce to lyrics imploring them to “Poncea! Poncea!”: make out with as many people as they can.

And make out they do — with stranger after stranger, vying for the honor of being known as the “ponceo,” the one who pairs up the most.

As sad as this sounds, in March, Newsweek described these parties much more darkly, portraying them as drug- and alcohol-infused orgies.  It’s unclear just how widespread the behavior is, but it’s eerily reminiscent of “hunt-the-zipper,” the mind-numbing children’s sex game described in Brave New World.

Of course, the Times attempts to blame the ponceo subculture on a lack of sex education, but the root cause is surely a moral failing, not one of hygiene or health.  (The article even quotes a 34-year-old “sex therapist” who approves of her 14-year-old daughter’s attending such parties.  Unsurprisingly, the mother and daughter have different surnames.)

This phenomenon, of a radical decline in mores in a Catholic country after the end of an authoritarian regime, was one of the main themes of Whit Stillman’s excellent film Barcelona.  Set in the Catalan capital not long after the death of Franco, its hero is an American conservative and self-confessed prig who is trying to maintain his virtue in a land of license.  He ruefully observes:

The sexual revolution reached Spain later than the U.S., but went beyond it. I don’t know what it was like in other cities, but in Barcelona everything was swept aside. The world was turned upside down—and stayed there.

Only time will tell what will happen when these Chilean children grow up, if they ever do.

And speaking of the world turned upside down, does one have to be a prig to be bothered by the fact that the Times both gave its article an erotic headline—”In Tangle of Young Lips, a Sex Rebellion in Chile”—and accompanied it with a titillating photo of indecent adolescents?  Newsweek was able to tell the same story without either.



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