Saturday, April 03, 2004

Chris Gudgeon, The Naked Truth: the Untold Story of Sex in Canada, 2003.

It helps to have a good idea of what you're getting into when you open a book. Moreover, it helps to understand just what your expectations are.

Gudegon's book is aimed at a wide audience, and received quite good promotion, for a Canadian book--sex does sell, after all--and so I shouldn't have expected, as I did, a deep, academic survey of the history of the perception of sex in Canada. Yet, for a popular book hoping to attract a large audience, Gudgeon's book does quite well.

His book works through topics like public nudity, strippers, the status of women (especially in relation to sexual mores), swingers, porn, homosexuality, censorship, and legislation aimed at all of these and other aspects of sexual behaviours and identities. What bothers me most about the way he does look at these topics is how poorly organised the book is--it skips from topic to topic, and I didn't get a good sense of where his argument is going--and frequently I didn't feel sure that I understood how it had been developing.

His argument, though far from startlingly original, is quite intriguing. He believes that Canadian society has always suffered from what Gudgeon terms "neurotica": that we as a society have always struggled with a unique inability to cope with representations and discussions of sex. We are, he argues ambivalent toward sex despite "the frozen north... [being] flaming hot." Our laws are confusing about most issues relating to sex: particularly so about the legal status of stripping and prostitution. We hem and we haw and we react oddly, and eventually become a bit more open, but deep-seated confusion remains.

All of what Gudgeon has to say is interesting. He writes clearly and engagingly. What is perhaps most disconcerting is his understandable attempt to be funny in dealing with his subject matter: sidebars like "St. Augustine's Top Five Pick-up Lines" and "Releasing Your Inner Cougar" seem like something one should expect in a trite magazine, and serve only to lighten the treatment. They're not needed.

All in all, it's a neat book, even though I think it has some serious flaws. Its examination of censorship, and the not-great/not-awful nature of R. v. Butler case [about pornographic/obscene materials] is quite well done indeed.

I did enjoy reading the book, but it's not one that I think I'd give anyone as a present. It's more of a fun and interesting divertissement.

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