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Hollywood, of course, suggests more of morals and immorals to more people than any other single force. Gone with Marilyn Monroe is the last, and perhaps the greatest, of the sex symbols. Lesser girls in ever crasser if no more honest stories now symbolize very little except Hollywood's desire to outshock TV (easy because the living room still imposes some restraints) and outsex foreign movies (impossible). European films have the best-looking girls; they also have a natural, if sometimes amoral, attitude toward sex, somewhere between a shrug and a prayer, between desire and fatigue, which makes Hollywood eroticism seem coyly fraudulent.
As for Broadway, quite a few plays lately have opened with a couple in bed to show right away, as Critic Walter Kerr says, that the male is not a homosexual. As another critic has seriously suggested, the next step in the theater will be to represent sexual intercourse onstage. Meanwhile, the forthcoming musical, What Makes Sammy Run?, at least represents how to feel about it. In a pleasant but unmistakable song, one of Sammy's girls croons, without reference to love or even to passion:
Drinks are okay, they break the ice,
Dancing this way is also nice.
But why delay the friendliest thing two people can do?
When it can be the sweetest and,
Let's face it, the completest and friendliest thing
Two people can do!*
The Unique Conflict. It remains for each man and woman to walk through this sexual bombardment and determine for themselves what to them seems tasteless or objectionable, entertaining or merely dull. A healthy society must assume a certain degree of immunity on the part of its people. But no one can really calculate the effect this exposure is having on individual lives and minds. Above all, it is not an isolated phenomenon. It is part and symptom of an era in which morals are widely held to be both private and relative, in which pleasure is increasingly considered an almost constitutional right rather than a privilege, in which self-denial is increasingly seen as foolishness rather than virtue. While science has reduced fear of long-dreaded earthly dangers, such as pregnancy and VD, skepticism has diminished fear of divine punishment. In short, the Puritan ethic, so long the dominant moral force in the U.S., is widely considered to be dying, if not dead, and there are few mourners.
The demise of Puritanismwhether permanent or not remains to be seenis the latest phase in a conflict, as old as Christianity itself, between Eros and agape, between passionate love named for a pagan god and spiritual love through which man imitates God. It is a conflict unique to the Christian West. The religions of many other civilizations provide a clearly defined and positive place for sex. In the West, the tension between the two, and the general confusion about the many facets of love, leads to a kind of self-torment that, says Italian Author Leo Ferrero, "might well appear to a Chinese psychiatrist as symptomatic of insanity."
The Decline of Puritanism. Yet that