Just watched Todd Field's Little Children on Netflix. It didn't strike me as a very successful movie on a number of fronts, covering familiar territory (repression in the suburbs) in a way that was neither particularly convincing (I could not figure out who these people were) nor very inventive. The most striking thing about it, to my jaded eye, was that it focused so much attention on masturbation as a symbol of marital discord. Watching the mocking portrayal of one of the husbands as he masturbates to Internet porn (only a real freak would ever do something like that!), it struck me that I've been seeing a lot of this lately, by which I mean: portrayals of masturbation as a marker of failing relationships or worse.
In Apatow's recent Knocked Up, Paul Rudd's uptight and controlling wife derisively describes catching her husband masturbating to her sister. And in HBO's execrable short series, Tell Me You Love Me masturbation repeatedly turns up as a sign of trouble. Now, I'm not going to start a support group, but it strikes me as interesting, and kind of creepy, that so many cultural products are pathologizing what might be described as innocent fun and the desired alternative to extra-marital adventures.
When did jacking go so wrong? I mean since the writings of St. Paul. Was it American Beauty's portrayal of the masturbating hero as a symbol of the suburban man trapped in a loveless marriage and dead-end job?
I'm not quite sure how to interpret it, except maybe as a cultural expression of our increasing need to imagine and represent relationships so perfect that they fulfill every possible desire, including those of our fantasy lives.