by YES! Staff

Love and the soul

There’s something slightly icky about Valentine’s Day. For most of my adult life, a pronouncement by Gordon Gordon in WDC Period — a ’zine that made a huge impression on me — to the effect that Valentine’s Day and “venereal disease” share the same initials summed up my feelings about the holiday. I set out to salvage the holiday, to reclaim its essential significance from the marketing parasites that manipulate our personal insecurity for their own commercial gain. From Wikipedia, I gathered that the holiday essentially sprang from a commercial undertaking by 19th-century London card printers, that the diamond industry attempted with uneven results to grab a piece of the action in the early 1980s, and since the turn of the last millennium, the medium has metastasized onto the internet. A number of St. Valentines crop up in Christian church history, but none appear to have done anything significant – certainly nothing that would remotely inspire the giving of flowers, cards and chocolates in heart-shaped boxes. There was some kind of fertility festival in ancient Rome that ran roughly through the middle of February, but no link is established with romantic love, so the trail goes cold there, too. But maybe that only demonstrates the folly of using Wikipedia as a starting point for research. Then there’s a reference to a poem written by English writer Geoffrey Chaucer to commemorate the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. My grandfather translated The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius as an associate English professor at Johns Hopkins University in the early 1960s, so he would probably be know something about this, but regretfully he’s not around anymore to consult. In any case, a fawning literary tribute to English royalty seems an unsatisfying origin for a day that is supposed to provide the platform for sincere expressions of affection to our most beloved companions. The essence of Valentine’s Day, I’m guessing, is a departure from the notion of marriage for the purpose of procreation and economic maintenance, which no doubt underlaid the union of Richard and Anne. Also a departure from the notion of agape love, as indoctrinated by the church, which calls you to transfer concern from yourself to God — that is, to the poor, the orphans, the widows, the refugees and the community of at large. All of those, I’m sure, are important elements of a healthy and fulfilling marriage, but they leave something essential out: the celebration of erotic pleasure between lovers. Surely some scholar must have gone to the trouble of locating eros in the historical development of western philosophy as a driver of modern cultural practice. Naturally, I turned to the yellowed pages in Bertrand Russell’s 895-page tome, A History of Western Philosophy, which is subtitled, And its connections with political and social circumstances from the earliest times to the present day. References to “love” and “Eros” in the index yielded little insight, so I looked up “romance.” Naturally, I ended up reading about the romantic movement in philosophy. Russell scorns the romantic ideal, positing it as the glorification of individual attainment: “The anarchic rebel does even better [than the mystic]: he feels himself not one with God, but God. Truth and duty, which represent our subjection to matter and to our neighbours, exist no longer for the man who has become God; for others, truth is what he posits, duty what he commands. If we could all live solitary and without labour, we could all enjoy this ecstasy of independence; since we cannot, its delights are only available to madmen and dictators.” Similarly, passionate love, for the romantic, is balanced on precarious shoals: “So long as passionate lovers are regarded as in revolt against social trammels, they are admired; but in real life the love-relation itself quickly becomes a social trammel, and the partner in love comes to be hated, all the more vehemently if the love is strong enough to make the bond difficult to break. Hence love comes to be conceived as a battle, in which each is attempting to destroy the other by breaking through the walls of his or her ego.” Oddly enough, the most salient piece of information I found about the historical origins of Valentine’s Day comes from an academic paper by Nan Seuffert, entitled “Domestic Violence, Discourses of Romantic Love, and Complex Personhood in the Law” that was published in the Melbourne University Law Review in 1999. The cruel ontological sand trap experienced by battered women who kill their husbands — somewhat like the manipulation visited upon hapless romantics searching for the appropriate greeting card — is that domestic abuse largely remains in the private sphere, and the courts effectively abet it by treating it as a private matter. Seuffert invokes the courts of love in medieval Europe, something of a forerunner to the modern-day family court. “The High Court of Love, established on St. Valentine’s Day in 1400, was to have jurisdiction over the rules of love, to hear disputes between lovers, and to hear appeals from other Courts of Love,” Seufert writes. “It was organised in anon-hierarchal manner and the judges were selected by women afterreciting poetry. Judgments were made collectively. The subject matterof the Courts of Love included contracts of love, remedies for amorousbetrayal, deceit and slander of lovers, responsibilities of separatedlovers and punishment of violence against women.” Legalscholar Peter Goodrich provides the key piece: “There is noconventional victor, and no pronouncement of past fault; the judgmentis neither punitive nor retributory; it speaks instead of the futurepossibilities of the lovers’ relationship.” I bet Barry White could digthat.

Eros V: Love, passion, beauty and lust inspire artists

The creative minds overat Lyndon Street Artworks bustle and jive in preparation for thecollective’s big show, the one that began before the studio slots hadfilled up and the public-art commissions started coming in. Eros, theerotic art show that bloomed in 2005 in this burrowed, downtownoutpost, came to fruition through the organizational prowess of ErikBeerbower, who now leans back on the couch and laces his fingers behindhis head. He’s a sculptor, proprietor of the building and mouthpiecefor this gang of artmakers who toil under his roof, and this show theystarted back in the beginning came about largely on a whim. “We weren’tsure how the people would take it,” he says. “The first year we did itI thought it would be a bunch of guys showing up in trench coats.” Overthe years Beerbower has opened the submission process so that anyonemaking art in the area has a shot at the — ahem — exposure. Duringthe submission process that first year, he recalls, “this old lady, Imean like 75 years old, drops off this brown paper bag, she paid herfive-dollar entry fee and just left. We looked in the bag and it waslike this whole forest of penises.” He laughs. “That shows you thateverybody has an erotic side.” This year’s pieces come in all media:Collages, painting sculpture, video, photography and even a fewinteractive pieces will fill the warrens of Lyndon Street, eachdesigned to titillate and tease in the most pleasant of ways. But itwasn’t always a given that a city like Greensboro,which can sometimes tend towards parochialism, would rally behind theerotic side of art, even on Valentine’s Day. “Erotica is notpornography,” Beerbower explains. “There’s a difference between thetwo, and I think people can accept the eroticism part — and there arenot a lot of places to see it around here.” The crowd at the eventgenerally defies simple classification — old and young, single andattached, gay and straight. What everybody has in common is that theyare over 18, and everybody can handle the sight of a little flesh. Thisyear they’ll be treated to scads of scandalous art, a raffle byCharlotte and Erik Str’m, live painting, glitter and henna body art anda burlesque performance by Foxy Moxy (yes, our arts writer) and PhatMan Dee (who you have to Google to believe). Also there will be akaraoke love song contest. And there will be lots and lots oftitillating art. “I don’t think we’ve ever been truly shocked yet —that one piece that crosses the line between erotica and pornography,”he says. “Hopefully this year we’ll get something that’ll make us allsay, ‘Wow.’” The underlying themes of the evening will be the blurredlines between sex, love and lust and the inherent beauty therein. “Someof the bondage photos,” he says, “they are breathtaking, so beautiful.The artist’s eye: That’s what makes it different from pornography. Thatand insertion.”

Adam Eve: The business of love

Diversification,challenging authority and promoting a healthy representation of humansexuality are all key ingredients in the Adam & Eve success story.The company, founded by president Phil Harvey 40 years ago, began as athesis project that challenged the law of the land. At the time,Comstock Laws made it illegal to send any “obscene, lewd, and/orlascivious” materials through the mail, including contraceptive devicesand information. But Harvey persisted and built the first mail-ordercontraceptive business in America. Today,Adam & Eve, which is headquartered in Hillsborough, boasts morethan 10 million customers and annual sales of more than $110 million. KatyZvolerin, Adam & Eve’s director of public relations, said she’sseen a shift in acceptance of adult-oriented companies in her 15 yearswith the company. “We’re a romance-enhancement business,”Zvolerin said. “We’re great for married couples that have been togetherfor years and want to try a little something new. We’re great for moreadventurous couples. We’re great for people who are single, who aregoing through a divorce or not in a relationship.” Adam &Eve offers more than 14,000 products including lingerie, massage oils,romantic music, personal massagers, sexual aids, lubricants, adultvideos and DVDs, instructional books, erotic board games, condoms andmore, and that variety is the strength of their business, Zvolerinsaid. The week before Valentine’s Day typically means a boost in salesfor Adam & Eve. The activity at the company’s headquarters on Feb.6 seemed to indicate that despite the current economic downturn, demandfor Adam & Eve’s products remains strong. A dryerase board in thecompany’s warehouse indicated the company would ship its products tomore than 14,600 customers on that day. “It’s sort of like sweepsweek,” Zvolerin said. Adam & Eve has consulted with a number ofmainstream publications this Valentine’s Day including Bride magazine. “Ithink public acceptance has a lot to do with it and more people arefree to talk about it now than they used to,” Zvolerin said. However,Zvolerin acknowledges she felt the stigma attached to working for anadult-oriented company when she first applied for a job with Adam &Eve 15 years ago. “I thought long and hard about taking the job andcalled my parents,” she said. “My mother is a church secretary and mydad was an assistant principal at a high school in Tennessee.” Zvolerinsaid she was given an assignment as part of her interview process.“They sent me home with this big box of toys and videos to write aboutand my biggest fear was, ‘What if I have an accident and I die and theyfind my body with all this stuff strewn around it?’” she said. Buttaking a tour of Adam & Eve has the feel of taking a tour of IBM.However, on Feb. 6, the company was playing host to two specialvisitors who underscored the company’s adult-oriented nature.

Bree Olson and Kayden Kross, two adult film stars currently undercontract with Adam & Eve, were taking their first tour of thecompany’s headquarters. Kross said she was most impressed withhow smooth the operation runs. Olson said she was most impressed withthe kindness and generosity of the Adam & Eve team. Olson and Krossdid a national promotion for their film Roller Dollz last year and they agreed it was one of the more positive professional experiences they’ve ever enjoyed. Theestablishment of the entertainment division is just one of theinnovations Adam & Eve has implemented to bolster its market share,Zvolerin said. This year, Adam & Eve projects it will produce 40adult films, but the recent glut of adult DVDs and free online contenthas made it more difficult for some adult businesses to thrive. Not sowith Adam & Eve. Zvolerin said the belief that the adult industrywas recession-proof has been challenged by the severity of the currenteconomic downturn. “The school of thought for so long that intimes of trouble, people stay home and have fun that way rather thangoing off on romantic trips or weekends,” Zvolerin said. “This has beena little different.” Still, Adam & Eve has not had to makea single job cut of its more than 350 employees during the currentrecession, Zvolerin said. And the number of Adam & Eve retailfranchises has reached 25 and counting. Zvolerin said attitudes towardhuman sexuality have evolved significantly since the company moved toits new facility 15 years ago. “When we built the building there was asmall outcry of conservative locals and some churches,” Zvolerin said.“We spoke to them and said, ‘We’re not going to be selling anything outof our headquarters. We’re a legitimate business and we bring a lot ofjoy to people’s lives.’ And I think they embraced us.” Every year onValentine’s Day, couples looking to spice things up in the bedroomembrace the products Adam & Eve sells, which bodes well for ahomegrown North Carolina business that began as a challenge to outdated social mores regarding human sexuality.