The Toxic Allure of Sexual Transgression

Director Steve McQueen’s new film “Shame” is burning up movie screens and polarizing audiences. I saw it this afternoon.

Some of the hype comes (so to speak) from the frontal nudity shots of star Michael Fassbender. And yes, what they say is true.

This blog is not a review of the film – you can find lots of them through the kind auspices of Google.

Nor am I going to moralize about the story line. I’ll leave that to the rating boards and ‘family values’ organizations.

I want to talk about the toxic allure of sexual transgression.

Or more specifically, I want to talk in this initial blog (there may be more installments as I digest the film) about the energy force inherent in sexual transgression.

The voracious sexual appetite of Brandon (Fassbender’s character) is riveting and its intensity made fierce through the calculated detachment by which he seeks to satiate it.

Much of the commentary on the film has been focused on the addictive aspects of his compulsion. And the story line does indeed veer toward a judgment of it as ultimately toxic.

But there is an allure about Brandon’s transgressiveness, a manifestation of a primal life force, an energy and intensity. Part of the allure derives from the surmounting of limits or boundaries some of which are related to social acceptability. Part of the allure is the unmasked visceral response to instinct. Part of the allure is the unfettered exercise of potency.

You no doubt expect, and I’ll oblige with a modicum of conviction, a list of qualifiers. Yes, there is a misogynistic dimension, and yes, there is a palpable poverty from the squandered opportunities for true affection and grounded intimacy.


French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote considerably on the subject of transgression in terms of ontology (how we understand the nature of our being), ethics, politics, and sexuality. He says quite poetically at one point “perhaps (transgression) is like a flash of lightning in the night which, from the beginning of time, gives a dense and black intensity to the night it denies, which lights up the night from the inside, from top to bottom, yet owes to the dark the stark clarity of its manifestation, its harrowing and poised singularity.” (Language, Counter Memory, Practice, 1977).  

There is an appeal to breaking through from time to time the grayness of what constitute most of our lives and social conventions and experiencing the blinding intensity of a lightning bolt framed against the blackness of whatever – despair, perhaps. 

* * *

Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both books can be ordered through your local bookseller or on-line through retailers such as,,,,


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One response to “The Toxic Allure of Sexual Transgression

  1. marion_g

    <!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> <HTML><HEAD> <META content="text/html; charset=utf-8" http-equiv=Content-Type> <META name=GENERATOR content="MSHTML 8.00.6001.19154"></HEAD> <BODY bgColor=#ffffff> <DIV><FONT size=2 face=Arial>Hi David.&nbsp; To tell you the honest truth….I didn’t even know there was a film out called "Shame".&nbsp; I gather it was quite revealing and probably not for me.&nbsp; I don’t know.&nbsp; Love Aunt Mame</FONT></DIV> <BLOCKQUOTE style="BORDER-LEFT: #000000 2px solid; PADDING-LEFT: 5px; PADDING-RIGHT: 0px; MARGIN-LEFT: 5px; MARGIN-RIGHT: 0px"> <DIV style="FONT: 10pt arial"></DIV></BODY></HTML>

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