On last week’s episode of Nip/Tuck—one of my favorite guilty pleasures—the patient du jour (de la semaine?) was a young man with a unique and enviable problem. Thanks to the flexibility he’d developed through intensive yoga practice, and the fact that he was unusually well endowed, he had become addicted to autofellatio. It was wreaking havoc with his life—he could seldom leave the house, preferring to spend every waking moment with his legs over his head and his dick in his mouth. His solution was not to deal with the addiction, but to forestall it by getting penis reduction surgery.
Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.
Of course, while this guy is making mincemeat of his manhood, every other male character on the show (and probably half the audience at home) is contorting his body into pretzels trying to do what our patient has so frivolously denied himself. If youth is wasted on the young, I guess elasticity can be wasted on the hung.
At first I thought the premise was absurd: If I had this guy’s talent, would I ever consider getting rid of it? Did Picasso ever say, “You know what, I’m wasting too much time in the studio because I’m addicted to my talent—maybe I should scoop out an eye”? Did Caruso rip his tongue out so he could spend more time with the kids?
In fact, I think the more appropriate parallel is Beethoven, who continued to compose music despite the fact that he couldn’t hear a note of it. I’m sure that, in real life, the guy with the cocksucking obsession would be in serious withdrawal after the surgery: instead of spending his life with his dick in his mouth, he’d spend his life trying to get his dick in his mouth. And what’s more pathetic, really?
But I’m not here to pick on people for self-mutilation or even to point out the absurdities of commercial television. What really struck me as I watched that episode was its truth as metaphor.
Forget all those ads for restless leg syndrome and fibromyalgia medication: the real plague of our times is narcissism. The truth is that most people in this culture would kill to suck their own dicks; it would be the physical culmination of how they live their lives already.
Take my friend Keith, for example. Keith is a pretty good-looking guy, except for a little crookedness in his nose and somewhat scrawny arms. But Keith likes to think of himself as the love child of Brad Pitt and George Clooney. He spends a fortune on grooming and knows the benefits and price tag of every skincare product known to man. He gets his shirts hand-made and has a closet full of outfits he’s worn only once. When Keith goes out on the town, he’s a stunner. He lives for the looks of strangers who do double-takes as he passes. He thrives through flirtation, kvelling as other men eye him at parties and strike up conversations about nothing just to be in his presence.
Keith loves to have other people look at him, but he has only one mirror in his house, and it’s a small one—just enough for a quick view to make sure he doesn’t have a booger hanging from his nose when he leaves the house. Keith doesn’t like to look at himself for long, because he knows he’ll inevitably find a flaw, and he’ll then spend the next hour trying to fix it, only to find another one and spend more time fixing that. I dread the day when Keith finally gives in to the temptation to have plastic surgery. He might come out looking like Faye Dunaway. And even she doesn’t look like Faye Dunaway anymore.
When Keith finally gets out the door and on the prowl, he has a particular prey in mind. Of course, he goes for the pretty boys. If a pretty boy likes him, then it means that Keith himself is pretty, and that’s what it’s all about. The truth is that Keith is one of the smartest people I know, but he’s confident about his intelligence, so he doesn’t have to have it validated by having an interesting conversation with a man. What he wants validated is his looks, so a gorgeous airhead will do just fine.
If a model could walk out of one of those oversized photos at Abercrombie & Fitch and snuggle up to Keith—like Jeff Daniels stepping off the screen to fall in love with Mia Farrow in The Purple Rose of Cairo—he’d be in seventh heaven. The airbrushed perfection is what he’s going for—the precise little nose, the smooth skin, the shaved chest made of marble and silicone. There are real-life equivalents, of course; that degree of beauty lasts about five minutes, but it does exist. Half of its power, actually, lies in the fact that it’s so fleeting.
Keith never has any problem getting laid, but it may not always be with Mr. Abercrombie. Scanning the crowd at a bar one night as the clock ticked on and the pickings grew slimmer, he said to me flippantly, “A two at ten, you know, becomes a ten at two.” Pour a little liquor into the bargain, and anything can happen. And even if the guy is unattractive, validation is validation, and when he’s desperate, Keith will take it any way he can get it.
There have been occasions when he’s gotten precisely what he wants, of course—when he’s gone home with a blond Adonis with abs of steel and a heart to match. They kiss for a while, Keith keeping his eyes open the whole time, since it’s one of those rare moments when reality actually trumps fantasy. They kiss and he feels completely empowered, his narcissistic hole filled by divine acceptance.
And then Adonis places a hand on top of Keith’s head and pushes it down. His legs buckle under the pressure and he drops to his knees to taste the ambrosia being offered. Ten minutes of adoration turn to twenty, thirty, each time he tries to rise back up the hand pushing back onto his head, sometimes pulling him forward or just holding him still while Adonis pumps. And Keith understands what he’s really there for: he’s there to stroke this guy’s ego along with his dick.
Even Adonis needs validation from time to time. Sometimes, even if we could all blow ourselves, it wouldn’t be enough.