Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Alfred C. Kinsey, by James Jones

Kinsey of course must make a fascinating subject, but this biography is a bit of a let down. It’s one of those hackneyed, unsophisticated jobs. Often you wonder, Why on earth has this author chosen Kinsey to write a biography on? James Jones doesn’t seem to have any throbbing fascination with the study of sex, nor does he appear to take an historian’s interest in Kinsey’s era – the 1940s and 1950s when all the major work on Kinsey’s sex reports was being done.

For example, the biography describes Kinsey’s meeting and friendship with film maker and all round exotic Kenneth Anger. If James Jones had taken any interest in art, culture and sexuality, this should have been a fascinating passage in the book. Rather, Jones didn’t seem to have much of a clue or interest in what Anger did at all. We learn that Anger masturbated on film for Kinsey. Big deal.

This may be nitpicking, but I also found James Jones’ prose terrible in places. The text reads like a mechanic’s manual. Dull, dull, dull. The only thing that kept me going throughout the biography was Kinsey himself. How anyone can make such a controversial figure into such a yawn beggars belief. I hereby pledge to never read another book by this author.

Okay, enough bitchiness. In a nut shell, Kinsey’s story is one of early religious repression. Through his work as a scientist he takes on the subject of sexuality through a marriage course he helped to set up at his university. This in turn led onto Kinsey’s famous sex ‘histories’, where Kinsey would interview subjects about their sex histories. It was these thousands of histories that made up his two volumes on male and female sexuality. These field reports on sexuality broke all the pre-conceived ideas about the sexual habits of Americans – Kinsey’s reports told of high levels of homosexuality, masturbation etc. etc.

More controversially, he took histories of paedophiles and used them in his studies. Plus he made films of people actually having sex for his, depending on how you look at it, ‘studies’. To illustrate the extreme views some took of the controversial scientist, the wife of one his former colleagues refused to be interviewed for the book, insisting that Kinsey was a ‘dirty old man’.

At biography's end you do indeed wonder if Kinsey was a dirty old man. He doesn’t come across as a particularly likeable man. He was bossy and a real know it all. If James Jones is right, he even hit on his students while on camp with them (they were of adult age, it should be reminded).

James Jones states that Kinsey was a homosexual (plus a masochist), and that this was his major problem. But I’m not so sure that Kinsey was entirely 100% homosexual. This seems to go against his own theories that everyone, given the chance to be sexual from a very early age, is basically bi-sexual. He seemed to continue to have sexual relations with women right up to his death. (He is described as having sex with one of his colleagues’ wives at one of his sex sessions.) Yet surely, after such risky behaviour with students, he could have eventually given up sex with women entirely if he was completely homosexual.

I sensed that James Jones had a bit of an axe to grind in proving Kinsey to be homosexual. Every time Kinsey became emotional over the repression of homosexuals or took up the cause of homosexual oppression, Jones points to this as proof positive of Kinsey’s homosexuality. Hmmm. I’m not entirely convinced.

When I finished reading this biography I found Kinsey a bit on the creepy side, but having pondered the details of the book for a week or so, I’m more sympathetic to Kinsey. He may have got a bad deal in this biography. He is undoubtedly a highly complex man. He deserves a more sophisticated biographer. Undoubtedly it would be best to actually read Kinsey’s work to find out more about him and where he's coming from.

Avoid at all costs. Check out Amazon’s reviews. There are a few suggestions there for other books on Kinsey to read.

No comments: