Latent Lolita, or A Postcard from the Edge

Last Wednesday’s adventure in treasure hunting came courtesy of the postcard tucked away in my green moleskine. It’s a still of the promo poster for Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita. I remember grabbing the postcard on my way out of an LA screening of Kubrick’s other venture with Peter Sellers, Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (OMG Chris Pine sat in front of us dressed like a Venice beach bum!!!). And while the current cultural climate is obsessing over many things, including the near threat of nuclear warfare, I’d rather examine my personal history of politics of gender and fashion, feelings triggered by the photo of young Sue Lyon in her heart-shaped glasses sucking a cherry red lollipop.

The tagline of Kubrick’s 1962 film begs the question “How did they ever make a movie of Lolita?” They made two actually, although I prefer Kubrick’s absurdist camp approach to the taboo material. Arian Lyne’s 1997 venture starring Jeremy Irons, Melanie Griffith, and Dominique Swain was too sweaty, too gritty. Kubrick’s Lolita is by no means my favorite film (that award goes to both Showgirls and Being There; I have a slight obsession with Peter Sellers, okay?), but its source material is my favorite novel. I’ve only read it once, which surprises me. Despite its pains to make a monster lovable in the untrustworthy narrator, Humbert Humbert, the book is a love letter to English Lit.

I read Lolita during my undergrad, a time when I was just blossoming into my sexuality. I learned about sex not from my parents or from school or from other kids; I learned it by watching TV. HBO specifically. Shows like the shock doc series Real Sex, the supernatural anthology series The Hitchhiker, 80s sex romps like Revenge of the Nerds and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Dream On; a tits and ass single-camera sitcom starring Brian Benben as Martin Tupper, a freshly divorced dad who, like me, learned about sexuality via the boob tube. On TV straight sex looked like a game of conquest that men played. Women had to look a certain way in order to elicit male attention. This was also during the time of the riot grrrl movement and the Spice Girls. I wasn’t quite kinderwhore nor was I completely Emma Bunton. I was a composite that I called my “Latent Lolita” look. I paired too small t-shirts with flouncy crinoline skirts and knee high socks. I hung around men already in relationships who were much older than me. You’d think they would know better, but alas, they were total dirtbags. At first it was post-work hangs revolving around music and locally crafted pale ales, but it soon turned sinister. My brushes with sexuality were as green as the moleskine where I found my Lolita postcard, but I was an eager student, even when the lessons I learned were sorely lacking in pleasure and intimacy. I was their prop, their placeholder; a coupling of holes where clumsy digits could unfold and explore. I was an experiment, a braggart’s trophy.

My experience with these dirtbags colored every single one of my future sexual interactions. I was cold, calculated, and eager for the whole thing to be over already. This didn’t stop me from being an emotional slut. Years later I am married with years of therapy under my belt and enough self-introspection to separate myself from young Megan the Latent Lolita. I miss her sometimes, but mostly I pray for her. I pray that women that young or any age know that they’re in control of what happens to their bodies, even when it doesn’t feel that way. My fashion sense demanded provocation while my brain, warped by what it saw on TV, was unable to translate the feelings of being taken for granted with neither an ounce of autonomy nor a morsel of personal pleasure in return.

Our current political climate is a hot bed of accusations and demands for the heads of those who wield their power over women, and while I celebrate abusers being brought to justice, I can’t help but hope for better sex education in America, not just for the kids at school but for grown-ups and everyone else in between. These conversations need to be frank but not misleading like the sexual content I saw as young as five years-old on HBO. They need to happen now in order to correct the course for a new wave of feminism and gender politics.