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Melody of love?

                              October 2006



Sheila Walker offers a view of the film Heading South

 
 

Sex and Tourism: Journeys of Romance, Love, and Lust

Do you remember the Beatles’ song “Can’t Buy Me Love”? It was brought back to mind when I recently went to see the film Heading South – a story set in the 70’s, dealing with a subject which is both current and, for many people, unpleasant.

The basis of the plot is the story of relatively wealthy white women who become ‘sex tourists’, enjoying the company and charms of the virile young Haitian men. The transaction was, in many respects, simple. However, as with most apparently uncomplicated arrangements involved with relationships, it carried problems that had major repercussions.

The women were certainly looking for sex – middle-aged, but still with charms and needs with which they were not fully satisfied in their day-to-day lives. They were able, and willing, to pay the cost of enjoying the company that was very happy indeed to meet those needs.

The setting was part of the charm – a holiday spot with wonderful weather and beaches, a certain ‘foreign-ness’ in the language used (French and Creole). This was a relaxed atmosphere, far removed from home territory and reality of daily lives, with easy relationships between the young black men and white middle-aged women which would have been impossible in home communities. The ‘payment for services’ whether in money or in gifts, was discreetly carried out, preserving the dignity of both parties. Pleasure provided, gratitude shown - a carefree arrangement, with no strings attached - it could seem a harmless holiday fantasy.

The real needs

It is easy to condemn this kind of activity. Without a doubt it is predatory, demeans the young people involved and corrupts those who are economically obliged to turn to selling their bodies as the one viable asset they possess. Personal ‘needs’ can be no excuse, and this judgement applies equally to men and women whatever their sexual preferences.

The film also depicts the need which especially affects women in middle age. The delight to be found in feeling once more desirable to an attractive stranger, the relaxed beach parties which recall carefree youth, the bolster for failing self-esteem in terms of sexual attraction: these are powerful temptations, especially if the ‘partner’ is very willing to go along with this scenario.

Where is love?

The premise of the film is that the whole affair is temporary. It can reoccur annually, and it does; but the entire relationship is based upon the fact that there is no commitment on either side. Exclusivity is neither given nor expected.

Problems arise, however, when the latest arrival seeks love.
This alteration in the established practice of the women proves to be the factor which damages the relationships within the group and ultimately proves to be the trigger for tragedy. The problem lies in achieving a genuine separation of emotion from the meeting of needs and appetites. The seeker of love is the one who spoils the ‘paradise’ that has been superficially created.

In our time

The film looks back some thirty years, but the problems and situations it deals with are still a part of our lives. We are familiar with sad stories of young girls being vulnerable to the ‘sex trade’, but we must apply the same standards to both men and women, neither condemning nor condoning according to sex.

I recently spoke to a serious, troubled, Moroccan about the impact of tourism as he saw it. He was sad at the influence of ‘foreign ladies’ upon the youth around him. Far too aware of the impropriety of being explicit, he nevertheless indicated that easy money and easy virtue were a great temptation to attractive young men.

Today we are all far better informed of the health implications of sexual promiscuity than we were in the past. Equally, greater licence is the norm. However, the notion that, since sex is a driving force, to experience desire is to have the absolute right to satisfaction is questionable on ethical as well as safety grounds.

The right to judge

Heading South depicts a genuine problem, but offers neither solution nor judgement. Many of us would like to feel more attractive, to recapture some of the carelessness of youth, to be generous in response to mutual pleasure given by a companion. These wishes are normal, and surely not to be condemned.

And yet… and yet… Have we the right to be judgemental? On the other hand, have we the right to show tolerance without limits?

I felt a little sad on leaving the cinema – perhaps the background music should have moved on from vivacious Caribbean rhythms to the more plaintiff notes of “Love for Sale”.


Sheila Walker 31 August, 2006

“Laterlife”
 

 
 



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