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TABOO

What do you think are the most taboo subjects in America today?
(think of your answer before hitting the link, so you aren't biased by my thoughts!)

TOP US TABOOS
(my impressions, what are yours?)
incest
poop; we don't talk about it
nudity; bodies that aren't model-perfect
obesity and overweight
sex; any kind other than hetero and preferably married
negativity: being sick or sad
age (esp for women over 29)
cannibalism, eating pets or horses, eating raw meat
challenges to America's greatness
challenges to any of a number of rigid political or religious positions
not ok to be: atheist, socialist, Islamic, etc etc etc
foreigners that don't speak English
??
?
?

TABOO DEFINED
forbidden
a strong social prohibition
forbidden based on moral judgment or religious belief
breaking it is objectionable or abhorrent
transgressions may lead to penalties
taboos are cultural; none are universal
best not to joke about them

THE MOST UNIVERSAL TABOOS
cannibalism
exposing of intimate parts
intentional homicide
incest
according to Freud the only two that are universal are incest and patricide

ETYMOLOGY
from the Tongan word tabu
meaning set apart or forbidden
appears in many Polynesian cultures

COMMON TABOOS
sexual practices: unmarried, adultery, intermarriage and miscegenation
sex with animals, children, dead people
incest (even consensual), fetishes, homosexuality
divorce, relationships
death
pregnancy/childbirth
dietary restrictions (halal and kosher diets, religious vegetarianism, prohibition of cannibalism)
bodily functions: burping, flatulence, defecation and urination
psychoactive drugs
genitalia, transsexual gender identity, circumcision or sex reassignment
exposure of body parts (ankles/Victorian, women's hair/Middle East, nudity/US)
offensive language
foot binding (was practiced in ancient China) and other bodily alterations
alcoholism
depression
suicide
cancer, AIDS
polarizing issues: racism, sexism, ethnicity, nationality, religion, politics, money, class, sexual orientation, disability
unfamiliar political systems: fascism, Communism, anarchism, militarism
burning things: books, flags, money

MORE
taboos may give hints as to cultural origins of populations
taboo deformation = euphemism or replacement of taboo words

TABOOS THAT ARE LESSENED IN WESTERN SOCIETY
gossip/scandal, alcoholism, depression
homosexuality, divorce, income disparity
personal relationships, pregnancy/childbirth, and teenage rebellion
cancer, polio, AIDS, mental disorders, suicide
age, height, weight and appearance

FREUD
noted strong unconscious motivations driving such prohibitions
essays Totem and Taboo
Freud postulates link btw forbidden behaviors & sanctification of objects to certain kinship groups
says that the only two "universal" taboos are that of incest and patricide

TABOO ON SOCIAL INEQUALITIES
we don't discuss, joke about or make an issue of things that can lead to bigotry, discrimination, defamation and stigmatization of people with those social group differences
purely factual information mb taboo
if it implicates a race or other group with a taboo
ideas about political correctness being the child of multiculturalism

BROACHING TABOOS
moderated debate
humor, parody, comedians, comics in paper

FORMER TABOOS
Wikipedia: When changing social attitudes mean that a formerly taboo subject can be openly discussed for the first time, it is often referred to as "the last taboo", ignoring the paradox that further subjects may still be suppressed to the extent that they may not even be openly acknowledged as being taboo, such as legitimately consensual incest, setting paper currency on fire, engaging in wars or conflicts (esp. in Europe), and whether humanity has the moral right to exist.

SOURCES
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taboo
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_are_some_cultural_taboos_in_America
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/andrew_sullivan/article7139969.ece

A LITTLE TEST
http://www.philosophersnet.com/games/taboo.php
(no surprise, I'm in the permissive corner)

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
leaves1
Oct. 1st, 2010 09:23 pm (UTC)
I would add:
depression
loneliness
any lifestyle that involves less than a 40 hr work week (unless you're rich, then exempt)
being rich
homelessness
alternative medicine (being taken seriously)
the inconvenience of children (which manifests the overuse and abuse of "ADD" drugs)
anyone who doesn't get As and Bs in the school system
illegal substances
liveonearth
Oct. 1st, 2010 09:30 pm (UTC)
Good ones! Esp the inconvenience of having children. I have two girlfriends who will admit to me that they never meant to have kids and only had them because they got pregnant and refused to abort or give up the child. Both did a pretty darned good job of mothering compared to may who supposedly wanted and planned to have children. And then the sacrifices....these things are not discussed publicly.
sinisterwilliam
Oct. 1st, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC)
I was going to add Abortion but you pretty much covered that. (People, oddly enough, don't really talk about adoption or foster care either).
geordie
Oct. 1st, 2010 09:27 pm (UTC)
I was agreeing until you got to religion, then I realized that it's not a subject I'd even think of around the religious. So now I'm not sure. I'm willing to defend my stance that I don't believe in any god, but not so keen to upset others.
bodylove
Oct. 1st, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
"whether humanity has the moral right to exist" wow interesting, never heard that debate before
neptunia67
Oct. 1st, 2010 11:22 pm (UTC)
TABOO - My personal opinions, before reading your thoughts, on subjects I believe to be taboo in American culture.

alcoholism/drug addiction
socialism
incest (this one is pretty much universal)
religion - meaning it is taboo to consider other religions than your own, if you belong to one

It is difficult to draw the line between what is taboo and what is deviant behavior. My understanding is that taboo behavior is shunned or absolutely not tolerated by all groups - deviant and non-deviant alike, and deviance is variation from societal norms.
liveonearth
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:53 am (UTC)
Thanks for your thoughts. Hmmm interesting distinction to try to draw, between taboo and deviance. Both are socially/culturally delineated. Many things that are deviant are taboo. Not all things that are taboo are deviant---such as going to the bathroom, or just plain old nudity...yes I see....pardon my thinking out loud.

Taboo behavior is not so much shunned as it is closeted. We all poop, but here in American, there is no discussion of poo. This is different in Europe, and elsewhere. ...
neptunia67
Oct. 2nd, 2010 02:31 pm (UTC)
That is interesting, because here you talk about a taboo discussion subject, but not a taboo behavior. Everybody poops!
liveonearth
Oct. 2nd, 2010 02:48 pm (UTC)
Yes, the word seems to have a broader meaning than I have managed to get in words yet.
neptunia67
Oct. 2nd, 2010 02:54 pm (UTC)
It is a difficult subject to articulate.
bodylove
Oct. 2nd, 2010 01:28 am (UTC)
racial issues/affirmative action
income/spending of money esp if you have a lot or don't have much
corporate spending esp if you're in business
welfare programs
sexual abuse/sexual problems
physical abuse/domestic violence
mental health/addiction
blood/guts
sexually transmitted diseases
abortion
circumcision
male/female genital mutilation
harming the environment
human trafficking/slavery
sex/drug trafficking
self-harm (ie cutting)
suicidal thoughts/suicide
12 step groups
sexuality/gender identity
polygamy
masturbation
cosmetic surgery
bariatric surgery
bodies/stretch marks etc

At first I was thinking that obesity is talked about all the time and that I'd say it's opposite of a taboo subject....but then I realized that really while it's talked about in the media often, it still may be considered taboo to broach the subject in a social setting in regards to an individual

This made me think about taboo subjects vs taboo actions and how our culture seems to like to discuss forbidden actions (those punishable by law or religion), yet taboo subjects often aren't necessarily forbidden actions. If taboo means forbidden, then it seems most often religious doctrine and/or our legal system determines taboo offenses (murder, rape etc), but they are not necessarily taboo topics.

In terms of taboo subjects, I think it depends on the region and age of the population. I would say in general younger generations are more open about certain topics than previous generations (ie sexuality issues, mental health issues etc)

I'm sure in general I have a skewed view though, since I taught a course titled "AIDS and STDs in Modern Society" and probably talked about anal sex w/in the first wk hahah. I would give a disclaimer at the beginning of the course that they did sign up for a class that was going to be dealing w/ sexual issues, drug issues, etc etc....Now I work w/ clients who are all HIV+ so again the population I work with and my circle of friends (mental health professionals, 12 steppers etc) skews my views.

interesting post - makes me think about taboo vs stigma. I think in general we have more open communication about certain topics than in some other cultures (at least from what I've heard). I think a lot of the things listed here as taboo have a stigma attached which makes people less likely to share, but not that they are necessarily taboo subjects in our society. For example, topics like homelessness, mental illness, and HIV are often stigmatized, but we still often discuss them in our society so I wouldn't necessarily consider it taboo.
liveonearth
Oct. 2nd, 2010 04:59 am (UTC)
Awesome brainstorm, thank you! And another interesting distinction, between taboo and stigma. Taboo seems to be all about morality, and stigma is what you get when someone thinks that you've been immoral and that's why you've got a problem. So they're related.

I'm mulling on these levels of tabooness (new word). For example, it seems taboo to BE homeless/mentally ill/HIV positive, but it's not taboo to talk about someone ELSE being that way. I think the "forbidden" definition is incomplete.

If you ask your HIV+ clients what THEY think is taboo, I'd be psyched to hear about that.
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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