A licentious, money-drenched, morally bankrupt and intellectually vacuous ruling class—accountable to no one and free to plunder and prey on the weak like human vultures—rises to power in societies in terminal decline, where the rule of law has collapsed and desperate human beings have been reduced to commodities. This class of parasites was savagely parodied in the first-century satirical work Satyricon by Gaius Petronius, written during the reign of Nero when Rome’s Republican values were abandoned for unbridled greed, hedonism, and narcissism. Jeffrey Epstein and his cohorts, drawn from the ruling political, academic, and financial elites, for years engaged in sexual perversions and exploitation of Petronian proportions. Sex, as in the late Roman Empire, has been transformed in the twilight of the US empire from a private act of intimacy to one of public entertainment. In her book Satyricon USA: A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier, author Eurydice Eve set out to look, with remarkable understanding and empathy, at the sexual landscape of the United States, spending time with BDSM practitioners, celibate Catholic priests, and even necrophiliacs. In this episode of The Chris Hedges Report, Chris speaks with Eurydice about her portrait of America, which, carried out below the radar, exposes a nation desperately seeking catharsis and, as she writes, a “need for continuity and safety and uniformity—and love.”
Eurydice Eve is the author of Satyricon USA: A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier and F/32, a novel that won a national fiction contest before its publication and has been translated into several languages. She writes a monthly sex column for Gear magazine, and her non-fiction has appeared in Spin, Harper’s, and other national magazines. She lives in Miami, New York City, and Crete, Greece.
Chris Hedges interviews writers, intellectuals, and dissidents, many banished from the mainstream, in his half-hour show, The Chris Hedges Report. He gives voice to those, from Cornel West and Noam Chomsky to the leaders of groups such as Extinction Rebellion, who are on the front lines of the struggle against militarism, corporate capitalism, white supremacy, the looming ecocide, as well as the battle to wrest back our democracy from the clutches of the ruling global oligarchy.
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Studio: Adam Coley, Cameron Granadino
Post-Production: Dwayne Gladden
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Chris Hedges: Welcome to TheChris Hedges Report. A licentious, money drenched, morally bankrupt, and intellectually vacuous ruling class, accountable to no one and free to plunder and pray on the week like human vultures, rise to power in societies in terminal decline where the rule of law has collapsed and desperate human beings have been reduced to commodities. This class of parasites was savagely parodied in the first century satirical novel Satyricon by Gaius Petronius written during the reign of Nero. When Rome’s republican values were abandoned for unbridled greed, hedonism, and narcissism.
Jeffrey Epstein and his cohorts, drawn from the ruling political academic and financial elites, for years engaged in sexual perversions and exploitation of Petronian proportions. Sex, as in the late Roman Empire, has been transformed in the twilight of the American Empire from a private act of intimacy to one of public entertainment. Sex tapes, internet porn, sexting, hookup apps combine to give anyone a platform for their sexual exploits as well as sexual preferences. Eurydice in her book Satyricon USA: A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier set out to look with remarkable understanding and empathy at the sexual landscape of the United States. Spending time with cross-dressers, BDSM practitioners, celibate Catholic priests, and even necrophiliacs, her portrait of America is one that, carried out below the radar, exposes a nation desperately seeking catharsis. And, as she writes, “a need for continuity and safety and uniformity – And love.”
Joining me to discuss her book Satyricon USA: A Journey Across the New Sexual Frontier is Eurydice. So I want to begin, Eurydice, by this article that appeared recently in The New York Times. And they say that nearly half of American adults and a majority of women say that dating has gotten harder for most people over the past 10 years. According to the Pew Research Center, fully half of single adults have given up on looking for a relationship or dating at all. Rates of sexual activity, partnership, and marriage have reached a 30-year low, with young adults leading the retreat. I think that’s something that you foresaw within your book. And I wondered if you could speak about that.
Eurydice Eve: Yes, thanks for having me. What I saw in my book, when I began to research, I was looking to celebrate the way that we had began to politicize our sexual bodies, and free them from the repression of the enforced separation of body and mind, during which the mind was in charge of the body or body and soul, during the years of religion and the years of strict patriarchy. So we had finally separated sex from procreation between the 1970s and the 1990s with birth control, IVF, cheap paternity tests. And I felt this was the first time in human history that our sexual relations, our mating, was undergoing such a fundamental change that in the future, we could see how it had affected our evolution. So from an evolutionary point of view and from a sociopolitical and anthropological point of view, I was very interested in the way that our sexuality had just kind of exploded in the public sphere. The personal is political.
And also I entered it. I was entering it as an arrogant feminist. So I felt that it was overall a positive thing when I went out to speak to people. And I spent about four years continuously traveling, embedding myself in different communities. And I found only contradictions. I found I was wrong in my assumptions. I found that there was a lot of repression still going on. I found that there was an extreme decline in ethics, which was the result of this separation from our bodies. So the scientific revolution had further distanced us from our nature and made us beholden completely to our culture and the laws and the words, new words, new laws that constantly changed in reproductive matters. So what you are describing as the norm now, which is an overall loneliness and sense of despair and understanding love, becoming one with each other, trusting each other, is a result of that fragmentation. Which I think created a new stage in our society, which is like a post-patriarchy, a meta culture.
And what you named with Jeffrey Epstein is again very much a result of that sense of women being empowered by objectifying their own body. So, that creates such a vast distance from oneself. There is no way to reunite with ourselves and find our own truth. So we’re always looking for that truth outside and we are not listening to our body, which is what we are.
Chris Hedges: One of the things that I found fascinating about your book is how you would go into these subcultures, let’s talk about cross-dressers, and actually find the patriarchy and the objectification of women reinforced. For instance, you are at Provincetown, Massachusetts, at something called Fantasia Fair. They have 80 seminars, talent and fashion shows. This is during a week of cross-dressing in public. And you say that “[it’s mostly attended by] middle-aged heterosexual men who stand to lose a lot of social power if they’re discovered. They come to this out of the way town to find relief from the requirements of workaholic masculinity and feel fortified in their numbers. Their ‘femme-persona’ lets them forget their banes and bodily aches and chills of mortal reckoning. They are like Tootsi-clad Promise Keepers: a semi-religious gathering of men weary of their inability to touch and be touched, looking for unconditional fraternity, respect, and love.” And yet you talk about how when they dress, it’s very matronly. I just thought that was really interesting. Can you explain that?
Eurydice Eve: Yeah. I felt that the repression was exacerbated in all of these newly freed sexual expressions. So the cross-dressers, for example, who had already begun hormonal changes, so most of them were already on hormones and they had these gorgeous brand new breasts, but they were middle aged [inaudible]. So it was very incongruous to look at. And it was an embedded example of how strange our medical interventions, cosmetic interventions actually are. Anyway, that is a side note. They took on personas that were very conservative. The way that Caitlyn Jenner, I guess, is very conservative. She just spoke against the trans athlete swimmer who won all these swims. So, that’s what I mean. Most of them stayed with their wives and just wanted to feel for themselves, in a kind of narcissistic hunger, that adoration that we give to the female.
Now, the desire for the female and the adoration for the female is very natural. Nature makes the female attractive and irresistible for reasons of procreation. But we have completely pushed nature out of the way. So we live in over culture. It’s only culture. And so our understanding of feminine beauty or feminine attraction is something that we think we can replicate with medicine and chemistry and our fancy scientific tricks. And we want to experience everything. To me, that’s hubris. And yes, it doesn’t change the conditions of oppression, whether it’s economical oppression, because these perks are mostly the privilege of the rich.
It costs money to do all these cosmetic changes and stay artificially, permanently youthful. But also in terms of the oppression of the people giving birth by the people who don’t give birth, let’s call it this. We’re post-gender now, but that hasn’t changed the basic terms of patriarchy. So yeah, their wives were obedient and followed them around. And basically, I don’t know, gave them prostate massages by another name. And I don’t think that we have found wisdom in this, and I don’t think we have found progress. All of my research made me question the way that we were presenting this revolution in sexual freedoms. And to me it felt like a resurgence of puritanism and the control of the individual by the state.
Chris Hedges: That’s interesting when you’re in the room and you’re looking at all these cross-dressers and you said they reminded you of “Hassidim wives: long skirts, wigs, scarves, gold earrings, big glasses, a heaviness of bearing. They sit with hands clasped demurely on their laps, chins up, respectable, placid, keen, brittle, and purposefully messianic – Like unerotic mother figures.” I want to talk a little bit about… You also say, you’re of course schooled in the classics, as I know, but you talk about Freud interpreted Oedipus’s self-blinding as an act of self-castration, and you write, “In a way, cross-dressers are both castrati and visionaries.” What do you mean by that?
Eurydice Eve: Well, the castration is the castration of the old male. So my understanding of the Oedipus castration is ancient, but I’m talking about it from like, when I was talking about the cross-dressers, it’s not in the ancient religious sense where the old king has to self-castrate, he marries the mother, and then he has to… That’s how nature gets reborn. The way that it was done in that community, it was very much the optics. The performing aspect of it. So a castration of their perceived machismo, because they took on the aspects of cliche femininity. And visionaries in the sense of becoming post-gender, or poly-gender, we call it now non-binary. So I also mentioned Tiresias I think, this seer, mentioned Greek seer who had been both a man and a woman, and that was considered the wisest of profits in ancient mythology, in ancient Greece.
But the difference is there was no intervention from the ego. There was no going to the medical establishment and paying a fee and asking for a cosmetic update. So what you described in that passage is still what I see when I look at Madonna, who may think she looks hot and young, but she doesn’t to me. And a lot of the celebrities and everyday people I know and meet. I live in Miami beach so the enhanced appearances are the vast majority around me. And I don’t think I am alone in feeling, deep down, that it just doesn’t look beautiful, it doesn’t look aesthetically pleasing. It looks off-putting and odd and destabilizing. So there is definitely a difference between the beauty or the appearance that nature bestows that we do not have the right to say, this is me, I am beautiful. It’s really nature. It’s a gift from nature. And then the beauty that the pharmaceutical industry bestows, which is very much something that we have done, and I think doesn’t quite look so convincing.
Chris Hedges: Well, what’s interesting – Just one more thing on cross-dressers – Is that this journey is incredibly expensive. You’re at a “downstairs boutique that sells fake breasts for $700 each, and the owner tells [you] that he FedExes these things ‘to the White House, the Supreme Court, and the Pentagon’. I find out I know artists who work part-time in salons like Alter Image ‘dressing’ clients for $150 a session at lunch hour. The average customer, they tell me, is 55, 5 feet 11 inches, 190 pounds, married. He arrives in a suit, asked to be made into” – I’m quoting – “a whore, prom date, stripper; the richest men want to be maids,” that’s kind of interesting. Some clients also attend New York City’s Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, which offers classes up to $2,500 and assigns homework such as ‘Creating Your Herstory.'” Let’s go on to The Vault. Maybe you can explain what that is.
Eurydice Eve: Yeah, well, both of these two different sub communities were very expensive. It was equally expensive to go buy the equipment for BDSM, which is what took place in The Vault. The Vault was a public space where you could engage in BDSM sexual play. And then from there you could meet people and go to private parties, which I also attended. And the ones I went to were in the private homes of really wealthy couples who had dungeons in their homes, locked away from the children. And again, just the equipment, the quality of the leather, the differences in the types of whips, clothing, underwear, headgear, cost tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars, the saddles, and I mean it’s just an extremely expensive hobby. So I do think that it is related to the amount of wealth a person has.
And it’s yet another form of displaying that wealth, of enjoying that wealth. What can I do that poorer people can’t? Which is how from there we get to the mega yachts and Epstein with all his virgins. It’s just a short leap, basically. The exchange of pain as pleasure, which is interesting conceptually, in practice for me, again, became another experience of objectification of the body and punishing the body. So even though conceptually the idea that my mind can tell me this pain is actually pleasure, and I can understand that and feel that, is fascinating. In practice, watching it happen again and again, it just felt demeaning. It reminded me of the Christian rituals of self-flagellation a lot, but without the spiritual angle. So a lot of our new sexual practices, fetishes, identities are things that we have done in the past, but now God’s gone. [inaudible]
Chris Hedges: Well, you liken it to the penitential scouring in the 14th century. Why?
Eurydice Eve: Because it felt that it was the same quest by our culture, which is at war with nature, to confirm that the desires of the body, which are natural, can be controlled by the desires and the rules of the mind, which is controlled by the culture. Something that I didn’t really discuss much in the book which I feel very strongly about, because some time has passed, is that this way of thinking about humanity and civilization has been at odds with nature and been created in order to control our existence within nature, has brought us to this moment of climate crisis. And this crisis can only be addressed by finding our place back in nature, by some kind of rebalancing between our culture and our nature. So the more we distance ourselves from our body, we also distance ourselves from the nature in which we belong and which, in the end, will outlive us. And nature is. Culture becomes. Culture is manmade. We can update it if we want. And if we don’t update it, I think soon we may sell suicide.
Chris Hedges: I want to talk about cutters. You spend time with cutters, you write, “Middle-class America motivates the nonsexual blood letting that is now prevalent among teens and was the starting point for many sexual cutters.” Talk about that community and what you found.
Eurydice Eve: Again, it’s this idea of turning around the meaning of things, of reclaiming a signifier, a meaning as a source of finding liberation. I’m not sure it is liberatory. I think it keeps us going in circles within the same overall constraints. So the cutters often are teenagers who feel that they cannot belong, that they’re not at ease with their bodies. Their bodies are changing so fast. They’re not in control of that change. They don’t know who they become. They feel the world looking at them differently. There is just too much stimulation. The body grows way faster than the mind, your prefrontal lobe grows until you’re 26. Your body’s done often at 16, that’s a discrepancy right there. So cutting is a way of trying to slow down all that thinking, all that feeling, all that panic about the changes that are happening within, especially in teenagers. But sometimes it lasts much longer. The pain slows down the mind, and that’s really how that works.
It’s very simple. It’s like sometimes when we overdo things, our body gets sick, and it’s just a way to stop us from hitting rock bottom. So that’s how cutting really functions, and it becomes addictive. So the women, especially the lesbian women whom I met had reclaimed that past, their adolescent past as cutters by engaging in cutting their lovers as a form of orgasmic, ecstatic, expression of ultimate union. And there’s an aspect there of the blood brothers, joining blood, it’s like an ultimate taboo. Letting the blood out of the body. And again, conceptually, it’s interesting. It feels like it’s breaking a barrier and overcoming a taboo, but from the greater picture in my eyes, it again repeats the stroke of let’s punish the body for these things of the mind, for the things of our cultural point of view, basically. So it’s almost like we become slave drivers of ourselves in the process.
Chris Hedges: You write that –
Eurydice Eve: Punishing ourselves.
Chris Hedges: …I want to ask about your chapter “The Economy of Desire”. You write about strip clubs, you’re in Dallas, Texas. Can you describe what you found there?
Eurydice Eve: Yeah. It was the biggest strip club in the country at the time. So what overwhelmed me was the number of naked women available to the visitor, to anyone who might walk in for the price of a drink. And to me, it felt like a vast bazaar of brides, but not to be married, to just have briefly. The emphasis on consumption rather than commitment, and the emphasis on money becoming the attraction of the male instead of might. So in old patriarchy, might was right. In new patriarchy, money was might, money was right.
And the men would come and literally put the dollars on the female body and have access to it in some way or another for a period of time. So that commercialization of intimacy, or the appearance of intimacy, and the way that female attractive body was objectified to a point of enslavement was difficult for me to perceive even though I was a feminist and I knew that I was supposed to understand it as female empowerment and as these women’s way of making a decent living. And I found a similar thing with sex addiction, which I also looked at extensively, and it was very much an experience of money as well. The sex addict could pay for, whether it was sex or strippers or affairs or serial wives, or whatever it was. So it became that his masculinity, his phallic empowerment was again associated with his monetary prowess.
Chris Hedges: So you write that “The social service strip clubs perform as not primarily sexual”. What do you mean by that?
Eurydice Eve: That it’s a psychological empowerment for the men, and that it is a reassurance of the working man that what he’s doing, staying in the machine, has perks, that it’s worth doing, because he gets to go here after work.
Chris Hedges: But, but you also call it “the little man’s revenge: it alleviates his stress of being controlled by constricting institutions, politics, technologies, mores; it enables him to feel part of the controlling elite.”
Eurydice Eve: Yes. And it’s a phallusy, with a P-H.
Chris Hedges: I want to close with, you talk a lot about the church and celibacy and I want to close the show with those reflections.
Eurydice Eve: Well, I was shocked, that was the most shocking of all of my experiences, when I got speak to Monsignor, who was very open about his sexual experiences with boys and that of other priests. And so it was, again, that dichotomy between the performative and the real. And it was not lost on me that the Catholic church enforced celibacy for reasons of inheritance so that the priests could not bequeath the church lands to their children. And all of the lands that were donated to the church would stay within the Vatican’s power.
So it was about money and power, it was not for a spiritual reason. And with the passage of so many years, this institutionalization of celibacy showed itself as a distortion of humans’ natural way of being. So the sexual expression of the priests was rarely changed. What was changed was the format. The vessel, the shape that it was practicing. And our relationship to sin, something that [inaudible] would send Augustine, basically continues unchanged. And I think that is unfortunate because we have not found a way to reconcile ourselves to our nature, and we live in a time of great civilizational decline as a result.
Chris Hedges: [inaudible] You call it moral schizophrenia. You’re talking about Paul, the cycle of self-loathing. And of course all these theologians have posited that Paul was gay. That’s where the self-loathing came from is “based on the assumption that casual sex involves a loss of self-control akin to a loss of selfhood. But feeling out of control is not being out of control: our genes want us to experience desire as a trancelike sexual ‘powerlessness’. Resisting it is hubris.”
Eurydice Eve: Right. Yes. So I’m on the side of nature in this one. I think the more we fight our nature, the more we become diseased. And here we are, after two years of COVID, and it’s not a coincidence that so many people, especially in the natural community, we’re extremely mistrustful of the vaccines. This is where it has brought us.
Chris Hedges: Is this characteristic of all late empires? I mean, certainly you draw from Satyricon, but isn’t it true at the end of the…
Eurydice Eve: The Athenian Empire.
Chris Hedges: The Athenian, the French, the Ottoman…
Eurydice Eve: French. Yes. I think that the moral and sexual disillusion and excess is the sign of a time of the end of empire, where chaos is the only form that anything takes, basically. And no one knows what is true, and no one knows how to find peace and communion, community. So, out of this type of churning, a new genesis will happen. And those are the cycles of civilization.
Chris Hedges: Great. That was Eurydice, author of Satyricon USA. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team: Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, Dwayne Gladden, and Kayla Rivera. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.