The swinging community, as represented in The Lifestyle, has a
mildly cultish feel, kind of like the Reform Party. Come to think of
it, a lot of swingers look like Reform Party members. Hmmm. (That’s what I
say when I’m thinking.) Anyway, the mild cultishness comes from the fact
that everyone in the community seems too eager to affirm everything everybody
else does, from laughing at their jokes to things that are far less pleasing
to witness. It kind of reminded me of this time I went to a pro-vegetarian
lecture. It was a good lecture, but during the Q&A session people were
saying embarrassingly dumb things, like “I can’t bring myself to give my dog
tap water because I don’t drink it” and everybody acted as though
reasonable, even good points were being made. Heads nodded, thoughtful facial
expressions were issued. How I kept from slapping my forehead, I’ll never know. As
long as you accepted the fundamental tenets of the fold, you were accepted
(which, of course, isn’t really much of an acceptance) and often, people
seemed to be making comments, just so they could get that acceptance. I
got the same feeling at a pyramid scheme recruitment function. You can also
see a wonderful depiction of this phenomenon in Safe. Anyway, that’s the
sort of thing that seems to be going on in The Lifestyle much of the time.
Cultish behavior is exhibited by some other subjects in that sex seems to run into areas of their lives where it doesn’t really have any business being. Like their stationary, pens, clocks or utensils, any of which might be shaped like penises. When looking at one couple’s home, I wanted to say, “maybe, just for kicks, you could hang a picture of something other than a naked woman in your home, or perhaps have a room with only one such picture per wall.” It’s not that I have a problem with sex. I’d say the same thing
to someone who had pictures of trains or Elvis on every wall. There’s more
to life–shit, there’s more to posters, than any one thing.
You’d think swingers would be pretty liberal, right? Not necessarily. One woman says, in all seriousness, that couples ought to be forced to have marriage counseling before they are allowed to divorce. A man laments the passing of the term “gang bang” because it created confusion with the activities of “those Godamned blacks up in LA.”
The overall picture, however, is pretty pedestrian. In the production notes, the filmmakers talk about how they coured the swinging community for AIDS outbreaks, or cases of bullying, abusive husbands, but found none. These are normal folk. Genuinely
middle-class, mostly suburban, generally pretty straight laced and with their radical
thinking pretty much limited to sex. Ultimately, even the fairly uptight
viewer will be left asking, “what’s the big deal,” which might be something
of a revelation, given the subject.
I’m glad swingers are such stable, contented people, but it doesn’t exactly make for gripping viewing. Once the philosophy behind the lifestyle is expressed (except for some interesting Bonobo analogies, that philosophy is basically, “why not?”), either these people don’t have much to say, or the filmmakers aren’t asking the right questions. Cutting the running time to 75 minutes was wise.