The Irony of the Alt-Right’s Use of ‘Cuckold’ to Signify Weakness
There’s a lot of discourse around the etymology of the word cuckold today as people try to understand the meaning and history of this word that has suddenly become such a powerful weapon of character assassination by the alt-right. We are dealing with a group of people that is largely ahistorical and intensely nationalistic, however, so digging deep into the etymology or referencing European usage will quickly lead you astray if you want to understand how it’s referenced by, say, Rush Limbaugh.
Let’s be clear about the origin and meaning of the word currently in use: it stems from porn ‘cuckold’ movies made in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California. While this genre has a long tradition, the dominant theme in recent, popular cuckold movies is extremely racially charged: A large, well-endowed African-American man has sex with a white woman in front of her white, submissive husband, who is often humiliated and denigrated in various ways by both the man and the wife. It is an angry and ugly portrayal of one of the more interesting and subtle psychological phenomenon in human sexuality. The porn motif, however, conveniently dovetails with many aspects that drive our current political dialog: fear of race, fear of women’s sexuality, a general sense of a loss of control (associated with liberal policy/globalization), the empowerment of others at the expense of the white male, the rise of minorities and women on the backs of passive white men, et cetera.
What is so interesting about this phenomenon is not that this meme has been used by radical conservatives, but that it has been used by radical conservatives against conservatives. The idea here is that moderate conservatives played an active role in elevating the status of women and minorities. It’s not simply a statement about the tone and tenor of Trump’s rhetoric and the blatant humiliation of the right by the left; it’s that the left has risen on the complicit backs of standard-bearing republicans. Radical conservatives essentially challenged moderates to a hate match, and they out-hated all of us. Even themselves.
The irony is that the current porn meme upon which all this is based is rooted in one of the most conservative, macho-yet-loving and powerful displays of community, sharing, caring and sexual and relationship radicalism in American history: Air Force pilots fighting in the South Pacific in WWII. Mortality rates in some divisions were hovering near 40% and too many men had seen their buddies go up and never come down. A culture of communal support developed to create bonds that helped ensure their wives would be cared for if it happened to them. Akin to the act of becoming ‘blood brothers’, pilots strengthened the bond of commitment and sharing with sexual intimacy — called ‘wife-swapping’ before it was called ‘swinging’. The first step of swinging involves watching your partner have sex with someone else — and vise versa. These men were America’s first cuckolds (as far as our etymology is concerned). Watching your partner have sex with another conjures a variety of emotions and draws on a variety of characteristics, but ‘weakness’ is not a word that would ever be used by those who have experienced this.
After the war, this culture of protection and sharing spread from small Air Force units to the suburbs, where many pilots settled. And porn, as it will do, capitalized on this culture. Some studios built their entire line on swinging movies. And within swinging, there is a significant percentage of couples who seek single men to join them in bed — just as there are couples who seek single women. Porn dramatized and capitalized on this culture of sexual inclusion as well. And then IR (or ‘inter-racial’) porn became popular and they took one successful genre and mixed it with another — and you had inter-racial cuckold. And porn, as it always does, took it to the extreme. Which is where we now find ourselves.
I think it’s important to note that this culture of sharing the most important person in ones life with others emerged from a group of people who were ready to (and often did) die for the ideas of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ and ‘America’. It was born out of the need to strengthen a community devastated by continual loss. It is, perhaps, one of the most powerful manifestations of how love ultimately trumps all social boundaries and fears of social transgression and any sense of what is ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’. And ironically, we now see that idea being used to destroy the moral character of conservatives who seek to unify, connect, and integrate.
My guess is that all of the conservatives now being labeled ‘cuck’ have much more in common with those pilots than the spiteful men hurling insults over the internet.
Magnus Sullivan has been at the forefront of technological and cultural shifts for more than 20 years. In 1993 Magnus founded eLine, one of the first system integration firms in San Francisco, bringing some of the biggest brands in the world online. One of his first clients was the storied progressive adult toy reseller, Good Vibrations. This was his first foray into the world of adult and he never looked back, partnering with the powerhouse, Game Link, to help create one of the most formidable companies in the online adult market. He has created two of the most awarded and recognized movies in the adult industry (‘An Open Invitation’ and ‘Marriage 2.0', which won The Feminist Porn Awards coveted ‘Movie of the Year’ award in 2016) and recently launched www.manshop.com, a reseller of sex toys for men, and www.betterthanthehand.com, a sex positive blog that promotes male masturbation and discusses the various social issues associated with it. Sullivan has written extensively about the need to expand and enhance content production in the adult industry and is also the author of ‘Better Than The Hand: How Masturbation is the Key to Better Sex and Healthier Living’. He is a fourth-generation SF-native, lives with his wife and children in the San Francisco Bay Area and enjoys kite boarding, skiing, triathlon, cooking, reading, writing and just about everything else that engages his mind and his body.35 Articles