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Tuesday, May 21, 2024
The Observer


In defense of PDA

Yesterday, my friend was complaining about a public display of affection he witnessed in the library — i.e. two students necking in the stairwell. He was indignant, so mad that he might as well have demanded that they be given scarlet letters or put in stocks or something.

Usually, I love complaining (especially about others) but something odd happened. For whatever reason, I just couldn’t bring myself to get mad about it. So I decided to examine my conscience: “I don’t hate PDA,” I realized, “I think I might actually admire it.”

I always have, actually. I went to a large public high school. Four thousand of us thronged through those hallways. My friends used to complain about PDA then, too.

A couple making out in some dark corner of the cafeteria. An inexplicably tall boy and an inexplicably tiny girl kissing on the front steps. A duo holding each other against a locker, remarkably silent and still. Two people sharing one seat in the auditorium. A pair sneaking away from gym class to spoon on the bleachers. A boyfriend and a girlfriend getting inordinately close on the bus.

None of that ever shocked me, though — it only awed me. “How impressive,” I thought, “to be able to bring yourself to make out at 7:45 a.m. on a Tuesday in a crowded hallway with a linoleum tile floor that's really squeaky and under an asbestos tile ceiling that’s too low.” It reminded me of “Romeo and Juliet,” the way their love was reviled and unlikely but persisted nevertheless. Amor vincit omnia, the saying goes — love wins.

Life wins, too. As more and more people began to wander from class to class blank-faced and silent-lipped — phones out, earbuds in, heads down, masks on — and as the student body grew increasingly zombified and robotic, PDA became (at least to me) a symbol of unconquerable vitality.

I felt the same way about school fights, by the way. There’s something ancient and energetic about kissing and fighting. Would you rather have these kids waste their time on their phones, quietly and passively rotting? Let them tongue and brawl — it is, at the very least, better than the alternative.

Puritanism tugs at our generation from one side while perversion pulls on it from the other. You hear zoomers deriding sex scenes in movies as “unnecessary” and “excessive.” Simultaneously, you see them fighting to “normalize polyamory.”

It’s a war which is happening not just between rival factions but within individuals themselves. Our perverts are puritanical; they’re obsessed with the “sex-positive movement” and “sex ed,” which are essentially missions to turn sex into politics and school respectively. Our puritans are perverted; they’re fixated on fetishistic fantasies about “tradwives” and “virility.”

It’s a grim, grim world out there today. PDA, meanwhile, harkens back to a simpler time, a better time. It’s something you might see in the background of a movie by John Hughes from the ‘80s or an episode of “Freaks and Geeks” in the ‘90s.

Clearly, PDA rejects puritanism. While the word “punk” now conjures up images of Doc Martens boots and Instagram infographics, PDA is punk rock in the original sense — anti-establishment and off-putting. PDA denies perversion, too. Some call it exhibitionist and voyeuristic, but I think it’s mostly just immature and innocent. PDA’s probably less harmful than watching porn, anyhow.

Sure, public displays of affection are fun to make fun of. Really, though, they’re a non-problem. In conclusion: Do not go gentle into that good night; neck, neck against the dying of the light.

(The above ode aside, I feel compelled to exonerate myself — I’ve never committed a PDA. Note that I’m writing about PDA the way Marx writes about revolution, as a theorist and not as a practitioner.)

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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.