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We still aren’t quite sure what sex is for: John Bohannon, Black Label Movement and Jelloslave at TED2012

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Photos: James Duncan Davidson

John Bohannon and Black Label Movement are not ones for the ordinary.

“Remember that conversation you had as a kid, with your parents, about sex or drugs. It’s a myth. We don’t talk to kids about that stuff. It’s embarrassing.”

They emerge on stage, dancing to string music. But this is not a performance, strictly speaking, it’s a lecture, a TEDTalk.

“I learned about drugs from an egg and a frying pan.” Bohannon laments the outsourcing of our education of the most basic facts of life. And what if we have questions? “It’s not about questions.”

As Bohannon talks, the dancers of Black Label Movement flow around him — illustrating and heightening and transforming his words into something totally other.

In the 1980, the data on drug use were terrifying parents. Never mind that “92% of us were drinking alcohol, killing more of us than all drugs combined.” So we said: Just Say No. “Say no to everything. If you want to scare kids, you have to scare the hell out of them.” The war on drugs spread to a war on sex.

The dancers sizzle, and surround him.

And the data is in: That’s completely ineffective. “We love big solutions to big problems, don’t we? What if the facts of life don’t work that way. What if it can’t be scaled up?” What if we can’t educate our children by television?

Who, then, will do it? Us. We have to talk to kids, openly and honestly. And Bohannon thinks we’re not ready, we mythologize childhood, and think of it as a time of innocence. His was in Georgia, in a completely normal suburb. But while it looked pastoral, the kids were working on a secret research project. In the woods, in the dark, they would peel off clothes, “What are these things, bodies, what do they do?”

That’s childhood. “It’s a Manhattan Project of nakedness.” Walk into high school and the bomb goes off. You become a grotesque.

The dancers climb on him, forming that grotesque.

Bohannon exhorts: You need to talk to your kids, “But if you’re not honest about your own experience, they’ll smell bullshit.” Start by talking about the one kid you really know. You.

Bohannon as a child was obsessively curious about sex. Hit rock bottom at 13 while watching The Wall, shaved off his eyebrows, and tried to commit suicide. What would you say to that child? All he needed was someone to reassure him he was a normal part of the universe. He wanted a visitor from the future.

The dancers envelop him, and he steps out and says,

“I’m your self from future, 2012, and I have crucial information for you.” It’s information from a billion years ago, when the sea was full of cells, which fought, ate and divided. “Except for one, that’s your ancestor.” That cell invented sex. Then invented bodies, and the bodies became giant, and were mass-produced. “The seas became a nonstop riot of sex and death.”

And the dancers help him become an animal that climbs onto land.

But land was hard, and bodies were heavy. So, “deep inside her body, the mother builds a tiny ocean.” Outside are events of horrible violence. In here, it’s always the same. Peace. Just peace.

Bohannon lies in the air, fetal, held up by the dancers.

And he tells us, and his past self, that here in 2012, we still aren’t quite sure what sex is for. We have ideas, but it’s still spectacularly confusing.

“And here you are, a 13-year-old human, perplexed and confused…. Be comforted by the fact that in  2012 we still don’t know what sex is for. It’s a beautiful puzzle, and without it we wouldn’t be here.”

The dancers pair up, and carry each other off stage, as does Bohannon, who parts with:

“By the way, be nice to your little sister. She’s your best friend, you’ll see.”

See also: John Bohannon and Black Label Movement’s talk from TEDxBrussels: Dance vs. Powerpoint >>