News of the verdict exploded across the Net like a Peter North money shot:
Italy's highest court ruled last week that a 42-year-old workman broke the law by "ostentatiously touching his genitals through his clothing" and must pay a fine.
The fact that this decision was handed down in Italy -- a country that has fostered phallic veneration and worship for centuries -- seemed absurd. As Slate pointed out today: "The crotch grab goes back at least to the pre-Christian Roman era..."
Yes, long before Marky (Mark) Wahlberg was pawing his jewels for Calvin Klein or Michael Jackson was proving his manhood by repeatedly cupping his tackle, Italian men were doing corno (the bulge grab) to conjure protection and good luck around their person.
What is it about the male crotch that generates so much self-touching? (We love questions like this). Slate tells us even
"The crotch grab ... is closely associated with another superstition called the "evil eye" -- the belief that a covetous person can harm you, your children, or your possessions by gazing at you. Cultural anthropologists conjecture that men would try to block such pernicious beams by shielding their genitals, thus protecting their most valued asset: the future fruit of their loins. Over the centuries, the practice shifted. Men covered their generative organs not only to defend against direct malevolence but also in the presence of anything ominous, like a funeral procession."
Conversely, the male genitals can also beam good luck back out into the environment. This also relates to the old-time belief that the phallus is "auspicious because it's the source of masculinity and reproduction."
But before there was corno there was porno -- well, what our jaded modern eye might consider pornographic: Anatomically exaggerated statues, amulets and shrines designed to honor the magic and power of the phallus.
Ancient Romans wore phallus-shaped jewelry called fascinus and contemporary Italians sometimes wear a corno, a horn shaped, gold chain-dangling amulet that was ubiquitous on men during the 70s disco boom. The corno mimics the phallus' elongated form and is worn for good luck -- of course.
Grabbing one's crotch seems a much more economical way to promote fortune and good health in one's life. We advocate crotch rubbing over jewelry purchasing any ole day. But Italian law is becoming so post-modern.
The attorney for the guy that was fined for his public display said his client had simply made a "compulsive, involuntary movement" because of uncomfortable overalls. But the court said his behavior was an "act contrary to public decency" and that the rules "require everyone to abstain from conduct that is potentially offensive to collectively held feelings of decorum".
Wow -- so what are the alternatives?
The judge in this case pointed out that if men need to grab their crotches, they should wait until they were in the privacy of their own home. Hardly convenient, we say.
Our suggestion? Use another pagan device -- evoke the devil. When they're not wearing corno jewelery some Italians make a sign of the horns with their first and fourth fingers. This gesture can be preformed just about anywhere (save a Papal Blessing) and is just as cost effective as palpating one's crotch.
Though not as much fun. Killjoys!