Obscenity

designed to incite to lust or depravity

So whatever incites lust or depravity is obscene, sex for example is obscene, or is it?

After living in America for 18 years and in Europe, for 10 I can argue differently. Sex is obscene in America, but in Europe money is more obscene. Spain has a reputation for being a Catholic country. And it used to be. But the latest statistic is that only 14% of the Spaniards under 25 consider that catholicism plays an important role in their lives. In Franco times the answer was 66% according to El Pais. In Spain sex was obscene…in Franco times. Now the only obscenity left is money. And the same is true in France, in Italy or in Germany. In America women don´t uncover their breasts while sun bathing. In Europe they do. Walk around Paris during a sunny day and you will see plenty of topless women sunbathing. Same is true in Spanish beaches. There´s nothing obscene about this. For Americans, however, obscenity is closely associated with nudity. Jesse Helms, the right wing American senator who was once asked to define pornography and he simply said “I can´t define it but I can certainly recognize it when I see it”. Still I would imagine that the former leader of the Moral Majority of the United States would consider obscene to see topless women sunbathing in American cities. Europeans clearly don´t.

Now there is one thing that Europeans do consider obscene, quasi pornographic I would say, and that is money. While many Americans disclose their income to their friends and co workers and in many cases it even appears published in SEC filings or business magazines, in Europe asking somebody about their income is like asking an American to show you what color their underwear is. Americans love sex, and Europeans love money. Yet Americans are as likely to admit they love sex as Europeans are likely to admit that they love money. I have been an entrepreneur in the States and in Europe. My advice to any successful American entrepreneur coming to Europe would be similar to my advice to a French woman going to a beach in the States: DON´T SHOW YOUR BOOTY. In Europe people are partly attracted but mostly disgusted at displays of wealth. European entrepreneurs, for the most part, hate to appear in publications that disclose how much money they have. In the case of Amancio Ortega for example, the wealthiest man in Spain, with a net worth estimated by Forbes Magazine at $10bn (no Spanish magazine wanted to expose Amancio Ortega!), there is only one picture ever taken of him that appears on the press. Amancio does not want his image to circulate around Spain, does not want information on his wealth to appear around Spain and he is not alone. Same is true of most wealthy Spaniards. When I moved to Spain and put together Ya.com with an investment of 38 million euros and sold it two years later to T Online for 550 million euros in a very public transaction (my partner in this transaction was Jazztel, a publicly traded company) I received very negative publicity after having to disclose all the details of the transaction. To most people in Spain, making a lot of money very quickly was simply obscene. I soon learned to apologize for it. Looking for an explanation as to why Europeans are sexy and Americans rich? Go no further.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

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Xavier on June 25, 2005  · 

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