NEW YORK (AFP) — The debate was intense, titillating, raw, even perverse -- at least for those watching Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama on screens in New York's Museum of Sex.
Debate parties are a dime-a-dozen in New York, but this must have been the only such event Wednesday where viewers' attention wandered so easily.
The session of naked politics took place in a hall where dozens of TV screens only minutes earlier had been filled with quite a different kind of nudity.
To one side was an exhibition devoted to the sex lives of animals, including X-rated action from panda bears and the sexual cannibalism of the whiptail lizard.
To the other side ranged a display of the more peculiar inventions devoted to human sex habits, ranging from whips to what could have been a dentist's chair, except for the life-like penis.
Meanwhile, on the multiple TV screens, McCain the Republican and Democrat Obama argued about energy resources and tax policy.
The 200 or so New Yorkers present seemed to think the mix just right.
"What better than to combine sex and politics, the two things you're not meant to talk about in public?" giggled Simon Betz, 37, as she scrutinized the non-dentist's chair.
"Everything is so messed up in our country that it's good we go and have fun and think about sex. Hey, it's better than thinking about the collapsing economy and how poor we're all going to be."
Not surprisingly, this was not Republican territory.
Boos at McCain and cheers for Obama punctuated the debate -- almost as loud as the recordings of moans and cries that had filled the same room just before.
"Obama put sex back into politics," said a dreamy Jennifer Wright, 22, wearing a long red dress and black nail polish.
Artist Molly Crabapple, with a huge orange butterfly hairpin and a low-cut dress, used the occasion to unveil her painting "Politics."
The water color, which was hung opposite a sex robot, depicts an orgy of money and sex in which a rampant red elephant, the Republican mascot, is intimately involved with a blue donkey, the Democratic Party symbol.
Crabapple said the nightmarish scene reflects that "US politics is all a huge game of distractions played by people who are essentially all like each other."
That's the kind of cynicism that has become widespread in the United States and which both McCain and Obama claim they can address.
But Crabapple, a fervent Obama supporter, had only one regret.
The painting was completed two months ago, before she believed her hero, now leading opinion polls, could win.
"If I was painting it today, I'd have the donkey on top," she said.
Despite the bizarre atmosphere, viewers clearly had a deep interest in the November 4 election, which they think Obama has still not sewn up, despite his current advantage.
"Right now, Obama's ahead. But what are people going actually to do once they're in the polling booth?" said Eileen Sharaga, 58, resolutely attempting to ignore an explicit instructional video on masturbation.
"I'm anxious, extremely anxious," she said.
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