I always heard it was okay to talk to yourself, that you should only really get worried when you start arguing with yourself. Well, here goes…
Over the last three days, I’ve taken my shots at the idea that America was once a righteous nation, and that we’re now in a deep moral decline. You can read the details here, here, and here. And I still believe that’s true: we have the lowest violent crime rate in 40 years and the lowest abortion rate in 20 years. Our violent crime rate’s been decreasing almost every single year for the last 20 years, even through the Great Recession. Hatred and discrimination are fading like cancer markers after a round of chemotherapy.
That said, I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I didn’t point out the counterarguments. Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely no time period in American history where “righteous” even comes close to fitting. To be “righteous,” a man or nation cannot be blemished by hatred or greed or arrogance or corruption. Tell me there was one minute since America’s founding where these did not apply. Righteousness requires nothing less than perfection, otherwise it’s just filthy rags.
But it is also true that twenty-first century America has some real issues and problems that twentieth-century America didn’t. I already mentioned easy access to pornography. This danger can’t be overstated.
Filmed pornography is a powerful social evil not only because of its corrosive effect on its viewers, but because of the sometimes awful conditions its performers work under, as Chris Hedges highlights here. Too many (though of course not all) porn performers have suffered sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence. Many struggle with addiction to painkillers, which often have to be taken because of the … difficult and uncomfortable … feats they are called on to perform. Some of the shiftier, “amateur” productions even use trafficked women as “performers.”
The commoditization of sexuality has seeped into our culture, almost subconsciously. Just as women are achieving professional equality, and even exceeding men in college enrollment, objectification takes an ugly turn. The motive may be profit, but the effect of making films of violent, rough group sex is to put women back in their place, not as equals, but as “sluts” and “whores.”
And I don’t think it’s just visual pornography that’s damaging. Fifty Shades of Gray may be famous, but it’s just one example of a massively profitable written erotica business, aimed mostly at women. While it’s true that no actors were harmed in the making of this novel, that doesn’t mean it isn’t spiritually dangerous to the readers. Sadomasochistic elements aside, can there be any benefit from turning our sexual imaginations away from intimacy and toward spectacle, performance, and anatomical dimensions?
I wandered into this genre thanks to Laurel K. Hamilton. Her Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series began as paranormal noir, featuring a strong female character who was actually celibate. Anita had been burned by her ex-fiance, and had decided to wait to have sex until she was really married. That, combined with an interesting love triangle, provided an unusual and fascinating emotional backdrop for the supernatural crimes she investigated.
There were no sex scenes in the first five books. The sixth had one relatively short scene, which was unremarkable for the noir genre. Then, things changed. Each book became more and more explicit, adding in elements of bondage, sadomasochism, group sex, etc. until the genre had utterly switched to erotica. Not even paranormal romance, but erotica.
And more than a few of her long-term readers were left shaking our heads, wondering if anyone got the number of the bus that hit us.
I’m not saying this to condemn Ms. Hamilton: she can write what she wants. Clearly, the market agrees. Her sales numbers have not fallen off. But I’ve read this stuff, and I know that for me, at least, it’s not healthy. It’s not okay. I’d wager that St. Paul would not call it profitable or beneficial.
It’s also an example of how, as Pamela Paul wrote, “it is easier to get pornography than avoid it.” I started reading a series with no sex scenes, no indication that there would even be explicit sex scenes, and after I’d gotten attached to the characters, things changed.
Not that I needed a book to swerve me. After all, my Spam Folder is full of things I wouldn’t dare repeat here. The hardest of the hardcore is just a Google Search away. And, as the pornification of America progresses, “mainstream” movies and tv shows begin to push – not pornography itself, but a sex-as-commodity mindset that is the most damaging part of porn.
And how do we shelter our kids from this? I have no idea. I have a feeling our computers will grow passwords and monitoring software before our (as yet unborn) child figures out how to turn them on. That’s not a 100% solution, not even close. Kids can get access at other peoples’ houses. But I’m not sure there’s any way to prepare children for something like this.
I don’t actually have a solution.
One thing I can definitely try to do is be a part of whatever solution does exist, rather than part of the problem. I will do my best to avoid even semi-pornographic material and to purge every vestige of sex-as-commodity thinking that has seeped into my brain. That’s the first step.