The Red Light District of Euclidville

I have some random thoughts on some problems related to pornography. Porn constitutes a huge problem, but I have had an increasing and nagging suspicion that it is not the kind of problem that we tend to think.

But before I begin, I want to anticipate and head off several slanders. The first is that to diagnose a different disease than the other doctors is not the same thing as getting out the pom-poms and cheering on whatever disease it might happen to be. I once wrote an editorial for Credenda that argued that if crimes were committed in the making of pornography (the clearest example being that of child porn), we ought not to make the filming of it against the law, but rather use the film as evidence in the prosecution of the real-time offense. This is what we do when drunk teenagers video-tape themselves burglarizing a store, for example. But this was taken by some astute thinkers on the Internet as an approval of the pornography.

In the second place, I acknowledge that there is a prima facie difficulty with pastors writing essays that could be entitled, “What I Think of the Pornography I Have Seen.” If he has seen some, so the thinking goes, then he is a thundering hypocrite. And if he has not, he is a wowser and a bore. In neither case do we need to listen to him. Some of this is related to a point I will make in a moment, but let it suffice to say that there are other ways than these two to be informed enough to address the subject. When I was in the Navy, I lived in places where porn was the wallpaper of choice. In the eighties (during my activist political days) I filed some complaints against some porn merchants, which required looking at it to have something to put on the complaint. As a pastor, I have occasionally had to track down some gunk, and I have needed to do a good bit of reading on the subject from thoughtful cultural observers. And of course, like lots of other people in America, I have had spammers send missives to my computer that provoke a response along the lines of “Crikey!” In fact, just to show how things are these days, I have even had a bump-and-grind video clip sent to me by the traditionalists at the American Family Association, so that I would be outraged along with them.

All this said, there is something really strange and odd about the cultural phenomenon of pornography. Here is where I present my random thoughts, some of which make me think that things might be better than we think, and others that make me think it could be far worse.

The first thing is that we tend to argue that porn represents a massive degradation of sexual morals, when it might be better to say it represents a degradation of our cultural sexual manners (which of course, have a moral component). But my point is this. In 19th century London, the “red-light” district there was enormous. Huge. The sexual practices of many Victorian males would not bear close scrutiny, and the immorality was of the three-dimensional-break-the-seventh-commandment variety. And yet, when these same men were not busy whoring, they traveled in a cultured society where nothing in the conversation or manners would bring a blush to a refined maiden’s cheeks.

My question is this: is it possible that the ubiquitous pornography we see everywhere is functioning something like a nicotine patch? In other words, I am wondering who is less likely to actually cheat on his wife — a tightly-laced Victorian or a modern suburban husband who keeps the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition on the living room coffee table? A special note here for my Internet adversaries who like to read my blog in order to memorize (and be outraged by) every third word: I am aware that lust is a sin condemned by Jesus, and I am not in favor of this popular degradation of our manners. But I am interested in understanding what is actually going on. I was walking through Sears one time, and noticed some big advertisements up on the wall near the ceiling — some ladies in their, um, skivvies. And I wondered to myself what Jonathan Edwards would have thought if confronted with this same phenomenon. Now he would have thought he was in a brothel, and I would have told him that he was only in Sears. But he was a pastor also, and was not naive about what some people do in their spare time, and we both would disapprove of that the same way. So this difference between us would be in the realm of mores and manners. It never even occurred to me to boycott Sears.

My second random thought. A popular way of whipping the populace up (in order to get them to “take action”) is to report national problems in simple quantitative terms. In other words, we say things like “pornography is a $___ billions a year industry.” And from what I have read, I do not dispute the numbers. But we need to know far more than this to draw conclusions. We can all be bowled over when told things like “Americans consume three tons of butter a second” (to make up an example) but questions still arise. Since I do not observe butter orgies everywhere I go, such a statistic should just give me a better idea of how many Americans there actually are, and not how disproportionately we love our butter. Then, if you take a behavior that creates addicts, and say that we consume so much cocaine hourly, I know that this consumption is not occuring across the board, the same way that butter consumption is. Who are the repeat customers? Is pornography the multi-billion dollar a year industry it is because every American uses it in moderation (like the butter), or is it this way because a (compartively) small sector of the populace has no sexual self-control to speak of? A few years ago, The Atlantic Monthly published an impish set of statistics that showed the corollation between between porn rentals and sections of the country carried by Al Gore. The blue states were blue in more than one sense of the word.

Last observation, which requires further development later, but which I just want to mention in closing. This is what I suspect is one of the central problems of pornography. Not only is porn immoral, but it is immoral in two-dimensions, on a flickering screen. In other words, it is the red-light district of Euclidville. I suspect the real enemy here is gnosticism.

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insanitybytes22
Member

“I suspect the real enemy here is gnosticism.”

Perhaps someone will come along and explain what Wilson means in terms of gnosticism and how it applies to pornography?

Farinata degli Uberti
Guest
Farinata degli Uberti

I would guess he is distinguishing between lust enacted in 3-D – your basic fornication or whoring around – and the rather distanced “pretend version” of lust that characterizes our more atomized society. Watching porn on the internet is still a lustful activity, but it’s also a fleeing away from any actual contact with another human. Although the Victorian whoremonger took a person and degraded her, he still wanted a live person – his vice was of a different kind, and one less hostile to ordinary human life. There are some parallels there, perhaps, with a gnostic disregard for materiality.

insanitybytes22
Member

Ah, now that makes sense. Gnosticism, as in the physical has been removed from the equation entirely, so internet porn becomes a virtual reality with no human element to it at all? That is my problem with modern day porn, it is not really the lust, it is not really the sexuality, it is the way women are not even real, we don’t even possess souls anymore, we are holographic images for others to project themselves upon. So women too, see ourselves half naked in Sears, reduced to nothing more than a commodity, a two dimensional object designed to sell… Read more »

JohnM
Guest
JohnM

In the days of old prostitutes wouldn’t have been on the streets at night (un)dressed the way ordinary women go about in broad daylight nowadays. There are more layers of contemporary western culture needing peeled back before we get to where we need to be than even most western Christians realize.

adad0
Member

‘Sounds like what God said about giving glory to an “image made like to corruptible man”, of which porn. is one type: Romans 1 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than… Read more »

holmegm
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holmegm

Yes, Porn Woman is a pagan goddess, served (or serviced) by satyrs, more or less.

adad0
Member

I tend to think more along the lines that women in porn are casualties of deceit and manipulation perpetrated by the Bill Clinton like “priesthood” of the “sexual freedom industry”.

Bill Clinton is an apt metaphor for the “porn priesthood”, as he knows his behavior is wrong, but he still does wrong with intention, in his own behavior.
It seems like his bondage to infidelity is more an act of personal commission, than bondage to other wrongs might be.

Jill Smith
Member

I think that is true sometimes. But it is sometimes true that women get into porn because they think it is easy money and they don’t really care that they are supporting a squalid industry.

drewnchick
Member

It is worth noting, though perhaps not worth much else, to point out that Victorian randies did not have much in the way of 2D porn, as the “-ography” half of that term had not been fully invented and/or distributed. So, in at least a small way, the modern problem of porn is tied to technological advances running counterflow to society’s views on morality.

Mark Hanson
Guest
Mark Hanson

It’s also worth noting that most advances in visual communication devices (photos, films, video tapes, the internet, DVDs) were driven in their early days by porn. I remember the days when every video store had the “back room” – those hundred or so tapes were a majority of their business.

holmegm
Guest
holmegm

Yes, precisely.

One can at least imagine a prostitute with a heart of gold, turning her life around, etc. One can’t imagine a porn video with a heart of gold.

Farinata degli Uberti
Guest
Farinata degli Uberti

True. Although the harm you do a faraway porn star by viewing her wares is surely less than that done to the prostitute sitting in your hotel room. Hard to be sure which is worse.

rungeeric
Member
rungeeric

This post is pretty blurry. It would be helpful if you could clarify in more concrete terms to start, since you’re in the questioning phase right now.

Bike bubba
Guest

Wow. Never knew that anybody still shopped at Sears. Huh.

One thing that strikes me is that we’re describing everything from the Sears underwear ads to “blue movies” with the same term–pornography. We might do well to understand various levels–say immodesty, “come hither” pictures, nudity, soft core (sex shown but not parts), hard core, whatever. And then we can arm ourselves, knowing what is at stake.

Billtownphysics
Guest
Billtownphysics

I think you missed the point of the Sears analogy.

Bike bubba
Guest

Or maybe you missed the point of my smart aleck comment? :^)

Jane
Member

We still need appliances and tools. :-)

Bike bubba
Guest

Sears lost me there a few years back, actually. Friends in the trades let me borrow their Milwaukee, Porter-Cable, and Dewalt tools. No going back after that–it’s like trying to drink Boone’s Farm after getting used to good vintages from Bordeaux. Kmart quality at a Sears price–no thanks!

Consistorian
Guest

Isn’t the ‘look but don’t touch’ mindset the opposite of gnosticism?

CJ
Guest
CJ

Concerning “we ought not to make the filming of it (pornography) against the law”. What about a lawfully married couple filming, and then publishing, their sexual relations. On what basis would you prosecute?

Billtownphysics
Guest
Billtownphysics

I think that is the point, we should NOT make filming the acts criminal, we should prosecute the actual criminal acts being filmed (i.e. child-porn, etc.) In your example there is nothing to prosecute.

Josh
Guest
Josh

Criminalising the making/distribution/possession of pornography does not prevent the use of the pornography as evidence in the prosecution of actual physical offences. That is a false dichotomy. Jurisdictions that criminalise porn (especially child porn) do so on the grounds that the distribution of pornography fuels contact sexual offences and creates a market for sexual exploitation that is fulfilled by the commission of further offences. It is part of an overall scheme to deter offending.

Arwenb
Guest
Arwenb

Why any couple would want to expose their marriage bed and the activities thereof to the gawking of internet passers-by, is another question entirely.

Mark Hanson
Guest
Mark Hanson

It does reflect a certain psychological abnormality, but there are thousands of couples doing just that every day.

Jill Smith
Member

Prolonged adolescence and the death of any sense of decent privacy and reserve.

Bike bubba
Guest

Hebrews 13:4 comes to mind inasmuch as the church is concerned. As far as I’ve read, though, most porn isn’t a single, monogamous couple–the users demand a degree of novelty, as the whole point of the genres is that the viewer starts to imagine himself (he is generally male) in bed with the girl.

But that said, I’m fine with some bans on content, and I’m certainly fine with prosecuting producers of “writing about prostitutes” with the various crimes around prostitution.

Matthew Schraud
Member

This is an interesting thought on the subject, however, I’m not sure I can agree with some of the ideas. For one, pornography does involve real people. One of the reasons people go for pornography and not a prostitute is because they can find whatever kind of woman doing whatever kind of act in pornogrpahy. Prostitution is a lot less a customizable type of immorality, and it is also a lot less cleaned up than pornogrpahy. A prostitute who looks like a prostitute is going to be a lot less popular than the kind of women who do pornogrpahy. This… Read more »

jesuguru
Guest
jesuguru

“porn… functioning something like a nicotine patch? I am wondering who is less likely to actually cheat on his wife — a tightly-laced Victorian or a modern suburban husband who keeps the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition” This could be interpreted that allowing for a little “relatively innocent” stroking of our lusts via porn (soft/hard/swimsuit editions/whatever) will satiate and mitigate our desires and prevent infidelity more effectively than being “tight-laced”. Lust doesn’t work that way – it demands more, and more often, with greater frequency and quantity and variety and immediacy. I’m not sure lusts can be so easily contained or… Read more »

Rob Steele
Guest
Rob Steele

Robust lies must contain enough truth to act as bait or else they die away. I think gnosticism’s is something along the lines of James 4:14 “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” We are real but we are not the realest thing. That in turn seems connected to virtual sex.

Andrew Lohr
Member

Since comments on “16 sausages” are closed, here’s how about linking (there) to the previous post on that topic?

JamesBradshaw
Guest

I don’t find occasional watchers of porn to be generally awful bad people. I will say this: the majority of professional porn actors live troubled, unhappy lives (though there might be exceptions). Performing in pornography exacerbates their feelings of loneliness and worthlessness and feeds other addictions they may have. As such, it seems that the ethical thing to do is avoid feeding this industry. That being said, I think we Americans also have an unhealthy fear of sexuality and particularly nudity that is mistaken for virtue. We are embarrassed to discuss the mechanics of even “healthy” heterosexual sex. It’s a… Read more »