Thursday, September 08, 2005

Porno America

Here's an interesting review of a new book arguing that our culture is totally "pornified". The author feels that pornography has become “seamlessly integrated into popular culture,” which I can accept, with reservations. Certainly, the ideas and motiffs of porn are surprisingly integrated into mainstream culture- I still find it odd to hear sitcom characters referring to multiple orgasms and the like as a part of everyday conversation. But, of course, pornographic images still have to be sought out. And an exposed nipple can lead to apoplectic hysteria.

But, what happens to these kids who come up with the tropes of porn as mainstream values?
The author notes:
Every sort of product, from snowboards to underwear to computer games, is marketed to them with increasingly explicit sexual images and innuendo. As for Internet porn, determined teenagers have the freedom and know-how to gain easy access. On a recent tour for her best-selling memoir, even the supremely jaded Jenna Jameson was taken aback when thirteen-year-old girls came up to her to declare that she was their role model.

The author's first suggestion is that their ideas of deviancy are much looser than past generations. In a sense, she's right. I was amazed at how many kids I met in college who felt that a blowjob is a normal part of the first date. But, was the "free love" generation really so moral? And what about those "key parties" in the 70s? Perhaps what's changed isn't so much young people's moral standards as an increased need to "share" our sex lives with each other. I was equally surprised at how many classmates I had who felt I would care to hear about those blowjobs, even if I didn't really know them.

And why should the conservative right be the only ones to ask: What happens to a culture when nothing is taboo and everything offensive is smiled upon, even expected? I'm still amazed at business-boy yuppies who show off by belching loudly in bookstores, or students who feel it's acceptable to tell us, their teachers: "I didn't do the homework last night because I found out my girlfriend is fucking some other guy." A sort of braying boorishness is pretty mainstream these days and I don't think liberals do ourselves any favors by defending it. But, can it really be attributed solely to bugaboos like "porn and video games" or "sixties values"?

But, mass-produced, mainstream porn is still idiotic. What bothers me about professional porn is how soulless, callow and sociopathic it is- the ultimate taboo in porn is human emotion. The article tells us that "pornography does not so much liberate desire as help to shape it into soul-denying, obsessively narcissistic forms." I don't actually buy this. I honestly believe that most people watch porn in the same way as they watch Jerry Springer- for a cheap laugh, and that's about it.

Or, at least, I like to think that. What disturbs me is the possibility that the soul-denying and obsessively narcissistic are in themselves mainstreamed in such a way that only the most revolting professional porn really speaks to people. What becomes of your mind when it's fed a steady diet of nothing?

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