by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
November 15, 2009
THE PREVALENCE AND RELEVANCE OF PORN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Let's talk about porn.
You know how you never think about something, and then something happens to wake you up, and then you notice that it has been there all along? Well, I'm having one of these moments.
I'm not against porn, per se. At times I've even had passing thoughts about why there isn't more of it for women. But I'm certainly not interested in paying to see the genitalia of a certain kid from Alaska who is trying to make a career out of a mistake that resulted in a baby. Somehow, in my mind, Levi Johnston and Roman Polanski inhabit corners of a twisted universe without a moral center. I'm a bit repelled, but mostly not that interested.
But now I'm reading the ineffably angry Chris Hedges' new book, "Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and Triumph of Spectacle." Hedges spent two decades as a war corespondent in Central America, the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa. For 15 of those years, he was reporting on all this for . The man has seen some vastly unpleasant things. You could fairly say that the milk of human kindness has done more than curdle in his breast - it's blackened the pot and will be hell to clean.
In this book, he devotes a chapter to a Las Vegas porn industry convention. I can't tell you everything he says, or even most of it, because the language won't work in a daily newspaper. But in general, he comes up with some interesting things to think about.
It may come as a surprise, but porn went "mainstream" in the late 1960s. While many of us were working for women's rights and agitating against being considered sex objects - or objects of any kind - "Deep Throat" became a cultural icon in 1972. The attitudes it represented were codified in the culture by the time Hollywood made its famous movie about making porn, "Boogie Nights," in 1997.
According to Hedges, today some 13,000 porn films are made every year in the U.S. Worldwide porn revenues, including in-house movies at hotels, sex clubs and Internet pay-per-view, topped $97 billion in 2006.
Also - hold onto your hat! - kids between the ages of 12 and 17 are the biggest users of Internet porn. In fact, porn has become so commonplace among teenagers that they accept it as the norm for sex. "Porn is the new rock and roll," Steve Honest, a porn director, told Hedges. "Young people and women (sic) are embracing porn."
The Internet, where approximately 4.2 million sites offer porn, has become a porn home delivery system so vast that it is not-so-slowly killing off the DVD market, in much the way that it is killing newspapers and magazines.
As porn spreads, it gets more and more "gonzo," or brutal.
"(O)nce there were thousands of porn films on the market, the porn industry had to expand that script to expand profits," Robert Jensen, the author of "Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity," told Hedges. "It had to find new emotional thrills. It could have explored intimacy, love, the connection between two people, but this was not what appealed to the largely male audience. Instead, the industry focused on greater male control and cruelty... What does it say about our culture that cruelty is so easy to market?"
Porn "has devolved into an open fusion of physical abuse and sex, or extreme violence, horrible acts of degradation against women with an increasingly twisted eroticism," Hedges writes. "Porn has always primarily involved the eroticization of unlimited male power, but today it also involves the expression of male power through the physical abuse, even torture, of women. Porn reflects the endemic cruelty of our society."
Where is Hedges going with this? Abu Ghraib, of course.
Hedges analyzes the now-familiar pictures in terms of porn and proves that at Abu Ghraib, America created "a world without pity. It is about reducing other human beings to commodities, to objects. It is a reflection of the sickness of gonzo porn."
Once I started thinking about porn, I could see its style and ethos everywhere, from Levi's Johnston to the S&M of goth to Victoria's Secret "bombshells" writhing in their underwear on network tv commercials to the bizarre costumes and gyrations on "Dancing With the Stars" to music videos to the tragedy of singer Amy Winehouse's body to the popularity of vapid celebrities like Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson. "Fitness clubs offer pole-dancing and strip classes," Hedges writes. "Porn star Jenna Jameson's memoir was published by HarperCollins and was a New York Times bestseller for six weeks."
Hedges is disgusted with America, and he's making some good points. In my happily-married experience, most of the guys I know love women and don't seek to cause pain and experience dominance. But in the U.S. as a culture? I can see the faces of Messrs. Bush and Cheney all over this.
"It is the belief that 'because I have the ability to use force and control to make others do as I please, I have a right to use this force and control,'" Hedges writes. "It replaces empathy, eros and compassion with the illusion that we are gods."
Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush are gone, yet the culture they represent - might makes right, and life is nothing but an unending quest for more might - lives on. Think about it as America gets ready to send 34,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Joyce Marcel (joycemarcel.com) is a journalist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.