One issue I have yet to cover here is porn – partially because once you unleash the word “porn” on a blog, you’ll start to get thousands of unrelated – and frustrated – searches. The American Book of the Dead begins with a father discovering his daughter doing porn online. I am the father of a daughter, so this is a very real and growing fear – not because of who she is, but because of where the world is heading. I wanted to begin the novel with the narrator’s worst fears realized. In a book about the end of the world, the porn scene shows how the narrator’s immediate world is coming down around him – and so very well might be the thing to trigger his end of the world fantasies in the rest of the novel.
But I see the emergence of porn as much larger than that – it very literally is evidence of our world coming to an end. I may be very liberal on many issues, but when it comes to sexuality, I can feel like a fundamentalist Christian. The spread of porn is somewhat akin to Global Warming – both evidence that we are mistreating the Earth, but also has the potential to totally transform our behavior for the better. Porn is evidence that we’re being totally careless with our sexuality, but taboo-breaking could be useful if we don’t devolve completely. I’m not entirely optimistic about our chances.
The trouble with porn is that it is currently taboo. Even though people decry the mainstreaming of porn – Jenna Jameson on Oprah – the mainstreaming is as thoughtless as any other mainstream cultural artifact. Jenna Jameson shows you can make a lot of money in porn and there’s even some glamor in it, but the real porn story is how this trickles down to everyone else. Just as people debase themselves eating cockroaches on “Fear Factor” to get 15 minutes of fame, porn is bringing the same impulse to the bedroom. No, sex isn’t the same as eating cockroaches, but there’s a similar senselessness in a lot of porn. “To each his own” is a little too easy.
In an interesting (though overly conservative) interview with Pornland author, Gail Dines, she says:
So what happens is that desensitization sets in that much quicker and that much earlier. In order to keep the consumer base going, the pornographers have to keep upping the ante. They make it more violent, body-punishing, or abusive as a way to keep men interested. When you think about it, if you’re exposed to it at age 11 or 12, you’re jaded by 20. You’re certainly jaded by 30. Pornography bleeds sex dry of intimacy, emotions, and connection. Once you do that, then there’s not much left. It becomes boring and mechanical. So you have to keep feeding newer and newer ideas just to keep [the audience] interested.
Actually, that’s not really the core of the porn revolution. It’s not that people are seeking out new and stranger types of porn, it’s that everyday, average people are filming themselves and feel nothing about broadcasting it. Jenna Jameson is irrelevant – it’s the porn self-publishers who are worth intensive sociological study.
What she fails to grasp is: promiscuity has been around for a very long time. Now people are just pointing a camera at it. I remember a friend telling me about being in a band opening up for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the nineties. Afterward, there was a long line of girls into their dressing room dubbed the “Blow job line.” Each waiting for their turn. Who would do that? The answer: the people who are filming themselves today.
Still, there is a dividing line between doing something in private and wanting thousands of other people to witness it. And this speaks of a general boredom and emptiness, as well as dumb superficiality and narcissism – if you can’t get on reality TV, you can make your own. The reason it’s destructive is because porn is still taboo – people think by fucking and broadcasting it they’re actually accomplishing something. Giving the finger to authority, parents, society, whatever. Doing something naughty. Sure, people get off on exhibitionism, and some exhibitionism is healthy, but part of the titillation is that you’re doing something wrong. If sex was seen as just another bodily function, there wouldn’t be as much satisfaction in making your own porn movie. The fact that it’s forbidden makes it more attractive in an American culture where nudity is off limits.
So maybe we’re in the middle of a crossroads. The pornification of the world through the web is helping us reach a point where nudity is as nice and normal as it should be. Trouble is: most people putting up home porn movies aren’t quite evolutionary sociologists, so they’re mostly just being stupid and careless. Which really does seem tied together with how the human race is thoughtless about everything: the environment, finance, why should sex be any different? For every Nina Hartley, who’s a genius, there are thousands more who have no idea what they’re conveying. Porn isn’t evidence that we’re breaking taboos, it’s evidence of our collective meltdown.
Basically, porn is about a lack of imagination – body over brain. It’s useful in some regard, but it’s also a new kind of fundamentalism: sex is more important than everything. Turns this may not just be the case for the actors, but for viewers as well. See Scientific American:
I’m left wondering … in a world where sexual fantasy in the form of mental representation has become obsolete, where hallucinatory images of dancing genitalia, lusty lesbians and sadomasochistic strangers have been replaced by a veritable online smorgasbord of real people doing things our grandparents couldn’t have dreamt up even in their wettest of dreams, where randy teenagers no longer close their eyes and lose themselves to the oblivion and bliss but instead crack open their thousand-dollar laptops and conjure up a real live porn actress, what, in a general sense, are the consequences of liquidating our erotic mental representational skills for our species’ sexuality? Is the next generation going to be so intellectually lazy in their sexual fantasies that their creativity in other domains is also affected? Will their marriages be more likely to end because they lack the representational experience and masturbatory fantasy training to picture their husbands and wives during intercourse as the person or thing they really desire?
I’m not saying porn isn’t progress, but I do think that over the long run it could turn out to be a real evolutionary game-changer.
This comment at the Pornland interview gets to what I’m getting at, except I do think of this as possible “end of history” behavior:
All of universal behavior is commodified. Not just sex, but recreation, eating, aesthetics…they are all turbo-charged by multi-billion dollar industries compelling its participants to consume more. And all of these facets of life lead many people to extreme behavior built on the mediated experiences all around them (ever see enraged soccer parents light into a ref at their kid’s match?). The point, while valid, is academic. Unless the professor is stating we’re near an “end of history” with respect to pornography. I doubt that she is, or she would be in great company with those who declared Elvis Presley the end days or painting the visage of Christ a sign or Armageddon.
The real culprit isn’t porn, but a culture which sells sex repeatedly without ever representing it directly. A confusing message which says: sex is dirty and wrong, but it’s all you should think about. In a way, Lady Gaga is more “pornographic” than than porn because she’s selling sex while lying about what’s actually going on. In a fame-obsessed culture, of course people would think they’re being interesting and deviant by recording sex. They’re not – they’re just being a different kind of consumer of dumb culture. If the overall attitude towards sex was healthier, porn as it is today wouldn’t exist. The result wouldn’t be porn being in a sitcom (which happens in my novel – “Stick it to Me”), the response would be, “Yeah, I fuck too, so what?” Porn would primarily consist of instructional videos. Simply, you take the dirt out of porn and it loses much of its purpose. If civilization doesn’t collapse first, maybe that’s where we’re heading.