Barry’s Blog # 91: Porn, Part Two

As I write this essay (April, 2014), I read that even though the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that it is unconstitutional to bar consensual sex between adults, twelve of the fourteen states that had anti-sodomy laws at the time have refused to repeal them. But let’s get back to the question of pornography.

The release of tension through masturbation, presumably the goal of pornography, has been condemned by religions, philosophers (Kant, Voltaire and Rousseau) and, until recently, by scientists. Doctors have used both female genital circumcision and castration to cure or prevent “diseases” such as lesbianism that were allegedly caused by masturbation. As recently as 1959 a urology textbook advised mechanical restraints to prevent masturbation.

   

Tribal societies rarely punish masturbation. They set limits on social behavior, but through their rich, polytheistic mythologies, they encourage the development of the inner world, or the imaginative capacity. By contrast, patriarchs from the Catholic Church to the Soviet state have attempted to restrict all imaginative expression – with the exception of the paranoid imagination, something they can control and manipulate. Recall John Ashcroft veiling the nude statue of Justice after 9/11/2001 and Colin Powell veiling the copy of Picasso’s Guernica at the United Nations before announcing the invasion of Iraq.

The clues to the real issues are in the Puritan’s own fantasies. In 1889, one firebrand ranted against babysitters who allegedly allowed children to masturbate: “…the crime could hardly have been worse had the nurse…cut the throats of those innocent children…”

Why are we so obsessed not simply with defining and controlling smut, but with describing it?

Puritans, says the old joke, have the nagging suspicion that someone, somewhere, may be enjoying himself. What are they so afraid of? Hillman answers: “The free-flow of fantasy images. We don’t know where the fantasy might go.” “After all,” writes John Jervis, “sex represents the opposite of mastery of the body: an irrational subordination to the body…”

But the more images are controlled, the more we are obsessed with them and the more they demand recognition (“to think about again”). In 1991 the Indiana Supreme Court agreed that the city of Indianapolis could close a private club that advertised nude dancing. Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion: “The purpose of Indiana’s nudity law would be violated…if sixty thousand fully consenting adults crowded into the Hoosier Dome to display their genitals to one another, even if there were not an offended innocent in the crowd.” Indeed.

Would Puritans be so disturbed by naked dancing if the act didn’t already exist in their imagination? Nobody prodded Scalia to visualize that image.  His imagination produced it. Similarly, Texas senator John Cornyn argues, “It does not affect your daily life…if your neighbor marries a box turtle. But that does not mean it is right…” Cornyn’s imagination conjured pictures of inter-species marriage. We could go on and on…Pat Robertson wonders if a man who “…likes to have sex with ducks…” should be protected by hate crime legislation. Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (do not, under any circumstances, google the word santorum) muses:

If the Supreme Court says that you have a right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy…to polygamy… to incest…to adultery. You have the right to anything…That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog…

Indeed. Don’t they care so deeply about these images because they can’t stop thinking about them? UPDATE: In September 2017 a lawyer – a female lawyer – defending a man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl accused her of acting as a temptresses: “You should see the pictures of her and the hair and the makeup!”

But they can’t allow them into awareness with a clean conscience unless they have demonized them and displaced them onto someone else. Only then do they feel entitled to invent images like “sixty thousand fully consenting adults” and invite the Grand Inquisitor back.

What about the feminist perspective? Women are justifiably concerned about objectification, desensitization and the fear that porn consumption leads to rape. But Psychologist Michael Bader argues that countries with more porn and Internet usage than ours have much lower rates of sexual violence. His male patients feel lonely and powerless, but they can differentiate between fantasy and reality. They view porn because it provides imaginary scenarios that safely gratify their wishes.

Researchers have never correlated consumption of porn with violence. Indeed, evidence suggests that its cathartic effects reduce the likelihood of acting out.

Here is the archetypal question: what if rape results from a deprivation of images? While Susan Griffin argues that porn exists to suppress real Eros, to Hillman it exists precisely because of that suppression, especially among conservatives. One study found that states that consume the most online porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption. A church survey claims, “50% of all Christian men and 20% of all Christian women are addicted to pornography.”

Let’s go a little deeper. Hillman’s real concern was with the overwhelming presence of soft-core porn. Denied meaningful access to Aphrodite, we turn to her toxic mimic. She returns in the appeal of consumerism, in material goods, although she is ultimately unattainable through them. But the appeal is so strong – and our longing so infinite – that we become life-long addicts who could consume the earth chasing her.

Here is the issue: our modern inability to think mythologically. We all are heirs to a three-thousand-year legacy of literalism. Ideology, whether religious or political, always tends toward this kind of thinking and always suspects the free flow of imagination. Of course there are exceptions, but fundamentalists of both the right (Christian or Muslim) or left (feminist or communist) typically see no difference between fantasy and action, and all condemn the erotic and the aesthetic. Recall how Jimmy Carter confessed his belief that having “lust in one’s heart” is the same as enacting it.

But the more we recognize the reality of the psyche, the less need we have for acting out; and the less need we have to project Aphrodite or Dionysus (or the war-god Ares, for that matter) onto others and thus to demonize them. Hillman concluded that our fundamental liberty should be the right to fantasize (ideally, through producing one’s own images, but if not, by viewing those produced by others). And that right can potentially ignite an insurrection of the imagination “…for fomenting curiosity to pry into what is concealed.” That curiosity could in time disentangle our obscene violence from bodily images, because violence is the enemy, not sexuality.

This means that our discussion of porn and the imagination has political implications. What if porn, rather than religion, were the opiate of the masses? What if a well-imagined population were willing and capable of prying into what is concealed by their leaders?

Read the myth: Psyche, the loveliest maiden in the world, disobeys Aphrodite’s instructions and opens a box of cosmic secrets. 

Eventually, she marries the goddess’s favorite son, Eros, the beautiful, winged youth. The story tells us that the soul, Psyche (the word in ancient Greek also means “butterfly”), cannot mature without union with the erotic imagination. 

And the product of this union is their daughter Voluptos (voluptuousness). Here is the Pagan answer to Puritanism’s demonization of the image: The end-result of soul-making is not asceticism but pleasure!

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Barry’s Blog # 91: Porn, Part Two

  1. Pingback: Barry’s Blog # 143: What If We Allowed That To Happen? Part One of Two | madnessatthegates

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s