[Chris Hedges quotes Robert Jensen, journalism professor at UT-Austin, for the title of this essay. Jensen wrote the sentence “Pornography is what the end of the world looks like” in his book “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity”. You can read the book HERE AT THIS LINK / GETTING OFF.]
Scene from Fifty Shades of Grey.
BOSTON—“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the book and the movie, is a celebration of the sadism that dominates nearly every aspect of American culture and lies at the core of pornography and global capitalism.
It glorifies our dehumanization of women.
It champions a world devoid of compassion, empathy and love.
It eroticizes hypermasculine power that carries out the abuse, degradation, humiliation and torture of women whose personalities have been removed, whose only desire is to debase themselves in the service of male lust.
The film, like [the war pornography and hero pornography film] “American Sniper,” unquestioningly accepts a predatory world where the weak and the vulnerable are objects to exploit while the powerful are narcissistic and violent demigods. It blesses this capitalist hell as natural and good.
“Pornography,” Robert Jensen writes, “is what the end of the world looks like.”
We are blinded by self-destructive fantasy. An array of amusements and spectacles, including
TV “reality” shows,
huge sporting events,
porn (which earns at least twice what Hollywood movies generate),
alluring luxury products,
offers enticing exit doors from reality.
We yearn to be rich, powerful and celebrities.
And those we must trample to build our pathetic little empires are seen as deserving their fate. That nearly all of us will never attain these ambitions is emblematic of our collective self-delusion and the effectiveness of a culture awash in manipulation and lies.
Porn seeks to eroticize this sadism. In porn women are paid to repeat the mantra “I am a cunt. I am a bitch. I am a whore. I am a slut. Fuck me hard with your big cock.” They plead to be physically abused.
Porn caters to degrading racist stereotypes. Black men are sexually potent beasts stalking white women. Black women have a raw, primitive lust. Latin women are sultry and hotblooded. Asian women are meek, sexually submissive geishas.
In porn, human imperfections do not exist. The oversized silicone breasts, the pouting, gel-inflated lips, the bodies sculpted by plastic surgeons, the drug-induced erections that never subside and the shaved pubic regions—which cater to porn’s pedophilia—turn performers into pieces of plastic.
Smell, sweat, breath, heartbeats and touch are erased along with tenderness.
Women in porn are packaged commodities. They are pleasure dolls and sexual puppets. They are stripped of true emotions.
Porn is not about sex, if one defines sex as a mutual act between two partners, but about masturbation, a solitary auto-arousal devoid of intimacy and love.
The cult of the self—that is the essence of porn—lies at the core of corporate culture. Porn, like global capitalism, is where human beings are sent to die.
There are few people on the left who grasp the immense danger of allowing pornography to replace intimacy, sex and love. Much of the left believes that pornography is about free speech, as if it is unacceptable to financially exploit and physically abuse a woman in a sweatshop in China but acceptable to do so on the set of a porn film, as if torture is wrong in Abu Ghraib, where prisoners were sexually humiliated and abused as if they were on a porn set, but permissible on commercial porn sites.
A new wave of feminists, who have betrayed the iconic work of radicals such as Andrea Dworkin, defends porn as a form of sexual liberation and self-empowerment. These “feminists,” grounded in Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, are stunted products of neoliberalism and postmodernism
[I think this is a serious misreading of Foucault: “Discipline and Punish, Madness and Civilization, The Order of Things, The Birth of the Clinic, Mental Illness and Psychology, The Archaeology of Knowledge, The Power of Truth, and Mental Illness and Psychology” although I will grant it for Foucault’s “The History of Sexuality” and while it may be a correct reading of postmodern-ISM, it is as well as a misreading of the postmodern condition.]
BUT BACK TO CHRIS HEDGES:
Feminism, for them, is no longer about the liberation of women who are oppressed; it is defined by a handful of women who are successful, powerful and wealthy—or, as in the case of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” able to snag a rich and powerful man.
A woman wrote the “Fifty Shades” book, as well as the screenplay. A woman directed the film. A woman studio head bought the movie. [!!!!]
This collusion by women is part of the internalization of oppression and sexual violence that have their roots in porn. Dworkin understood. She wrote that
“the new pornography is a vast graveyard where the Left has gone to die. The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too.”
I met Gail Dines, one of the most important radicals in the country, in a small cafe in Boston on Tuesday. She is the author of “Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality” and a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College. Dines, along with a handful of others including Jensen, fearlessly decry a culture that is as depraved as Caligula’s Rome.
“The porn industry has hijacked the sexuality of an entire culture and is laying waste to a whole generation of boys,” she warned. “And when you lay waste to a generation of boys, you lay waste to a generation of girls.”
“When you fight porn you fight global capitalism,” she said. “The venture capitalists, the banks, the credit card companies are all in this feeding chain. This is why you never see anti-porn stories. The media is implicated. It is financially in bed with these companies. Porn is part of this. Porn tells us we have nothing left as human beings—boundaries, integrity, desire, creativity and authenticity. Women are reduced to three orifices and two hands. Porn is woven into the corporate destruction of intimacy and connectedness, and this includes connectedness to the earth. If we were a society where we were whole, connected human beings in real communities, then we would not be able to look at porn. We would not be able to watch another human being tortured.”
“If you are going to give a tiny percent of the world the vast majority of the goodies, you better make sure you have a good ideological system in place that legitimizes why everyone else is suffering economically,” she said. “This is what porn does. Porn tells you that material inequality between women and men is not the result of an economic system. It is biologically based. And women, being whores and bitches and only good for sex, don’t deserve full equality.
Porn is the ideological mouthpiece that legitimizes our material system of inequality. Porn is to patriarchy what the media is to capitalism.”
To keep the legions of easily bored male viewers aroused, porn makers produce videos that are increasingly violent and debasing. Extreme Associates, which specializes in graphic rape scenes, along with JM Productions, promotes the very real pain endured by women on its sets. [Abu Ghraib, anybody?]JM Productions pioneered “aggressive throat fucking” or “face fucking” videos such as the “Gag Factor” series, in which women gag and often vomit. It ushered in “swirlies,” in which the male performer dunks the woman’s head into a toilet after sex and then flushes. [Waterboarding, anybody?] The company promises, “Every whore gets the swirlies treatment. Fuck her, then flush her.”
Repeated and violent anal penetration triggers anal prolapse, a condition in which the inner walls of a woman’s rectum collapse and protrude from her anus. This is called “rosebudding.” Some women, penetrated repeatedly by numerous men on porn shoots, often after taking handfuls of painkillers, require anal and vaginal reconstructive surgery. Female performers may suffer from sexually transmitted diseases and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
And with porn mainstreamed—some porn video participants are treated like film celebrities by talk show hosts such as Oprah and Howard Stern—the behavior promoted by porn, including stripping, promiscuity, S&M and exhibitionism, has become chic. Porn also sets the standard for female beauty and female comportment. And this has had terrifying consequences for girls.
“Women are told in our society they have two choices,” Dines said. “They are either fuckable or invisible. To be fuckable means to conform to the porn culture, to look hot, be submissive and do what the man wants. That’s the only way you get visibility. You cannot ask adolescent girls, who are dying for visibility, to choose invisibility.”
None of this, Dines pointed out, was by accident. Porn grew out of the commodity culture, the need by corporate capitalists to sell products.
“In post-Second-World-War America you have the emergence of a middle class with a disposable income,” she said. “The only trouble is that this group was born to parents who had been through a depression and a war. They did not know how to spend. They only knew how to save.
What [the capitalists] needed to jump-start the economy was to get people to spend money on stuff they did not need.
For women they brought in the television soaps. One of the reasons the ranch house was developed was because [families] only had one television. The television was in the living room and women spent a lot of time in the kitchen. You had to devise a house where she could watch television from the kitchen. She was being taught.”
[The same thing happened during WWII with regard to cancer-causing cigarettes. As packs of cigarettes were freely distributed for free to soldiers, heavy, emotionally manipulative Madison Avenue pre-“Mad Men” marketing primarily in WOMENS MAGAZINES encouraged wives and mothers to, almost literally, “SUPPORT YOUR TROOP” by smoking in some sort of ‘harmonic convergence’ with them in harm’s way on faraway shores, that sort of thing. (The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee). Sick, sick, sick, everything in this US global capitalist empire is sick, sick, sick.]
BACK TO CHRIS HEDGES:
“But who was teaching the men how to spend money?” she went on. “It was Playboy [Magazine]. This was the brilliance of Hugh Hefner. He understood that you don’t just
commodify sexuality, you sexualize commodities.
[This is also where Gay Liberation has turned in to GAY INCORPORATED. Everything is about selling sexualized commodities to satisfy the Cult of the Self. It is about consuming, shopping, living a grand lifestyle and substituting sexualized commodities for, well, sex. And love. And not empathizing with anyone, anywhere, about anything.]
The promise that Playboy held out was not the girls or the women, it was that
if you buy at this level, if you consume at the level Playboy tells you to,
then you will get the prize, which is the women.
The step that was crucial to getting the prize was the consumption of commodities. He wrapped porn, which sexualized and commoditized women’s bodies, in an upper-middle-class blanket. He gave it a veneer of respectability.”
The VCR, the DVD and, later, the Internet allowed porn to be pumped into individual homes. The glossy, still images of Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler became tame, even quaint. America, and much of the rest of the world, became
The income of the global porn industry is estimated at $96 billion, with the United States market worth about $13 billion. There are, Dines writes, “420 million Internet porn pages, 4.2 million porn Web sites, and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily.” [To see excerpts from Dines’ book, (first click on the text to go to TruthDig, scroll down to this line and then…)click here.]
Along with the rise of pornography there has been
an explosion in sex-related violence,
including domestic abuse, rape and gang rape. A rape is reported every 6.2 minutes in the United States, but the estimated total, taking into account unreported assaults, is perhaps five times higher, as Rebecca Solnit points out in her book “Men Explain Things to Me.”
“So many men murder their partners and former partners that we have well over a thousand homicides of that kind a year—meaning that
every three years the death toll tops 9/11’s casualties, though no one declares a war on this particular kind of terror,” Solnit writes.
Porn, meanwhile, is ever more accessible.
“With a mobile phone you can deliver porn to men who live in highly concentrated neighborhoods in Brazil and India,” Dines said. “If you have one laptop in the family, the man can’t sit in the middle of the room and jerk off to it. With a phone, porn becomes portable. The average kid gets his porn through the mobile phone.”
The old porn industry, which found its profits in movies, is dead. The points of production no longer generate profits. The distributors of porn make the money. And one distributor, MindGeek, a global IT company, dominates porn distribution. Free porn is used on the Internet as bait by MindGeek to lure viewers to pay-per-view porn sites. Most users are adolescent boys. It is, Dines said, “like handing out cigarettes outside of a middle school. You get them addicted.” [Which, incidentally, is what US tobacco companies ACTUALLY DO in Indonesia and China.]
“Around the ages of 12 to 15 you are developing your sexual template,” she said. “You get [the boys] when they are beginning to construct their sexual identity. You get them for life. If you begin by jerking off to cruel, hardcore, violent porn then you are not going to want intimacy and connection. Studies are showing that boys are losing interest in sex with real women. They can’t sustain erections with real women.
In porn there is no making love. It is about making hate. He despises her. He is revolted and disgusted by her. If you bleed out the love you have to fill it with something to make it interesting. They fill it with violence, degradation, cruelty and hate.
And that also gets boring. So you have to keep ratcheting it up. Men get off in porn from women being submissive. Who is more submissive than children?
The inevitable route of all porn is child porn.
And this is why organizations that fight child porn and do not fight adult porn are making a huge mistake.”
The abuse inherent in pornography goes unquestioned in large part by both men and women. Look at the movie ticket sales for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which opened the day before Valentine’s Day and is expected to take in up to $90 million over the four-day weekend (which includes Presidents Day on Monday).
“Pornography has socialized a generation of men into watching sexual torture,” Dines said. “You are not born with that capacity. You have to be trained into it. Just like you train soldiers to kill. If you are going to carry out violence against a group you have to dehumanize them. It is an old method. Jews become kikes. Blacks become niggers. Women become cunts. And no one turns women into cunts better than porn.”
I have had a mixed response over the years to pornography and the defense of pornography — beginning as a tween/teen growing up in a really sexually repressive — actually really completely repressive but clearly typical American suburb north of Dallas — in the 1950s and 60s when anything about sex was TTS: Totally Top Secret and the occasional snagged Playboy was a godsend for us guys once we had moved beyond comic books.
Since then I have been a bisexual consumer of pornography — more gay than bi — from time to time and have yet to be involved in a single, truly intimate, loving long term sexual relationship, although I have been in several multi-year relationships. I have to wonder how much the prudery of American society and pornography — and self-centered narcissism — contributed to this lack of success not to mention my own proclivity to not learn from mistakes of the past and therefore do the same thing over and over again, but expect a difference result.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the construct of “growing up to be an adult” — from TV, not from my parents necessarily — frankly meant smoking, drinking and fucking — that is to say thinking with my Dick — none of which were good for me. In retrospect, what a country that would construct the aspiration of growing up that way. But everything was that way. Go to college. Get a job you hate. Get a better job you hate. Buy a car. Buy a better car. Get married. Buy a house. Drink, drink, drink, smoke, smoke, smoke, fuck, fuck fuck. Buy a bigger house. Have kids. Bla bla bla. Rinse and repeat.
I have always had a specific problem with rushing to the defense of pornographers like Larry Flynt or Howard Stern or the Corporate Porn Industry (as opposed to literature which includes sexual intimacies as an example) being constructed as the “First Line of Defense of the First Amendment”. It seemed to me objection to censorship by the Left should center on more more significant Free Speech issues.
The US Post Office, for instance, banned anti-slavery material from being sent to southern slave states in ADDITION to banning material of a sexual nature. All sorts of anti-war, conscientious objection to the draft, anti-capitalist literature, periodicals and tracts were being censored, civil rights activists being monitored and harassed by the government as was Dr. Martin Luther King and as were anti-war protesters and just about anyone the fascist J. Edgar Hoover thought was “subversive”. And go on RIGHT NOW; one need only look at the militaristic crackdown on “Occupy Wall Street” or NSA spying or the Obama War on Journalism. These seemed far more important.
Defending the use of obscenity is in a far different category than sexual pornography. After all, the prosecution of Lawrence Ferlinghetti for publishing Alan Ginsberg’s poem “HOWL” was NOT that it was sexual in nature but that it was obscene. Here was authentic Free Speech. Obscenity is another one of those English Prudery and Manners issues but obscenity ought to be in the eye of the beholder and only rise to a state or international concern in matters great rather than small: nuclear incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and conventional incineration of Dresden and Tokyo would seem to so rise. A person who can object to women using birth control and a woman’s freedom of choice regarding abortion but cannot object to Hiroshima or drone bombing or the military crackdown on Occupy Wall Street is not someone who has anything to say to me nor do I have any desire to see such a person exercising arbitrary state coercion and power.
It does seem throughout history that freedoms were both enlarged and expanded through the vehicle of defending literature conveying sexual themes. Lady Chatterly’s Lover as one example. Even one of Gore Vidal’s books was impounded in Australian customs as being obscene, Australia being yet one more member of the Anglosphere founded on English Puritan Christer Prudery. Gay newspapers were routinely censored by authorities.
But I especially have a problem with any so-called “First Amendment” defense of pornography as described by Chris Hedges and Robert Jensen. To say that the universe of wealth-extracting, obscene corporate profits-producing pornography like this is a First Amendment-protected activity is to not only debase the First Amendment, but also to turn the First Amendment into the exclusive domain of “corporate persons” — Wall Street Corporations — rather than real human beings.
The whole contemptible and hypocritical “corporate personhood” construct has turned elections themselves into wealth and corporate profits pay-to-play playpens for the well-connected corporate elite. To further degrade the First Amendment by saying it protects corporate pornography which degrades women and foster more male rage and explosive domination doesn’t make any sense.
Look at what the male rage does: because they can’t get what they want — contradictory social programming that you are entitled to sex with submissive women but you can’t get it — results in abused wives and girlfriends and which also results in projecting rage to exploiting and abusing those lower in the pyramid than they — perhaps AmerIndians who have copper under their reservation lands, or hapless workers laid off to make a corporation “lean and mean” (boost profit to the 1%), or women who are chronically underpaid for their work or the permanently unemployed, underemployed, homeless, and of course, racial and ethnic minorities.
So there seem to be significant other issues in my judgement that should be embraced by the new Syriza American Left.
One problem which makes pornography — and intimacy — so difficult is the unrelenting Christer sexual prudery which landed in Massachusetts with the prudist English Puritans and which lingers like a long-lasting radioactive half-life to this very minute.
It is the unrelentling Christer Puritan sexual prudery has made authentic, honest teaching and learning of sexual love and intimacy impossible at both home and in school in America and the Anglosphere. Indeed, because of ferocious Christer opposition, sex education has struggled to even remain in the school curriculum. Even then it becomes a matter of little more than a study of Christer-tolerated clinical anatomy and rules and various pregnancy and disease-avoiding strategeries (like Just DON’T do it! aka abstinence).
Indeed book bannings in ENGLISH classes still seem to focus on GASP! sexual intimacies in NOVELS in addition to those darker volumes which GASP! criticize out-of-control materialist, consumer, Wall Street capitalism and environmental destruction and even HINT at the fact that another economic system might be possible.
SEX, like DEATH are among the Great Unmentionables in Puritan-underwritten America which also include religion and politics as topics ***not discussed** in polite company.
American prudery came with the prudish Puritans (perhaps you read “The Scarlet Letter” which is STILL subject to censorship attempts!). The prudery also arrived with the Jamestown settlers along with racism — the first African slaves in America were unloaded from a “Dutch man-of-warre” in 1619.
The Prudery, however, was for everyone except the affluent, wealthy and elite men for whom it is almost always an often-tolerated violation of “official” state prudery. POPULATION CONTROL — shut up and be an obedient worker to mangle a George Carlin quote — and structural forced submission of women is the FUNCTION of Sexual Prudery and HAS BEEN since CIRCUMCISION was mandated by the psychopathic, genitals-minded God of the Torah/Old Testament/Qu’uran. (Why is God so interested in my Dick, I often wondered growing up. Aha.)
Structural, forced submission of women has been the case since “Eve” was framed for getting everyone thrown out of the Garden of Eden. Oh, and God used instant evolution to snatch away the legs of all snakes and force them to slither on the ground. All women. All snakes. And the Nuremberg Tribunal ruled that (Nazi) group punishment was unconscionable. I wonder from whom the Nazis — or anyone else — got the idea of GROUP PUNISHMENT? Aha.
So the pornography pandemic and the psychopathic insanity of what passes for porn — including War Porn such as the despicable “American Sniper” — stems from the fundamental, functional inability of Americans living in a society structured by English Christer Prudes from long-standing English Prudery
to talk about let alone teach and learn about authentic human sexual intimacy and love — and death — and be humans rather than merely inhabit socially set sex roles.
What is forbidden, therefore — all stuff sexual — becomes REQUIRED. And perfect for commodification AND BIG, BIG PROFITS.
THAT is why pornography for boys and men like me from the 1950s and 60s was seen as liberatory, emanicipatory, defiant, rebellious, even “instructional” even though it was hypocritical and contradictory. To successfully snag a Playboy from an unknowing or knowing store clerk was an act of valor to the rest of us. But that pendulum of curiosity-based titillation swung too far and was NOT accompanied by teaching and learning about intimacy and love from non-uptight, adult people — hence the predatory pestilence of porn described by Hedges and in Robert Jensen’s book “Getting Off”.
I have to say also that I never “got” the whole business of heterosexual bdsm let alone heterosexual bdsm porn with women literally “reprising” their submissive, subjugated roles in society. I could totally “get” women beating their boyfriends’ butts, but not vice versa. Why would women even want to be “bottoms”? What did they get out of it? I just did not “get it”. And from what I hear about Fifty Shades of Grey, I STILL don’t get it. And why is it ALWAYS a superrich, hypermasculine man involved as the top? What up with that? Why replicate the structures of oppression? With both Jensen and Hedges I can start to understand how all this works, is connected.
There are similar problems with gay porn and gay bdsm but the spiral is strikingly similar. Once bored with “garden variety sex or porn”, the thrill has to escalate. But, please. The giant, permanently erect penises reminiscent of Macy’s parade floats; I mean, really! Moreover, if one wants to release endorphins, why not jog to get a runner’s high or lift weights, or dig up part of the yard and plant a garden or install raised garden beds or do some actual work other than hitting the rewind/fast forward/slomo buttons on the remote? Is replicating the structures of oppression — the police officer uniforms and police handcuffs and rich man riding crops — is replicating the structures of oppression somehow what it is all about whether on a conscious or unconscious or socially programmed level?
The Left DOES have far more important fish to fry than stepping up to defend the pornography described above as a First Amendment freedom (“HOWL” it ain’t.) This may be heresy but contrasting “HOWL” with the pornography described by Hedges and Jensen emboldens me to say that
a reconsideration of the notion of “redeeming social value” — as defined by the Left — is something worth revisiting in this Free Speech/First Amendment calculus of a new Zapatista American Left with degradation of women, toxification of the culture, and “PROFITS” not constituting anything CLOSE to “redeeming social value”.
Beyond that, some crucial issues facing what is left of the Left and what might be built into a Zapatista/Podemos/Syriza American 21st Century American Left include
* Solitary Confinement and the whole notion of the US as the World Champion Jailer of the Planet;
* continuing genocide of Native AmerIndians and continued THEFT of their lands;
* Global HEATING and Climate DISRUPTION;
* continued lynching of young Black and Latino men;
* drone bombing and the state of permanent war;
* CIA/State department/Pentagon meddling in nations everywhere;
* decimation of American manufacturing since the sinister so-called “free Trade Agreements” dating to NAFTA and CAFTA and with TPP and TAFTA looming;
* Internet censorship;
* feeding the hungry;
* learning how to downsize lives and living by securing needs and discarding wants;
* localizing just about every economic activity;
* learning to grow food, not lawns;
* creating an economic system that is Human-centered and not Profit-centered (Pope Francis) and
* learning “to love one another or die.” (W. H. Auden).
Men do not learn sex and loving from porn. They learn and re-learn and reinforce the Cult of the Self – selfish individualism from porn. And that leads to rape. Violence against partner. Murder of partner. Repression. Exploitation. Dominance. Extreme violence.
Because selfish individualism is the essential prerequisite for violence.
So launching an attack on the Globalized Capitalist Pornography Industrial Complex — involving as it does almost every single issue of interest to the Podemos Left — should be the focus. The Globalized Capitalist Pornography Industrial Complex is the WEAK LINK in the Globalized Capitalist Empire. Forgive me, but it is a superb target in addition to being so despicable: think Luke Skywalker firing a weapon through the unprotected portal of the Death Star. And forgive me ultimo, think: if we can’t make it over the line of scrimmage, go for the forward pass. Or the end run. Mea culpa maxima for that one.
Gail Dines is right: “When you fight porn you fight global capitalism.”
— thom prentice
HERE IS THE LINK TO ROBERT JENSEN’S BOOK “GETTING OFF: Pornography and the End of Masculinity”. You can read the book HERE AT THIS LINK / GETTING OFF.]