What makes porn ‘porn’?
While researching and writing the story that became Porn, Addiction, and the Black Market it was hard not to stray away from the tale’s natural thread, the question: does online pornography facilitate or accelerate real-world sexual crimes. Just ask my editor about that sometime. The discussion about why the porn we know today looks and behaves the way it does, the bulk of it so deeply colored by male dominance, is deeply nuanced. Getting lost in those weeds along the way was probably important for my personal development, if not totally germane to the article itself.
Still, I can’t say I’ve nailed down my thoughts on what role the gazillions of images of real and staged sexual acts streaming on so many screens play in our sexual behavior. I only know they’re significant. That if the substance of those images doesn’t evolve, if the fantasies we collectively conjure continue to be dreams of dominance and ownership, the enslaved and victimized will remain with us, as well. Trafficking triumphs.
Given the estimated $10 billion the porn industry is valued at, I’m left wondering also if it isn’t time to consider this old seemingly self-renewing dream a corporate one, with the titans of sexual ideation playing a role not unlike the titans of industrial beef, corn syrup, and tobacco of these recent assembly-lined decades. How far will new models (DIY, feminist, alt lifestyle) move our arousal markers? Can they break the hold of the dominant dream?
So far, most of this amateur effort follows much of the same storyline. It’s no wonder. UT journalism prof Robert Jensen cast it this way: “If you have a culture that has grown up on pornography, especially these younger people, and grown up in a heavily mediated society, it’s not surprising that when they create their own media it often looks a lot like the commercial pornography that had a lot to do with framing their sexual imagination.”
Yet one of Jensen’s fascinations has to do with mediation in a more general way. Why people flock to the little video boxes to participate in life, rather than into the wide-open world of substance.
“Why are we obsessed with mediation? This is a culture that is just obsessed with mediated images of self and others,” he continued. “I think there’s a lot of things this culture should be concerned about. … A lot of underpinnings of this society are really in crisis. Whether it’s gender relations, economic relations, the relation of human beings to the eco-system. I’m not a very upbeat person these days, because I see a lot of fundamental problems that the culture simply can’t acknowledge, let alone address.”
Jensen weaves together the fraying threads of gender, capital, and eco-politics and finds our culture ill prepared to act on these co-joined failures. And yet if the old dream has left us scuttled and dysfunctional, still "entertaining ourselves to death," to reference an old touchstone of cultural criticism, where is the new paradigm?
It’s been several decades since so-called “intentional communities” (ie. communes) were in widespread, grassroots development. The last rush not insignificantly dovetailing with the sexual revolution and era of “free love” has certainly passed, replaced with what could be considered the Age of Irony. The new world so longed for seems as distant as ever.
Not everyone has thrown in the towel on re-creating community. Enter Awakening the Dreamer. An email about an upcoming weekend retreat caught my eye recently. Launched by the author of best-selling Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, the effort is to bring indigenous wisdom into the consumption-driven North. It appears to be gathering energy.
For those of you interested in actively pushing a values shift, this effort aimed at “bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just human presence on Planet Earth” may be worth investigating.
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