Thursday, April 10, 2008

Porno and National Well Being

Can you imagine what fun and excitement it would be to moderate a debate on Porno between the charming, intelligent, lively, liberal, confused Norman Mailer and the cool, intellectual, precise, conservative, Ernst Van den Haag, the Dutch psychologist/attorney? I had that privilege and good fortune some years ago taping that debate for airing on national Television. We were introduced to the viewing audience by Alexander Scourby, the actor, who, with a magnificent voice and intelligent verbal emphases, set the “stage” with a frightening description of the garish, ugly secret world, not only of the porno addict but even that of the periodic user.. Using powerful graphics to illustrate his point, he suggested that there must be an enormous national sexual appetite for illicit and deviate sex. He also wondered about the financial interest of certain Business types since Porno represents not millions but billions of dollars in “investments.” From other sources we discovered that the “mob,” or organized crime, is likewise interested in the exploitation of sex gone awry.

Norman thought that the proliferation of plastics was far more debilitating to the national well being than the porno of the movies, newsstands, computer or after hours television. He thought, as a former boxer, that it was helpful to watch boxing movies to learn “new moves.” He equated watching porno movies so that similarly he might learn new sexual moves. He did explain that he had been married multiple times and was always learning! Somewhat in contradiction, he declared that he is a puzzlement to his liberal friends when he opposes the practice of masturbation—which he calls “that dreadful habit” and which, he claims, leads to insanity. When he has discovered his children watching porno, he “hit the roof” because he believes it will lead them to masturbate and hence, in his view, to madness. However, every savvy porno marketer knows that successful porno is inextricably linked to masturbation which reinforces every episode and sets the Victim up for further purchases in an unending, plane-like, insatiable search for “something” Edenic.

Ernst Van den Haag thought that apart from the financial dimension with its criminal involvement and the rest, Porn was a destructive force for the Individual, the family and ultimately for society. He was more concerned with the vulgarization and the coarsening effect on society in general. He, as an attorney and psychologist and a strong supporter of public morality, was used by law departments to assess the “obscenity levels” of publications and movies. The Movie folk with their usual acumen knew that if they changed one tiny piece of the movie in each state, legally, the movie would then, in effect, become a new movie and in need of further evaluation. Ernst was assigned to assess a then hugely successful porno movie called Deep Throat. As he traveled to each state to assess this blatantly obscene flick, watching it day after day had a serious negative effect on him, the strong willed and moral man. He was, for six months, unable to fulfill his virile role as a husband. His argument, counter to Norman’s, was that porno will diminish healthy energies rather than embellish them.

I volunteered that porno actually plays into fantasy, not reality, and consequently will create real vulnerabilities for the mind in its search for balance and reality integration. I suggested that the good looking young models are photographed in provocative poses (after many shoots for the most seductive portrayal, and air brushed, of course), with the best of makeup and lighting to convey the fantasy of female perfection. The married man, for example, who loads his imagination with such unreal images can turn to his wife in bed and find someone slightly blubbery, lumpy, halitosis-ridden and who occasionally belches. Conflicted between his reality (his wife) and the young model who doesn’t even exist ---at least, in the fashion portrayed by the astute marketers of porno---he will often turn away from his wife to chase a kind of sexual “will o’ the wisp.”. Sex centered, such a conflict becomes even more debilitating when his evaluation of his wife’s virtue and goodness becomes secondary to their relationship. It does appear that a destructive component of porno is that it inclines the “viewer” to relate to a picture fantasy) rather than to a person. Good interpersonal interrelationships need total “beholding” of the person, not a picture.

Sometimes, porno users are unconsciously seeking some kind of intimacy or love with some one, almost anyone. Such a goal is normal[1] but the illusionary means to reach them are sick and objectivity stupid. This was clearly illustrated at a meeting of homosexual males who are seeking a life of self respecting chastity. One chaste same sex attracted person described his past in which porno played a great part, as is often the case with the same sex attracted person, perhaps slightly more so, proportionally, than in the Opposite sex attracted group. He places his porno “pleasure” in a tiny booth, with the blaring music and an ejaculate splattered floor, on the absolute furthest pole away from intimacy. He never felt lonelier. He, in fact, was conditioning himself to be unsuccessful in the very behavior which would help him be fulfilled. Attention is needed, not to fantasy images, but to live, interesting human beings!

While Ernst correctly disagreed that my argument goes too far in its implication, it is still true, however, that porno rather than equip one for dealing with life, in fact, dis-equips healthy functioning. In core, it amplifies the conflict between fantasy and reality which every knowledgeable psychologist understands, forms one major component of mental illness and much human unhappiness. As a professional psychologist, I have counseled several maritally troubled couples wherein the precipitating factor for dissension was the use (usually secretive) of porno materials by the husband. Automatically, if even unconsciously, she feels betrayed and deeply hurt by a kind of emotional adultery.

It is as obvious as the “Noon day sun” that porno usually disrespects females. Years ago, Pope John Paul II taught that a man cannot lust even for his own wife. Those old enough might recall the furor from unenlightened media which apparently did not know the meaning of Lust! The Pope taught that all persons must be treated with respect and cannot be treated as objects or things (which is exactly what porno does).Lust means that persons are reduced to things or re-ified. Legitimate passion is part of the sexual dimension but not lust! Porn feeds into lust and not loving passion.

And, obviously, for that male[2], married or single, who is more sexually driven and genitally centered, such a conflict becomes even more debilitating in heterosexual relationships again when his appreciation of a woman’s virtue, goodness and generosity becomes secondary. His interest is heavily physical. Experience seems to indicate that, despite the need and value of a sexual component, a relationship founded principally on the sexual, doesn’t stand the tests of time well.

Students of human nature can make a strong case to show the negatives of Porno. Edwin Meese, former Attorney General did a huge study showing the devastation from the use of these materials--- with strong expected protests from Special Interest groups. Yet, truthfully it is difficult to define exactly what Obscenity is. What does it mean to say that something is pornographic? Right up to the United States Supreme Court, through lower courts, through colleges and churches—the attempt has been made. There is not really a satisfactory definition. Interestingly, one Supreme Court Justice remarked that though he couldn’t define it, i.e. porno, when he saw it he recognized it as porno, obscenity, filth. Aren’t we speaking here of plain common sense and honesty?

However, if one places the sexual faculty and urge within the context of an Eternal Plan and a Divine Planner, it is possible to make some intellectually symmetric sense out of the mess. Pleasure is part of that plan and intended as an enjoyment granted by the loving Father of all. (Some commentators suggest that sexual pleasure is a kind of reward from the Lord for all the sacrifice and pain which parenting brings.) Such a component is common to all of us. Deep within the human being is an involuntary and powerful urge for the use and enjoyment of the sexual on physical and emotional levels, with pleasure being one of the main drives. The opposite sexes, providing all the “wires” are correctly lined up, will find an automatic attraction, interest and pleasure in each other, not only emotionally but physically. Such a dynamic can last life long—even when there is Snow on top of the Volcano! It is part of the Divine scenario.

So, a vulnerability to the pornographic is “there” both in its destructive power and its evil because it is pleasurable! Certainly, most healthy and normal male eyes would be drawn, even automatically, to the appearance of a beautiful young woman in the Buff! Yet, one wonders, if we can appreciate human beauty in classic art, (e.g. in the Vatican museum, loaded as it is with marvelous statuary and brilliant paintings of nudes without crossing the line of exploitation), is it not possible to “contain” the pleasure drive within the boundaries of modesty and true appreciation? Isn’t it possible for a male to enjoy the beach in those summer days where young women flounce around in very scanty bathing togs---without lusting? Or ogling and leering? Can one not enjoy physical beauty without lust? This is very far from the puerile allegation that the Catholic Church is opposed to pleasure and human beauty and is merely a gloomy and repressed enemy of human joy! The allegation apparently does not understand that joy is not only different from sexual pleasure as such but is far more profound in its satisfying potential. Some teenagers, (of any age, chaps like poor old Al Goldstein of Screw newspaper,) get their sexual “kicks” by writing their porno on bathroom walls and say they are just having fun. Does anyone think that such a practice (particularly in adults) is to be encouraged in the name of sexual maturity?

The sexual has the greatest sensual/emotional fulfillment possible. Coupled with profound curiosity, sex draws all people to itself. It is biologically and psychologically based and hence has enormous power. And this is good. It was so planned by God. However, as both Rollo May, the eminent American psychologist, and Plato, the Greek philosopher, remarked: Sex is like a powerful steed which must be kept reined in under the control of the rider. Such self control is what Christians call the virtues of Continence and chastity. Self control under God. But why should the May/Plato observation be taken seriously?

The Believer believes that this profound sexual pleasure is substantially linked to the procreation of children, not only for biological, physiological and social ends, but also for the reward to the couple for their sacrifice and love in rearing a child. Sexual pleasure, to a believer, belongs exclusively in marriage between a man and a woman. That pleasure belongs to spouses alone. Isn’t it fairly clear that parenting is the most enduringly demanding task of all human endeavors? It is the separation of pleasure from the reason for the pleasure that makes for human degradation. Sheer pleasure for pleasure’s sake can become disordered and inversely dissatisfying. And this is simply because the Creator lovingly designed it so. The human being functions more humanly and more happily if he follows the Plan which is deep within the human psyche, so often covered over by illusion and deception. Centuries of human experience attest to this point but mere knowledge never did make much sense. It is a deeper element than knowledge which sheds light on such a huge problem. That element is the Plan of God.

Still, the temptation is to divorce pleasure from its meaning and to seek pleasure for itself since it is so powerful and falsely “promising” in its sensate reactions. Every one is vulnerable to this temptation. Yet, Pope Paul VI long ago noted with exquisite prescience that once you separate love from sex, you open the doors wide--- for enormous destruction of the beauty of the sexual. Humanae Vitae has been furiously attacked as anti-love and anti-joy but in hindsight appears now to have been “spot on.” Sex has become trivialized and neutral while the Plan of the Creator is that sexual love is priceless and beautiful for use solely according to His plan. Porno is not real but what the psychologist calls the “ir-real”. It has no true place in the life of the Real Lover who understands reality or the Plan. We can probably never extirpate porno from society but we can, with God’s help, act with chastity and continence and substantially reject the Pornographic. Not only is the individual benefited but also the family and finally the National Well Being. This is a story which should be told.

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[1] Normal for true interpersonal relationships but certainly not for anything that just comes along!
[2] Female “porn” has a different complexity and a different pornography. It focuses more basically on relationships, “romance” and feelings.. The above clearly adverts to the male who is the major consumer of porno.

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