PORNOGRAPHY: The Poison Pill

Fr. Michael Crosby, OFM

Every once in a while we hear reports about some crazed person

contaminating Halloween candy, or adulterating medicine on a drugstore

shelf. We are outraged that familiar aids to feeling good have become

deadly because someone injected them with poison.

I feel the same way about crude violence and pornography being

injected into entertainment. Very often they are unexpected

ingredients in an otherwise enjoyable magazine, movie, or home

entertainment channel. An ordinary enjoyment becomes a sick

expression of the very depravities from which we seek protection.

This is entertainment?

I think I am not a prude. I consider the human body a

fascinating creation, and all its functions beautiful in proper

context. My objection to obscenity is that it distorts this beauty,

making it boring and even grotesque. I dislike unwarranted smut and

brute violence because they spoil what promised to be a delightful

presentation. It's like finding a bug in my soup.

To my mind, obscenity is whatever degrades human dignity and

violates the trust basic to human relationships. So what critic and

author Norman Cousins wrote about pornography applies also to stark

violence, whether physical or psychological:

"The trouble with pornography is not that it corrupts, but that

it desensitizes; not that it unleashes the passion; but that it

cripples the emotions; not that it encourages a mature attitude, but

that it is a perversion to infantile obsessions; not that it removes

the blinders, but that it distorts the view. What we have is not

liberation, but dehumanization."

Dehumanization is indeed a threat. Clinical psychologist Victor

Cline, a professor at the University of Utah, reports research which

"clearly suggest personal and psychological harm when individuals

immerse themselves in pornography." His research dealt with the

effects of both the pornography of violence (e.g., the "slasher"

films) and garden variety porn flicks. He found these patterns among

frequent viewers:

"They became addicted by exposure to explicit sex and/or

violence, because the appetite for thrills is increased rather than

satisfied by viewing such material.

They became de-sensitized by such exposure, so that what at first

seemed gross and disturbing was gradually accepted as normal.

They tended to be influenced to act-out the brutality portrayed,

so that fantasy becomes reality."

Drugs that produce hallucination or artificial "highs" are

routinely banned or at least controlled, especially when they prove to

be addictive. What about material that produces an emotional

addiction to destructive and anti-social fantasies? Surely we deserve

protection against poisoning the wellsprings of morality.

Such protection is not available in our common law because the

courts tend to shield even gross pornography under the First

Amendment, and perhaps wisely so, for government censorship has

historically proven at least ineffective if not repressive.

So that puts the remedy squarely in the area of personal

responsibility. It's up to each of us to acquire and use critical

taste to discern the poison served up so frequently by our media. We

need to clearly tag the crud for what it is, and encourage our

families and friends to distinguish entertainment from pandering, art

from degradation, excitement from morbid fixation.

Putting the proper label on adulterated products is the first

step. Refusing to ingest them is our most reliable protection. Then

we need to guard our loved ones from casual exposure to contamination

as we communicate to them positive values and attitudes about

respecting the dignity of the human person.

I'm delighted that a recent TV movie -- supposedly a comedy --

broadcast in prime-time and portraying graphically the seduction of a

teen-ager by a middle-aged maid, drew the outrage of many viewers and

a reprimand from the FCC. Wide-spread public rejection of the channel

and its sponsors was the best remedy against aggressive contamination

of the family entertainment hour. That show and its sponsors received

the ultimate statement of viewer disapproval: an empty chair and

closed wallet.

I propose a similar solution for Christian outrage over a current

movie that trashes traditional reverence for Jesus. Instead of

engaging in demonstrations that serve only to hype the film, greet it

with the protest producers fear most: utter silence. Show your

disapproval by staying away. Ignore it into oblivion.

These two instances of public rebuke for offensive entertainment

indicate that the court of last appeal for censorship will always be

individual responsibility. Moral choice cannot be abandoned in the

name of fun and games.

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