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
"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
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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