IT'S the week for pull quotes to tell more of the story than probably desired, apparently:
culture from adult theaters to the
mainstream--and asks what that means for kids.
So now the first thing I sez to myself here is, Adult theatres? I'm pretty sure the last one closed around 1979, or about the time the VHS Revolution brought porn directly into America's willing bedrooms.
Then I realized I'd forgotten about Pee Wee.
The book in question is Carmine Sarracino and Kevin Scott's The Porning of America. Now, it's possible that by "theater" Newsweek meant "bookstore" or "sex shop", what in Indiana were, for a glorious two-year period, known as Museums of Adult Literature, because one of The World's Third Worst State Legislature's periodic attempts to circumvent the First Amendment involved prohibiting the display of prurient materials, but exempting museums. This must've been twenty years ago, now, but it's still, by far, my favorite piece of crackpot legislation ever enacted anywhere. Apparently the legislators actually imagined that come January 1 every porn shop would have to close its doors. I believe the first inkling they got that the results would be other than expected was when the Yellow Pages arrived that October, and all the dirty bookstores were listed as Museums. I'm not sure you can truly appreciate how great it was to be alive on that day, and every day until the next session, when they took the law out back and shot it in the dead of night. It was like Christmas morning every dawn. It was like walking the streets of a small town which had lost a bet, and everyone was wearing clown shoes. It was like every block hosted a live America's Funniest Home Videos, with men being hit in the groin by whiffle-bat-wielding toddlers, children with inverted ice cream cones on their heads, or Afghan hounds fucking energetically on the sidewalk in front of shocked minister's wives. Everything was brighter, and funnier, even the stupidity. Especially the stupidity. Driving past one of the actual store signs put you at risk of collapsing in a heap and rolling the car into a ditch. If only the Legislature had returned and found some obscure state law prevented them from changing the name back for a hundred years.
Anyway, the question about "theaters" was relevant, because pretty soon this sort of thing gets around to making spurious claims that let you know where its real sympathies lie, as if you hadn't already figured that out for yourself:
It's too early to know exactly how kids who grow up in this hypersexualized environment will be affected in the long term
So either the authors believe that we've reached some new critical mass of sluttiness, previously undreamt, or all the people who've grown up with porn in the house since the mass consumer acceptance of home video, which would be the majority of people over the majority of the past three decades, don't count for some reason, probably involving the fact that most of them have grown up and pass for normal, thus compromising our righteous ire.
So then I jumped over to Amazon to check out the reviews, of which there are none aside from the Professional one. But there are several quotes that appear to be book-jacket blurbs, and one is from Dr. Annie Sprinkle, and another from Al Goldstein, which led me to believe that either Newsweek was overplaying the Child/Porn Threat Level (shocking, I know) or both my legs were being pulled at once. Amazon did inform me that the book indeed traces the history of porn, but back to the Daguerrotype, not back to the raincoat matinee. We're more than willing to concede that few, if any, Victorian-era five-year-olds played with hooker dolls. We're just not willing to concede they were therefore better off than their modern descendants.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Professor Scott relates what led him to write the book in the first place:
The idea for a book about porn culture came to Kevin Scott the day his daughter decided she absolutely had to have a Bratz-doll pony. For months, the 5-year-old had begged him for a Bratz doll—clad in spike heels, fishnets and miniskirt, enormous puppy-dog eyes protruding from her oversized head. Her sexy look seemed a little too sexy for a preschooler, so he and his wife bought her a different doll, which she was happy with. Except that a few months later, Bratz came out with Bratz Babyz. "If Bratz had looked like Barbie hookers, these looked like baby hookers," Scott says. Again, he convinced his daughter that My Little Pony was just as cool—and for a moment, the conversation ended. Until, of course, the Bratz came out with Bratz Ponyz. And then, says Scott, an English professor at a small college in Georgia, "I realized porn culture and I were in a death match for my daughter's soul."
Okay, so I'm the first to admit that in my effort to ignore to the best of my ability every disposable piece of crap foisted on the innocent in the name of Popular Culture and Even More Popular Cash Flow I may have missed something. But Bratz? They're, like, dolls, right? And they've got their own Saturday morning informercial? And a movie? Vaguely ethnic-looking, vaguely Street (is that the real problem)? They're dolls. Would you be freaking out if she wanted a Barbie? Or is that the "other doll" you gave her to sate her preschool acquisitiveness for the nonce?
I don't mean to dismiss such concerns out of hand, but, y'know, I have two nieces fast entering dating age. Their parents have been fairly strict in their upbringing, and the whole clan comes across as fairly chaste, if not prudish. And when they were younger we'd go over there Christmas morning and just be appalled at the fucking volume of fucking plastic disposable Must-Have Junk of the Moment, though little if any of it was ever even remotely sexualized. If they'd have been costumed as miniature demireps snorting piles of sugary Kidz Blo™ it wouldn't have been much worse. We've had several generations grow up, as the saying goes, in precisely this sort of mindless consumerist utopia--is it still too early to know how they might have been effected? Or just too unprofitable to ask?
But Scott and his coauthor say it's not too soon—or too prudish—to sound the alarm, and to look critically at the sexualized culture we're exposed to every day. The authors don't suggest banishing porn to back alleys, however. Both grew up when people were crying out for sexual liberation. And, they contend, porn certainly played a role in achieving it. But somehow between then and now, porn themes have gone from adult entertainment to prime time, seeping into nearly every aspect of popular culture. Sarracino and Scott define "porning" as the way advertising and society in general have borrowed from the ideas and characteristics central to most American pornography: sex as commodity, sexuality as overt, narrow views of women and male-female relationships, bad girls and dirty boys, domination and submission.
What's sex got to do with it, really (try substituting "patriotic" or "militaristic" in the above)? Five-year-olds shouldn't be sexualized, and nine-year-old girls shouldn't be taught that Fashionable Penis Enticer is their best, let alone only, path to career advancement.
But here's an observation, and it's not based on nothing; I'm married to an urban high school teacher, who sees hundreds of hormonal train wrecks on a daily basis, including a wholly-unacceptable level of pregnancy: sex seems to be fairly popular. I don't really see that half-fucking-measures or wishy and washy greyscale renderings have had much, if any, effect, and I do believe that forty years of people roiling these waters over and over is enough time for that behavior to have been evaluated, and found counterproductive. It's time to fish, or go work in a bait shop. I realize that my real beef here is probably with Newsweek, not the book, but still; this defense of sexual freedom business does not impress me much (it's sort of the ultimate I Got Mine argument, innit?). If you're going to write the young century's eighty-second published meditation on Porn, you're either for the underlying Sex part, in which case you at least sound normal, or you're Ben Shapiro, in which case only people who are crazier than you buy it. (And with as tiny a market slice as that you've gotta rely on multiple corporate purchases if you ever want to write another.) So it sounds less like bona fides and more like good marketing skills. If you're not going to directly address the people who are creating the problem, then at least explain to the rest of us what ought to be done about it without tearing down the World's Most Popular Amusement Park Ride. If my car breaks down I have one decision to make: is it worth it to repair it? I can't decide that unless I get an estimate. This is the ground the Religious Right, and its political arm, the GOP, has occupied for forty years, and the same ground people who attack public education hurl long-range artillery from: four hundred different views of The Problem, and no one willing to propose any solution not constructed entirely of Vapor, because every such solution is draconian, wildly unpopular, and probably unconstitutional, whatever that means these days, and instead of fixing the problem it would fix the wagons of the people who make a comfortable living off it. We'll note, again, that we're pretty skeptical about the empirical method being this much of a mystery, even to Professors of English (Economists, okay). You could begin by demonstrating that Bratz was in some percentage sexualizing your preschooler, instead of wholly feeding a penchant for grubbing at whatever shiny object is dangling in front of her at the moment, which we already know has been fully developed, and under your Watch.