Review & commentary: “The Porning of America”

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Where to start on this lovely compilation of porn goodness? I use "porn" instead of "pornography" because the authors of the book I'm reviewing, “The Porning of America” by Carmine Sarracino and Kevin M. Scott, made clear the distinction is simply that there was once a word called pornography and it contained items to hide in a closet or cause shame. Today the word has become slang to mean anything amazing, euphoric, or generally visually pleasing or enticing: porn is mainstream while pornography is passe.

Everyone should read this book. It has been the single most fascinating presentation of intellectual views on porn I've hit in a long time.  Being I've poured myself into porn research over the past few years watching numerous documentaries on the topic, reading interviews from porn makers and stars, hunting down good books and articles, skimming through a lot of porn, and conceptualizing the next step in my painting it, this book gave me pause. I'm still digesting the information for myself because it was jam packed but I think this book's presentation on how pornography has turned into simply "porn" and what it all means is vital information to pass along before I digest the whole book for myself. To quote the authors on their view of where pornography will go (which was written 20 years ago so keep that in mind): 

"Pornography will have shrunk to porn and porn further shrunk away altogether, disappearing because it can no longer be distinguished from what we see everywhere around us on the Internet...on cable television, in movies, magazines, advertisement, music videos. Porn will have become our cultural wallpaper" (47).

Ah, or in my contributory way, wall art. I'm totally guilty of contributing to it but to be fair, I really like it.  When my youngest kid finally leaves on her own in five years, my walls will only contain erotic art.  Glad to know I can start a wallpaper company and maybe make it... and inviting the Jehovah Witnesses into my home will be an outstanding act of fun.  Good times ahead, my friends.  Good times.

On a serious note, the above quote struck me because I realized how true the statement was, even more so now than when the book was written in 2008, after my 2nd child and never-mind when I was a teenager, the era when people went bat shit crazy over Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” tour and George Michael’s "I want your sex" video. I thought the video was fucking hot and Madonna’s masturbation simulation on stage an act of mockery to self-pleasure’s judgment and shame. Being masturbation is a solo activity and therefore safe and Michael was promoting monogamy, the outcries showed how people don’t think before they react to sexual content. It also shows now how pure and prude we were because what exists now would never have been accepted in the 80s.

The past 20 years of my life have been a whirlwind of experiences and distractions called motherhood which have minimized a broader view of porn, what it is, what it was and most importantly, where it's going.  This realm is truly fascinating to me.  The porn of today has morphed and it's continuing to. It's ignorant to say porn isn't affecting young boys and men (girls and women too) and thus their relationships but one can't blame only the porn industry for porn consumption and thus, creation.  Masses seek porn and pornography, like hungry animals.  The porn industry is complex. There are too many players and too much value and too much corruption to loose control, plus it’s a human constructed need created entirely upon a biological craving.

The anti-porn movement is just something to do, not something that will actually work. Why? Because society needs porn and if it didn't, it wouldn't be so damn mainstream. Period. Society won't accept what it truly does not want: American mainstream society has said "okay" to pornography and its evolved form called "porn" and so now we have readily available, an act that took sometimes months if not years for a guy to get. I was speaking with a 20-something friend who informed me that today, you sleep together first and if you get a call back, it’s good news. Is this how far we've come* and bigger question, is this truly how we want to continue?

*side note: (Keep in mind that there’s no point in investing romantic energy into another person unless you know they are a good match sexually. Love blinds reality but sex speaks truth about the other and builds more trust and intimacy than words or other actions can. Love binds, yes, but remember the missing “l”. It blinds too. This doesn’t diminish the value of love but without sexuality, you’re left with friendship. Basically women have come to meet men at their level: sex first and if that’s great, then you’re worth more effort. If not, why bother the investment? It seems clear such a paradigm shift has occurred because independent women apparently don’t need men or love or that marital security blanket anymore so it seems logical as to why and how they have adapted and adopted the typical male view of sex and relationships. Unfortunately, that’s a tip of an iceberg discussion but this sexual shift hasn’t led to a happier sex life in many relationships from my understanding.) 

Pornography as it is presented today, "modern porn" if you will, is a topic that goes deep and wide so it gets confusing to navigate; but the authors have final suggestions on how to combat, manage and accept pornography into our lives and how to create alternative ways to experience sexual pleasure.  You have to read the book to find the answer yourself - because, not everything should be free on the Internet. The book it worth it anyway you slice this. 

There's so much to unpack here that I had to pull back from all I wanted to point out about it. I will highlight what struck me.  Once I marked all the interesting quotes in the book, I realized I could write my own book about this book so I'll try to keep it to a minimum and hopefully entice you to visit the library or buy it.

Highlight quotes and my commentary:

ONE

Referring to our cultural acceptance of porn that in its particularly humiliating and more violent nature, such views and “acceptance” of it appeared in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in 2004 where in Rush Limbaugh compared it to a place next to family values: "Rush Limbaugh, for instance, all but pooh-poohed the controversy, describing the events as 'fraternity hazing' and calling the photos 'standard good ol American pornography', as if there was a place reserved for 'American porn' right beside Mom and apple pie" (139). Well...I mean, I bet there's a lot of people reading this who knew exactly what "standard good ol American pornography" actually stood for and that in itself speaks volumes to us, no?

TWO

Returning to the feminization of males as presented in my last book review "Are Men Necessary", this completely validated what Maureen Dowd's commentary presented, that men are being feminized by culture (and primarily feminism) but in the case of pornography and again, through humiliation and degradation and violence, feminization is a brutal hit for masculinity, or specifically, masculine-powered cultures. Again referring to the Abu Ghraib scandal: "When Armin Cruz, along with others, handcuffed male detainees together in a sexual position and put his book on their buttons to simulate anal sex, he 'feminized' the detainees.  In the ideology of al-Sheweiri and in the view of the guards as well, shaped by violent porn, women are inferior, weak, passive.  Only women then, can be raped.  To degrade a male, you must first turn him into a female by raping him" (147).  To add weight here, al-Sheweiri, one detainee, was quoted saying "...They wanted us to feel as though we were women, the way women feel and this is the worst insult, to feel like a woman."  That's right. Take it, bitch. Clearly, this is a man (and society) who has no idea that to be a woman is to be God's choice for following through with life's creation and is an amazing gift. Culture can create such bullshit as truth, can't it? The insult would merely be created within the ignorance of masculine dogma. In this particular case, American "violent" pornography was a themed circus act of "fuck you" to a culture that cultivates harm and clear discrimination onto women in the first place. You pick your morals here.

Everyone possesses relative equal potential to create life but females manifest that potential into reality. Seems to me that embedded deeply within the male psyche, males are simply jealous of female capability, and as my hero, Dr. Leonard Shlain discussed in his book “Sex, Time & Power”, what creature can deliver a human being into the world and bleed for a week every month yet not die? People try to control that which they do not understand and women seemingly are still a mystery.

THREE

Continuing with shocking and violent porn, I was shocked to discover how intense and stupid the porn of 20 years ago was, which of course really puts things into perspective now. The authors bring up a website called Pinkeye wherein the male ejaculates into the female's eye until it's inflamed.  There is absolutely nothing sensual about this act, they claim and for good reason: it's true! They explain that the "psychological kick of causing the woman discomfort" is the main attraction. The act of humiliation and pain, etc., is the turn-on. Of course, if it's consensual, at what point do we as individuals and as society say, that's enough or free will is free will? The point is the humiliation, degradation and violence onto another person, and it is in fact, mostly onto women.  

Is Pinkeye kink? I think most people might agree that some porn is simply stretching the boundaries but isn’t that what humans do anyway? Don’t we need to push the edge to see how far the edge can truly go, be accepted, be normalized and then mainstreamed? So who has this power? The porn producers or those consuming? Isn’t your sexual desire ultimately relative in morality or perversity? The only workable resistance to porn on Pinkeye’s level is not to watch it and not to participate in it but fact remains, life presents us with idiots who will do anything for money or attention all the time. Do we ban free speech because we don't want to hear President Trump's bullshit or do we accept his sliver of crap, move on and view the good that there still exists?  (off topic there but a fine example if you ask me)  

Websites with intense and extreme porn meant to only capture the degradation and humiliation aspects within sexuality do present the question of how male-ish of an act is this type of sexual violation versus is this an act by a male who has embedded mental health or perceptual issues? How far does one judge this act opposed to hitting for sexual pleasure? Does anyone know of this stuff within the homosexual community? I mean, if a heterosexual male would get a kick out of it, wouldn’t a homosexual male too? Are there gay men ejaculating into their male lover’s eyes? Why aren’t there homosexual Pinkeye websites, or are there? If not, then it points to a clear sexual high off of sexism. Further, this also begs the question, of where is the female’s mentality to submit to such an act. Is money really the full pull because if you can get a job in porn, why choose that particular job? Is this a show of one’s level of self-respect or pain tolerance? Why would one female say yes and another no? It goes deeper than money, or does it? Do we seek or suggest psychological care for the extreme porn minded or do we drop it on the fact that in sex, "different strokes for different folks"?  Weird shit turns people on is the truth here. Sex for many is self-discovery. When do we claim a certain action is "wrong" or “unacceptable” for a sexual high when consent is on the table?  Just a few big questions on the freedom of sexuality. (probably too many)

FOUR

Undoubtedly, the authors bring us to the anti-pornography movement and their pioneer stars, Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon. In porn, as in marriage, there are positive and negative examples. Some happen out of passion and honesty and others out of family arrangements, force or coercion (or false promises).  I don't see any anti-marriage propaganda.  Ever. More people get hurt by the pain caused by marital bullshit than there are porn-stars or wannabes but no one highlights that because it is disguised under "love" whereby therapists make the money, not porn producers or porn stars. That's acceptable, even "en vogue'. Plus, it plays to our feelings and not our primal fleshy desires, which can be harsh to our sensitive Human-greater-than-thou eyes.  

Thanks to Dworkin and MacKinnon, several cities in the US between 1983 and 1992 tried passing anti-pornography civil rights ordinances and their "model ordinance defined pornography as 'the graphic sexual explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words."  Um.  So if you like to call your woman a whore, see her shaking her booty and tits for you or if your woman likes to be slapped around or held down or something rather "violent" in sexual action, you may be a pervert who deserves “criminal” as a title. So realistically, what the truth here is, is that it might be okay to express yourself sexually as a wild animal behind closed doors because we have to be true to ourselves, but just don’t tell anyone and please, don’t film that shit so we don’t give others any ideas that women might like a little deviance from their missionary and feminist duties.

What a damn shame for the good person trying to watch a little hard core fucking to reach a little of his or her primal nature, which is mostly what porn is an expression of. Interestingly, we can see that many people like the “subordination” aspect sex delivers with the explosion of amateur sex videos. Someone has to be in charge and someone has to take it. People don’t fake that shit. Porn stars do. The internet has given us an open view to examine ourselves and our sexual selves and we are a fucking horny species who gets off (typically) with bad words, some degree of violence and modest to high levels of control and submission aka examples of subordination.

My definition of pornography, if you don't know, is simpler because it states the facts and not the tilt of opinion in them: “Sexuality is universal, and pornography acts merely as the unedited documentation of sexual behaviors.”  We edit them to show what we want but we edit to SHOW and not to imply.  I've given a lot of thought to it over the years, and it did modify it a little by the time I finished my Back It Up show but essentially, pornography is sex documented as we are "in the state of rawness" not as we dress up to be. Erotica dresses up but porn shows us what we are and when not turned on, it has potential to be ugly. We are used to covering up what makes us uncomfortable to see. Porn doesn't let you.

FIVE

 We’ve come a long way, baby, for sure.

We’ve come a long way, baby, for sure.

While not in the book because this officially happened “in the future”, I feel it important to add this. Getting back to the original idea of how pornography will be our cultural wallpaper, it reminded me of a fantastic point the proves these authors’ beyond a reasonable doubt. Three words: President Donald Trump. In no presidency would have we dared to see an intentionally posed nude photograph of the First Lady (left), never mind the array of sexual misconduct choices by the president himself, which top all other presidents together I think. If this isn’t the epitome of porn as cultural “wallpaper”, it’s going to have to get much worse to make the point then. Do we really want to go there?

Fact is, not only is porn normalized in the White House, athletes are being sexualized unlike ever before and everyone is getting naked unlike ever before. As the authors mention, download and streaming porn sites have made everyone into a porn star. No one is immune, even grandma. In a strange way, in my opinion, perhaps that’s not so bad. In our nudity and sexuality we are most vulnerable and perhaps Americans unconsciously are enacting a stretch into being vulnerable for the sake of being fulfilled in some way. They are clearly for a search for more. The question is how much more is needed before satisfaction?

 LASTLY

As I said, this book is jam packed. I planned to write much more direct review but truth is, it all centers around the central theme of how pornography will in fact disappear and 20 years since that was written, I would say it in fact has. It’s full of great examples and quotes. So much of the book is now more true than when written that it’s almost scary and it’s really altered my view on pornography and its infiltration into the social system of acceptance. It’s not bad or good just very provocative in ways I never got and so I feel more commentary was needed for this book review.

Porn is such a normalized part of life that we aren’t even allowed to separate from it. I agree we do need such places. Church is a fantastic one. Schools, public places where professionalism and focus are needed and not sex. Proper dress at work and minimal sexual flirtations help but fact is, our sexual selves are hungry animals inside us. Like peacocks, some in our species like to show their feathers. Sexuality is what makes that male/female dynamic worthy in its gendered form. We spend so much time outside of our sexual realm that our true homo sapiens self must emerge somewhere and I think hormones are stronger than mind when the right cocktails emerge if you know what I’m sayin’.

I think less porn on the streets and more porn in the bedroom in action rather than in film is the best solution to a happier society but since that won’t happen, deal with the porn on the streets and increase yours at home. Intimacy and touch are vital to our health. I understand and accept porn as a tool to achieve whatever a person needs and needs are relative. I was influenced sexually by the smut books of Rosemary Rogers (that was my porn) that I would buy for $2 at the used book store across my high school; and of course, the environment of bikinis and sexy bodies growing up on the beaches of Miami influenced me on comfort of showing one’s shoulders (I do have a local child who told me she couldn’t wear sleeveless tanks because her mom doesn’t let her show her shoulders as I’m wearing a strapless sundress). Sexual imagery and words had always been embedded in my life. I think sexuality is great. How nice to go about your boring day in your boring attire to your boring x, y or z and suddenly you see a hot and sexy woman or man. I like that. A lot. It gives me a jolt and a smile.

Sexuality is constantly in battle with our mind and our mind is built up on societal perspectives, on paradigms, on culture, on beliefs often created by others and not ourselves. When we consider that as a society we also face a high alcohol glorification to mix with porn glorification, well, it seems evident as to why we have high “porn culture”, #metoo movements and bad political votes. Drinking and porn are normalized (so is stupidity and that infuriates me but it’s off topic). Sex for most people requires drinking to let down inhibitions so you have a culture that 1) provides the chemicals needed to let your walls down and 2) provides the seductions to want to engage in sexual activity and 3) gives you shame no matter which road you take. You have to expect sex to at least come up in the spectrum of possibilities when you mix drugs and porn just like when you mix males and females; and then you have to expect to test your morals and get a grip over the intoxication and seduction. It’s a terrible cycle that begins in college (high school?) every year. Does porn seduce us more than booze? Does the normalization of booze give us justification for the porn we want to participate in but inhibitions and societal morality constructs prevent us? Is porn on the rise just a result of a repressed society that is acting like a risky, horny teen, somewhat experimenting with what can be done?

Knowing when to put on the brakes and when to surrender is a fine line. Porn will always exist and we will always create and find it. The only way to control its directions is to control what you watch and thus support further creations of that. Producers produce what sells not what you like but what you buy shows them what you like so that’s what they sell. 1 + 1 = 2.

I think that since porn is becoming more violent and extreme, it’s a natural progression of our inner nature exploring how far we can go. Porn only really popped up big-time with the advent of Playboy and went shamefully mainstream in the 70s, considered the Golden Age of Pornography, so it’s still new to us, to our senses. No wonder the Internet is basically a porn database with other info in it to give it substance and “value”. With virtual porn on the rise, and (so much to talk about!) the recent interview with Elon Musk on the Joe Rogan show (a must see in its entirety), where Musk discusses how we’re going to evolve into cyborgs with maybe eventually 10% of humanity within us in the future - it makes me want to ask, how will Humans change pornography and what sexual needs will be necessary to meet when our biology will be overtaken by technology? We can already produce life artificially so, where do we go from here? Sex has already evolved from procreation to entertainment to extremism. Where else will humanity take it? I didn’t really look that far ahead until I read this book. The authors presented fantastic questions for inquiring minds. Cyborg sexual problems are centuries away maybe but fact remains, right now, we are human beings. We need real sex and real people to get us off in ways it is impossible to do solo. Porn is the expression of that and it’s here to stay.

I believe more females are needed in pornography’s production to help even out the playing field. As Elon Musk said to something totally unrelated, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, and that’s basically what women need to do. When they join in, they can shift the paradigm. It’s a Trojan Horse scenario and it’s a much more intelligent plan than supporting anti-porn options. I think those with money to invest should invest in women who produce various forms of pornography and thus evoke positive changes that would benefit the future of man and womankind and most likely, our collective sexuality.

I highly suggest this book. - TvT

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