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 desensitized 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 teenager 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.