Sunday, May 03, 2009

Recent columnist: do "adult materials" discourage "real relationships?" If so, there's a "continuum"


This column may sound like it is more about young adults than minors, but I thought I would put it here anyway. Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times contributed a two-part series on pornography, starting Sunday April 26 in the “Sunday Read”. The first link leads to the second, so I’ll just give the first one. In the first part, she discusses the controversy at the University of Maryland over the showing of “Pirates II: Stagnetti's Revenge” on campus, at taxpayer expense. No, I haven’t seen it or rented it, and don’t expect to review it. She goes on to make a modern metaphor of the porn business to “big tobacco”. Only in these times; such a comparison would have been unthinkable a generation ago.

But it’s the second part (p 17 of the May 3 “Sunday Read”) that gets interesting. She characterizes pornography as encouraging people to “develop secret lives”, “feel bad about themselves”, and, most importantly, “lose any interest in making love with an actual person.”

The reader can imagine how this all might connect with past debates over COPA.

But it also connects to other areas of psychology, like discussions of “narcissistic personality disorder” and the “milder” (if that’s a good word choice) “schizoid personality” where people just prefer to stay in their own worlds rather than maintain emotional connections to specific others. It’s quite far from the libertarian notion of harmlessness; it’s more about karma. We have a meritocratic, competitive society, and living by its values has “logical consequences” – which could mean, following the example of zoo animals (following after Desmond Morris) that many people lose interest in continuing with their own progeny. Does that tie in to conservative concerns about “demographic winter”?

But if so, this takes us away from focusing just on pornography for its own sake, to going deeper into our value systems, and ponder what makes us important to other people.

That was one of the dichotomies that characterized the COPA trial in Philadelphia in 2006. The government focused so much on the technical definitions of “HTM” and of specific kinds of images. The ACLU, quite correctly, reasoned that expressions are connected and form a continuum. If you’re going to have open individual expression, you’re going to have to become bigger than the risk.

Wetzstein's second column reminds me of a comment about "self-dating" in a book by Katherine Kersten and Mitchell Pearlstein of the Center for the American Experiment in Minneapolis, the book called "Close to Home", reviewed here on March 28, 2006 on my books blog, link.

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