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Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Very interesting article about p--n.

It comes from the pen of one-time Gore adviser (think "alpha male") and feminist writer Naomi Wolf. In addition to her gifts as a writer, Wolf has the considerable merit of being blessed with a strong streak of good sense, even if her ideological presuppositions are at war with that streak and prevent her from pressing her premises to even more sensible conclusions. Her famous 1990 New Republic article on abortion is a case in point, condemning license and rightly finding the horror and sense of tragic loss in our abortion culture even though she couldn't quite find her way to support legal restrictions.

Nevertheless, in reading her, I get the distinct impression of an honest and decent individual moving toward the truth, in fits and starts.

Likewise is this article about what I find about thirty ads for in my Hotmail box every freaking week.

Here are excerpts (warning--practices of the Flynt Industry described, but not gratuitously):

P__n is, as David Amsden says, the “wallpaper” of our lives now. So was she [Andrea Dworkin--remember the stopped clock rule] right or wrong?

She was right about the warning, wrong about the outcome. As she foretold, p__nography did breach the dike that separated a marginal, adult, private pursuit from the mainstream public arena. The whole world, post-Internet, did become p__nographized. Young men and women are indeed being taught what sex is, how it looks, what its etiquette and expectations are, by p__nographic training—and this is having a huge effect on how they interact.

But the effect is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of p__n is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as “p__n-worthy.” Far from having to fend off p__n-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.

Here is what young women tell me on college campuses when the subject comes up: They can’t compete, and they know it. For how can a real woman—with pores and her own breasts and even sexual needs of her own (let alone with speech that goes beyond “More, more, you big stud!”)—possibly compete with a cybervision of perfection, downloadable and extinguishable at will, who comes, so to speak, utterly submissive and tailored to the consumer’s least specification?

For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad p__n.

* * *

After all, p__nography works in the most basic of ways on the brain: It is Pavlovian. An orgasm is one of the biggest reinforcers imaginable. If you associate orgasm with your wife, a kiss, a scent, a body, that is what, over time, will turn you on; if you open your focus to an endless stream of ever-more-transgressive images of cybersex slaves, that is what it will take to turn you on. The ubiquity of sexual images does not free eros but dilutes it.

Other cultures know this. I am not advocating a return to the days of hiding female sexuality, but I am noting that the power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time. In many more traditional cultures, it is not prudery that leads them to discourage men from looking at p__nography. It is, rather, because these cultures understand male sexuality and what it takes to keep men and women turned on to one another over time—to help men, in particular, to, as the Old Testament puts it, “rejoice with the wife of thy youth; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times.” These cultures urge men not to look at porn because they know that a powerful erotic bond between parents is a key element of a strong family.

And feminists have misunderstood many of these prohibitions.

I will never forget a visit I made to Ilana, an old friend who had become an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem. When I saw her again, she had abandoned her jeans and T-shirts for long skirts and a head scarf. I could not get over it. Ilana has waist-length, wild and curly golden-blonde hair. “Can’t I even see your hair?” I asked, trying to find my old friend in there. “No,” she demurred quietly. “Only my husband,” she said with a calm sexual confidence, “ever gets to see my hair.”

When she showed me her little house in a settlement on a hill, and I saw the bedroom, draped in Middle Eastern embroideries, that she shares only with her husband—the kids are not allowed—the sexual intensity in the air was archaic, overwhelming. It was private. It was a feeling of erotic intensity deeper than any I have ever picked up between secular couples in the liberated West. And I thought: Our husbands see naked women all day—in Times Square if not on the Net. Her husband never even sees another woman’s hair.

She must feel, I thought, so hot.

Walker Percy said the same thing about p__n in Signposts in a Strange Land--explicitly mentioning Pavlov, he said it simply turns you into a thing awaiting a conditioning stimulus--no more. The only distinction from Pavlov is that in p__n, the dog rings the bell, too.

It's a worthwhile essay. Make sure not to miss the last three paragraphs for your Downer of the Day.

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