I’ve got pornography on my mind because I have just been reading two books, “Lost Memory of Skin” by Russell Banks and “Empire of Illusion”by Chris Hedges. I was drawn to these books because of the Network for Peace’s current dialogues exploring the trafficking of women. Why is the demand for commercial sex so great?
In the Russell Banks novel, a lonely young man has been saturated by internet porn from age 11. At 22, he finds himself living under a highway underpass in a colony of men listed in the National Sex Offenders Registry who can find no other place to live. In their Florida city, there are only three spots where such people can stay where they are not in the vicinity of young people – under the underpass, at the airport and in a swamp.
A sociologist becomes interested in the young man, whose name is Kid, for research purposes. As he explains to his wife: “If, as it appears, the proportion of the male population who commit these acts has increased exponentially in recent years…then there is something in the wider culture that has changed in recent years, and these men are like the canary in the mine shaft, the first among us to respond to that change, as if their social and ethical immune systems…have been somehow damaged or compromised.”
The novel strongly suggests that the problem in the case of Kid is that the only concept he has of sexual relationship is what he has seen on his laptop screen. He gets in trouble when he tries to contact a girl he has met in a chat room imagining that at last he will have a chance to try out what he has learned from porn. She has no reality for him – no “skin” to refer to the title.
What would Kid have been viewing all those years? Chris Hedges gives graphic examples in “Empire of Illusion.” I will spare you the details, but it seems porn films now portray every imaginable degradation and abuse of a woman’s body. A lot of money is being made out of it, too. Hedges writes that revenues including in-room movies at hotels, sex clubs, and the growing world of internet porn topped $97 billion in 2006. Annual sales in the U.S. are estimated at $10 billion. This is big time stuff: AT&T (through Comcast) and GM (through DIRECTV) account for 80% of all porn sales.
Hedges’ analysis of why this is happening is complex, but here is how he concludes his chapter on porn. “Porn glorifies the cruelty and domination of sexual exploitation in the same way popular culture…glorifies the domination and cruelty of war. It is the same disease. It is the belief that ‘because I have the ability to use force and control to make others do as I please, I have the right to use this force and control.’ It is the disease of corporate and imperial control.”
When I think about Kid in the novel, though, he’s not a guy who thinks he has the ability to control much of anything besides his computer mouse. He only tries to go about having sex in the way he’s been taught on-line, mechanically and without any sense of relationship to another person. That’s what men pursuing commercial sex of any kind are looking for and I still have to ask, Why? Because they feel powerFUL or because they feel powerLESS? Feel free to comment.