July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
I’m in the middle of traveling to Thailand, typing an update to the Chronicles from an airport lounge. This is not the ideal situation for writing an article for the considerably sophisticated tastes of the average reader of Christian’s Chronicles, but it will have to do. I have some time to kill, and I have the motivation to write. But first, a thought experiment.
Consider if you will, the following scenario. Let’s say I rent out a motel, and hire some workers. My employees deal in the oldest profession in the world. They sell sex. I may even create brochures and videos where guests can browse through my employees’ offerings, and make selections that suit their desires and budgets, before they go to the room to do the ‘deed.’ There may even be some services in the nature of testing, or preventive measures offered to reduce the odds of transmitting disease.
By any other name, this would be a brothel. My ’employees:’ prostitutes, though there are far more derogatory and commonly used terms, whether justifiably or not, to describe those who engage in such activities.
Leaving that aside for the moment, let us change the scenario a bit. This time, what I offer is the following: I offer would-be porn producers a chance to meet with talent, and create & star in their own porn movie. It is at the same motel, and I offer the same brochures and videos. However, my ‘clients’ sign various contracts that name them as producers and actors, and it is all filmed. My workers are not prostitutes, they are ‘porn stars,’ and they film ‘custom made movies’ for the clients, eh, I mean ‘producter-actors’ who come to my motel to meet them. The ‘producers’ get to keep a copy of the video, and do whatever they want with it, whether they choose to post it online, release it as a major motion picture, never watch it, or keep it for home use. In essence, everything is exactly the same as in the first scenario, except some additional paperwork, cameras, and calling the participants by different names such as ‘producer’ and ‘porn star.’
Is this prostitution? Or did it change simply by putting different labels on the participants? Does it matter? Just ponder these questions for now, and let us move on to a third scenario.
This time, I get a tripod and camera, and set up a website with an ‘open casting call’ offering any willing female would-be porn actress to film a scene with me. I take my camera to a prearranged location, where we meet and after filling out the paperwork and completing the necessary health checks, we get down and dirty.
Of the three scenarios in this thought experiment, one is based on a real life example, and it is not the brothel. A porn actor by the name of James Deen, not to be confused with the late James Dean, did just that: he posted an open casting call to do a scene with him. And, as Mr. Deen is apparently popular with the ladies, many have applied. Among them: Jenn Tisdale, who apparently is or was some sort of legitimate celebrity, albeit described on Wikipedia as having risen “to fame as the sister of High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale.” (Wikipedia) But this was not an embarrassing hidden video moment. Ms. Tisdale wrote an article about her experiences on the Huffington Post. This received some measure of attention in the media and in cyberspace, at places including a site known as “The Frisky” where Amelia McDonnel-Perry wondered: “What’s it like to bed James Deen,” declared her jealousy, and asked “what are you waiting for? APPLY TO FUCK JAMES DEEN,” courteously providing a link to the aforementioned open casting call application.
I do not know how representative or serious this response is to Ms Tisdale’s revelation, but Tisdale’s own account of the experience includes some revealing statements, though not much explicit detail, as The Frisky sadly notes. There is this tidbit:
“After he left I felt really good. There are few words in the English language more annoying than the word empowered. Imagine that feeling but swap it out for a different word because I would sound like a complete asshole if I used it.”
Those words are open to interpretation, but somewhere in there, there is some truth. Be that as it may, I encourage reading some of the comments that follow this ‘story.’ I’d be failing in my duties if I did not quote some of them. Example:
“Thank you so much for sharing your heart-warming tale of empowerment. I’ve always regretted that I’ve not been strong enough to set such an example of female sexuality for my daughter. You’ve been clear, concise in breaking down the complexities of human sexuality with laser precision by stating the two motivating factors: procreation and religion, leaving the reader to determine the third on their own…cash! While ruminating on the third factor, and encouraged by your foray, I nipped down to my local stripper bar and demanded of the proprietor that I claim my right to dance naked in front of a room full of strangers, delighting in the knowledge that I alone would be the focus of their attention and erections for five minutes. How empowering! I dressed my daughter in a long overcoat and false beard, cleverly disguising her as a modern day Toulouse Lautrec, I faked sexual enjoyment (as I read you did in your film, since, as you said, you can’t orgasm) for several minutes on stage in front of an audience of at least five. While I was not the star of a porn movie, I’m pretty sure I’m the star on a couple of cell phones. My daughter, awed by the experience, still has not been able to communicate her joy at knowing she now has an empowered mother. The experience was uplifting. I’ll be going back next week. Not to dance myself, but my mom tells me she has the 5 p.m. slot.”
That just happened to be an ironic comment left by a reader. I do not know how most of the public perceived this… whatever it was. I am not sure it matters, as this incident is not likely to have any relevance to anyone. However, it is indicative of the way porn continues to break into the mainstream of media and culture. There are bigger questions to address.
What, if anything, is morally problematic with porn?
The simplistic answer goes something like this: if people want to have sex and film it, who cares? Let them.
Unfortunately, I do not have the time or resources at the moment to explore the issue in full detail, but I’d like to offer a brief outline of two arguments why there may be quite a few things wrong with porn. One is a utilitarian argument, and the other relies on Kant’s famous Categorical Imperative.
From a utilitarian analysis, let us consider not only porn, but the context in which it has become so pervasive in our culture. This notion of sexual ‘liberation’ that Ms. Tinsdale may have alluded to with her discussion of some synonym for empowerment, and the way she mentions in passing that “Porn is not the wizard behind the curtain it once was. Most of us have sex. A lot of us have used a camera. Some of us have put the two together,” (www.dailymail.co.uk) adding that “it’s quite silly that anyone would react negatively to it,” reveals many hidden premises, if we are to take these as more than marketing material for her movie. They reflect an attitude that embraces the breakdown of the ‘traditional’ family structures for the free-for-all promiscuity of the ‘sexual revolution.’ After all, she did not hesitate to tell her mother about her plans, because her “mother is fairly progressive.” Whether or not the dismantling of time-tested traditions is ‘progressive’ is open to debate.
To simplify things a bit in the interest of brevity, let us pit on the one hand the traditional notions of marriage and monogamy against the new, ‘progressive’ ideals of anyone doing whatever they want in pursuit of instant gratification/whatever feels good. Is the latter a better situation in terms of overall well-being? By now it should be obvious that I have my doubts.
The carefree attitude that views Ms. Tisdale’s actions as ‘just sex’ is correct in one sense: she did exactly that, and not much more. Something a dog can accomplish with equal skill. And, despite the fact that in every other aspect of our lives not the least of which is our credit history, we are judged by our past actions, Ms. Tisdale probably considers it silly that many who probably call her by more derogatory names than I’ve used here judge her based on her decision to engage in acts which most of us would consider proper only for private & intimate encounters, with a stranger, and exploit it for money and notoriety. What would the relationship-score of one such as Ms. Tisdale be if such a meter existed? Would engaging in porn (with its disregard for the normally accepted parameters for sexual intercourse) be indicative of a propensity for unfaithfulness or of a diminished capacity for intimacy? Something like a bankruptcy on a credit report? A moral bankruptcy if you will?
More to the point, are we happier as a result of the relaxed views on sexual and marital fidelity we take as opposed to the old fashioned notions of monogamy, or at least somewhat more stringent moral restraints on promiscuity? Or is there more insecurity, unhappiness, and lack of fulfillment as a result of such ‘progressive’ attitudes as Ms Tisdale seems to espouse? Perhaps our sky high divorce rates, domestic instability, troubled children of broken homes, and so forth, have something to do with this me-first attitude, where we view others as tools for satisfying our needs, not as full human beings deserving of dignity and consideration.
Which brings me to my second argument. German philosopher Immanuel Kant long ago formulated his famous Categorical Imperative. This was his version of the Golden Rule, from which all other moral rules were derived. He had various formulations for it, all expressing the same idea based on a fundamental respect for our humanity and our capacity for reason. One was: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” (Wikipedia)
This is where porn fails miserably on the moral scale. It’s main purpose or function is to use another as a means for sexual gratification.
Yes, even if both are using each other.
I’d like to extrapolate on these points much longer, but my battery is dying… Perhaps that is a sign or at least a comment on empty claims of ’empowerment’ (and not an invitation for jokes).
Until next time,