Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Softer Side of Smut

I ran across this article in Relevant about emotional pornography. That title was an immediate draw, because I thought I knew exactly where the author would be headed, and I was so there. But then I began to read and reflect and look over the comments and realized I am not so much there after all. In the end, I’m not sure the article is even in the ballpark, much less hitting the target (mixed metaphor – so bite me).

First, the author’s eschewal of Glee just gives me the giggles. We aren’t supposed to root for the husband to cheat on his deceitful, manipulative, narcissistic, bat-shit crazy wife? Oh, sorry, my evil sin nature is showing. I’ll have to remember the next time I watch Camelot to avert my eyes from Guinevere and Lancelot. No, perhaps I should just switch the channel, because this evil musical seems to be – gasp – sympathetic to Guinevere’s illicit love! Oh, right, Camelot probably is part of the problem as the article paints it, being about fantasy, shining knights and all.

On the other hand, I do have an aversion to the emotionally turgid movies he alludes to and I’ve even thought of them the same way, as emotional pornography. The Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook, whatever else gets served up as a “chick flick.” Yep, I’d say that a lot of movies and books set up unrealistic expectations about romantic love. However, that’s been going on since the ideal of Courtly Love was all the rage in the Middle Ages. In the 18th and 19th centuries novels came in for a lot of criticism for promoting unrealistic expectations of love and life. Why? Well mostly because the novels were written by women and read by women, those sentimental, mentally unstable, hysterical women. I particularly like this line in the article “many girls never grow out of the idea that one day they will be rescued from reality by some magic and a fictitious prince.” I won’t even go into the irony of a Christian magazine talking about idealizing a magical, fictional prince. Instead I draw your attention to the focus on female delusion, which he tries to elide with an afterthought about men believing they are supposed to be the prince. Uh huh. Hey, is there a pattern here? Something about women – what women read and write and watch? Oh poor muddled women, put down that Twilight book at once. You have no idea the damage you’re doing. (I'm springboarding off the article now, as it nowhere mentions Twilight, although it comes in for plenty of discussion in the comments.)

Everyone points fingers at Stephenie Meyer. Boy do people love to tear apart her writing, her beliefs, her aesthetic – they are fuming that people (uh, teenage girls and their irresponsible moms) read and enjoy the Twilight series. Twilight is responsible for deluding populations of teenage girls into thinking that Edward is the epitome of desirable manhood. They begin to think there’s one right undead guy who will adore them and they’ll wait until they’re married and…oh wait, that sounds a lot like Christianity - God will reveal the right spouse for you and no one will get between the sheets until the honeymoon (and who’s a better undead spouse than Jesus?). So it’s Hollywood, not Christianity that sells THE wedding day? Are you kidding me? Aren’t they selling kids on how sacred sex is? So sacred that it must not happen before the ceremony with the white poofy dress and the tower of cake. Don’t you know that if you have sex before marriage it will be a disappointment? A demeaning experience? A soulless, heartless mockery you will regret the rest of your life? Because sex in marriage is a spiritual event, a holy event. You know the honeymoon has got to be OFF THE HOOK with all that build up. It’s not just a honeymoon, it’s a sacred rite. And marriage? Well, marriage is like the marriage of Christ and His Church.

That’s not unrealistic at all.

Poor Stephenie. Really, all her elements are in keeping with traditional vampire stories – sexual appetite, repression of desire, pursuit and resistance, heroic self-sacrifice, obsession – pretty transgressive stuff really, however you sweeten it - but she’s come in for such criticism. I’m not saying there’s nothing to criticize in her imaginary universe. There’s plenty to make you go “hmm.” But in case you didn’t get it, teenage girls and women in general are incapable of delineating the elements of fantasy fiction from reality. It’s all just one big luscious cake that they gobble down unquestioningly.

I’m a bit snarky there, but in truth, we (men and women both) do not question what we consume nearly enough.

I say let’s skip the novels playing the tropes of Romance and get down to the serious emotional pornography. We’ll start small, with the crap that is Precious Moments, designed to make you go all “awww, isn’t that just the cutest little wipsie bipsie?” Or, how about the “Christmas Shoes” song, carefully crafted to wring tears from the eyes of people who wouldn’t give a crap about a real child with no money, say a Mexican immigrant child with no money standing in the aisle of an Arizona Wal-Mart. Half of every Christian bookstore is full of emotionally rancid merchandise. The targets are so numerous and obvious I won’t bother to name them. They degrade human experience, make it cute or maudlin, easily digested.

Then, we can look at sporting events. Hockey, for example, with an audience salivating as they await the first outbreak of violence. Wrestling. During the Olympics, the endless nattering on about the mishaps, the dreadful mishaps that demolished the chances of X – no Olympic gold this year. All those hopes, dashed. Yummy.

If we want to talk about TV shows, forget about Glee, the show with a tart shell but a soft squishy center. Consider Spartacus: Blood and Sand, a show happy to deliver both graphic sex and enough graphic violence to make you think twice about eating before viewing. Are you thinking this is cynical pandering to a ravenous hunger for everything ugly, brutal and vicious, a blatant manipulation of the connection between violence and sexual arousal. Not at all - it’s authentic. We would be doing viewers a disservice if we toned it down. Those freaks screwed anything that moved, you know, and we do mean anything. And if they castrated their prisoners, by golly we will take one for the home team and let you experience genuine Roman perversion, just like the Romans experienced in the Coliseum! Thank God we didn’t live back then, huh?

Now many good Christians would balk at Spartacus anyway as too lewd. So how about 24 (ever popular among Christians), a show that all but does a tap dance of joy every time Jack Bauer gets the opportunity to torture someone? How many people watch it and consider how it mirrors a culture invested in the idea that it’s okay to torture sometimes – if you need the information, if your country is in danger, if you’re short of time? Jack’s a hero for leaping over those tiresome hurdles like due process and the Geneva Convention that let terrorists run amok. Jack Bauer could kick Edward Cullen’s undead ass.

Wow, our entire culture seems to slurp up a hearty helping of emotional pornography every day. It’s served up by TV and Fox News and, dare I say, church. How adept are we at recognizing it? Do we really look or do we choose our targets rather carefully?

Naw, I suppose the greatest enemy of genuine, realistic human relationships has got to be the Bridges of Madison County.