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From the Underworld To the Everyman

I had a disturbing experience recently. I walked into the local convenience mart near my house and looked up only to be confronted with fully exposed pornography sitting on the shelf. Now pornography being sold at a quick mart is not remarkable, although usually the managers have the decency to cover up all but the title so that only those who want to see it do. But this was different. All was exposed. As I went about my shopping digesting this phenomenon it dawned on me that just before I had walked in a mother had come in with her young son. I felt appalled. As I counselor I have heard many a complaint from individuals being exposed to pornography as children and of the devastating effects this has had on their sexuality.

I have often heard my grandparents, and others from that generation, when discussing situations like the above, remark about the good ole days, when things were different. They say, “Things were different then, people had morals…girls were modest, and men knew how to be gentlemen!” And as I listen to the nostalgia in their words and voices, I too start to long for a time more innocent, without guesswork, free from the moral relativism that has permeated our culture.

But what of these freer days? Did our current moral situation simply come out of the void? Of course not. “There is nothing new under the sun…” as King Solomon once said. This is certainly true of pornography. What used to only be seen in the back alley or behind doors flagged with a red light can now be purchased at your corner convenience store.

From about the 1830’s to the early 1900’s America was dominated by Victorian values. Victorians believed in sexual restraint and modesty. Pornography certainly did exist at this time, but it was marginalized as a part of the demimonde, or underworld, and kept out of mainstream culture.

So when exactly did the mainstreaming start? Ironically it was in the “good ole days, back then when things were different.” America has been on a steady moral decline since the first sexual revolution, the Affinity movement, which began in the 1840’s, and has only slowed down a bit during the two world wars and the Depression. The Affinity movement took place mainly in the Northeast and was characterized by “free love.” Middle class men and women who took to this movement denounced marriage, advocated abortion, and generally hated Victorian traditions. They considered themselves morally righteous. Most of the country was still dominated by Victorianism, but this movement was a planted seed that continued to grow. The 60’s was just another level in a long trend towards sexual chaos as they borrowed from their predecessors.

But the real leap for pornography took place in 1953 with Hugh Hefner’s first issue of Playboy. This issue featured Marilyn Monroe. Kevin White in his book Sexual Liberation or Sexual License? makes a keen observation: “Although highly sexual and sexually attractive, Monroe combined some of the chief characteristics of Victorianism: she was submissive and passive. She embodied the extent to which 1950’s Americans, even in their advocacy of family values, embraced openly a highly sexually charged society.” And it was sexually charged. Sexual attraction had gained increasing importance in the selection of a marital partner. White declares, “Sexual attraction became the main rationale for marriage.” It seems the society was ready for what Hefner was dishing up. And for whom were these dishes prepared? Not for the wretched demimonde, but for all men. White quotes Hefner, “What is a Playboy? Is he simply a wastrel, a ne’er do well, a fashionable bum? No, far from it: he can be a sharp-minded business executive, a worker in the arts, a university professor, an architect or engineer…. A Playboy must, most importantly, be a man who without acquiring the stigma of the voluptuary or dilettante – can live life to the hilt.” White concludes, “In other words, every American man could be a Playboy.”

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this is Hefner’s recommendation for the woman whose man was partaking of these cheap thrills. White quotes Playboy magazines first editorial, “…we aren’t a family magazine. If you’re somebody’s sister, wife or mother-in-law and picked us up by mistake, please pass us along to the man in your life and get back to your Ladies’ Home Companion.” So much for the good ole days.

What I find particularly frightening about our country’s movement toward loose sexual attitudes are the consequences. E. Michael Jones in his book Libido Dominandi observes, “Those who are in the thrall of their passions see only what they desire and not the bondage those desires inflict on them.” If men are, as Edmund Burke stated, “qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites” what happens when the there are no more chains? Or if the only chains are those put in place by our government? Since the first sexual revolution, the Affinity movement, to the most recent in the 60’s, individuals with a moral inclination have sought to control the passions by means of the government. A very good history of this was provided by Bill Anderson in a recent article. Each new level of sexual permissiveness our culture has attained has made the personal ever more political. And as a result our government has gained more and more access to our personal lives. Jones continues, “Once gratification of passion becomes the definition of ‘liberty’, then ‘liberty’ becomes synonymous with bondage because he who controls the passions controls the man.”

It is time to stop appealing to our government for moral restraint. It is time to stop appealing to our government for anything. It is time to start taking responsibility for our own attitudes and behaviors. It is time to get ahold of our appetites for sexual gratification and focus on something less temporal like securing true liberty for ourselves and our children.

June 18, 2003