Jim Sleeper: Behind the Deluge of Porn, a Conservative Sea-Change





... [Don't blame our problem with pornography on "liberal permissiveness."] American liberals such as Tipper Gore and Bill Bradley protested years ago that by feeding kids like Jessica “a menu of violence without context and sex without attachment,” as Bradley put it, Americans who are letting corporate investment drive our public culture are abusing “the all-important role of storytelling which is essential to the formation of moral education that sustains a civil society.” That protest was right, even if Gore’s call for warning labels was wrong. You don’t have to want to re-run “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” -- with Charlton Heston as Moses, heaven help us – to have worries about such big public narratives as “Titanic,” “Gladiator,” “Revenge of the Sith,” or “Matrix II” – or to wonder why more worthy replacements, such as “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” that affirm virtues like loyalty among friends and courage against darkness have to be imported here now from a British public culture that is expiring, but a little behind our own. No wonder Lawrence distinguished "personal, superficial, temporary desires" from "impersonal great desires” that are nourished in noble public narratives. Even when the latter are contested, the ardor in the contention nourishes a social faith that’s not for sale: "It is the business of our Chief Thinkers to tell us of our own deeper desires, not to keep shrilling our little desires in our ears," he wrote.

To take proper account of this, we need to change the debate about pornography and freedom of expression in this republic. We need to examine often-unconscious assumptions about where the problem I’ve sketched is coming from and what kind of damage it is doing. Only when our premises have changed enough to permit a new consensus about the problem might we imagine new policies or other solutions. We have no consensus or wisdom about the role of eros in social narratives that shape young people’s social depths and horizons, as Bradley and Gore rightly insisted they do. Nor have we noticed that American conservatives generate not only repressions of eros but also, and perhaps inevitably, its destructive, reactive explosions. Liberals and leftists and honorable conservatives themselves can’t end this see-saw if they’re too busy fighting repression to imagine how a distinctive American, republican culture might renegotiate civilization and its discontents.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Tim Matthewson - 11/30/2006

Advertisers will tell you that they know that half their money spend on advertising is wasted, they just don't know which half. Advertising is far from an exact science and much of the money is wasted and in fact seem to produce results unintended.


Tim Matthewson - 11/30/2006

Advertisers will tell you that they know that half their money spend on advertising is wasted, they just don't know which half. Advertising is far from an exact science and much of the money is wasted and in fact seem to produce results unintended.


Tim M. Matthewson - 12/5/2005

The goal of advertizing is very clear and the short term results are clear. When one repeats the words "buy soap brand X" over and over again, it may seem safe to assume that there is some connection between the commercial message to "buy soap" and the purchase of brand x soap.
But it's far more difficult to make a connecton between a story, a dramatic presentation, the specific elements of the story and the behavior of the people viewing the story. Assume that the story has themes of love and hate, how can we be sure that those elements influence behavior? The elements of the story are not designed to motivate behavior; they are not designed to be instrumental and don't strive to elicit behavior. A story may produce an adverse reaction or an opposite reaction. If a story has both elements of love and compassion and hate and violence, how can we measure the impact of such stories on the behavior of people?
Human behavior is very complex; motives are very complex. Linking specific instances of violent and love and compasion to media presentations would be very difficult, if not impossible.


Matthew E. Mason - 12/5/2005

If the media don't shape behavior, the advertising industry needs a massive refund.


Bryan D Ford - 12/4/2005

do you honestly believe that?


Tim M. Matthewson - 12/3/2005

What do the stats say about the impact of violence and sex in the media? Well, they say that teen pregnancy and abortions are way down and so too are the stats on violent crime. These trends have been observable over the past twenty years, but there seems to be a disconnect between social trends and our willingness to relate them to the media. Perhaps the deluge of porn and violence in the media has generated an aversion to promiscuity and conflict in real life.