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Pop Culture or Porn Culture?

cosmoLet’s just put it right out there; Popular Culture is pretty pornographic isn’t it?  Not only are there images and explanations of explicit sexuality everywhere, it seems to be getting worse. The media watchdog group ‘The Culture and Media Institute’ has just recently released a list of 11 upcoming movies, all of which deal with issues of graphic and dysfunctional sexuality. (You can see the list HERE)  From a movie about sex-addicts, to one about a teacher seducing his students, to one about prostitution, there seems to be a definite theme that runs through current movie making.  Topping the list as the most ‘porny’ movie of 2013 is the upcoming Joseph Gordon Levitt film ‘Don Jon’, which deals with a man with a pornography addiction and the consequences that it has on his relationships.

Of course these 11 movies are part of a larger trend.  Earlier this year, Amanda Seyfried starred in the biopic Lovelace.  This is a film about adult film star Linda Lovelace, who was made famous for her role in the cult classic ‘Deep Throat.”  December will see the release of Lars Von Trier’s ‘The Nymphomaniac.’  This movie is about a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac who recounts her many erotic experiences to the man who found her beaten in a darkened ally.  Staring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Uma Thurman and Shia Lebeoff, this movie has drawn controversy over claim that all the sex in the movie will be ‘real’ and ‘authentic.’  In other words . . . porn.  And who doesn’t have the slightest bit of uneasiness over the making of a film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey?

Of course, this fascination with the porn industry isn’t just limited to movies.  Kim Kardashian posed for playboy, and even had a ‘leaked’ sex tape with then-boyfriend Ray-J.  This may seem like ancient history, but it was the sex-tape that helped rocket her into stardom.  Is it any wonder why Kim-Kardashian wannabe, Farrah Abraham, took things one step farther and released her own professionally made pornographic movie?  Not only did she release ‘Back Door Teen Mom’, but Abraham now makes regular appearances in strip clubs and adult entertainment conferences, and has just recently entered a contract to release her own line of adult toys.  She has fully entered pornographic sub-culture.  She isn’t the only one either. Courtney Stodden, is now reportedly trying to strike a deal to release her own pornographic movie. Hey, if it worked for Kardashian and Abraham, why can’t it work for her?

And let’s not forget magazines.  Many of today’s popular magazines not only contain articles about sex and sexual techniques, but also contain pictures of nude or semi-nude models.  Magazines like Cosmo, Cosmo Girl, FHM, Maxim, Esquire, Vanity Fair, GQ, Loaded, Nuts, Blender, King, Girls and Corpses, and Allure, all push the boundaries as to what is appropriate material for over-the-counter purchase.  Allure magazine, for example, runs an annual ‘Naked Truth’ issue where celebrities pose naked for the magazine.  Blender, Maxim, and Vanity Fair frequently contain images of explicit sexuality, and while Cosmo and Cosmo Girl may not include any naked people, why is it appropriate to tell 12 year old girls how to perform ’12 kinky quickies’?

We could dwell on questions of rightness or wrongness, but I am interested in the deeper questions.  Why is Popular Culture fascinated with porn?  Why is the porn industry, which was once viewed as seedy and repulsive, now becoming so mainstream?  I have a sneaking suspicion that the culture is simply highlighting the prevalence that pornography already has within the culture.

Consider these statistics:  It is estimated that there are over 1 million videos and images of child pornography on the web; Most children view their first pornographic no later than 11 years old; 1 in 3 visitors to adult web-sites are women; It is estimated that 40 million people in the US alone are regular visitors to pornographic websites; There are close to 42 million websites dedicated to pornographic content on the web – this represents over 370 million pages and makes up about 12% of the entire internet; The most popular time to view pornography is on Sunday.  (click HERE for a very informative infographic)

Maybe it’s not just a problem in Hollywood.

When we look deeper, we see that the current spotlight on pornography isn’t just about sex. Rather, loneliness, depression, abuse, guilt, self-hatred, acceptance, and the intense longing to be loved, are all issues that run beneath the surface of the cultural fascination with pornography.  Instead of solely tackling the issues of how much overt sexuality we see around us, perhaps we would do well to engage in these more systemic and spiritual issues that lie beneath the surface.   For if it is true that popular trends highlight ongoing conversations within the culture, perhaps the culture’s fascination with pornography is an attempt to say ‘Let’s talk about sex.’  Perhaps what is going on is not a glorification of sex, but a struggle to come to grips with the countless broken relationships and lives that occur because of the glorification of sex.

If this is the case, what would it look like for the church to engage this topic?  Of course, we aren’t talking about engaging in the topic in a ‘do this/don’t do that’ type of mentality.  That will get us nowhere.  Rather, how do we engage with people who struggle to see sexuality as a gift from God, but are continually told that sex is nothing more than that which can be exploited?’  How can the church respond to countless teens and adults that struggle with the heartbreak, the loneliness, and the shame that is felt when they realize the cultural ideal of consequence-free sex is blatantly non-existent?   When all the viewed, imagined, or played out scenes of pornographic pleasures lead to nothing but personal and relational destruction, how does the church breathe a message of healing and wholeness to the one who finds their life and reputation shattered?

If the fascination with pornography is a reflection of a deep and conflicted conversation regarding issues of love, sexuality, identity and relationship occurring within the culture, perhaps this means that the culture is in a place to hear and accept the church’s role in such a conversation.  Perhaps the good news in all of this is that we won’t be preaching to deaf ears; perhaps this tells us that all we need to do is enter the conversation and speak up.

How has your church addressed issues of sex and sexuality? Was it helpful? Informative? Awkward?

Kyle Norman

About Kyle Norman

I am a Priest in the Diocese of Calgary, serving the wonderful people of Holy Cross, Calgary. I watch reality television, I drink Starbucks coffee, and I read celebrity gossip columns. I am also a magician and often use magic tricks to teach the children at church the lessons of the Bible. I believe that God is present in the intricacy of our lives, and thus I believe that Pop Culture can provide intriguing lessons, examples, and challenges for our lives of faith. Connect with Kyle on
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4 Responses to Pop Culture or Porn Culture?

  1. Avatar of keith nethery

    Kyle – a very timely and brave posting that deserves considerable thought and discussion. Pop culture has, as long as I’ve been alive, been edgy and pushing those edges. I’ve oft asked people about “sexualized” things that don’t seem too risqué today, by wondering what their grandparents might think if they saw this. The reactions are interesting to say the least. It would be unfair to suggest that pop culture has suddenly fallen into the world of pornography. Rather, it has been a slow movement in that way, stemming from the influence of Hollywood and media. I remember a great hue and cry in the 1980′s about all the “smut” on daytime soap operas. The difference today is that what was implied in earlier years, ie actors in bed but covered up, is now much more readily seen on the screen both big and small. And by your focus on movies, I think you have missed the changing face of television brought on by specialty channels. I don’t subscribe to HBO and others of that ilk because I refuse to pay the money, but many of the shows are now filtering down to IFC and Showcase and others. Nudity seems to be a requirement in almost all these shows.
    There is I think another connection that should be made. For many, many years, television and by extension other forms of media and therefore pop culture has dealt very explicitly with violence. I had to stop watching Criminal Minds because I simply couldn’t take the level of violence. But is Criminal Minds not just an expansion of what we found in Law and Order, which expanded to the creepy Criminal Intent and the edgy Special Victims Unit. I have always feared the level of violence that we get in the media and pop culture and wondering if it wasn’t deadening (a poor word but I could think of no other) us to the heinous nature of violence and it’s impact on us. Perhaps the most shocking trend in porn and it’s relationship to pop culture, is the wide spread use of violence in the images shown.
    I think we also need to see the porn industry for what it is – a huge money grab. Those who are making porn are not in it for sexuality, but for profit. As we can trace the development of television as competitors had to make their programs more edgy to attract attention, it seems the porn industry has crossed some very serious lines in an all out race for money.
    A recent article from Britain, which was posted to Facebook, gives us a shocking view of porn and how it impacts young lives. You have touched on some of the statistics in your article, but it goes much deeper and is much more shocking when you find just how deep seated porn is in our society and what young people have experienced.
    So, you are spot on in asking us to have a discussion in church and in a spiritual nature. Is the level of violence and nudity is a show such as Game of Thrones (I’ve watched it twice) acceptable to be shown in prime time and accessible to children? Can we expect adolescent curiosity to take them from watching House of Lies and it’s weekly new sexual partners to finding something more explicit on the net?
    I’ve never been afraid to talk about these subjects and in fact think we must address them. Church, Jesus, spirituality – there is a tremendous amount that we have to say about sex and it’s place in society. As you rightly state, it’s not going to get us anywhere if we start with yes and no answers. It is important to see and talk about what the impact is on all our lives and our understanding of the nature of sex and humans. If pop culture is the driving force in societies understanding in these areas; then we need to be part of that discussion. Bravo for a brave and timely article – keep writing and challenging us to think.

  2. Kyle Norman

    Keith – thank you for your very response – and for your encouragement for me and my posts. This one was interesting to write and research. It definitely opened my eyes – and as you mentioned, I didn’t have room to mention TV! The ‘pornographication’ of culture (did I just make up a word?), is so systemic and wide spread. You are right about IFC and Showcase, and programs such as True Blood and Game of Thrones – but it goes as far down as to primetime shows like Two and Half men. The script for that show reads like the dialogue for any adult movie. It seems like all shows, whether it be based on sex, violence, or a sexualized sense of violence, are showing more and more and more. My wife and I gave up watching Criminal Minds, Law and Order and CSI for the same reasons you have.
    I heard a stat last year that said the New York based cop shows depict the city experiencing around 20 times more murders per year than what actually happens. Perhaps we put up with this blatant misrepresentation because these shows depict the good guys winning?

    I would be interested to know how churches have dealt with the issues of pornography, sexuality, and media-violence. How do we begin entering the discussion?

  3. Avatar of keith nethery

    Kyle
    I think you have a huge answer towards how the church wants to deal with these subjects by the fact that those who have read your well put together essay have chosen not to respond (save lil ol me!!)
    So let me answer the questions at the end of your response to me in hopes that others might jump into the discussion.
    First I think that we as a church need to get our brains around the fact that media in general and pornography in particular, is driven by money and power. The more outrageous you are, the further out there you make your presentation, the more attention you attract and the more “sellable” you are. There are a lot of people getting rich. not necessarily those involved front and centre.
    Let me draw a parallel to the drug trade. If illegal drugs didn’t draw billions in profit every year, we would have only a very small illicit drug trade. The people who make the money, usually don’t take drugs.
    So my answer is that we can’t talk about the “pornography” issue only in terms of sex, but rather seeing it as part of the pop culture and also part of greed. I’m not sure that either issue is getting much traction as far as church discussion.
    A big part of launching discussion is getting people to start talking. This past Wednesday at our midweek Eucharist, I invited those assembled to name what they were thankful for. Silence was the reply. Not that they weren’t thankful, not that they didn’t have something to say, just that it is outside their “church comfort level” to speak. If we can’t talk about what we are thankful for, how can we talk about issues? If we are to do what Christ asks of us, we must find our voice to openly discuss these issues. You have had the courage to start a conversation. if this one doesn’t take off, we must try again.

    More specifically, I think we need to find a way to talk about pornography and our children and teens. Society has agreed that alcohol is okay for adults and trusts them to consume responsibly. We know there are issues around alcohol, but on balance society says yes for adults, no for those under 18 or 19 depending on where you live. We know underage drinking is a problem, but there are checks and balances that help ensure that minors do not have unfettered access to alcohol.
    The problem with pornography is that, to compare it to alcohol, we have allowed the internet to set up a beer, wine and liquor store in our homes and for the most part they don’t charge upfront for the product. . Oh the websites put up warnings that if you aren’t 18 go away, but that is not about to stop most young people. As with alcohol, society seems to have decided based on freedom of speech that pornography is allowed in our society for adults. We however have no checks and balances to prevent almost unlimited access by children and teens. This is where the discussion needs to start.
    And that discussion needs to cover the range of discussion from hard core porn to nudity on prime time cable tv shows. It needs to talk about sexuality and violence, exploitation of those involved, respect for each other and what is appropriate in loving relationships between two people. I’m not saying the church can tell people what to do, because as you pointed out quite rightly in your post, that if we approach this from black and white, right or wrong, do or don’t perspectives, most in society will simply ignore us.
    Sex is huge business in our world today. That means it needs to be a huge conversation for the church. But I think we need to see it as a multi-layered long term discussion that gets to the root of what is truly valuable in our society. There is no black and white, just a lot of shades of gray around these key issues about what our world will evolve into. If the church stands on the sidelines shouting, we won’t be part of the discussion. If we are willing to listen and talk, we might just make a difference.

  4. Avatar of Andrew Graham+

    Random and Generalizing:

    Boys want to be strong.

    Girls want to be attractive.

    Everybody wants to be smart and sexy.

    We all need joy and wonder, but most of us seem willing to settle for pleasure and distraction.

    Moral ambiguity arises when you can’t trust moral authority.

    The church’s moral authority is compromised, perhaps irreparably.

    Where there is moral ambiguity, shame loses its power.

    Everybody wants more power than they have.

    The easiest route to power is money.

    The easiest route to money is often commerce in the illicit.

    Moral theology has become so esoteric as to be useless, if it’s even taught at all.

    Genuine community is the only thing that fills the human need for belonging.

    People will do self-destructive things hoping to fill the void in them.

    You can’t stop people from destroying themselves. They must be free to decide.

    Looking backward at old societies and former norms gives us little inspiration for how to shape the future.

    Laws are bandaids. Human sexuality breaks out of every container we make for it.

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