Genius and Madness

From Elvis to Picasso and the thorny intersection of "madness" and creativity.

The "Pornification" of Human Consciousness

Our Minds Have Become "Pornified"

Porn is the new metaphor. But it doesn't stop there. It is also the new universally shared experience. The nation has been "pornified." It's everywhere. It's open 24/7. And chances are good, judging from research into internet habits, that before or after reading this post, a high percentage of you will visit a porn site. Maybe you just did. The point is, if you did, you are hardly alone.

I don't want to judge the morality of porn viewing here. The last time I discussed even the definition of pornography, I got into a shouting match with my father-in-law (whom I really like). I'm actually interested in frying slightly fancier fish. Because just like playing video games, or tuning into hours of nonstop TV, or texting, or commenting on facebook, porn is an experience, and that experience would seem to--given its repetitiveness--have a cumulative effect on human consciousness, our emotional and psychological life.

I have not watched a so-called "porno" since college days, so I'm no expert. But off the top of my head, these seem to be some of porn's characteristics:

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a lack of real intimacy;
an absence of genuine relationship;
a relentless onslaught of high-intensity imagery;
a certain formulaic-ness;
a mechanicalness;
anonymousness;
compulsivity (some claim to be sex-addicts);
visualness as opposed to narrative story;
both men and women reductively stereotyped;
intermittent violence and degradation;

The list goes on. Doubtless you may think of features I've omitted. The question is, Do these porn features duplicate, to whatever degree, trends in the structuring of human consciousness and of psychological life? I think they do.

A colleague of mine, Louis Sass, wrote a masterpiece of a book titled Madness and Modernism, in which he compared elements of modern and postmodern art to the experience of schizophrenia. His aim was not so much to argue on behalf of a causal link, but more to "seek the form of understanding that consists in seeing connections." Likewise, one could compare elements of porn to facets of the postmodern psyche. And boy, is there a lot to compare. Are we, or are we not, becoming more anonymous, more compulsive? Is a preference for story and narrative losing its strength in comparison with hungry needs for visual imagery? Are intimate relationships rarer, replaced by mechanical, formulaic interactions such as those found on, say, facebook? People don't so much talk anymore or connect face to face; we text or instant message or post or share files or "network socially."

The draining of emotion is everywhere.

And though women getting objectified is nothing new, the predeliction for doing so appears to have intensified; at least it seems a lot more flagrant. Anyone ever watch VH1's "Rock of Love" or "Flavor of Love?" Also, the line between how Britney Spears is "marketed" and how a porn star presents herself seems almost undetectable to the naked eye. Female pop stars in general, in fact, have also been getting more and more "pornified." That much seems undebatable. Check out some of the videos.

I guess, in the end, I am being a bit moralistic, insofar as porn may effectively implant its aesthetic globally, and by any measure the aesthetic is one-dimensional, base, and lacking ambiguity. What's next? Probably something like "Battle of the Adult Network Stars." Seems inevitable, doesn't it?

 

William Todd Schultz, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Pacific University in Oregon and edited the Handbook of Psychobiography (Oxford University Press 2005).

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