Here’s a pisser: filtering software on the computer that I’m using just blocked one of my favorite blogs, Furry Girl’s Feminisnt, on account of its being classified as pornography. Call me a dirty bastard all you like, but I wasn’t even looking for porn. Seriously, I’m one of those elusive people who actually buys Playboy for the articles, so to speak. Calling Feminisnt a pornographic website is like calling the Economist a photo magazine. So it contains pictures, in fact dirty ones? Big fucking deal. I’d estimate that Feminisnt in fact contains a higher proportion of words to photographs than the Economist does.

As it happens, the Economist occasionally publishes relevant nude pictures, too (a few years ago, it illustrated an article about British policy on nude beaches with a full rear picture of a smoking hot lady on a presumably British beach (the weather was certainly plausible)), but not all that often. National Geographic is a better bet. The Bible is great for those who prefer prose and poetry to pictorials and don’t mind some repression.

Tom Lehrer devoted an entire song, self-evidently entitled “Smut!”, to this topic. His best insight:

“All books can be indecent books, though recent books are bolder,

For filth, I’m glad to say, is in the mind of the beholder,

When correctly viewed, everything is lewd,

I can tell you stories about Peter Pan, and the Wizard of Oz–there’s a dirty old man!”

This raises an age-old question, one that’s particularly relevant to the United States as a nation constitutionally obligated to give a damn about freedom of speech: to what lengths should a society go to protect its members from dirty garbage? This question raises others that are absurdly simple but practically unanswerable, such as, what is filth? Even the United States, with its written Constitution and consequent system of checks and balances, has at times been forced to resort to the Potter Stewart standard for obscenity: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” (The lunch group to which Junior Bear and I belonged also used the Potter Stewart standard to define something called “Legendology,” the other definition being “half man, half amazing.” And, no, we were not involved with Wizards of the Lost Coast, although the Wizards clearly met the Potter Stewart standard as we applied it.)

It’s noteworthy that the Greek verb “grafein,” from which the suffix of “pornography” is derived, refers primarly to writing, not to pictorial representations. The philosophical basis wasn’t one that valued pictures to stir the baser parts of the soul, but words to enlighten the loftier parts. This is why church icons, which to modern eyes are obviously drawn or painted, are said in Orthodox circles to be “written;” their primary purpose is instructional, not aesthetic.

That’s exactly the primary purpose of Feminisnt, too. Yes, Furry Girl uses it to post pictures of herself in states of undress and sexual arousal, but mostly she uses it to post essays. She is a publisher of longform screeds. As a publisher of longform screeds, I appreciate well-written longform screeds by other writers, and I don’t appreciate having them blocked from a computer because the site hosting them incidentally contains some dirty pictures.

Even though Furry Girl is a professional pornographer, I’m not kidding when I say that her porn shots on Feminisnt are incidental. To insist otherwise is akin to insisting that because USA Today often publishes stock photos of airplanes, it is inherently nothing but a photo rag for planespotters. And, oh my God, people who are obsessed with planes are going to buy USA Today just to gaze at photos of fetch-ass jet aircraft. A more disturbing proposition: buying USA Today for the articles. But, to this nation’s great discredit, USA Today is bought for its reporting as well, including its trademark page of thirty words of asinine bollocks from every state and territory. Shitty newspaper though it is, no one earnestly denies that it is not a newspaper.

Why is USA Today’s barely relevant publication of stock photos of aircraft for an audience presumably including people who are too obsessed with planes for their own good not a scandal? It’s quite simple: it isn’t sex, so it doesn’t cause sanctimonious meddlers to get their panties in a giant bunch.

Maggie McNeill and Dave Krueger, among others, have covered moral panics surrounding such imaginary “epidemics” as “sex addiction” much more thoroughly than I care to do. (I find that citing sources gets in the way of my writing process, so you can see how my disorganized ass earned a 2.77 GPA as an undergraduate.) Basically, the data to support claims of rampant sex addiction aren’t there, and the criteria for sex addiction to be a genuine diagnosis are shaky. That’s about what one would expect for an “addiction” identified and described by the evangelical equivalents of Dr. Phil.

But God help us, if we’re allowed to look at that smut, we’ll be consumed by it and we’ll be unable to function. All we’ll do is look at dirty pictures all day. The only solution is to never look at dirty pictures at all.

Well, fuck me. The premise here is that the average adult lacks the free agency and the discipline to develop a balanced, well-examined life. Learning how to balance one’s competing interests is an integral part of growing up, but please, do we really need a fucking twelve-step program for that?

Indeed, there are now twelve-step programs for addiction to pornography. They’re usually at churches. Can anyone say “creepy?” I try to hold my tongue in the presence of sex addiction partisans, but my gut inclination is to run like the wind. I used to spend much more time than I knew was prudent looking at pornography. I knew that I had a problem, but I really knew that the solution was not a twelve-step journey into the Twilight Zone. I also knew that my interest in pornography was caused in part by factors more pedestrian than an addictive personality, in particular a shitty social life. (Americans never like to address the true root causes of problems like these. I guess reforming a crazymaking social structure would be bad for business, or maybe not as fun as obsessing about phantom addictions, or as berating one’s fellows for being slaves to the sinful nature.) Thank God, my interest in pornography attenuated. I developed other, more edifying interests, and I held together my social life after a fashion. I did not need a twelve-step program, and you probably don’t, either.

Let’s not beat around the bush: the twelve-step partisans are the ones who are truly obsessed with vices, and they’re projecting onto the rest of us. Is anyone more obsessed with alcohol and stories about alcohol than the dry drunk? The dry drunk is not content to have drinking problems himself; everyone else needs to have a drinking problem, too. I’ve spent four fall seasons making wine, and I’ve never given as much thought to alcohol as the average AA member.

The same thing goes for natural family planning zealots. I’m Catholic, but my gut inevitably tells me that there’s something obviously disordered about celibate priests waxing eloquent about the beauty and joy of unprotected procreative sex between spouses. (I joined the Church in spite of all that, and in large part because I was hanging around some totally batshit Calvinists.) It’s like reading “A Vegan’s Ode to Cheeseburgers.” Just being around people, priestly or lay, who are that obsessed with the arcana of the menstrual cycle and the complimentary beauties of two weeks of total continence followed by two weeks of orgasmic bearback, can be disturbing. Masturbation is a sin, so we should have endless, graphic discussions of legalistic coital regulations instead? Been there, done that; no thanks. Besides, I’d have a hard time extending a masturbatory session to the length of a Newman Club NFP talk. Ironically, NFP provides fertile masturbatory material (but only from days 7-21 of the menstrual cycle; sorry, I really can’t resist bad puns). So does the Bible.

In any event, here’s a rule of thumb: if you talk about sex that much, you’re obsessed with sex. Period. (Once again, a relevant but terrible pun.) The middle way to the balanced, well-examined life doesn’t lie down that path, if you ask me.

All right, it’s bedtime, which means that it’s time to read myself to sleep from Leviticus. The Song of Songs isn’t legalistic enough for me tonight.

Advertisements