Posts Tagged ‘Pornography’


I want to begin by referencing an article by a man with whom I am proud to share a first name: Daniel Stewart.  In “‘Why is that woman naked?’: Sources of Objectification in Game of Thrones,” he argues that the HBO series portrays sex essentially as a tool of power:

In the world of Game of Thrones, power is the only thing that matters. Love is pointless at best. Honor is a joke. Virtue is an illusion.


In this world where physical strength, monetary wealth, and political influence are the only qualities worth having, it is no wonder the women (especially poor women) are treated so poorly.  (. . .) [The typical female character] is left with two options; [sic] to suffer terribly at the hands of more powerful men or to use her shrewdness or sexual prowess to try to influence the men around her.

Erik_Erikson Upon reading this, I was reminded of Erik Erikson’s observations regarding sexuality’s roots in very early childhood, as well as the differences in how unhealthy approaches to sexuality — which is nothing more than the excitement of “being on the make” at that age (Erikson 255, parentheses included) — manifest themselves in boys and girls.  “In the boy,” says Erikson…

…the emphasis remains on phallic-intrusive modes; in the girl it turns to modes of “catching” (…) or (…) making oneself attractive and endearing.

(255, italics mine)

However people’s views on sexuality and gender relations may differ, this is clearly the way the “game of sex” is played in Game of Thrones.

GoT-Theon-crying-500x333Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) is forced to watch as his foster sister, Sansa Stark, is raped

Think of the prolonged portrayal (mostly via sound), in a recent episode, of the rape of eighteen-year-old Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) at the hands of a ruthless husband to whom she has been given in an arranged marriage.  Clearly, we have the peculiarly masculine form of sexual sin (at its worst) on display here.

Sex as a power tool should appall everyone but astonish no one.  If someone wants to dominate another person, what better way to do so than by rape?  After all, to dominate the body is to dominate the person (at least, as nearly as humanly possible).

As many will have no doubt noticed, the aforementioned scene has sparked outrage among the show’s fans.  While people are indeed right to decry the rape of a young woman (and even, perhaps, its insensitive portrayal in a TV show), part of me wants to cry out: “What did you expect?”  Create a world, populate it almost entirely with characters who are obsessed with power, and mix in the careless — not to mention tasteless — treatment and portrayal of sex, and the latter two are bound to “mate” before long.

MelisandreBut, as my reference to Erikson might suggest, there is a more “feminine” version of this as well.  Think of Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), the seductive “Red Priestess,” who uses her sexual desirability to manipulate powerful men for her purposes.  Here we have the peculiarly feminine form of the use of sex as a power tool.

And then of course we also get, as they say, “all sorts of strange animals in between.”

Which of the above examples has sparked more outrage?  That’s right, the first one.  Again, it should spark outrage — don’t misunderstand me.  But the assumption that only when it involves the aggressive violence of rape is pornographic material objectionable can blind us to the fact that human sexuality is very much like fire: Splendid, beautiful, powerful, and necessary…but also very dangerous, and in need of being “contained.”

Readers and viewers who espouse a more traditional morality will pine for what is often seen as Game of Thrones‘ counterpart in the fantasy/adventure world: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which has nothing like the former’s candid material.  But leaving that aside for the moment, let us note another key difference between the two: Tolkien drew his inspiration primarily from myth; George R.R. Martin, author of the novel series on which Game of Thrones is based, draws his inspiration primarily from history.

These two differences may have more to do with one another than one might think.  I’ll pick up with that in the next post.

Erikson photo from Wikipedia — full reference:

“Erik Erikson” by ?Original uploader was Waveformula at en.wikipedia – http://www.wpclipart.com/famous/psychology/Erik_Erikson_2.png.htmlTransferred from en.wikipediaImage comes from WP Clipart[1] which ONLY features public domain images and provides extensive source information on their “Legal” page: [2]. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Erik_Erikson.png#/media/File:Erik_Erikson.png

Remaining images obtained through a Google image search


Erikson, E.H.  Childhood and Society  2nd ed.  NY: Norton, 1963

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Christian-AnastasiaI can think of no better way to start than by quoting the hypothetical question with which I ended the previous post, “Why ‘Grey’ is Not Okay

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Not at all.  The informed consent of two mature adults makes a difference most of the time, but there are some things that even consent cannot justify.

First of all, the kind of behavior connected with BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism) sex is harmful to both partners.  The dominant partner reduces himself to a brute, while the passive partner — if she consents willingly — reduces herself to the dignity of a toy (actually, less than that, as most would agree that using a toy to gratify one’s sexual appetites is inappropriate and disturbing).  We must therefore conclude that there is a mutual injustice here, because the passive partner does the dominant partner an injustice by enabling him to degrade himself as well as her.

So consent, rather than making a positive difference, actually makes things worse.

Grandma Kiss“Sri Lankan woman and child” by Steve Evans from India and USA – Sri Lanka. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg#/media/File:Sri_Lankan_woman_and_child.jpg

Let us consider for a moment the paradox of the human person: We find ourselves by giving ourselves away.  We are made and called to make a gift of ourselves to others.  This makes total sense.  We are an interdependent species.  We need each other, and therefore each one of us is needed.

But making a gift of ourselves to others demands that we take proper care of ourselves, and that we do our best to preserve our own proper dignity.  If we fail to care for ourselves physically, psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually, then realistically what do we have to give our fellow human beings?  So no one may in good  conscience submit to BDSM sex, because each person owes the protection of personal dignity not only to him/herself, but to others as well.

3D“The National Archives UK – WORK 25-208” by The National Archives UK – Flickr: The Fifties in 3D. Licensed under OGL via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg#/media/File:The_National_Archives_UK_-_WORK_25-208.jpg

The very same  consideration must occupy our minds in the discernment of whether it is a good idea to expose ourselves to such material.  We must consider whether making ourselves spectators of this spectacle wherein human beings become degraded specimens does not significantly harm our own personal dignity as well.

And with that, let us put “Grey” to bed…though without the ball and chain.

Movie still obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover“Fifty Shades Darker book cover” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg#/media/File:Fifty_Shades_Darker_book_cover.jpg

I hate to sound like a Puritan.  Believe me, I despise Puritanical negativity as much as the next person.  But there comes a time when one must either call a spade a spade, or cease to speak altogether.

Okay, okay — so let’s start by summarizing the main point of the first post, “Is ‘Grey’ Okay?”  Throughout E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy there is a vague hope of sweet Anastasia “Ana” Steele saving Christian Grey from the sordid world of BDSM (bondage/discipline and sadomasochism), but in reality it is he who drags her into his dark world.

Christian and AnaI should, however, modify that conclusion with the admission that Christian and Ana do, in fact, get married by the end of the series.  By the end of the third book, “Fifty Shades Freed,” they have a two-year-old son and a daughter on the way.

The problem is the material itself.  One can get the impression that even granting a BDSM relationship to be a questionable thing, it can lead to a truly intimate and healthy relationship.  I don’t want to make this post too long, so I will just hope that the dubiousness of this premise is obvious to the reader and leave it at that.

But beyond that, let’s be honest about something: The “torture porn” element of the books — and of the film based on the first book — is clearly the selling point.  It is so embedded in the narrative that it cannot be otherwise.  Many readers and viewers are much attracted to this element, seeing in it nothing worse than the proverbial guilty pleasure.

And that’s what troubles me so deeply.

Let me step back a moment.  Why is pornography a problem in the first place?  The problem with pornography — whether involving people having sex or individuals posing naked and in erotic poses — is that it shows too much of the person, right?


As Pope John Paul II once said, the problem with pornography is that it shows too little of the person.  It reduces him/her to the least common denominator, and it renders him/her a spectacle for the pleasure of viewers.

Think about it a moment.  A woman depicted in a pornographic image has no story, no personality, nothing to say, and no purpose other than to stimulate sexual feelings.  She is robbed of her human dignity — in fact, as far as the spectator is concerned, such dignity was never there to begin with.  In other words, for all intents and purposes, there is no person behind the image.

Romeo_and_juliet_brown“Romeo and juliet brown” by Ford Madox Brown – http://www.whataboutclients.com/archives/2009/07/_ford_madox_bro_1.html , museum link. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg#/media/File:Romeo_and_juliet_brown.jpg

This is not to disparage sexual attraction, by any means.  Sexual attraction is in itself not only good, but fundamental to the identity of human beings.  But its purpose has nothing to do with what one can get out of one’s sexual partner.  It’s purpose, rather, is self-gift.  That is why the sexual act is meant to be reserved for marriage, for the lifelong and exclusive commitment between a man and woman in genuine love for one another.

Seen in the proper light, sex is far from evil or “dirty.”  On the contrary, sex is sacred.  It is perhaps the holiest encounter two people can have with one another in the natural course of human life.  And so when it is wrested out of its proper context, trivialized, and made a spectacle of, it is almost a sort of sacrilege.

Fifty Shades BDSMI would not say that the BDSM style of sex one sees/reads about in “Fifty Shades of Grey” is the logical extreme of sex gone wrong (that, of course, would be rape); but it does come close.  Again, remember the contract: Ana is to be an object of use; Christian is to have his enjoyment of her, which enjoyment is going to involve the infliction of pain.

“But wait a minute,” you ask.  “Maybe the stuff you’re saying is true, but what about when it’s two consenting adults?  Doesn’t that pretty much neutralize your objections?”

Next time.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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