September 10, 2017

HAGOPIAN | How Porn Divides Us

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I fancy myself an amateur anthropologist and social critic. I have several fruits of my undercover labor, some more cogent than others. I believe that death is humanity’s greatest asset and that the prolonging of our lifespans by artificial means will lead to the demise of civilization not through overpopulation, but through widespread hedonism and immortal dictators. I believe that Captain “Sully” Sullenberger gets far too much credit for landing a plane in the Hudson and saving his own ass. I have reason to suspect that a kid in my class might be faking his British accent.

But there is one petty hypothesis of mine that I wish to focus on in this column. I am somewhat proud of this particular theory insofar as it is original and accurate, but it is far from my favorite opinion for two reasons. First, it’s far too indelicate to discuss at dinner parties. And second, it’s depressing.

I believe that pornography is a major contributor to the division in America.

I once read on the internet that it is impossible for sociologists to study the effects of porn on young men because there’s no way to compose a control group; there just aren’t any boys who don’t watch the stuff. This  may be apocryphal, but it is certainly true that the impact of the adult industry on society is not well understood. Some put forth that pornography causes low libido, impotence, and a failure to see sex as a form of intimacy. All of these repercussions are unfortunate, but in my they fall squarely into the category of “harm done by oneself to oneself.” If people can smoke and eat McDonalds and play tackle football, they should be able to watch porn and kill their own libidos all they want. More worrying to me are the claims that viewing pornography can lead to misogynistic attitudes and an increased propensity towards sexual violence. And that may not even be the end of it.

In the interest of transparency, I will admit that the following an opinion for which I have no supporting evidence. But if I were an ethnographer studying pornography and I had the means to gather supporting evidence, this is where I would start. Anyone who has viewed their fair share of internet pornography knows that much of it has a rather ugly racial component. I feel disinclined to go into details, but the fact that I feel that way proves the point I am about to make. Porn is a major driver of racial prejudice that remains unaddressed largely because talking about it makes people uncomfortable. Representation in popular culture matters, but it faces an uphill battle against representation in internet pornography, which many young men watch daily. If someone lives in a homogenous community, it’s possible that their primary exposure to a particular ethnic group may be through porn. And porn is a medium in which stereotypes are not only tolerated, but encouraged. And to top it all off, these ideas enter the brain at a time when it is at its most vulnerable.

There’s a reason that the insult-of-choice of Trump supporters is “cuck”. There’s a reason that people fixate on the image of refugees and immigrants as “rapists”. It would be unwise to dismiss these viewpoints as the ramblings of a few losers who can’t get girls. For one thing, I think it is wrong to demean men who are unsuccessful with women, partly because it reinforces the sexist belief that women are objects to be “gotten.” But more importantly, fanatics don’t come out of a vacuum. For every extremist, there’s ten moderates who share at least some of their views. How long will we ignore the sexual dynamics of bigotry in the interest of propriety?

 

Ara Hagopian is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at ahagopian@cornellsun.com. The Whiny Liberal appears alternate Fridays this semester.