Arcade Fire- Porno

Arcade-Fire1

So let’s talk about pornography. Some see it as the shining trophy of a society built upon the Utopian bedrock of freedom and equality, the beacon of light guiding us to a future marked by the elimination of sexuality as taboo, the realization of the Freudian and Darwinian insights that the human struggle is nothing more than the jockeying for position in an unyielding game of sexual conquest. Others, a pervasive sickness, voyeurism at its most nakedly grotesque, another item in the ever growing list of the nasty side effects of democratic capitalism. The Conor Oberst line “The modern world is a sight to see/ It’s a stimulant, it’s pornography/ It takes all my will not to shut it off” springs to mind. But are past societies, ones in which sexuality was repressed and information and pleasure weren’t accessible at the touch of a button, really something to lament? In the previous three posts we have discussed the futility of relationships based solely on the palliatives of pleasure and companionship. This post will follow suit, addressing not only the societal but also the personal effects of pornography. It will explain how porn gives rise to and reinforces these misguided relationships, using the Arcade Fire song Porno to guide us along.

Take the makeup
Off your eyes
I’ve got to see you
Hear your sacred sighs
Before the break up
Comes the silence
I’m talking to you
You say you’re over it
But I know
I thought I knew you
You thought you knew me
But now that you do
It’s not so easy now
That I know

You can cry, I won’t go
You can scream, I won’t go
Every man that you know
Would have run at the word go
Little boys with their porno
Oh, I know they hurt you so
They don’t know what we know
Never know what we know

And all your makeup
Just take it all off
I’ve got to find you
Before the line is lost
I know I hurt you
I won’t deny it
When I reach for you
You say, “I’m over it.”
But I know

But the cup it overflows
Little boys with their porno
But this is their world
Where can we go?
Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me
Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me
Can you see me?

You can cry, I won’t go
You can scream, I won’t go
Little boys with their porno
Little boys with their porno
Makes me feel like something’s wrong
It’s the only world we know

Yeah, something’s wrong
Little boys with their porno
And boys they learn
Some selfish shit
Until the girl
Won’t put up with it
On and on and on we go
I just have to know
I’m not over it
I’m not over it
You say love is real
Like a disease
Come tell me please
I’m not over it
I’m not over it
Wait

In his brilliant memoir When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kanithi details his medical school experiences with tremendous insight. “In anatomy lab, we objectified the dead, literally reducing them to organs, tissues, nerves, muscles. On that first day, you simply could not deny the humanity of the corpse. But by the time you’d skinned the limbs, sliced through inconvenient muscles, pulled out the lungs, cut open the heart, and removed a lobe of the liver, it was hard to recognize this pile of tissue as human. Anatomy lab, in the end, becomes less a violation of the sacred and more something that interferes with happy hour, and that realization discomfits. In our rare reflective moments, we were all silently apologizing to our cadavers, not because we sensed the transgression, but because we did not.”  Kanithi, of course, was describing medical student’s treatment of the dead, but he could just as easily have been referring to our treatment of the living. To me his words provide a breathtaking account of the dangers of pornography and the misadventures that often accompany our pursuit of love.

After all, can’t life be thought of as an ongoing lab on how to love? To the modern mind then, sex would be seen as the activity that must be practiced most to turn us into respectable lovers. So the education begins early.  Fueled by our culture- a confused mishmash of media streaming through our TV’s, laptops, and smartphones- we fumble for answers by watching pornography. We watch more and more as we age, and when we reach “maturity” we put all that we’ve learned into action. It would seem then, that we are far more equipped to tackle the mysteries of loving than our ancestors. But a peek into the psyche of modern man reveals just the opposite. Our relationships are mismanaged messes that often leave us more wanting and alone than before. On a societal level, deeply disturbing trends are emerging. Rape on campus is becoming commonplace, our music videos resemble pornography far more than visual depictions of musical ideas. As Win Bulter of Arcade Fire puts it, “something’s wrong.” Something is terribly, terribly wrong.

The media works with unflagging determination to make pornography appear as harmless fun. Watch a show as innocuous and lovable as Friends, and you will find the protagonists lazing in the living room, watching a porno together. Play a game of Cards Against Humanity, and pornographic knowledge becomes a respected boon. Butler cries “Little boys with their porno/ But this is their world/ Where can we go?” And where can we go? Porn surrounds us, enveloping much of what we consume, manipulating our tastes and desires. Have you noticed that there seems to be a requisite lesbian sexual scene in every TV show and movie you watch? This is another example of the mainstream media catering to its male viewers, who consume a startling amount of lesbian porn (in most cases, the entertainment industry’s sole focus is pleasing the largest percentage of its viewers, and, even if its LGBT fan-base was its main concern, this would not account for the enormous gap between the amount of gay and lesbian sexual scenes). Freaks and Geeks portrayed porn as disturbing to its young viewers, but that was 1999. It is difficult to imagine such a treatment of porn in any medium today.

“You say love is real/ Like a disease” Butler sings against a throbbing synth as the song nears its haunting conclusion. But perhaps love is not a disease, but is diseased. What we once knew as love has been ravaged in the name of freedom, equality, and pleasure, leaving behind only a lifeless shell of itself. The modern adolescent mind has been acquainted with sex as a medical student is with surgery. The sexual partner is reduced to a mere collection of pleasure organs, an object to fiddle with until pleasure has been maximized.  It is no surprise that women and men are being raped on highly civilized and educated campuses. To borrow language from Kanithi, in our rare reflective moments, we are all silently apologizing to our sexual partners, not because we sense the transgression, but because we do not. This world is in fact “the only world we know” and a person capable of assessing and confronting the corrosive nature of pornography in spite of a culture that preaches its merit is all too rare indeed.

 

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