One of my sorrows about the state of the world in my lifetime is the decline of the informative, and the triumph of the manipulative, media. It's common for the artsy and intellectual to grieve over the decline of US film and literature, the astounding stupidity of almost all of our television programming, the mediocre-to-inferior quality of many of our contemporary art forms. It's practically cliche by now to express one's concern over the barely functional semi-illiterates being mass-produced by what passes for our educational system.
But all these matters are related. A generation raised on moving pictures, and on the new advertising forms which grew up with them, has now raised its own new generation: one which, increasingly, finds reading unrewarding and too difficult, which expects to be passively entertained. This generation, I fear, which has grown up marinated in the manipulative media, now actively prefers them to anything requiring thought, the exercise of judgment and critical reasoning, or (god forbid) investigation, research, finding out one's own facts. Advertising is its definitive art form.
This generation of media-consumers, raised in the heyday of Madison Avenue, has developed a new tolerance for being lied to, even a cynical amusement at the untrustworthiness of the media which surround them. The modern US citizen expects advertising to be false, politicians to be dishonest, and everything on the screen to be doctored in the special effects lab. It is hard to stir a sense of outrage in people who are used to so many lies.
Pornography is the perfect entertainment medium for a semi-literate society: it requires little inventiveness, presents no challenges to vocabulary or reasoning power. It is a product; it's intended not to surprise us, but to do exactly what we expect. It's also completely self-involving: when we read erotica or pornography we are reading it not to discover something about anyone else, but to concentrate solely on the interesting effects it may have on ourselves. The intellectuals of the new pseudo-feminism advise women to pay attention to what turns them on, rather than what we are too good at - telling what offends and is sexist. In short, we are advised to stop thinking about the profound implications of race, sex, class, violence, and male-supremacy in the output of the sex industry, to withdraw our gaze from that larger world, and to retreat into our own heads to figure out how we may most successfully be manipulated by these materials.
This fits nicely with the capitalist agenda for the Nineties - which is to reduce everyone who has any money to an uncritical consumer of as much product as possible. Other agendas may also be served; I don't think anyone with progressive leanings has completely escaped the suspicion that our government's loud wailings about the Drug Problem are more show than substance; in fact, it is entirely to the advantage of the ruling class if the poor are completely obsessed with internal drug wars and with the hunt for the next fix, rather than with the reasons for their poverty and unhappiness.
It would certainly be to the advantage of men who have been upset and threatened by the small successes of the feminist movement, if those pesky feminists would get out of the streets and the law courts and start concentrating on something less disruptive, like what kind of porn video or sexual position suits them best. It would be a profound relief to men who have felt the slightest tremor in the deep foundations of their power, if women could be convinced that what we really need, after all, is just a good fuck. Particularly when that is something which they can convince us is in short supply - something they can sell us .