Tommy Devine has been observing the Valley’s political culture for some years as the man behind The Baystate Objectivist [see interview]. In “Freedom and Decency”, posted on 1/13/07, he shares his reactions to one of NoPornNorthampton’s recent publications…
Like most people who work in any field involving self-expression, I’m an absolutist where freedom of speech is concerned. Part of my attitude is self-serving, I wanna say what I wanna say, and anybody who tries to shut me up is my enemy…
My position is simple, consistent and pretty cut and dry. Or is it? Like everything that appears at first to be black or white, if you look a little deeper and you can find shades of grey. That’s what I’m discovering as I read this handout I stumbled upon from the website NoPornNorthampton.org in the lobby of the Nielson Library at Smith College. It’s pretty thick for a freebie handout, about 50 pages with printing on both sides, consisting of short essays designed to back up the title of the handout, The Feminist Case Against Pornography.
I don’t need feminists to turn me against pornography. I’ve always thought it was shallow, stupid, dehumanizing and degrading for both the consumer and the participants. I’m not talking about Hugh Hefner’s Playboy, which despite its sexism still treats woman like human beings and whose high standards put it more in the legitimate field of “erotica” as opposed to porn. Pornography is a term reserved for the type of sexual images that treat woman as though they were objects, as if women existed for no other purpose but to be used for pleasure, even if that pleasure involves degradation and even violence. And it isn’t just women, in looking into the mysteries surrounding former teen star Stephen Geoffreys, I’ve discovered that gay male porn is just as bad…
The people behind NoPornNorthampton.org make a pretty good case that my libertarian tolerance overlooks a number of important factors. Granted, this group has a specific agenda, and that is to prevent a porn shop from opening on Northampton’s heavily traveled King Street… One’s first instinct is to mock their disapproval. That bastion of sexual liberation Northampton, declared by no less an authority than The National Inquirer to be “Lesbianville U.S.A”, disapproving of pornography? My, how their hypocrisy comes glaring forth when a porn shop shows up in their own backyard! None of that however, distracts from the validity of many of the points raised in the opponent’s handout and on their website.
The gist of their argument is this, that the effects of pornography on the community are subtle and complex, and that reducing the controversy to simply a First Amendment issue obscures many valid concerns having nothing to do with free speech. I was surprised to discover how much I found myself agreeing with them. For example, they have this commonsense response to those who claim that porn is harmless because it deals merely with sexual fantasies:
It’s commonly claimed that porn is mere fantasy, with no impact on user’s daily lives. But to argue that pornography has no effect on the people who consume it would be like arguing that the multi-billion dollar advertising business is all for naught, that people aren’t influenced by what they see, read, or hear, and that all media are inconsequential. [source]
I agree, but I’m still not ready to go along with any attempt to ban porn by legal means. However I do think that people like me, who in the past have taken an indifferent approach to pornography in the name of free speech, need to do more to educate ourselves and others about porn’s destructive properties. In other words, the answer is not a ban on porn, but to lessen the demand for it through heightened awareness of its destructive properties. We need to create a society that celebrates sexuality and appreciates genuinely artistic erotica. Such a society would have no use for the modern version of pornography, or as the handout puts in quite succinctly:
It all starts with personal awareness. How do your consumer choices perpetuate the spread of porn? What media do you read, or watch, or sell? What attitudes about women and sexuality do you enact in your daily life? Reducing the demand for porn is more effective as a long-term plan than trying to cut off the supply. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol. By contrast, once the tobacco industry’s deceptive and addictive business practices received enough media attention that no one could defend them with a straight face, popular culture shifted from glamorizing tobacco use to stigmatizing it. [source]
Yes, that’s exactly the right idea. I suggest that you check out more of what these Northampton activists have to say by going here. You may be surprised, as I was, by the rich food for thought it provides.