The Porn Revolution: America's Thriving Pornography Industry Uses the Marketplace to Advance an Agenda of Subversion and Social Control. (Culture War)

Article excerpt

[T]he foremost of the laws Nature decrees to me is to enjoy myself no matter at whose expense.

-- The Marquis de Sade from his political novel Juliette

"For more than five centuries," writes Atlantic Monthly investigative reporter Eric Schiosser in his new book Reefer Madness, "radical social movements [have] embraced pornography." From Renaissanceera humanists, to the leaders of the 18th-century "Enlightenment" (including the notorious Marquis de Sade), to the exponents of the San Francisco-based 1960s counterculture, pornography has been used to bring about "a profound shift in public attitudes toward sex, as religious influences gave way to secular ones. That shift has been accomplished with astonishing speed.

"Sexually explicit material has become so commonplace that one can easily forget how strictly it was prohibited not long ago," comments Schlosser. According to sociologist Charles Winick, the sexual content of American culture has changed more over the past two decades than it had during the previous two centuries.

Receipts from pornographic video rentals offer one useful--and sobering--illustration of this social revolution. In 1985, rental of "hardcore smut videos generated an estimated $79 million; by 2001, that figure had increased nearly tenfold, to $759 million. "Many mom-and-pop video stores now derive a third of their income from porn," reports Schlosser. "According to one industry expert, approximately 25,000 video stores in the United States now rent and sell hard-core films."

Porn retailed via videocassettes and DVDs represents but a small fraction of the market. The entire smut trade--mail-order sales of porn and related products, live sex shows, pay-per-view cable television, and paid-subscription Internet sites--generates an estimated annual income of $10 billion, an amount roughly equivalent to Hollywood's annual profits from mainstream films. Of course, mainstream films are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from their overtly obscene counterparts--produced, quite literally, right next door.

"In the San Fernando Valley of Southern California," continues Schlosser, "right beside the Hollywood movie industry, a thriving X-rated movie industry has emerged, with its own studios, talent agencies, and stars, its own fan clubs and film critics. America's porn has become one more of its cultural exports, dominating overseas markets.... [T]he United States is now by far the world's leading producer of porn, churning out hardcore videos at the astonishing rate of about two hundred and eleven new titles every week." The cultural undertow left in the porn market's wake has predictably pulled down standards for the entire entertainment industry.

Spokesmen for the skin trade, and more than a few cultural observers (Schlosser among them), insist that the porn industry's radical expansion is simply the market at work. But in a significant sense, the ever-increasing demand for porn reflects an organized, deliberate effort to re-engineer our cultural mores in a fashion compatible with political collectivism.

While many might consider it implausible to couple sexual emancipation with political regimentation, this approach was used quite successfully by the architects of Sweden's all-encompassing socialist welfare state. "'Freedom' in Swedish is a word that appears to be taboo," observed British journalist Roland Huntford in his 1971 book The New Totalitarians, a critical study of Sweden's version of cradle-to-grave collectivism. "There is one exception, however, and that is in sexual matters. In the same way that 'security' is the creed of [Swedish socialist] politics, so is 'liberty' that of sex."

In his preface to the 1948 edition of his masterpiece Brave New World, Aldous Huxley also took note of that relationship:

As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase. …