Infotainment Is No Laughing Matter ; Pornography Has Special Dangers in Relation to British Institutions I Agree with Feminists That Pornography Is a Sinister Form of Power

By Conor Cruise O'brien | The Independent (London, England), January 13, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Infotainment Is No Laughing Matter ; Pornography Has Special Dangers in Relation to British Institutions I Agree with Feminists That Pornography Is a Sinister Form of Power


Conor Cruise O'brien, The Independent (London, England)


Are we moving, in the last decade of the twentieth century, from infotainment towards pornotopia? The two neologisms in the question are of American origin. "Infotainment" is widely in use and refers to an important and disturbing contemporary phe nomenon: the blurring of the distinction between entertainment and information, fact and fantasy, in minds over-exposed to television. Pornotopia is the coinage of Steve Marcus in The Other Victorians (Bantam Books, 1967). Marcus wrote: "The effect of po rnography in this regard to achieve in consciousness the condition of the unconscious mind - a condition in which all things exist in a total, simultaneous present. Time, then, in pornotopia, is sexual time. Nature, in other words, has no separate existe nce in pornotopia; it is not external to us, or "out there". There is no "out there" in pornography."

There is clearly much in common between infotainment and pornotopia. Both extend the empire of fantasy and numb the capacity to think. Minds accustomed to infotainment are likely to show little resistance to pornotopia. I suggest that the answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article should be "yes".

This is quite a frightening thought. It suggests that the coming century may be a new Dark Age. The mind, in the senses known to our culture for generations, may be becoming an endangered species. The minds of most citizens may have been so boggled by televised varieties of instant gratification, including pornography, as to turn into mere sentient sponges, compulsively feeding on flickering images. And if so, how long is democracy likely to last? Could not an authoritarian regime, in full

control of those images and manipulating them to its purposes, readily secure the acquiesence of passive fantasising masses?

As one would expect, these tendencies have developed faster in the United States than on this side of the ocean, but they have also encountered more resistance. From the Seventies onwards, there has been a huge explosion in pornography in the United States. The US author Donald Alexander Downs, wrote in 1989, in The New Politics of Pornography: "The porn market, growing for over a hundred years, exploded in the 1970s, turning pornography into a multibillion- dollar industry. Advances in technology made printed porn easier and cheaper to produce and put new forms within the reach of virtually everyone - home videos, cable porn and telephone porn. While the 1970 US commission on obscenity could state `with complete confidence that an estimate of $2.5 billion sales grossly exaggerates the size of the "smut" industry in the United States...', this figure would be a clear understatement by 1980. This explosion also confounded the commission's prediction that increasing exposure to porn would eventuate in boredom and indifference."

Some of the video porn is very "hard" indeed. One item portrays sexual abuse of children, with their parents and guardians looking on. The fans, apparently, get an additional kick from contemplating the degradation of the parents and guardians. This is not just sexual indulgence, but also involves refinements of depravity never previously available to wide audiences. But the market is there. Margaret Thatcher's assumption that family values and market values are somehow the same has the charm of innocen ce about it.

The resistance to the porn explosion has also been increasing. Traditionally, such resistance was confined to the right in American politics, and mainly the religious right. But from the late Seventies, a new and more formidable focus of resistance beganto emerge: the feminist movement. Andrea Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon argued that, since pornography involves the sexual degradation of women, and therefore is an invasion of women's rights, it ought not to be protected by the First Amendment as a straightforward manifestation of freedom of expression.

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