Has porn made rape a spectator sport?

Dolce and Gabbanna advertisment

Gang rape is not fashionable.

Whenever Halloween comes around its a stock news story to come up with favorite horror movies.   Not everyone enjoys a good scare, but those who do usually cite films like Psycho,  The Exorcist,  A Nightmare On Elm Street and of course, Halloween.

Worthy candidates one and all, but I find real life far scarier than anything Hollywood cranks out.

The story coming out of Richmond, California of the gang rape of a 15-year-old-girl outside of a high school homecoming dance is far more terrifying than Freddy, Jason or Michael Meyers.    The sexual assault itself  is disturbing enough.  What blasts this case into the stratosphere is the shocking additional detail that as many as 20 people were involved in or witnessed the rape without calling 911 or making any attempt to stop it. 

Rather than join the reative hand-wringing about what happened to our morality and making comparisons to the Kitty Genovese case, I think it might be approrpriate to look in another direction.  Maybe it’s men who need to look at ourselves and what our insatiable appetite for pornography does in contributing to a culture where rape becomes a spectator sport. 

Porn was never innocent, but it’s become increasingly hardened and jaded.

Taking a stroll through the adult DVD section of my friendly, neighborhood video store and there is an abundance of “gang bang” videos where multiple men double team, triple team and more one woman. Virtually every orifice is penetrated and without fail the woman is portrayed as loving it as the men use her as a two-legged wank rag.

It got so ridiculous that the gangbang genre began to go for “world records”. There’s nothing “regular” about sex with 300 men at a time.

The World's Biggest Gangbang DVD

There's gonzo and there's porn. Then there's gonzo porn.

How much porn depicts women dressed up as schoolgirls, cheerleaders and otherwise younger than they are? What’s that about? Well, actually we know what it’s about. It’s sweet young things vs. dirty old men, but the odd are tilted in the favor of the dirty old man.

Porn is great for guys when they want to see other people doing what they’d like to be doing, but it’s important to remember ALL pornography is an illusion and there’s an awful lot of people damaged by it and no one gets damaged more than many of the women involved in it.  Author Chris Hedges looked in hs book From Empire of Illuion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle pulled back the curtain of mainstream acceptance pornography has enjoyed to find its ugly downside and the toil it takes on women to be lurking just out of sight:

The porn films are not about sex. Sex is airbrushed and digitally washed out of the films. There is no acting because none of the women are permitted to have what amounts to a personality.

The one emotion they are allowed to display is an unquenchable desire to satisfy men, especially if that desire involves the women’s physical and emotional degradation. The lighting in the films is harsh and clinical. Pubic hair is shaved off to give the women the look of young girls or rubber dolls. Porn, which advertises itself as sex, is a bizarre, bleached pantomime of sex. The acts onscreen are beyond human endurance. The scenarios are absurd. The manicured and groomed bodies, the huge artificial breasts, the pouting, oversized lips, the erections that never go down, and the sculpted bodies are unreal. Makeup and production mask blemishes. There are no beads of sweat, no wrinkle lines, no human imperfections. Sex is reduced to a narrow spectrum of sterilized dimensions. It does not include the dank smell of human bodies, the thump of a pulse, taste, breath — or tenderness. Those in the films are puppets, packaged female commodities. They have no honest emotions, are devoid of authentic human beauty and resemble plastic. Pornography does not promote sex, if one defines sex as a shared act between two partners. It promotes masturbation. It promotes the solitary auto-arousal that precludes intimacy and love. Pornography is about getting yourself off at someone else’s expense.

“The Illusion of Love”

I’m not blaming pornography for what happened to this poor girl. That would be too easy and simplistic an answer without knowing more and porn is a easy whipping boy to blame. But young people are expolsed to sexual stimuli at younger and younger ages and it’s not always in a healthy, wholesome or realistic way. Nobody admits to liking it, but millions do. Within limits, that’s fine, but some people have problems with setting limits. They lose sight of what porn does to them and have no clue as to what it does to the participants.

Feminist writer Robin Morgan said in 1980, “Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice.”   My wife and I would view porn movies when we were dating in the Eighties.  Even then, there were genres of porn we gave a wide berth to  because they were a little too rough and not remotely romantic or  a turn on to us.    Our porn flick days are long over, but if she were to suggest I pick up a hot DVD to watch after the kids were safely in bed, I’d be hard pressed to find anything that wasn’t the kind of crap we avoided back in the day.

anti-pornography activist Shelley Luebben

Former porn actress Shelley Lubben now leads others out of it.

Shelley Lubben,  who is prominently mentioned in Hedges’ essa,  is a former porn starlet who quit the biz, got religion and now helps other porn stars get out of the business through her Pink Cross Foundation. Lubben isn’t remotely sentimential about her experiences in pornography.

Lubben describes the scene of a hardcore porn film as devoid of intimacy, and describes it as “all mechanical and beastly”. She further writes that “women are vomiting off the set, and most of the actors are doing drugs and alcohol.”She has experienced and testifies to the fact that the sex acts that girls “have to do” on the porn sets are physically harmful (including anal and uterus hemorrhaging) and psychologically traumatizing.

Nothing says “romance” like having to clean off the stinking body fluids of total strangers with a half-empty box of baby wipes or a crusty old towel.

When women aren’t viewed as fully human it’s easy to consider them  as sport. They become objects to be possessed, enjoyed for a time, discarded and occasionally destroyed, when they can no longer provide gratification. Porn desensitizes both its participants and consumers over time. The crime in Richmond was the act of violence directed toward this girl who simply wanted to have a good time at a high school dance. The shame lies with those poor excuses for humanity who laughed, cheered or stood by meek, stupid and useless.

Most of us can only shake our heads in total disbelief and disgust over how young men can degrade a woman in such a way and how other people can stand around like cows grazing in a field and not do anything. I’m afraid we’ve made it easy. Rape, whether it’s used by thugs on a street in America or the Jangaweed in Darfur, is the ultimate weapon men use to degrade, demean and destroy women.

I was always uncomfortable reading the writings of self-described radical feminists such as the late Andrea Dworkin because she was unsparing and withering in her critiques of how pornography and rape are two sides of the same coin. I would suspect were Ms. Dworkin still alive she would not be at all surprised by this incident. If anything she would only be surprised anyone is surprised.

…pornography is the orchestrated destruction of women’s bodies and souls; rape, battery, incest, and prostitution animate it; dehumanization and sadism characterize it; it is war on women, serial assaults on dignity, identity, and human worth; it is tyranny. Each woman who has survived knows from the experience of her own life that pornography is captivity–the woman trapped in the picture used on the woman trapped wherever he’s got her.

The vermin who raped and assaulted the woman in Richmond are not monsters from another planet. They’re just ordinary males who may have grown up exposed to a lifetime of  junk food movies where women are trussed up like turkeys and slaughtered such as Hostel II where a screaming, crying girl is stripped naked, bound and suspended from the ceiling while she is sliced open with a blade as a woman bathes in her blood or the excrescense that are the endless Saw films.

Hostel II

Film depictions of torture and death don't cause rape, but do they make rape more acceptable?

Rape has nothing to do with sex except that the penis is wielded as the blunt instrument of assault. Men have always taken women by means of violence. Sexually explicit material, torture porn films, and misogynistic music videos only aid in the general numbing of human souls. They don’t cause rape, but do they make raping a woman less of a horror than it is?

It’s a question that won’t be answered by trials and convictions in the Richmond rape trials to come.    It still bears being asked.