In his Letter to Families, Blessed John Paul II stated that “We are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of civilization itself…. Why is this happening? The reason is that our society has broken away from the full truth about …what man and woman really are as persons. Thus it cannot adequately comprehend the real meaning of the gift of persons in marriage, responsible love at the service of fatherhood and motherhood, and the true grandeur of procreation.”
As our popular culture continues to deteriorate, it is increasingly difficult to protect ourselves and our children from the harmful influences of what we read, listen to and watch. From the soft pornography of television commercials shown during televised sporting events to the offensive magazine covers displayed near supermarket checkout stations, we are constantly bombarded with degrading words and images.
If music videos, television sitcoms, video games, most Hollywood movies and the internet are factored in, unless we are aggressively limiting our intake, we are exposed to an alarmingly high volume of trash on a regular basis. One might well ask: “How did we get here?”
Though painters’ and sculptors’ motives during the Renaissance and Baroque period could be suspect at times, their depictions of the human body were thought to treat that body with dignity; i.e., as reflective of a divine image, in biblical and Platonist terms.
Yet, in contrast to this tendency, as well as to literary pornography (which has always existed), contemporary visual pornography has roots in a stream of “Orientalist” painting which placed females in both an inferior and/or explicitly erotic setting. This imagery hit America as early as the Silent Film era, and was found in comic books and magazines of the 1930’s.
Under critique by the U.S. bishops, in 1930 Hollywood signed on to the Hayes Production Code in the wake of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical letter, Vigilanti Cura. The Code’s central criterion was “human dignity.” This dignity included the sphere of human sexuality.
While the film and fashion industries had been eroticized earlier, it was in the 1930’s that the advertising in the United States was influenced by Freudianism via the “father of the public relations industry,” Austrian emigree Edward Bernays.
By the time Playboy Magazine came into publication in the 1950’s, the Hayes Code was on its last legs in terms of enforcement. In 1957, Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical called Miranda Prorsus to address the link between morality and media. (It fell on deaf ears.) The rest, as they say, is history.
For example, in 1966, the Oscar for Best Picture went to The Sound of Music. In 1970, the Oscar for Best Picture went to Midnight Cowboy. The nation had changed.
• Americans rent upwards of 800 million pornographic videos and DVDs annually
• 40 million Americans regularly visit pornographic sites on the internet
• One in four men (and 66%-70% of men ages 18-24) visit porn sites in a month
• 17% of women are addicted to pornography
The “adult” entertainment industry now boasts that it makes over 13 billion dollars every year, far more money annually than Hollywood or made-for-TV movies. The supply of porn is immense, Americans are huge consumers and their appetite is growing.
This mass consumption of pornography has had serious negative impact on the mental and spiritual health of those who view it and many have become addicted to it. Moreover, it is now known that adult consumption of pornography has had a destructive impact on the lives of children, as addictions progress to more explicit or deviant material and those so addicted end up acting out what they have seen.
According to a Witherspoon Institute report, “The Social Costs of Pornography,” numerous users have described, both to reporters and clinicians, the apparent slippery slope from using pornography featuring adults to using child pornography.”
“The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” (Ezekiel 18:2).
Can this toxic influence be stopped? Yes it can, if public opinion is changed and Americans are galvanized to take action. It has happened before.
If we step back to 1964, the Surgeon General of the United States reported that “cigarette smoking is a hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action.” This was when smoking was commonplace in movies, on television, on airplanes and was practiced literally everywhere in public.
Today smoking is regulated everywhere in America with bipartisan political support at the local and national levels. This includes U.S. Surgeon General’s warnings on cigarettes packaging, rules as to where one can smoke, television public service announcements, prohibition on cigarettes being advertised on television, etc.
Pornography is a threat infinitely greater to our children, marriages, and families than smoking ever was. We simply cannot wait five decades to reverse course.
The Institute for the Psychological Sciences has developed a series of online education programs providing understanding and solutions to problems like pornography and other sexual addictions, as well as a variety of resources for non-professionals on family-related and cultural issues. A whitepaper on the effects of pornography and children is also available for free. Check out the IPS Online Education website for details.