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Porn 101

At Berkeley wild things are going on in a "Male Sexuality" class. Is this gambling in Casablanca?

11:01 PM, Feb 21, 2002 • By LEE BOCKHORN
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The porn profs claim they are simply studying a widespread cultural phenomenon, reflecting the larger society around them, etc. etc. It's a lame argument, one that perfectly encapsulates today's confusion about the purpose of the university. But the professors are right about one thing--porn is everywhere today. Last fall, William F. Buckley tackled this subject in an article decrying the "pervasive presence" of porn. His case looks stronger all the time. Just last November, ABC aired a "Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" during prime-time, full of models clad in bras and G-strings, with nary a raised eyebrow of disapproval from the FCC. And a PBS "Frontline" documentary that aired a few weeks ago detailed just how massive the porn industry has become, with mainstream companies like General Motors, AT&T, Time-Warner, and the Hilton hotel chain (among many others) deeply indebted to porn distribution for a substantial share of their profits.

Buckley's article was prompted by the Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue, which, though ostensibly selling clothes, mostly shows models without them. A&F at least restricts the catalogue's distribution to adult customers. In that respect, I can see Buckley's bid and raise him one. Perusing the March issue of Vanity Fair, I spotted a four-page Versace ad spread that featured the well-oiled bodies of numerous male and female models posing suggestively on a beach. While some of the models wore what could be described charitably as "swimwear," the ads included several naked derrieres and fully exposed breasts. This is of course a magazine that any 12-year-old can buy at the corner newsstand--that is, if he's not busy downloading porn on his computer at home.

How should we respond to porn's new role as, in Buckley's description, "the creepy wallpaper of our daily lives"? Is there any way to marginalize it again? Contrary to the feelings of helplessness among those disturbed by the mainstreaming of porn, there is much we can do, as Jay Nordlinger discussed in a companion piece to Buckley's. Among other things, we can support politicians who, like Rudy Giuliani, dare to enforce obscenity laws. As for the college courses, university regents and alumni can demand that administrators recognize that Hustler and "Deep Throat" aren't the kind of "texts" that professors need to elucidate for students.

Beyond all this, there is one other reason for hope. Today's purveyors of all things sexual, whether pseudo-sophisticated academics or simple smut-peddlers like Larry Flynt, might manage eventually to make the subject of sex so boring that we'll be sickened by it all, like a surfeited 6-year-old who has stuffed himself with so many Twinkies that his stomach turns at the sight of another. Then, just maybe, we can take a deliberate step back, and rediscover the delights of true eroticism--the secret joy of what is left unheard and unseen.

Lee Bockhorn is associate editor at The Weekly Standard.