Beliefnet
This is one video you can safely bet will never appear on either MTV or VH: "Backstage Sluts," directed by veteran pornography director Matt Zane, features rock stars such as Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Jonathan Davis of Korn, Sugar Ray, and Insane Clown Posse. In the video, Durst and company tell stories that emphasize the "sex" in "sex, drugs and rock and roll"--which Zane then re-enacts, in graphic detail, for the audience.

Zane's film is but one example of the shift in our attitudes toward pornography. Technology, our changing attitudes toward sex, and the esteem in which we hold anything labeled "entertainment" is enabling the pornography industry to leave the Combat Zone and pre-Disney Times Square for Middle America's living rooms.

Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the world of rock and roll. The 2000 Grammy Awards featured Kid Rock, complete with his trademark fur coat, motorcycle, and midget named Joe C, performing while surrounded by porno stars dancing in cages. If anyone objected to objectification of women in front of a nationally television audience, I missed it. (Where were the folks from Lilith Fair when you need them? Has the era of the female star come and gone already?)

Kid Rock isn't unique in his close identification with the porn industry. Blink 182's hit album, "Enema of the State," features a porn star on the cover. And Limp Bizkit, Godsmack, and others helped launch Playboy's newest web venture, Sex & Rock-n-Roll.

This trend hasn't been lost on VH-1. MTV's sister channel has aired two programs, entitled "Porn to Rock," on the link between rock and the pornography industry. The second one chronicled the musical aspirations of two adult film stars: "India" and "Houston." India, whom viewers were told had made more than 100 films, told VH-1 that record producers had approached her. Why? It certainly wasn't her voice, which was literally unremarkable--an amateurish blend of Aaliyah and TLC, for those of you familiar with these artists.For the second actress, Houston, an unremarkable voice would be an improvement. It was embarrassing. Her demo was a cover of Christina Aguilera's "What a Girl Wants." But Houston appears to be in her early to mid-30s--that is, twice the age Aguilera was when she recorded the song.

This mainstreaming isn't limited to rock and roll. The 1997 film "Boogie Nights," directed by Paul Anderson, tells the stories of a group of porn stars and their director around the time that pornography moved from film and theaters to tape and videocassette recorders. While the film was about families and loyalty, the fact remains that its setting would have been off-limits in mainstream entertainment just five years before. What's more, if you've listened to the director's commentary on the DVD, you can't help but notice Anderson's encyclopedic--and unselfconscious--knowledge about porn films and the fact that some of the scenes in the movie were inspired by those films.

Then there's advertising. Reed Schuchardt, a doctoral candidate in media ecology at New York University, and a veteran of the advertising industry, has pointed out the advertising industry's adoption of what might be called a "porno aesthetic." A prime example is the "Got milk?" campaign.

This increasing acceptance of pornography in our cultural mainstream has been possible, to no small extent, by technology. Pornography isn't new. But until recently, a combination of formal (laws) and informal (practices, customs) arrangements kept it at the margins of society. Consuming pornography required getting out of the house and going to places such as pre-Disney Times Square in New York or the "Combat Zone" in Boston. The danger, not to mention the tawdriness, associated with these places was enough to keep most otherwise-interested men away.

As the characters in "Boogie Nights" understood, that changed with the coming of the VCR. Now people didn't have to risk their safety, or even their dignity, to consume pornography. And the amount of pornography consumed has skyrocketed. According to U.S. News & World Report, Americans spent, at most, $10 million on sexually explicit material in 1973. In 1997, they spent more than $8 billion--nearly one thousand times as much--on the same kind of material. As the magazine put it, it was "an amount much larger than Hollywood's domestic box office receipts and larger than all the revenues generated by rock and country music recordings." Sounds mainstream to me.

Then there's the internet. Now you no longer needed to leave the house, and your parents never need to know that you're consuming the stuff, especially since a lot of the material is free. So thanks to technology, pornography is almost as available as any other consumer good. Is it any wonder that advertisers conclude that the images of porn films might resonate with consumers? Or, since rock music is usually the musical expression of the feelings and desires of young men, and these young men are consuming pornography at higher and higher rates, should we be surprised that folks like Kid Rock make the porn connection an important part of their act?

But it's more than technology. Porn is going mainstream because our attitudes toward sex have changed. The principal consequence of the sexual revolution isn't that more people are "doing it" more often with different people. It's that we've severed the link between sex and transgression. We no longer believe that a person's sex life says anything about them as a person. We've embraced a kind of neo-gnosticism that divorces our bodies from our souls. Whereas the Christian tradition, best exemplified by saints Paul and Augustine, teaches that misuse--including sexual misuse--of our bodies is a sin against the image of God within us, we believe that what we do with our bodies is irrelevant to our spiritual and moral well-being. Seeing the people involved in the porn industry independently of what they do on screen is simply our attitudes toward sex writ large.

The other lesson porn has learned is, like gambling, to position itself somewhere in the entertainment spectrum. Porn is becoming something that people do in their free time. And, as such, it's none of my business. I shouldn't pass judgment on the people who appear in the films or on people like Jonathan Davis of Korn, who bragged about his large porn collection to Rolling Stone.

As Schuchardt points out, the aesthetics--not to mention the attitudes--of the porn industry influence others more than they are influenced. So the question is: Do we really want to live in a culture where the aesthetics of pornography are everywhere?

Remember, even if you don't consume the stuff, the aesthetics will find you: the objectification of women, the exploitation of what should be private and intimate for pecuniary gain, and the reduction of people into vessels of gratification. And let's not forget the impossible body images and standards of beauty that pornography traffics in. If you think eating disorders are a problem now, you haven't seen anything yet. We're about to learn how high a price we pay for being nonjudgmental and not calling things what they really are.

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