Tuesday, September 20, 2005

An FBI porn unit?

From the Washington Post:
The FBI is joining the Bush administration's War on Porn. And it's looking for a few good agents.
...
The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults.

"I guess this means we've won the war on terror," said one exasperated FBI agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because poking fun at headquarters is not regarded as career-enhancing. "We must not need any more resources for espionage."

Among friends and trusted colleagues, an experienced national security analyst said, "it's a running joke for us."

This new move on the part of the FBI, as many can guess, is highly problematic. Most significant, perhaps, are the obvious clashes with the First Amendment. Furthermore, many of those who profit the most from the burgeoning porn industry are counted among the Republican party's greatest contributors, like Rupert Murdoch's News Corps (remember, that's the parent company of Fox News). Other corporate giants like General Motors and Time Warner are also mentioned, along with a number of hotel chains (whose biggest clients for in-room smut, I understand, are businessmen on business trips). Those of more libertarian bents also find this development highly disappointing, no doubt. And on top of all this, there's the tremendous problem of enforceability. Does the FBI really think it can eradicate sexual deviance in internet porn, let alone obliterate porn entirely?

However, I'm gonna take this a little more seriously than most of the people I've seen talking about this. On the flip side of this issue, this move falls in line with other recent moves that both Democrats and Republicans have backed-- things like tightened seatbelt laws and smoking bans. This is an issue that, like those others, can be considered a matter of public health, as well as a crime deterrent. Let me explain.

I consulted the textbook Psychology, by David G. Myers (Holland, MI: Worth, 2001), where I remembered there being a section on sex and violence in the media. The section begins by noting that sexual violence is generally higher today than it was 50 years ago (Koss and Others, 1994), and that coinciding with that rise has been "the rise of the home video business, giving easier access to R-rated "slasher films" and X-rated films. Content analyses reveal that most X-rated films depict quick, casual sex between strangers, but that scenes of rape and sexual exploitation of women by men are also common (Cowan & others, 1988; NCTV, 1987; Yang and Linz, 1990)."

It continues:
Do images of sexual exploitation influence sexual aggression? When interviewed, Candian and U.S. sex offenders... do report a greater-than-usual appetite for sexually explicit and sexually violent materials-- materials typically labelled as "pornography" (Marshall, 1989; Ressler & others, 1988).


Now, it should be mentioned that a correlative relationship does not imply a causative relationship. That I grant. The article, however, continues (emphasis mine):
Laboratory experiments reveal that repeatedly watching X-rated films (even if nonviolent) makes one's own partner seem less attractive, makes a woman's friendliness sem more sexual, and makes sexual aggression seem less serious (Harris, 1994).

Myers notes in one study, college students forced to watch porn six times a week for six weeks advocated half as much prison time for a man convicted of raping a hitchhiker than the control group. In another, a group of students at the University of Manitoba, after consistently watching movies of men sexually overpowering women, said they would be more willing than the control group to commit rape if they knew they could get away with it (interestingly, this correlation also registered with students exposed to slasher movies). After this point, Myers backpeddles a little, qualifying that studies show mainly that it's the sexual violence in porn, not the eroticism per se, that increases men's acceptance of violence against women. That, however, does not discount the above quote.

The reason for this effect of porn on men lies in the social script it confirms. According to this script, women are sometimes apprehensive about sex with a stranger, and may even fight against it, but once they're taken they find they actually wanted it and enjoy it immensely. Think Scarlet O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Rapists tend to accept this "rape myth," and these studies show that the more one is exposed to it, the more one buys into it.

So, then, there is some causative relationship between porn and sexual aggression, and that's something that, in my opinion, shouldn't be downplayed in this debate. Such a relationship makes obscenity laws (in some form, anyway) a legitimate crime-deterrent matter, as well as an issue of public psychological health. The problem is, does that give the government leeway to legislate and/or enforce obscenity laws on adult consentual porn? Also, how far can you take this? Slasher films generated many of the same responses as porn; should they be put on the chopping block as well?

3 comments:

TioChuy said...

This is a very "sticky" matter indeed. You raise a good point about it's effects on society. The only hole I see is that no one is forced to watch six hours of porn six times a week for six weeks in reality. I doubt the average guy watching a porn flick would have the same outcome. It almost seems contradicting that if someone cared for their partner in the first place they would have any use for porn in the first place.
Now on to the FBI taking a role. WTF? Seriously I understand the issue and I am all for any effective detterent to rape and/or murder. The problem is that there isn't a legal precedent regarding obscenity that is nearly clear enough to make this an enforcable issue. I'm sure you will recall The Justice Potter Stewart test "I know it when I see it." I fear that with the law laid out the way it is it would lead to intrusion in other areas of the First amendment, there's always some sneaky shit-house lawyer with a hidden agenda that finds a way to use cases like the ones that will come out of this for some sinister purpose. I don't need to tell you how much fun they are having with the Fourth right now.

El Ranchero said...

I understand that no one is "forced" to watch that much porn, and that perhaps few people likely do, but I would think that a more moderate amount over a longer period of time would possibly have a similar (even if diminished) effect. And a fair number of nonsingle people watch porn. Hell, I can name several off the top of my head.
The problem with legal precedent is a definite issue, though, as is the possibility that enforcement of obscenity laws against porn might lead to government intervention in other rights as well. That is, coincidentally, my main problem with this type of thing. My other problem is that, as they say, "It's all about intention." I doubt that this is being done for the purposes of deterring crime, but rather to appease a thoroughly ticked-off religious right and, thus, for some vague "moral health of the nation" cause.

TioChuy said...

Yeah pretty thouroughly pissed off. And not even on the right any more. Good point.