Thursday, December 08, 2011

Romantic Adultery


One of the curious feature of our decarnalised view of romantic love is that its intellectual underpinning permits a lot of moral evil to fly under the radar. One of the themes raised in Dalrock’s post, concerned the subject of porn. In the movie, Fireproof; one of the justifications that the “heroine” uses to leave her husband is because of his consumption of it. The movie presents her grievance in a sympathetic and justified light and several commentators on Dalrock’s blog felt that this position was both unjust, and that divorce was a disproportionate response in any case. As commentator Grerp put it:
I don’t like porn. It’s dehumanizing, and the industry grinds already broken people up for its own profit. But it sounds like Caleb was only dabbling in it – which is worthy of a trip to the confessional, rather than divorce court. Clearly Katherine was dissatisfied with the bargain she’d made and wanted a “Christian” excuse to get out. Porn use was it.
It’s the “Christian excuse” part of the comment that warrants further elaboration. I think that Grerp’s comment is rather perceptive in that in that many Christians equate porn to a type of adultery.  I imagine it all harks back to the biblical view that looking at a woman with “lust in your heart” is equivalent to adultery and therefore suitable grounds for divorce.

In my post, Anaemia, I argued that traditional Christianity had decarnalised sex, and I imagine that part of porn’s opprobrium is due to the fact that it is inherently and explicitly “fleshy”, It’s not about plot, it’s not about feelings, it’s all about the sex. Porn is all about “carnality”  But what’s really interesting is that this “decarnalised” view of sexuality raises a curious dichotomy.

Theses comment from Grerp:
The thing that annoys me about these sorts of narratives[Ed:Fireproof] is that they are crafted in such a way that it is hard to make a specific judgment because the info isn’t there, but they stand in for a reality that would not be hard to judge. So we don’t really know much about Caleb’s porn habits, and it appears that Katherine didn’t actually sleep with the doctor. But IRL she probably would have slept with him and we would know what Caleb’s real proclivities are. In a similar way, Harlequin romances are chock – absolutely CHOCK – full of single mothers who aren’t single mothers. Or aren’t single mothers of their own doing. They’re the aunts who’ve suddenly inherited children and are trying to do the right thing or widows whose husbands have suddenly died. Or they had to get divorced because he became a raging monster/drug dealer overnight, etc. This sort of narrative allows readers who might disapprove of single motherhood to still enjoy reading the rescue of a single mother by a handsome, well-funded hero who’s always wanted to be a father. Read enough of these things and you start thinking that all women are mere victims of circumstance. And from there it’s only a short leap to believing that they all have a right to be rescued. (To be fair, within the genre, this is changing somewhat. Now you have single mothers who are choosing to be single mothers, whether by sperm bank or ONS, because they are *independent women who can take care of themselves* but who might still like to have a white knight take care of some of the peskier problems of life. Fully entitled to the rescue that’s not a “rescue,” though.)
and
Another thing I’ve noticed about romance novels that is still more troubling is that the female characters in them have become more realistic – older, fatter, more career oriented, sexually experienced – while the male characters have become hyper masculine. This Batman-obsessively-pursuing-Liz-Lemon narrative is obviously total wish fulfillment (read: delusion) on the part of female romance readers.
My reply to Grerp:
Isn’t a Harlequin novel a female version of porn? I mean for most guys porn is a fantasy, but so are romantic novels for women. The whole idea of the romantic novel is to get the female reader to identify with the heroine and have a bit of fantasy adultery. True, that female porn places far less emphasis on those “yucky” anatomical bits and much more emphasis on “feelings”, but in the end both partners consummate their affections as assuredly as Linda Lovelace did with her lovers. Both “art forms” have fantasy adultery as their end point.
The question is why does our society look down with opprobrium on men who look at porn but at the same time not give a second thought to women churning through the Mills and Boon? It appears that as long as artistic depictions of adultery don’t involve any genital display, then its O.K.
Most religious folk, myself included, will intuitively recognise porn consumption as a moral wrong, and it still attracts a degree of opprobrium from non-religious polite society, but why is there no condemnation of decarnalised fantasy adultery?  Porn, being so overt, is easily recognised as a moral evil, The problem is, that a lot of poison can fly under the radar if its not recognised as such and because romantic love is desexualised some of the more pernicious effects of the romantic novel are not recognised.  To quote commentator Grerp:
My view is that there isn’t anything wrong, intrinsically, with a love story. People have been telling, and hearing, and reading love stories for thousands of years, and readers who read them aren’t wanting to commit adultery any more than people who play video games really want to kill someone. The problem is that a steady diet of even the “clean” romances will set you up with overly high expectations regarding relationships between men and women. The fact that romance novels have become more ubiquitous and regularly read indicates that something is wrong between the sexes and that women are getting their emotional needs met outside of human interaction.
I think she has a very good point. Just as porn seems to influence sexual expectations, so does the romantic novel influence the female expectations of a relationship, and yet our society seems relatively indifferent it.

In Fireproof, the disaffected spouse forms a close relationship with a doctor, something which is portrayed in a sympathetic light by its Christian producers. But as commentator Brendan noted:
Men don’t want to meet the women in porn, they don’t want to have affairs with them or with other women. Porn is an aid to masturbation for men. I’m not a big fan of it myself, but it isn’t at all like flirting with a real life person of the opposite sex in a romantic/sexual/emotional way. The latter doesn’t always lead to affairs, but is pretty much always the gateway to an affair. It is treading on thin ice, and in the case if you fall through it isn’t “virtual adultery” or “lusting in the heart” — it’s good, old fashioned “fucking someone else” adultery. Porn viewing, by contrast, does not lead to adultery. Now, if Caleb were perusing personals sites, or Ashley Madison, or Craigslist or something like that, it would be comparable to what Katherine was doing. Viewing porn for masturbation purposes is not — it’s sinful, but a sin of a very different order than the kind of sin that is the natural gateway to real, physical adultery.
And that’s what I think is curious. Why is overt fantasy sexuality viewed as an obvious evil whilst real intimate(non-sexual) friendship with another member of the opposite sex whilst married, not? I think it’s because we’ve so stripped our feelings from our sexual natures, through ascetic decaranalisation, that we believe that intimate friendships in with the opposite sex are completely possible without a sexual element eventually making its way into the picture. Romantic love is ultimately completed in sexual union, and the decarnalised view of romantic love so downplays the sexual component of it that it causes people to adopt the heuristic of thinking of sex and love as two separate things. Therefore it's perfectly understandable how “Christian” producers could portray our heroine as doing nothing wrong even though she has exposed herself to the real possibility “old fashioned” adultery. Whilst her husband is considered adulterous by looking at fantasy images.

You can’t make this stuff up.

44 comments:

MadBiker said...

SP, I love your blog.

I wrote a paper about this many moons ago in undergrad, for a mandatory sociology class. I used to read lots of romance novels in my teens, mostly the sweeping, Scottish Highlands, rogue warrior/highwayman meets virtuous parentless penniless girl. I've not read any romances set in modern times, so I can't relate to what Grerp has noticed about the changing situations of the characters.

The fairy-tale element of romance novels is part of the appeal: the escapism, the princess as a surrogate for the feelings you wish you had. Many a little girl hears about Prince Charming rescuing Sleeping Beauty or Snow White or Cinderella, and then longs for the same adventure in her own life, plays princess dress-up for a while, and then, hopefully, her parents guide her out of that phase and she accepts real life and understands real relationships.

Women who have unrealistic expectations about relationships are princesses who either never grew out of the dress-up/fantasy phase, or are so jaded by a clash with real life because no one guided them out of that phase, that they are setting themselves up for failure in relationships.

The damage is exacerbated by a society which tells women they deserve to be happy at all costs, and should seek what they desire - hence it's OK to put herself in the path of actual adultery, rather than do some introspection and correct her behavior.

And, how did Christianity decarnalize sex and romance? I grew up Catholic, and was always taught that romantic love and sex go together; you cannot have one without the other (or at least, you should not). Perhaps I just had a different experience. The Pastor of my church was a strict, old-fashioned kind of Catholic whose homilies reflected the proper roles of wives and mothers, fathers and families. And I had two wonderful role models in my parents, and in my extended family.

Not trying to be snarky with that question, I'm just confused as to what you mean by decarnalized. Thanks.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"And that’s what I think is curious. Why is overt fantasy sexuality viewed as an obvious evil whilst real intimate(non-sexual) friendship with another member of the opposite sex whilst married, not? I think it’s because we’ve so stripped our feelings from our sexual natures, through ascetic decaranalisation, that we believe that intimate friendships in with the opposite sex are completely possible without a sexual element eventually making its way into the picture. Romantic love is ultimately completed in sexual union, and the decarnalised view of romantic love so downplays the sexual component of it that it causes people to adopt the heuristic of thinking of sex and love as two separate things."

I am with mad biker. Sex and love have always been intertwined for me.

You cannot have one without the other..

Porn IS degrading and it's a sin to engage in the viewing of such.. The sin is further compounded when one masturbates.

Female romance novels (and I have never read one) if they lead to impure thoughts or sexual release are of course on the same par. It's sinful..


"Isn’t a Harlequin novel a female version of porn? "

If it incites thoughts of a sexual nature.. then, yes it is..

Often these silly romance novels are just a form of escapism for some women. Not necessarily a sexual outlet . The problem with these novels is that they give some women unrealistic expectations about men ..

That in itself is not a sin.


Porn on the other hand is always about sex.. a means to an end.

Really you cannot compare the two.. Completely different.

A woman can read some fluff romance novel without feeling the need to have sex with a man or masturbate..

Men on the other hand watch porn for the explicite reason of jerking off... No other.. You cannot compare the two.

From a religious viewpoint if reading or viewing anything leads to an occasion of sin then it is wrong!

Quite simple really..







"

Anonymous said...

The "de-carnalized" love seems like a rationalization tool. A woman can tell herself that she's just friends with a man until oops she falls into bed with him. Really, that was where the interaction was leading the whole time.

MNL said...

Again, a wonderful post and interesting topic.

I suspect another, direct physical reason why porn containing the "yucky anatomical bits" is shamed while porn containing more female-friendly fantasies flies under the radar has to do with the different patterns of male vs. female sexual arousal.

When a male becomes aroused, there's very little mistake in the matter. He knows immediately--as may his date when slow-dancing or in close embrace. Men benefit from very clear feedback on their state of sexual arousal. Women, however, with a more internal sexual anatomy (e.g., even a hidden estrus?) are simply not so endowed. I recall an academic study (amazing people get paid for such things) that measured vaginal lubrication and other physical markers of female sexual arousal vs. a female's own self-reports on arousal. The women were much more out of touch (than were males) with their physical state of arousal. Their own bodies were shouting "I'm ready for sex" while their consciousness remained blissfully unaware.

Bottom line: there's a clear cause-and-effect relationship in male porn. The display of another's anatomical bits is an mistakable sexual readiness marker--and a potential threat to the established pair-bond. In females, however, the correlation between "relationship porn" and arousal is more attenuated. It's less apparent and more easily disguised. Ultimately its less obviously perceived as a threat. Mind you, the connection or correlation is still present. But the social stigma against it has been much slower to develop. Toss in some historical female sexual shaming into the mix and the negative consequences of female porn simply hasn't been recognized until more recently.

Thursday said...

One of the problems with male porn vs. female porn is that it is relatively easy to identify the former. Explicit depictions of body parts and people performing sex acts are not too hard to pick out.

But emotional porn does shade into the respectable romance novel. Is Jane Austen emotional pornography with her rich alpha suitors? Are the Brontes?

MNL said...

@Thursday... I fully agree. The discussion reminds me of debates on the definition of obscenity. While physical pornography has been pointed out for much longer such that we're more attuned to it, the old adage, "I can't tell you how to define it but I'll recognize it when I see it" ultimately applies to both physical AND emotional porn. In fact, once one becomes aware of the concept of emotional porn, it truly is ubiquitous.

But the interesting question is WHY? Why is female emotional pornography initially harder to identify? Why doesn't it evoke the same degree of opprobrium? Why does a man who visits a porn site invite more social shame than a women perusing Harlequin novels at the local Walmart? And how did it become acceptable to even sell a Harlequin holiday "value bundle" at Walmart but not the parallel Hustler holiday edition?

It's all very strange once one really considers it.

http://www.walmart.com/ip/Harlequin-Book-Value-Bundle-Choose-3/15406986

The Social Pathologist said...

Thanks everyone for your comments.

@Kathy
Sex and love have always been intertwined for me.

So is a romantic story a pornographic novel with a very strong emphasis on plot and minimal emphasis on the physical description of sex?

I'm also interested in your idea that Porn is degrading. I'm not taking issue with you, rather I want to know why you think it is. Is it degrading in itself or is it degrading in its consequences?

Also I think your missing a large part of what I'm trying to get across. In that romantic fiction tends to encourage emotional infidelity and that our society doesn't seem to think that this is significant.

@Madbiker.

Thanks.

Decarnalised means, that as a culture, we have separated love from physical sex. There an association with sex and some form of "dirtiness", and love with some form of elevated nature. The emotional feelings of love are meant to be more purer and more noble than the "base" desire for sex. There is a quite a significant body of opinion that looks negatively on having a pleasant shag with your wife unless it is approached with certain "noble" mental preconditions. Horny men and women aren't considered romantic.

Therefore romantic love is love stripped of sex, it has been decarnalised (carnal: of the flesh)
There was a strong ascetic tradition in Christianity that always viewed the body as bad and it had a strong influence on the development of the romantic idea of love.

MNL and Thursday.
I'll reply later.

Simon Grey said...

"Why is overt fantasy sexuality viewed as an obvious evil whilst real intimate(non-sexual) friendship with another member of the opposite sex whilst married, not?"

Well, for starters, we're rationalizing creatures and it's a whole lot harder to justify the former as right. Furthermore, the latter is more easily justified because it exists primarily in fantasy (i.e. while

Incidentally, the difference between romance novels and straight-up porn is this: The former can (presumably) be enjoyed for non-sexual reasons while the latter cannot. I've read Pride and Prejudice, which is considered by some to be a romance novel, and I found it to be quite funny as Austen has a particularly biting brand of satire. It is also morally instructive, in some ways.

Anonymous said...

"Why is overt fantasy sexuality viewed as an obvious evil whilst real intimate(non-sexual) friendship with another member of the opposite sex whilst married, not?"

In the past it was, I remember my Aunt used to refuse males into her house when there were no other men (husband or male relative) in the house.

I never once saw her associate with individual men outside social setting.

The Social Pathologist said...

Incidentally, the difference between romance novels and straight-up porn is this: The former can (presumably) be enjoyed for non-sexual reasons while the latter cannot.

I don't know Simon. I understand what porn is used for, most of it leaves me cold. But some of the high quality stuff, such as the the work by Helmut Newton (which is really more erotic than common porn. Where's the dividing line?) has a strong aesthetic component which can be appreciated on its own merits.

Thursday and MNL.

Is Jane Austen emotional pornography with her rich alpha suitors?

I was thinking along similar lines when I put up the post.

My "back of envelope" moral calculus would look at the situation thus.

Firstly there is the intent of the artist of the work in question. What was the intention of their work? Good literature aims to tell a story, not elicit immoral passions. Porn considered as an "artwork" is deliberately designed to elicit sexual passions. I don't think that Jane Austen aimed to get people hot and horny.

On the other hand there is the response by the intended audience of the artwork. If the reader/viewer draws an erotic inference from the work which was unintended by the author, then the work really isn't porn but its "pornographic nature" resides in the imagination of the reader/viewer.
A very good example of this was in a Simpsons episode, where Marge manages to get Michelangelo's David displayed in Springfield, much to the chagrin of the town's moral majority, who accuse Marge of being "soft" on full frontal nudity. Here the sexuality was more a product of the fevered minds of Springfield rather than any deliberate attempt by Michelangelo. Some stuff really isn't suitable for the plebs.

MadBiker said...

SP, thanks for the reply.

I understand that society has removed sex from love, but was not really aware of any movement in the Christian sector to remove sex from romantic love. I know that in some traditional societies, love has little to do with it - it will develop in time if the parties involved are compatible in terms of intelligence, ability, and commitment not only to each other but to overall social beliefs and customs.

Modern, secular society has removed love from sex. What drives that? Porn, certainly not; I think placing personal gratification as mostly or permanently superior to the service of the community is the issue. This is dangerous, because it treads mightily on the argument that communism is wrong (it is, on a large scale. I believe we can only be beholden to a community until it reaches a certain size; communism on the level of the family/town, OK - on the level of a nation of millions or billions, not doable). But if our sexuality and the expression thereof, is only supposed to be proper in the realm of marriage, then we cannot have the kind of equality that is proposed by feminism or other -isms that promise having and enjoying spoils.

Men and women approach sex differently. We cannot comprehend how differently because we lack the requisite anatomical and hormonal make-up to understand. Too many steps down the porn or romance road can lead men and women to have unrealistic expectations of partners. What role do peer groups/elders/family play in monitoring or mitigating the potentially negative effects of such indulgences? I think of girls who must be disabused, however gently, of the Princess-fantasy they acquire from fairy tales. What is the male counterpart to disabusing young men of the fantasy of porn actresses? I really don't know because I am not male and do not have sons.

CL said...

Women's sexuality is more complex, thus the need for a bit more plot (emphasis on a bit). It's still escapism and romance novels, with their invariable themes of dominance and submission, are about a woman's natural desire to be claimed and owned. There is an emotional component and it incites strong sexual feelings in a woman, as women generally require more emotional connection for satisfying sex than men do. (Note: I said generally and more, for those who would argue "men need emotional connection too!")

I read some Mills & Boon crap when I was 13 and I still remember the intense feelings that it generated in me. (And check out the title, "Claimed by the Desert Sheikh" if you don't believe me. Now there's even Arab rape porn! Hooray!) To say it's not comparable to visual porn is asinine; it's the same thing in a different form. Didn't all this stuff used to be referred to as "bodice rippers"? That should clue anyone in who isn't sure of the content of these books.

As SP has already touched on, comparing Jane Austen to porn is also ludicrous - apples and oranges. Would you compare Michaelangelo to Harlequin? Would you defend visual pornography by comparing it to great works of art that feature nudity or sexual/erotic themes? Because that's essentially what anyone is doing who brings up those kinds of novels to basically defend female porn and vilify male porn.

And yes, there are objective standards here because if there weren't, one could also say that a woman spending a bunch of days naked and sleeping with pigs in an art gallery is just as valid an artistic expression as Degas' Little Dancer. There are yardsticks one can use here too, such as how much skill it takes to produce, the intent of the author/ artist/ filmographer/ etc., and the simple question, "is it beautiful?" None of these are infallible of course, but as general rules of thumb for separating the wheat from the chaff, they work quite well.

It would be nice if people stopped bringing up great literature in the same breath as vulgar pulp fiction in this way. To be clear, this isn't a value judgement on taste, but if we can't tell the difference between high art and common things, our discernment is severely lacking. I remember that Simpsons episode, SP - funny stuff and a perfect example of how the masses can't tell the difference between the beautiful and the pornographic.

Can't we just admit that women are as culpable as men here?

Thursday said...

A few more thoughts:

1. It is more difficult than you might think to be pornographic and genuinely artistic at the same time.

2. However, there are some artists who are combine the two. Helmut Newton is one. Courbet might be another.

3. However, it would be comparatively easy to make a clear cut standard which catches male oriented visual pornography. Can you see her bare breasts/crotch/buttocks or are they showing a sex act? Then you can ban it.

4. The problem with emotional porn is the emotional high and unrealistic expectations that women get from it, not necessarily that it makes them horny, though it may do that too. I doubt Jane Austen wanted her readers to imagine themselves getting rogered by Mr. Darcy good and hard, but was she giving them an unrealistic fantasy figure that would get in the way of their relationships with real men? And what about such bad boys as Heathcliff or even Rochester in the Bronte's work?

Thursday said...

For those who think high art can't sometimes be a little porny, see here and here. NSFW.

CL said...

Can you see her bare breasts/crotch/buttocks or are they showing a sex act? Then you can ban it.

Are you seriously suggesting banning all nudity? That would be pretty repressive and only cause more problems. Surely in a civilised culture people can decide for themselves what to expose themselves to and what to avoid.

Of course there will always be arguments over what is and what isn't pornographic, but blanket banning on anything that might be interpreted that way is too heavy-handed. I don't want some government telling me what I can and can't look at or create. This is how we end up with parents being arrested for taking pictures of the kids in the bath.

7man said...

@Thursday
However, it would be comparatively easy to make a clear cut standard which catches male oriented visual pornography. Can you see her bare breasts/crotch/buttocks or are they showing a sex act? Then you can ban it.

That is a false standard. Nudity is not synonymous with pornographic. A natural nude image is not pornographic (when not intended to arouse), but an image of a woman with those parts covered in a seductive pose and a look of intent is pornographic.

The eyes will roam over a wholesome nude but will fixate on the body parts that are covered when a woman is wearing a bikini. It is important to understand how people see, not just what they see.

Thursday said...

1. Nudity does arouse. I think it is naive to think it doesn't. I also think it naive to think that artists don't know what the effect of their art will be.

"I paint with my prick." - Jean Renoir

2. Sure, we'd lose some genuine art by banning nudity, but that may be a price worth paying. Anyway, it need not be a complete ban. Time and place and all that.

3. Incidently, there was quite the controversy from the late 18th through the 19th century over whether novels tended to corrupt young women's morals.

Thursday said...

Some interesting thoughts from Robin Hanson:

For example, since most folks are uncomfortable with explicit sexual conversation in public, obscenity laws limit such public conversation. But when artists create high quality and hence high status art with explicit sexual discussion, people are reluctant to let obscenity laws apply to it. So they’ll either have to make an exception in obscenity law for high status art, which will lead to many disputes since art evaluation can be subjective, or they’ll have to just allow a lot more public obscenity.

http://www.overcomingbias.com/2011/02/art-is-power.html

Artistic beauty is a good, but does it trump all other goods? I'm a lot more comfortable with the censorship of sexually explicit work, including nudity, than I am with, for example, blasphemy laws, where just about anything critical of a religion in any aspect can be deemed a threat or an offense to it as a whole.

Thursday said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
CL said...

I'm a lot more comfortable with the censorship of sexually explicit work, including nudity, than I am with, for example, blasphemy laws, where just about anything critical of a religion in any aspect can be deemed a threat or an offense to it as a whole.

It's not an either/or proposition. This is a non sequitur. The problem is already the banning of all nudity in public places (and branding it obscene) - the repression of what is natural finds its expression elsewhere in some illicit and twisted way, hence the popularity of pornography. People weren't always this uptight about public nudity (before air conditioning). This puritan streak in American culture is truly baffling.

Natural nudity is only arousing if it is repressed and thus illicit. Making normal natural nudity tabboo is what causes the problem. This is why many people get their knickers in a twist over breast feeding in public. Once people get used to seeing the human body in this more natural and normal way, nudity is not arousing in and of itself.

A few years back in Ontario it was made law that women could go topless, which they do at the beach. This has not resulted in mass hysteria or increased sexual assault or anything other than women enjoying a hot day on the beach topless. There is nothing obscene about this, nor is it sinful.

This rampant conflation of social values/customs with morality/sin is the problem here. Laws cannot be made based on squishy projection but must be based on principles.

Thursday said...

Natural nudity is only arousing if it is repressed and thus illicit.

False.

CL said...

False.

Shallow, illogical reasoning.

MNL said...

One big damaging difference between male porn and female (emotional) porn is that female pornography is usually portrayed (and interpreted) as being much more realistic. Female porn/fantasy contains the illusion that the fantasy is actually obtainable. Therefore, female porn sets much more rigid relationship expectations and is ultimately more detrimental. (This is, in fact, what makes it "pornographic"). As SP quoted in the original post, male porn is typically just an aid to masturbation. Few porn-watching men, for example, actually believe they're going to be invited into their female boss's office at 5 o'clock for a spontaneous sexual threesome. That's easily recognized as not realistic. By contrast, female porn themes and fantasies have so permeated popular culture that they're viewed as entirely obtainable and--even worse--expected in of a long-term relationship. Consider the following common female emotional porn themes--all from popular movies I recall off the top of my head. In each of the below movie examples, the female porn theme is presented as entirely realistic and obtainable. Perhaps that's another reason it flies under the radar:

1. First, there's the common theme that good relationships all contain a deep emotional connection impervious to time or distance. It's the idea that the beta-provider will always be around; he will never get tired of supporting or pining for the heroine. See Sleepless in Seattle and August Rush as examples.

2. There's the theme that says the discovery of true romance is only an exotic vacation away and will then endure the subsequent environment and culture change when the heroine moves back home. This is seen in How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Eat, Pray, Love. All our heroine needs to do is break her present pattern and surroundings and deep emotional and sexual satisfaction lies waiting.

3. Another theme that's extremely damaging (and pornographic) is the idea that female aging has no effect on a woman's sexual attractiveness. For a real nauseous example of this female wet dream, go rent It's Complicated if you dare. In this one, Meryl Streep's 50-year old wrinkled, slightly overweight character forever remains sexually attractive to her ex-husband--who himself tires of his own (current) wife's need for sexual frequency. Hilarious in a red pill sort of way. Note too Steve Martin's character as the perpetual orbiter and John Krasinski (from The Office) as an AFC beta son-in-law.

4. And who can ignore the themes of dominance, submission, and control as found in the Twilight series. One can also find in here the female pornographic theme of endless sexual choice. This later theme communicates the idea that the heroine never need settle on just one permanent suitor (Edward vs. whats-his-name-werewolf-guy). There will always another suitor just around the corner willing to fight and risk his life for the heroine. ...Or, if she waits just a little bit longer to publicly commit, a yet better beta will arrive.

5. Also notice in each of the above fantasies there are no yucky, dirty financial or real-world constraints to stand in the way of finding true romantic love. The emo-porn/love story is never interrupted by a declined credit card or the need to get a job. In fact, we rarely ever get to see how the heroine's adventures or the hero's lifestyle are actually financed or enabled.

MNL said...

Cont.

6. Funny thing too: a lot of female pornographic stories include a sidekick or foil (usually a parent, friend, though sometimes even a child) of the heroine's who attempts to interject a dose of reality or pessimism into the quest. (Bella's father in Twighlight, is an example) This serves to absorb--and then promptly annihilate--any viewer skepticism and helps communicate that the porn theme really is obtainable. The pattern goes like this: during the first third of the story, this friend or parent gets in the way or feebly interjects reasons why the above theme cannot or shouldn't be accomplished. But by the end of the movie, the sidekick or foil is miraculously and unequivocally proven wrong. The porn theme defies the odds and pessimism to ultimately prevail.

There's very little male pornography that comes anywhere close to this sort of elaborate and realistic theme portrayal. While male porn might set-up some false fantasies of bedroom behavior, it just doesn't permeate one's entire relationship expectations as does female pornography.

MadBiker said...

@MNL, what you've just described is 20th century romanticism (as displayed on film or in novels). Escape is the intended response the writer(s) seek to evoke. The foil (as in "foiled again!") serves his/her purpose perfectly by being proven wrong. It's a formula, and one that has been unbroken for centuries. The form changes, but the substance remains.

You and Thursday question whether or not Austen was merely pandering to baser sexual instincts; I don't think she was. She was concerned with preserving what she saw as the right and proper social order; not just in a woman's marriage to the alpha male, but in the customs of keeping hearth and home. Garish modern architecture and modern views of female independence equally disgusted her. So I'm not sure she was writing "pornography," or that her writing could be considered in the same vein as Harlequin harlots.

Modern "romances" are all about gratification of the self, rather than recognizing the civilizing influences of proper assortative mating and the submission of the wife to her husband. I'm writing a series of posts about Austen and "Game" and in a few days my first post will be up. Austen had male/female interactions pegged, and coupled with her traditionalist views, it can be argued that she was a champion of the kind of social order that fights romance-porn. Witness Emma, who indulges her romantic visions of interclass marriage, only to see the world fall apart around her machinations. The fantasy and the reality meet with negative results, in all of her novels. Porn, visual or literary, seeks to exult fantasy at the expense of reality. Austen tries to bring expectations in line with reality. This is why she allows her unlikeable characters to achieve a measure of happiness in accord with her heroes.

The Social Pathologist said...

@Madbiker

Christianity has always had its ascetic elements which have denigrated the nature of the body and elevated the spirit. The problem with this view is that it cleaves our beings into body and sprit instead of recognising it as a unity. St Francis, for example, apologised to his body for treating it so badly, with a lifetime of harsh ascetic practices.

Both the Purtian elements in Protestantism and the Jansenist movements in Catholicism, had very strong ascetic views which influenced their respective religions. These are the movmements which elevate the spirit and flesh.

With the societal rejection of God, there has now been a swing within the previous dichotomy toward the "flesh", so that love is now heavily viewed as a sexual thing. That's why any traditionalist reversion will simply mean a return to toward the other pole of the dichotomy and not help us at all. What needs to be asserted again is that the flesh and spirit are one and that both have "rights". It can't all be about romance, rather the sexual (as in erotic sexual, not just baby making)is legitimate.

I think of girls who must be disabused, however gently, of the Princess-fantasy they acquire from fairy tales.

I think fantasy is a bit like alcohol. A little bit is OK but too much does influence the thinking. Fairy stories do encourage a least a degree of chivalrous behaviour, which in itself is not a bad thing.

You and Thursday question whether or not Austen was merely pandering to baser sexual instincts; I don't think she was

Neither do I. However any semi-realistic romantic novel is going to have to incorporate an alpha male since this what women are wired to respond to. Austen, however, seems to provide all these checks and balances, seeing "alpha love" in the totally of human existence. She realises that women get the "tingles", but also realises that the "tingles" are not the sole criteria of responsible mate choice.

MNL said...

MadBiker, I look forward to your post.

As to claiming that Jane Austen was pandering to base sexual instincts, I didn't intend to infer that per se. Though I don't recall enough of my High School English class to comment specifics, I also don't recall her plucking to the same degree all the hormonal heartstrings that get massaged in the movie examples I mentioned.

That said, I also can't articulate a universal, unassailable definition that separates Reuben's nudes and Jane Austen, for example, as pure art and that classifies a woman's artfully photographed "yucky anatomical bits" or a modern romantic comedy as pure fantasy porn. All I can do is invoke the old adage, "I'll recognize it when I see it". ...And in the case of many modern romantic dramas and comedies, I definitely see strong emotionally pornographic themes--i.e., that set unrealistic expectations and generate relationship dissatisfaction.

In the end though, that's all the definition one needs. Porn vs. art can ultimately be best recognized by what it does to ourselves and our own relationship expectations. If graphic images of the naked female form leave me with a desire to sexually act out in damaging ways, then that's porn. Likewise, if a romantic comedy leads one spouse into a fight starting with a why-dont-you-deeply-connect-with-me-like-Edward-does-with-Bella-type comment, then that's emotionally pornographic. In both cases, the media has created unrealistic relationship expectations. Both varieties ultimately foster unhappiness.

And it seems to me that society's been awfully slow to recognize this second flavor of female/emotional porn--which, in part, makes it more damaging, IMO, than male/physical porn today.

The Social Pathologist said...

@CL, 7man.

I probably side more with Thursday on the "nudity" debate. I don't have a problem with nudity. I see naked people all the time and perform intimate examinations of them without getting "turned on". Still, some of my colleagues have "crossed the line" and gotten into trouble. The thing is, what people find erotic or pornographic is not just based upon the nature of the work, but upon the "erotic sensitivity" of the individual. There are some people who see smut in the slightest thing. So what is art for one man is porn for another. Therefore any regulation on displays of nudity shouldn't really be based on how people should behave but on how people do behave. Therefore some sort of pragmatic "balance" between legitimate an illegitimate uses of the "art" needs to be put in place.

For example, nudity in an art gallery may be OK whilst nudity in the printed press, not. It's not a clear line, it's a pragmatic approach; balancing the good vs evil of any thing.

In a democratic society, government is a reflection of prevailing culture. Regulation is not so much as problem as knowing what to regulate, and it appears that our society because of its cultural traditions, has a very hard time knowing where to draw the line.

The Social Pathologist said...

MNL

I think they're very perceptive observations.

I think the whole thrust (to pardon the expression) the modern romantic novel is to get the reader to identify with the heroine. So that the reader can live vicariously through the heroine's adventures.

To do this, they try to paint a picture of the heroine that nearly matches the intended audience. Fat and frumpy heroines are intended for fat and frumpy readers.

The "foil" plays a vital role. It, of course, plays the role of conscience or reason and it's defeat being a victory for the rationalisation hamster. So when a woman is put into a real life situation when she is tempted, she has been conditioned to defeat the "foil" by the arguments and outcomes she has experienced in previous novels. It's a form of subliminal programming.

There's very little male pornography that comes anywhere close to this sort of elaborate and realistic theme portrayal. While male porn might set-up some false fantasies of bedroom behavior, it just doesn't permeate one's entire relationship expectations as does female pornography.

So, so very true.

Traditional society tends to view sexual fantasy far more harshly than emotional infidelity by a spouse. The ascetics, by being acutely critical of the flesh, view its pleasures as far more sinful than the corruption of the soul. Thus infidelities not involving the flesh escape their attention.

Thursday said...

The fantasy and the reality meet with negative results, in all of her novels.

There is quite a bit that is deflationary in her novels.

She realises that women get the "tingles", but also realises that the "tingles" are not the sole criteria of responsible mate choice.

Very true. Her books are much more balanced. And, as you have said before, there is nothing wrong with women's desire for an alpha male per se.

Now, anyone care to comment on the Bronte's?

For example, nudity in an art gallery may be OK whilst nudity in the printed press, not. It's not a clear line, it's a pragmatic approach; balancing the good vs evil of any thing.

I'd agree with this.

The other place where nudity might not be appropriate is in movies.

7man said...

@Social Pathologist,

Of course a pragmatic balance to nudity is important. However, there are too many people that view nudity as always leading arousal and going to lust and this is because normal nudity has been so repressed in the modern world. It has not always been so historically. When it was more common and in everyday context, it likely did not cause as many of the problems you allude to. That is the point: strict repression leads to obsession and a wrongful expression and exploitation of sexuality.

So rather than to continue down this path, it is better that there be some allowable normal nudity so people have the opportunity to learn to see rightly rather than to never see nudity, which leads to people seeing wrongly when they eventually see nudity anyway.

Since you do not have a problem with nudity, it is possible that others when more exposed to nudity in context would also not have such a problem with it. Currently, the boundaries are imposed in the wrong place and are too rigid, and by this line of argument of attempting to protect people from themselves, we should also ban alcohol, since that causes significantly more societal problems than natural nudity. That is the point. Strict repression leads to obsession and a wrongful expression and exploitation of sexuality.

Modern people are more promiscuous, marriages are impermanent and there are so many children growing up in broken families. It seems that the modern view of sexuality and love is warped. The cause is a misguided view of sex and the perception of nudity just one aspect.

The Social Pathologist said...

@7man

Since you do not have a problem with nudity, it is possible that others when more exposed to nudity in context would also not have such a problem with it.

Yeah, there are heaps of people who don't have a problem with nudity, but there's also heaps that do; people who get aroused very easily and not so because of how they have been condition but rather through biology. Any regulation of it has to take both groups into account.

I also think that hypersexuality is encouraged by excessive modesty, but its one thing to ban nudity on the grounds that the feelings generated by glimpsing a nude are dirty and somehow perverted, and other by arguing the feelings are good but inappropriate for the circumstance. This latter approach is what I would call the "continental" approach to modesty.

It's the view, that our sexual appetites are somehow perverted, if somehow they are excited outsides the normal bounds of Christian marriage (and sometimes even within), that does the most damage and what perverts people, not reasonable modesty per se. The role of modesty should be to channel horniness within the bounds of marriage not try and pathologise it and see it as some sort of disease.

mnl said...

SP, in further regard to the point...

...we've so stripped our feelings from our sexual natures, through ascetic decaranalisation, that we believe that intimate friendships in with the opposite sex are completely possible without a sexual element eventually making its way into the picture.

You'll enjoy the following video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=T_lh5fR4DMA

Granted, the interviews were no doubt edited and juxtaposed to make the filmmaker's point. But the fact that the gender difference here is so recognizable and amusing reveals a truth: there's definitely a gender component to the separation.

Kathy Farrelly said...

"@Kathy
Sex and love have always been intertwined for me.

So is a romantic story a pornographic novel with a very strong emphasis on plot and minimal emphasis on the physical description of sex?"

Well considering I read predominantly sci fi stuff SP.... No romance novels.. Yes, the Bronte's and Jane Austen but those were never an occasion for sinful thoughts..I don't think a romantic novel is pornographic unless the woman gets turned on and masturbates. The biggest problem is as I said previously unrealist expectations about men.. And that can be a problem.. Not a sin.. (My sister read that rubbish and yes she did indeed entertain for a short time, unrealistic notions about men.. Ya know waiting for THE ONE to come and sweep her off her feet.. )

And I was talking about real life relationships when I said sex and love were intertwined.. Perhaps it would be a damn good job if we all refrained from delving into the fantasy and unrealistic notions obtained from trashy romantic novels and porn..

"I'm also interested in your idea that Porn is degrading. I'm not taking issue with you, rather I want to know why you think it is. Is it degrading in itself or is it degrading in its consequences?"

Both I think..

Watching a woman "taking it up the arse " for example (sorry for being explicit, but unlike the Mills and Boon fluff there is no REAL nice way of putting this kind of unnatural sex act) often whets the appetite for a real life experience of the same.

To say the Mills and Boon fluff is comparable to visual porn is asinine; It's not.

And when I said that I have never read one of those books, it's true. I flicked through a couple of my sister's books years ago and that only reinforced my opinion that they were indeed trash.. Nothing in what I read resulted in even a slight tingle to the nether regions.. ;)

"Also I think your missing a large part of what I'm trying to get across. In that romantic fiction tends to encourage emotional infidelity and that our society doesn't seem to think that this is significant."

Perhaps..

Define emotional infidelity..

Is a heady crush therefore as bad as a physical infidelity..?


Women dream and swoon and men jerk off..

Now women viewing porn(and many do) is what you should be comparing male porn to..

MadBiker said...

SP and MNL, thank you for the feedback. Re-readinig Emma is going slowly right now, as my whole house is sick! Just in time for Christmas.

As for the Brontes, I've only read Jane Eyre and that was many years ago. Jane is educated, moral, rejects hypocrisy and also Rochester for what she sees as his immorality in keeping his insane wife locked in the attic. She loves him but won't give in, not until his past is wiped away. When Thornfield burns, it's symbolic Rochester's cleansing by fire. He is then free to marry Jane. In this instance, we see not only marriage but female virtue as salvation for the animal nature of men. She loves him and desires him, but won't give in.

Not too bad a heroine, but I can see how it leaves a reader to think that "SHE!" can be the special one to reign in the alpha cad and reform him. Austen's heroines do not do this; they are instead raised up from being girls and learn to be women for their men. Jane Eyre tames Rochester, an inversion of Austen's formula and an indicator that Bronte wrestled with the role of women in relationships and society.

There is a lot of wrestling with femininity and a woman's place in society but I can't speak to that without a careful re-reading.

The Social Pathologist said...

Watching a woman "taking it up the arse " for example (sorry for being explicit, but unlike the Mills and Boon fluff there is no REAL nice way of putting this kind of unnatural sex act) often whets the appetite for a real life experience of the same.

You see, I agree that doesn't only excite but it also suggest, but isn't that what romantic fiction suggests as well?

I'm not trying to defend porn, what I'm trying to show is that the "harmless" romantic novel maybe isn't.

MNL's comment demonstrated this quite well. A steady diet of this stuff does "condition" a woman's brain into thinking that happiness is but a romance away.

The other thing that I find interesting is that we're quite happy to condemn fantasy adultery when it involves sexual images but not when it doesn't. A woman seeking some escape from a dreary marriage is not criticised for reading a romantic novel but a man watching porn is.

Fantasy adultery is fantasy adultery. It's a funny double standard.

Thursday said...

The Brontes were obsessed with uber-bad boy Lord Byron. Charlotte tried to combine this with a moralistic Christianity, while Emily went the whole hog for bad boy loving, in art if not in life. I do think this makes for some dangerous tendencies in both, but you are right that Charlotte is the better of the two.

Both of them are, of course, superb artists.

GK Chesterton said...

I don't think the Bronte's and Austen can be confused at all if one has read both. Austen was a conservative at heart that has been adopted by the feminists simply because she is a woman in a period with few women writers of merit (oddly...just like now). She is otherwise poison to their philosophy.

As a point of reference consider "Pride and Prejudice" where the sister out for romance becomes a tart and loses everything and lives the rest of her life fairly unhappily while the two smarter sisters who are eventually submerge the pride of the title marry well and live happily.

There is a definite alpha and beta male in the story and both are shown to be good. Both sisters also eventually _submit_ to their husbands. If I remember right Darcy never apologizes for his behavior either.

GK Chesterton said...

Horrible run on. I was typing faster than thinking:
As a point of reference consider "Pride and Prejudice" where the sister out for romance becomes a tart and loses everything and lives the rest of her life fairly unhappily. The two smarter sisters marry well and live happily because they are able to submerge their pride.

Thursday said...

GK:

I'd agree. Austen doesn't see anything wrong with liking alpha males per se. It entirely matters what kind of alpha male. She does not glorify bad boys.

spandrell said...

I saw "Love in the afternoon", the Audrey Hepburn movie by Billy Wilder.

Blew me away. Its like Roissy wrote the script. Holy crap.
And that was 1956!!
We've been fucked up since way longer than we think.

French aristocrats used to fuck around since at least the 1750s.

Isaiah said...

GK: I'd agree. Austen doesn't see anything wrong with liking alpha males per se. It entirely matters what kind of alpha male. She does not glorify bad boys.

Calvin Brock said...

Scottish Highlands, rogue warrior/highwayman meets virtuous parentless penniless girl. I've not read any romances set in modern times, so I can't relate to what Grerp has noticed about the changing situations of the characters. Buy watches

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