Commentary: A View From the Other Riverside Drive

We're guessing that every city that has a river also has a "Riverside Drive." New York City's is on the upper West Side, paralleling the Hudson River. Porn Valley's is just north of the 101 freeway, also paralleling it. But a person standing beside L.A.'s Riverside Drive can't see a person standing beside New York City's, and (we're guessing) vice-versa – and that seems to be where Ed Hynes runs into trouble: Myopia.

Ed writes a regular column titled "A View From Riverside Drive" for Morality In Media's website, and his latest offering begins with a little time travel: Specifically, to "the aftermath of a controversial conference on child protection held in Belfast in November 2005."

Admittedly, "aftermath" is a vague word, and writers with nothing substantive to say might easily construe it to mean 17 months after an incident, but still, it seems a bit of a stretch to be complaining at this late date about Jim Gamble, Chief Executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre in England and chairman of the Virtual Global Task Force (VGT), having invited Joan Irvine, the head of Adult Sites Advocating Child Protection, to their conference on protecting kids from online predators.

"She represents a group that purports to help the 'online adult industry' (read, websites that peddle addictive hardcore pornography) 'make a difference in the battle against child pornography'," writes Hynes.

Of course, porn isn't "addictive," though some people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder have fixated on porn as their obsession/compulsion of choice – but even if Hynes' charges had any merit, wouldn't it be equivalent to shooting one's self in the foot to fail to avail one's self of the services of an adult industry group dedicated to preventing kids from seeing this so-called "addictive hardcore" material, and from the proliferation of child porn on the Web in general? Perhaps Ed needs to be reminded of the fact that while aspirin doesn't cure diseases, it certainly helps people who have them survive.

But Ed has (if you'll pardon the expression) a hard-on for Gamble:

"If you think Mr. Gamble was saying there's nothing wrong with pornography in which the performers are adults, you're right," Hynes writes. "That, of course, is what the porn industry wants you to believe. It seems they would like to expunge the word 'pornography' from the language. So 'child pornography' becomes 'child abuse,' even though it's a given that child pornography is a specific kind of child abuse; and hardcore pornography that does not depict actual children becomes 'adult entertainment' involving 'consenting adults,' never mind the portrayals in it of rape, incest, bestiality, sadomasochism, sex with 'school girls,' excretory activities and so on."

Boy, amazing how you can cast aspersions on a term just by throwing a pair of quotes around it, isn't it? Actually, "hardcore porn" not involving minors IS "adult entertainment" – remember? That's why Gamble wanted Irvine at his conference: To help keep kids away from the "adult entertainment" – and it DOES involve "consenting adults" – if they weren't consenting, it'd be rape, and that's against the law – and if Ed has a problem with portrayals of sexual violence – not the real thing, you know; porn is, above all, fantasy – then we're guessing he doesn't see a lot of Hollywood movies either ... which may well be the case. But we notice that nobody's claiming the MPAA should be barred from mainstream movie conferences simply because it allows, say, Universal or Paramount to make a movie featuring Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis pretending to kill a lot of people. Also, the adult industry does like to refer to kid porn as "child sexual abuse" because that's exactly what it is – and guess what? The Supreme Court agrees because it said so in New York v. Ferber, the seminal child sexual abuse case. Later in his screed, Hynes himself even quotes Deputy Assistant Attorney General Laura H. Parsky saying that a "more accurate term" for child porn "would be 'images of child sexual abuse,' because the production of these images involves the sexual abuse of a child." The adult industry happens to agree with Parsky in that regard.

Ed also claims that, "Most law enforcement experts are aware that children are groomed for abuse by sexual predators through the use of adult pornography," but that's horseshit: Child predators don't like adult porn; it doesn't turn them on, so if they want to use porn to seduce kids, it's kid porn. Why? Because they can then claim, "See? Other kids are doing it. You should too!" Try using a little logic, Ed!

Hynes' final shot at Gamble is, "When Mr. Gamble says VGT has no interest in 'consenting legal adult entertainment' he seems not to know that the word 'legal' is out of place in that context. Much of the material he refers to is hardcore obscenity. It is not legal in the United States and other countries to distribute such material on the Internet and elsewhere. Thus, most of what he says VGT has no interest in is not legal. Furthermore, pornography that is not obscene for adults, and thus legal for adults, may be obscene for minors, and thus not legal for minors."

And to think, Hynes accuses Gamble of using doublespeak! First of all, all porn made by and with consenting adults is legal (in the U.S. and many other places) until a jury says it isn't – and they're delivering obscenity convictions less and less frequently these days. ("Community standards," y'know ...) Hynes can call that material anything he wants, but if he doesn't know that "obscenity" (which, of course, is always hardcore; t'ain't no other kind) is for a jury to decide – and no one else! – then he's even less educated than he appears to be. Hynes also appears to be ignorant of the fact that "pornography that is not obscene for adults" IS nonetheless prohibited to minors, even if it's not "obscene." That's in part why Joan Irvine's group exists: To prevent minors from seeing the stuff! Get with the program, Ed!

Reaching still further back in time, Hynes castigates the ACLU for opposing, in 1998, mandatory filters on public library computers – and once again demonstrates his inability to tell the difference between aficionados of adult porn and of child porn. He notes that nine years ago, Charles Rust-Tierney, then representing the Virginia chapter of the ACLU, argued in federal court that Loudon County's Internet filtering policy for its library computers violated the First Amendment ... and lo and behold, roughly nine years later, Rust-Tierney gets charged with possession of child sexual abuse videos! So of course – at least on Hynes' planet – anyone who advocates freedom for people – even children – to surf the Internet must secretly be a pedophile! Hynes also tries to turn ACLU's current position that filtering is preferably to the Child Online Protection Act's (COPA) attempted ban of all adult material on the Web into an example of the group's hypocrisy, when in fact, it's empowerment for parents to decide how much protection their kids need while, at the same time, not deep-sixing adults' right to look at sexual material on the 'Net.

But about halfway through his rant, Hynes' cluelessness comes into full flower:

"The pornographers of California's San Fernando Valley would like us all to think of them just as bright people who are in the 'adult entertainment business' to make a buck," Hynes writes.

But is that really the case? Of course not!

"They live and work in the affluence of suburban Los Angeles," Hynes continues, "which makes it possible — perhaps even easy, especially for them — to ignore their connection with the brothels and back alleys of the world, the places where women and children who have been abducted, duped and trafficked by criminal gangs are forced to work as prostitutes."

And just how is that connection made?

"But the fact is that the porn makers in sunny California produce and distribute an addictive product that drives addicts to ever-stronger, viler and more dangerous material - just as marijuana leads to crack cocaine. The porn/sex addicts drive the demand for paid sex with women and children."

"When a child in Cambodia services a sex tourist from Europe or North America, a so-called 'adult entertainment' company doesn't take a piece of the action, and would rather not even know about it. The Los Angeles-based sex business get [sic] paid up front, when that sex tourist is staring into his computer screen back home, feeding his ever-more-compulsive addiction to hardcore adult and child pornography."

"That makes the porn merchants part of the global sex-for-pay business."

Of course, if porn weren't addictive, requiring "ever-stronger, viler and more dangerous material" – which, of course, it isn't – "just as marijuana leads to crack cocaine" – which, of course, it doesn't – and if the vast majority of porn-watching adults weren't interested either in watching kid porn or in molesting children – which, of course, they aren't – then Hynes would be full of shit – which, of course, he is.

Finally, Hynes takes a look at a report from the American Psychological Association titled "Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls," which, interestingly enough, besides being available on the APA website, can also be found on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

The "task force" consisted of seven women, six of them doctors of either education or psychology, and only a couple of which, from the titles of some of their publications, appear to be anti-porn. In fact, the report itself, based on a cursory skim, doesn't mention porn at all, but rather discusses the myriad ways in which the culture, through the mass media, schools, parental guidance and community organizations, contributes to the sexualization – either positively or negatively – of adolescent girls. Trouble was, as the authors admit, there have been almost no studies of the effects of sexualization on girls under college age, so almost all the conclusions arrived at in the report are based on secondary sources.

That, of course, didn't trouble Ed ... nor did the word "may" in what he perceives to be a crucial "finding": "The sexualization of girls may not only reflect sexist attitudes, a societal tolerance of sexual violence, and the exploitation of girls and women, but may also contribute to these phenomena."

The report notes that "sexualization" doesn't simply mean the girl's realization of her own sexuality, but rather, as Ed notes, "Sexualization occurs ... when a person's value comes only from her or his sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; when a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness with being sexy; when a person is sexually objectified, e.g., made into a thing for another's sexual use, or when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person."

There's not much sense in our trying in this space to attempt to explain, let alone justify (which we wouldn't necessarily want to do anyway), the use of sexual imagery in popular culture to sell everything from cars to liquor to real estate, but we'd venture to say that at least since the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique in 1963, reasonably intelligent men have understood that there's more to women than tits and ass – a lot more. But with sex – or the promise thereof – still a highly motivating factor in so much of human life, we can certainly expect that the concept of using apparently-sexually-available women to sell stuff will continue into the foreseeable future.

And we're also not about to deny Hynes' reproduction of a section of the APA's report that, at least in some cases, "sexualization contributes to impaired cognitive performance in college-aged women, and related research suggests that viewing material that is sexually objectifying can contribute to body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, low self-esteem, depressive affect, and even physical health problems in high-school-aged girls and in young women."

We'll even lament that today's porn isn't necessarily made with, by or even for intelligent men and women – you know, the ones who understand that there's more to (most) human beings than simply their sexual organs.

But the attraction of sex, in its myriad forms, is still a very human attraction and motivation. People – most of them, anyway – like to have sex and like to watch it being had, so while we can hardly support sexualization (by the above definition) of anyone, we certainly can support people's ability to watch/read sexually explicit material – and since Hynes' article doesn't really comment on the APA report beyond reproducing some quotes, for all we know, maybe he does too!

But considering that he writes for Morality In Media, we're not gonna put any money on that.