August 10, 2003

Where do we go from here?

Reality confuses me. I guess I am just not smart enough for the modern world. Right now I am watching an NHK special featuring colorized film footage from WWII. I'm not paying close enough attention to understand the narration, but the footage itself is dramatic in ways that defy description. I wish they would broadcast this kind of thing during the day instead of daylight television's endless cooking programs or hour after hour of middle-aged actors in failing careers wandering from train station to train station looking for unique restaurants and businesses.

On the other hand, there are no more late night sex shows. Once upon a time in Japan, after 11:00 at night half the local channels offered reviews of adult films, talk shows with half-naked women decorating the background, or even "interviews" with topless dancers, porn stars, and "soapland" girls proudly displaying their finest wares while they discussed the habits of their patrons. More often than not the shows were silly rather than sexy, but at least they were a change from endless shows recounting the virtues of ramen.

What confuses me is not that these shows once existed, but that they have vanished. I enjoyed the late night shows. Sometimes they were arousing, but mostly the silliness of it all made sex seem like a nice, harmless pastime for consenting adults. The lack of these shows, and their replacement with golf lessons, extra news broadcasts, and gossip programs, puts sex into the kind of "dirty little secret" closet that American media works so hard to keep it in.

At the same time, cable companies in Japan have introduced three different adult channels. One of these specializes in rape videos, extreme s/m videos, and bondage flicks that often end in gang rape. This is beginning to look like popularization of the worst forms of pornography. By saying "worst", of course, I'm offering a moral judgement that many people will disagree with. This also confuses me. Where is the entertainment value in watching a young woman be brutalized? Why do people find rape and extreme s/m an appealing fantasy? I can understand sexual fantasy, naturally. I have a few of my own favorite fantasies, and I have seen a number of erotic and pornographic movies that were entertaining, arousing, and featured consenting adults enjoying sex together. I am not opposed to pornography simply because it features people having sex. As a matter of fact, if you're not in the mood to watch it, pornography gets very boring very quickly. I do not, however, support the dehumanization of female performers simply because they're female.

So where do I draw the line? I personally draw it at anything which features one person humiliating another. Our modern world has mostly abandoned slavery and blood-bound class societies because these forms of social organization did more harm than good. Nonetheless, attitudes of elistism run through every aspect of our modern world. The simultaneous abandonment of soft pornography on late-night Japanese television with the popularization of a cable channel devoted to rape (not to mention the increasing frequency of date rape) tells me that elitism is rearing its ugly head once again. Sweeping sex under the carpet won't make it go away, it will only encourage the idea that sex is something dirty, and once that assumption has been made, then sex becomes another valid avenue for the dehumanization of one group of people by another.

Encouraging soft porn might raise eyebrows and cause some people to turn away in disgust, but if sex cannot be discussed freely and openly, then we pave the way for something far worse: self-righteous intolerance.

Oh, and one last note. I do not think opening our world to soft pornography automatically removes romance. Quite the contrary. A good erotic program will find ways to appeal to both men and women.