Some fifty million pieces of obscene advertising annually mailed mainly to our teenagers, and a five hundred million dollar a year pornographic business in this country certainly contribute a tangible share to the growth of juvenile delinquency, to the too early and too erratic sexual life of the “wild” portion of our youth, and to the cult of cynicism, vandalism, and sterile rebellion of our Beatniks.
If the total production of the lewd poison were limited to this prurient stuff, and if it were the main factor of these defects of our young generation, it would be easy to eliminate this obscene poison from our nation, as well as its disastrous effects from the life of our youth. A rigorous prosecution of all manufacturers and peddlers of this smut, assisted by the aroused public opinion and by an active cooperation of the family, religious, civic, and educational agencies, would have been sufficient to cut out this cancerous growth from our culture and social life.
Unfortunately, the real situation is very different from this hypothetical picture. This situation is such that a complete elimination of the prurient stuff can, at best, only slightly decrease the mentioned defects of our youth, but it cannot either radically cure these diseases or stop an increase of the rates of juvenile delinquency, of erratic-premarital and extra-marital-sexual experiences, and of other mental, social and moral disorders in the behavior of teenagers and adults.
An Infectious Culture
The main reason for this diagnosis is that the viruses of obsessive sexuality, violence, and crime are by no means confined within the explicitly pornographic garbage. They infest and infect not only the young but the adult generation of our population. In a disguised form they are virulent in all compartments of our culture, system of values, and social life. They are in the supposedly decent literature and fine arts, in our free press, movies, radio, and television, in our alluring advertising, prosperous economy, and power policies, and even in our modern science, “rational” philosophy, and “Freudianized” religion. Hidden in the “normal”—cultural and social—milieu in which we live, these viruses reach practically everyone of us, are incessantly and unsuspectedly absorbed by us, and continuously affect us. And they do these things much more effectively than the openly prurient stuff consumed only sporadically and by a limited part of our population. For this reason these hidden viruses are more dangerous for our well-being than the visible viruses of the undisguised pornography. For the same reason, a relentless prosecution of the smut dealers and consumers, even a merciless destruction of the total obscene garbage, is not enough to eliminate the pathological processes discussed. This result can be achieved only if this operation is supplemented by a thorough disinfection of our cultural, social, and personal life from the bulk of the hidden viruses of demoralization, stultification, and falsification of the real and perennial values in favor of the evanescent sham values.
The virulence of the hidden viruses is greatly helped, first of all by the exceedingly tenuous boundary line between the obscene and the decent realities, or the demoralizing and the morally ennobling values in our culture and life. The boundary line is so uncertain that even our courts have often passed contradictory decisions in regard to the obscenity or unobscenity of the same literary or artistic work (for instance, in regard to several magazines like “Sunshine and Health” and “Sun Magazine,” or in regard to works like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Garden of Eden, Lolita, and others). Similar contradictory verdicts have been passed by the special judicial, governmental, and parliamentary committees of other countries. This uncertainty of what is obscene and what is not permits the hidden viruses to circulate freely in our national and personal life in the role of healthy cultural vitamins. Believed to be such, they are avidly swallowed by millions of unsuspecting people anxious to improve their vital, mental, and moral forces. As a result, instead of improvement, the absorbed viruses progressively poison the integrity of millions of young and adult consumers.
Virus In Literary Veneer
The attraction and effectiveness of these viruses are greatly enhanced by the fact that they are often served with all the refined trimmings of polished literary style, artistic skill, or excellent technical rendering. Whether served on a plate of skillful literary or artistic work, or in the form of a sensational scientific, philosophical, or ethical theory, or within the covers of the widely-read magazines and papers, these viruses easily pass for the real (cultural and social) values, for “fabulous,” “magic,” and “most modern” creative achievements. Absorbed as such by millions, they indefatigably “bore within” and successfully undermine the vital, moral, and mental well-being of their addicts.
In the prevalent atmosphere of our sensate culture and mores, many of such skillful and supposedly decent write-ups, pictures, music, plays often are more effective in arousing the illicit sex-impulses or in inciting a violation of legal and moral rules of conduct than the explicitly prurient smut. Nobody has proved as yet that the extensively circulating best sellers like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Garden of Eden, Lolita, Anatomy of Murder or Peyton Place are less erogenous and demoralizing than the smut published in Cabaret, Modern Man, Gent, Scamp, Adam, Gala, Follies, Paris Life, Dare, Monsieur, Frolic, After Hours, and similar publications found objectionable for sale, distribution, and display for youth by special government commissions and civic organizations of many states. Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover are certainly more artistic than Peyton Place or Forever Amber; and the eroticism of Esquire is more polished than the vulgar obscenity of the pornographic garbage. However, the finer artistic merits of Lolita or Esquire do not necessarily make them less sex alluring and demoralizing than the ugly smut. If anything, the skillful rendering of the illicit sex adventures in the high grade literary and artistic works makes their eroticism more infectious than the raw sexuality of vulgar pornography.
Cathartic Or Erogenic?
This does not mean that sexual topics, even illicit love, should be excluded from the fine arts, or science, or other fields of creative activity. Since Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey to Tolstoi’s Anna Karenina, and Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, this sort of topic has provided main themes for great literary and artistic works. And yet, these great classics have been able to treat them without arousing illicit sexual passions. If anything, their superbly masterful treatment of these problems regularly produces moral and mental catharsis in their readers, in the audiences of the great tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, and the like, in the listeners of great music expressing love in its multifarious forms and, in the onlookers of great paintings and sculptures dealing with the same topic. Exactly the difference between the cathartic and the erogenous effects upon the readers, listeners, viewers, and generally the absorbers marks the profound contrast between the immortal masterpieces dealing with heterosexual love in all creative fields and the just skillful erogenous best sellers infected by the destructive viruses and, in their turn, infecting their numerous consumers with bodily, moral, and mental diseases.
What has been said about the “decent”, polished, high-grade erogenous literature can be said of the bulk of today’s “decent cultural food” with which the public is fed by our press, radio, television, theater, movies, music, advertising, and other channels of communication and “education.” With few exceptions, the bulk of the mental, moral, and aesthetic food they supply represents a sort of “intellectual chewing gum” heavily infested with erogenous and criminalizing germs. Sex, murder, violence, and mental disease are their main topics. And despite an excellent technical rendering of these themes by the best-selling magazines, papers, music, records, plays, movies, and radio-television programs, their fine-looking, mental and moral “food” is often about as poisonous as the ugly concoctions of the openly pornographic stuff.
Their sex-appealing advertisements of bras, cosmetics, cigarettes, and what not; their seductive and curvacious females in extra-Bikini suits or no suits at all decorating the covers of most of our national magazines; the lascivious scenes of sex-exuding females and males incessantly presented by our movies, magazines, television, and papers; the juicy descriptions of sex scandals and “romances” of various stars in almost every copy of our newspapers; sensational plays alluringly displaying “the third sex” and other sex abnormalities; sex-exuding crooners, rock-rollers, and dancers ceaselessly glamorized by all these means of communication and “education;” moronishly monotonous sexy records of yelling, bleating, mewing, and noisemaking voiceless “singers” sold by the millions; superabundant numbers of articles on how to date, kiss, copulate, or to have orgasm published in our national magazines for men, women, youth, and for everyone; popular and immense production of allegedly “scientific” publications on sexual behavior of the American or the African male and female, of the savages and the civilized, of the homosexuals and the heterosexuals, of the partisans of the genital, the anal, the cutaneous, and other forms of sexuality; sensational success of the Freudian fantasmagorias about the Oedipus, the Narcissus, the Tetanous complexes, about “the envy of penis” in females and “the fear of castration” in males—these and millions of similar “productions” are the main mental, moral, cultural, and educational food served to all of us by our powerful and supposedly “decent” means of communication, recreation, information, and education. They are as effective in stimulation of the lusty sex adventures as the openly obscene smut. For any sexually obsessed person, there is no need to look for the “censored and prohibited” pornography. The hidden viruses of these “decent,” “respectable,” “free,” “cultural,” and “educational” instrumentalities can successfully serve the prurient interests of such persons; and they do serve indeed such quests for millions of their consumers in a much more polished way than the ugly and vulgar pornographic concoctions.
The hidden viruses of these instrumentalities are tangibly responsible not only for sex obsession and sex delinquency of our population but also for the other non-sexual forms of delinquency, demoralization, and stultification. Murder, sadistic assault and battery, and other forms of crime are the second main topic of our popular literature, press, radio, television, movies, and other means of entertainment and “education.” Beginning with the westerns and detective stories where people are killed, beaten, and mutilated by the dozens, and ending with the more sophisticated stories and pictures of human bestiality, these “productions” successfully educate the public into tolerating and accepting this sort of behavior as perfectly normal, as something that may happen with anyone and that should be taken without worry, regret, and remorse. By glamorizing the best killers and creating the heroic sagas of their murderous exploits, these productions liberally contribute to the depreciation of human life and dignity, and effectively induce and habituate especially children to this sort of conduct.
Besides these instrumentalities, the young generation is coercively conditioned and officially trained in the difficult art of mass murdering of innocent people, including children, women, and the old folks, and in a merciless destruction of anything and anybody that happens to be an obstacle to the realization of goals of private persons, groups, or the military and public policies of existing governments. Two world wars and innumerable small wars of this century, in which all parties carried on indiscriminate mass-killing of combatants and the noncombatants; expansion of drafted armed forces where youth is intensely trained, brainwashed, and conscience-washed for the business of effective murdering and remorseless destroying of whole cities and villages of “the enemy”; the pitiless wars of the gangs, of business concerns, and labor unions with their opponents; all forms of violence used by antagonistic groups (racial, political, and economic) in their incessant struggle with each other; feverish preparation for a next world war in which existing rulers unblushingly boast to wipe out millions of lives and turn the planet into “an abomination of desolation”—these and thousands of similar lessons of merciless killing, mutilating, and mistreating man by man, and of the wantonest destruction of anything, including the greatest values of mankind, for the realization of perfectly temporary, parochial, often worthless, purposes relentlessly and systematically aim to demoralize the young generation, and to eradicate from its moral conscience the eternal verities of right and wrong. They indefatigably teach the young generation the cynical rules that “might is right,” and that “everything is permitted, if you can get away with it.”
Being born, reared, and trained in this murderous atmosphere of our age, a considerable part of the young generation is unavoidably affected by it. It would be a miracle if in these conditions juvenile (and adult) delinquency were not increasing, and if all the teenagers were to remain sound and innocent, free from cynicism, wanton violence, senseless destructiveness, mental disorders, and other defects. The really surprising fact is a comparatively modest rate of increase of the discussed diseases.
If we really want to stop their further increase, we must fight not only their visible germs but also their invisible viruses. Otherwise, we cannot eliminate even the open pornography and its consequences: they will be incessantly generated by the hidden sources of infection.
A disinfection of our life and culture from the invisible viruses means not so much a prosecution and punishment so much as a basic revaluation of our main values and a strenuous realization of the disinfected values in our life and activities. In concrete terms this difficult process means a basic reconstruction of our culture, social institutions, and personal life.
Since the older generation is infected with these diseases as heavily as the young generation, adults must first cure themselves from their infections and stop giving bad examples to youth. Parents must do this in regard to their children. Leaders in various walks of life must perform this operation upon themselves and in regard to the led. All cultivators of the hidden viruses must cease this cultivation, and must thoroughly disinfect their “decent” productions from these viruses. If and when this basic operation is performed, the visible germs of obscenity will die by themselves. Otherwise, despite the severest crusade against these germs, they will be generated again and again by the hidden agencies of demoralization virulent now in all compartments of our “decent” culture and social life.
Pitirim A. Sorokin, Professor of Sociology at Harvard University since 1930, was born in Touria, Russia. He holds Soc.D. and Ph.D. degrees, and was formerly member of the faculties of the University of St. Petersburg (1910–22) and University of Minnesota (1924–30). President of the International Congress of Sociology (1937), his many books in this field include Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 volumes) and Forms and Techniques of Altruistic Spiritual Growth.
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