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Sex and Violence

A quick follow up to some of yesterday’s themes. I know I promised cheerier stuff in my next post, but, well, I meant the next one… 😉

The other day, I was watching over my wife’s shoulder at a video on Facebook. It was a bunch of celebrities speaking up for gun control in the aftermath of the Florida shootings. Ho hum. These sorts of videos are ubiquitous in the aftermath of tragedy. In a culture gorging itself upon entertainment, to whom else would we turn for moral advice, advocacy, solace, confirmation of our confused ethics, etc. than our entertainers? And how else could we be expected to digest such morsels of support and confirmation and solace but via entertainment?

I paused and considered the depressingly comical insanity of our cultural moment.

  1. The two issues that seem to be dominating the news and our attention these days are gun violence and sexual abuse/exploitation/impropriety.
  2. And at the same time, many of us regularly feed on an entertainment industry that serves up to us a generous portion of both of these things.

Sex and Violence.

Sex and Violence.

Sex and Violence.

Many of the celebrities who are speaking up for the victims of sexual misconduct, or who are adding their voices to the demand for tougher gun legislation are the very same ones who have profited enormously from bringing these very things, in lurid and graphic and gruesome detail, to our screens and our headphones. And, in a final triumph of perverse irony, we seem to listen!

I’m obviously not by any means the first to notice or point out this irony that would be almost laughable, were its effects not so dire. And I’m not saying that celebrities are the only people whose voices we turn to as we attempt to come to terms with these two issues that dominate the landscape at present. But the fact that we do so at all, is telling. The people whose voices we listen to and admire and lean on in the wake of unrestrained and seemingly uncontrollable sex and violence are often the very same ones we have turned into millionaires for their ability to entertain us with…

Sex and violence.

We demand sex and violence, often in pretty shocking and degrading forms, from our cultural products and then we are horrified and outraged to see them show up in real life. And then we look to the industry that has obediently given us what we ordered and normalized all of this to articulate our outrage or to “speak up” for the victims. The absurdity and incoherence of it all sometimes borders on the breathtaking.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Donna Sharp #

    I have read many of your posts and usually agree with most of them. I do have a problem however with your statement “And then we look to the industry that has obediently given us what we ordered and normalized all of this to articulate our outrage or to “speak up” for the victims. The absurdity and incoherence of it all sometimes borders on the breathtaking.” Anyone can be a victim of sexual violence whether or not they are actresses or people in our Mennonite churches. Having been a victim of incest and sexual violence in my Mennonite church does give me the right to speak up! It also gives any victim of sexual violence the right to “speak up” as you put it–it does not matter what the movie industry produces!! No one deserves to be victimized by movie producers or anyone else. Instead of putting these people down maybe you need to look around and talk about what sexual violence does to someone including whoever it is happening to in your own church. It happens as often in churches as it does out in the public. Instead it is your responsibility as a pastor to stand up for and preach against this type of violence. To a person who has been abused sexually it can destory their soul. It is time we show compassion and understanding to those who have been abused instead of calling it absurd.
    D Sharp

    March 1, 2018
    • Hi Donna,

      First, I am very sorry to hear of your experience in the church. Sexual violence is deplorable in all of its forms and it must be condemned. That such a thing happened to you is unspeakably wrong and, as you say, profoundly destructive to human souls. Full stop. The wickedness of these actions seem so obvious to me as to almost go without saying. But I recognize that it still must be said. Particularly when such things happen within churches that claim to follow the teachings of Jesus. Christ have mercy.

      Second, I was not critiquing the right of victims of sexual violence—you or anyone else!—to speak against it. Far from it! Victims of violence should always be encouraged to speak up and we must listen when they do. What I was trying to do in the post was simply reflect on our broader cultural context, the media we consume (and what it feeds in us), and where we turn for moral authority. I was not calling victims of violence absurd. I was saying that feeding an industry that trades in sex and violence and then looking to those who profit from it to give a voice to our moral outrage is absurd.

      You are right, it is my responsibility as a pastor to preach against violence (sexual or otherwise). It is also, I think, my responsibility as a pastor and as a citizen to honestly look at the cultural conditions that we are collectively creating within which violence occurs and where is it, to my mind at least, often incoherently critiqued. I think we have a duty to ask hard questions about the cultural products that we demand and the role they play in legitimating the forms of violence that we decry. Sex and violence are the lifeblood of Hollywood. It’s at least worth asking the question: Why do we look to those who profit immensely from this system for moral guidance when the very things they portray (and we consume) show up in the broader culture in devastating ways. The films we watch and the music we listen to often contain shockingly violent images (that are frequently lionized) and shamefully misogynistic lyrics. This is to say nothing of the gaming and porn industries that primarily men pour untold billions of dollars into annually. It would be naive, I think, to avoid questions about possible connections between the behaviours that shock and horrify us and an entertainment industry that often valourizes or at least legitimates them.

      March 1, 2018
  2. Ros #

    I guess my question at this point is about how we should respond to all this? I mean, the Victorian approach, where sex was never talked about and was often seriously frowned upon, didn’t work either. Rather, it will have been a factor in the development of what we have now. Which suggests that there is a need to promote more wholesome understandings of sex and gender – and before we get so afraid of the whole thing that we trigger the kind of backlash that sees the subject disappear from our screens altogether.

    How do we do this?

    I don’t know. Perhaps a question to consider in another blog? But it does seem to me that the one thing social media is teaching us is that you don’t have to be either a celebrity or a journalist to get an audience. Posts, meme, videos and tweets from all manner of people have ‘gone viral’ – often without their authors ever intending that they should. Whilst celebrities do play their part in shaping the world, their voices are very far from being the only ones we listen to. Indeed, increasingly, they (the celebrities) are taking their lead from responses from the public on social media. Which is not so surprising, really. After all, that’s often how they became celebrities in the first place. Similarly, it’s a lot harder for arguments against US gun control to pass without comment in an arena where people from Canada, Australia, Europe and Japan can all put in their twopennorth… Which could be one reason why it seems to be getting easier for young Americans to speak up too?

    March 2, 2018
    • I’m not by any means advocating a return to puritanical approaches to sex. We certainly need to be able to have good, honest conversations about these things, and tell honest stories in film, etc. But I think many would agree that the ways in which sex is talked about, portrayed, and fetishized in popular culture is some distance from anything resembling honesty or goodness. Yes, there are exceptions and for this we should be thankful. I’m thinking in the most general terms here.

      I don’t know what the answer is either. A really simplistic approach would be market-based. Lower the demand and the supply will go down. The entertainment industry (film, music, porn, gaming, etc) is, after all giving us what we want, what we are apparently prepared to pay mightily for. But telling human beings to stop demanding sex and violence from their entertainment feels, shall we say, a tad naive? Almost like telling us to change our nature. We are not the first to be titillated by such things, even if we might be the first to have the technological capacity to proliferate them so incredibly. Cultures will not change unless individual human hearts and minds change.

      I agree with your assessment of the potential power of social media. Many different voices are now being heard, which is good. The challenge here is to use this tool to patiently work for real change, rather than just reacting and moving on. At our best, we can use this tool to listen to and learn from a broad range of voices.

      Thanks for your comment.

      March 2, 2018
  3. Paul Johnston #

    Come Holy Spirit, come.

    We cannot resolve the outcomes of godlessness with godlessness. We will simply replace one form of tyranny with another form of tyranny. One set of slavemasters for another set of slavemasters.

    Western culture is too far divorced from Christ to be redeemed, it must be abandoned.

    Let us work together to reimagine community and create new communities that reflect our best efforts at living a Gospel life with our God and with one another.

    March 2, 2018
    • Yes, as a species we are certainly well-practiced in the swapping of tyrannies…

      March 2, 2018
  4. For decades it has amazed me how a friend of mine who frowns on divorce, on discussions on sexual orientation, yet idolizes the often divorced celebrities from Hollywood.

    March 3, 2018
    • Ironies abound, don’t they?

      March 7, 2018

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