This article from Salon’s Cary Tennis broke my heart. A young woman, younger than even I am, actually, writes about her boyfriend’s addiction to pornography, and how it is hurting their relationship, not to mention breaking her heart, understandably so. Perhaps it’s my ability to relate to the not-negligible male sexual impulse, or my own (albeit not as pronounced) struggles with pornography and lust, but, despite “Porn Widow’s” tone of desperation and betrayal, I felt more for the boyfriend as I read this. His constant promises to get better, his struggle and shame when he failed. I don’t discount her pain at the situation, but his must be astronomical, too.
It’s frightening to hear about addictions, whether it be pornography, booze, caffeine, laziness, whatever. It is frightening to think about being so enslaved by something that, even though your God-given logic and reason cries out against it, and your very natural impulses pull away in horror, you are unable to quit. I don’t know if I’ve ever gone down that road on anything, yet, but I know those who have.
Simply put, slavery is frightening.
Yet, it seems, that the more freedom we have, the more we are enslaved. Automobiles liberated us from the doldrums of our neighbours and communities, yet enslaved us to traffic jams and commutes and road rage, never mind isolation and fragmentation and Balkanization. The sexual revolution was made to free women, and men, but especially women from the old sexual mores of the past. Yet, peruse the covers of Cosmopolitan or other women’s magazines next time you’re in line at the grocery check-out. “How to please your man,” “Give him an O he will never forget,” “5 new moves that will let you keep him.” Sexy sexy sex sex. For being “liberated,” women sure seem to have a lot of work to do, in and out of the sack, to keep us guys grinning. Pornography is enshrined as free speech and expression, but it has lead to, as in this case, some very un-free men.
IF the sexual mores and traditionalism of the past were immorally or excessively restrictive (I’m not sure if I am ready to cede that point entirely; it’s something I’m still thinking about), then we have simply jumped out of the pot and into the fire. There is nothing free about a love or relationship has as many conditions as the ones blazed across the headlines of Cosmopolitan or Maxim. And, indeed, the men’s mags are just as guilty here.
Indeed, the whole situation, of porn addiction and learning “5 hot new tricks that will blow his mind” every month reminds me of a scene from Marvel’s ‘The Avengers.” As Loki, the central villain and Norse/Asgardian God of Mischief, forces a crowd of people to kneel, he remarks:
Kneel before me. I said, KNEEL!… Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
I think most people, myself included, would at first blush, brush of Loki’s statement as the ramblings of a mad god/alien who lusts for power and, really, adoration. Yet, if we are honest, we will admit the kernel of truth in Loki’s ramblings. We love to kneel, whether it is to kings or to our own genitalia – or stomachs – and pursuit of pleasure and comfort.
We long for celebrities to idolize (and, then, like the neopagans in The Wickerman, we enjoy watching them burn sacrificially when they shave their heads or get divorced.) We crave to make certain statesmen into idols, and into Saviours, who will sweep away our economic and personal woes, if only the crazies on the other side of the aisle will shut up for a few moments. Some people kneel to an abusive significant other, and chain themselves to pain. Some will enslave themselves to some sort of tribe and tribal affiliation, be it an angry Westboro Baptist parishoner or a mild-mannered hipster who derives his identity from his tribe. It is a hard thing to think about, to admit, and to acquiesce to, but there is a degree of truth in Loki’s spiel.
We will always kneel.
Interestingly, the minds behind “The Avengers” seem to agree with me – consciously or not. One elderly German man rises to his feet at the end of Loki’s speech. “Not to men like you,” he replies to Loki’s assertion.
I think I agree with the old man, who isn’t named in the film and doesn’t appear again throughout it. He doesn’t, as you might think would occur in a 21st century American movie, say that men won’t kneel. He doesn’t make some claim of men being free or independent. He, indeed, agrees with Loki. He does not say, “We will not always kneel.” He merely says, “Not to men like you.”
And I think that is the key. We will always be enslaved to something, or even someone. I don’t think we can choose that. All we can choose is the what we will kneel to, and whether we will freely out of love, or out of a desire more sinister – fear, self-preservation, the pursuit of worldly pleasure, etc.
I am going to wax nerdily a bit more. Even the titular characters in the movie, The Avengers, have knelt down and subjugated themselves to something. At the end of the movie, when the day is won, the heroes go their separate ways. One government official named Maria Hill, played by How I Met Your Mother’s Cobie Smulders, wonders what will happen if the world has need of the Avengers again. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) simply says that they will come. “How do you know?” asks Hill. “Because we’ll need them to,” replies Fury. The Avengers have knelt, have subjugated themselves – to the ideals of self-sacrifice, service, camaraderie, and protection of those who cannot protect themselves.
If we are to kneel, if we are to be enslaved, let us be enslaved to that.