pornography, 9-11 and Sydney Swans footballer, Barry Hall, have
in common? On the surface not much but I reckon it’s worth a
Barry Hall punched and concussed an opposition player in an off
ball “incident” that was, fortunately for the TV networks,
captured on film. The “incident” was repeatedly played on news
broadcasts over the next few nights. After I’d seen it a few
times I started to notice the reactions of the crowd who
witnessed the punch that “would make Rocky Balboa proud”.
background of the focus of the media attention we see quite a
few of the punters cheer, clap, punch the air or all three, as
Hall knocks his unsuspecting opponent to the ground. While there
may have been a gasp or two of anguish or surprise, the
overwhelming response from those who saw the punch was euphoric
support and encouragement. It reminded me of the scenes in those
old Roman Epic movies in which the crowd is booing the poor
Christians and hooraying the lions. In more recent times it
reminded me of the “we got him” response when Saddam was
produced a program for the radio series I’m involved in. It
featured American writer Susan Faludi who has just published her
latest book, “The Terror Dream: What 9/11 Revealed About
that in the immediate aftermath of 9-11, American media
resurrected the “wild west” myths of the American male. She
argues that many men in the US felt totally helpless and that in
turning to archetypes of what men ‘are supposed to be’ the media
helped perpetuate those myths. She notes that a growing anxiety
among men over sexuality, potency, power and the ability to
‘protect’ what is close to them, was reflected in the stories
that emerged from the media construction of 9-11.
She makes the
observation that while men were being encouraged to take on a
‘wild west’ persona, American women were also being influenced
by media representations of what a “real” women should be.
According to Faludi the media constructed a new woman, the
“security mum”. This woman was reminiscent of the pioneer woman.
She was obedient to her husband, made sure his children were
well groomed and obedient, cooked well and above all, stayed
home to ensure the fires were kept burning while her “man” went
out to battle the “evildoers”.
evidence is clear that neither of these media constructions
dominate the way men and women perceive themselves, Faludi
argues, in a Saturday Age interview, that they “ripped the
bandage off, so we could see the underlying machinery that makes
the culture go”. Part of this machinery is our cultural
representations of sexuality.
Saturday Age feature, Dr Norman Doidge talks of the way
pornography can “rewire the brain”. He uses the term
“neuroplasticity” to describe the way the brain can change its
structure and the way it functions according to the dominant
signals it processes. At the root of these signals are those
that respond to pleasure and the greatest of the pleasure
causing signals are those involved in sexual activity.
that we have two pleasure systems in our brains. The first has
to do with “exciting pleasure”, which he terms “appetitive
pleasure” and the other responds to “satisfying pleasure” or
“consummatory pleasure”. He argues that as we imagine the
response we will get from something, such as sex or a good meal,
our brains release pleasure inducing chemicals. These chemicals
heighten tension. The second system kicks in when we have
satisfied our desire. At this time endorphins kick in and give
us a “peaceful, euphoric bliss”.
Dr. Doidge goes
on to argue that “pornography, by offering an endless harem of
sexual objects, hyperactivates the appetitive pleasure” and the
brains of porn addicts rewire themselves so that they seek out
the “exciting pleasure” all the time. He also notes that while
the porn addict is engaging his (or her) fantasies, they often
experience a sense of shame or even sexual dysfunction with
their real life partners.
The good doctor
says, “Pornographers promise healthy pleasure and release from
sexual tension, but what they often deliver is an addiction,
tolerance and an eventual decrease in pleasure. …an addict goes
back for more of his (sic) fix because he (sic)
likes the pleasure it gives and doesn’t like the pain of
So what do
pornography, 9-11 and Barry Hall, have in common?
I want to argue
that they hold up to us a mirror of what we sometimes tolerate
and at other times actively cheer on. We have to ask, why, after
a round of football in which there were hundreds of displays of
strength, agility, courage and determination did the media
choose to focus on an isolated act of brutality? Also worth
considering is why, in the aftermath of 9-11, did our media
never challenge the lies and distortions that were churned out
by the cheerleaders of war? Finally, why is it that our media
focuses on violence and disaster, which might be described as
‘death porn’, at the expense of actually explaining the reasons
why violence occurs?
I think the
reason so many in the crowd cheered when Hall knock Brent Staker
out was because they went to the game not to see two teams
compete but to hopefully see exactly what they did see. That
rush of adrenalin and the brief moment of euphoria that
accompanies seeing something dangerous but surviving it is
something all of us are familiar with. Just like the porn
addict, isn’t it true we seek out experiences that excite and
hopefully satisfy us?
There is nothing
wrong in this. It’s basic human nature to seek thrills, even
vicarious ones in which proxies, such as Hall and Staker, stand
in for us and deliver and take the blows. However, as Dr. Doidge
points out, each time we experience something like this it take
a little more the next time to get us to the same state of
arousal and response.
danger of not exploring the underlying issues of why violence is
allowed to dominate our politics, society and culture is that we
are becoming more and more desensitised to it at the expense of
the dangers it presents.
greatest danger is that we will forget the lessons of history.
Those lessons in which whole communities did not speak out when
atrocious and violent acts were committed in their midst and
often by those who claimed to act in their best interests. Maybe
one day we will find ourselves on the receiving end of a left
hook and wonder where the hell it came from.