Book Review: 'Soft Porn' Plays Hardball
March 3rd, 2005 - 8:00 AM PST
By John Mallon
“Soft Porn” Plays Hardball
Author's Note: Due to the volume of mail I've received on my other artcles on this subject matter I thought it would be useful to republish this book review here, which has appeared elsewhere, for the benefit of Catholic Online readers. It remains as relevent as ever, and perhaps perhaps more so with the advent of the Internet. — JM
Something has gone wrong with the men in our society. The problems range from the poignant—like the pain and bewilderment of women approaching their forties wondering why they can’t find husbands—while the men in their lives are emotionally immature and phobic about commitment—to the tragic, gruesome, and evil: divorce, wife battering, the feminization of poverty, and daily news reports of macabre sex crimes involving the torture and murder of children.
The statistics are almost unprecedented in history. What happened? “Soft Porn” Plays Hardball, by Judith Reisman, Ph.D., lays the blame squarely at the feet of the so-called “Soft Porn” industry led by Hugh Hefner and his imitators. This book, published in 1991, has been a bit of a sleeper, but its message needs to be shouted from the housetops.
Her arguments are so clear, lucid, and obvious that the reader is likely to pause and wonder, “How was this allowed to happen?” “How did we not see this before?” Hugh Hefner has enjoyed a peculiar immunity for the last forty years.
He is after all a “Playboy” —seen as a lovable rogue, and like his magazine, a bit naughty but harmless. Reisman calls the reader to take another look.
She chronicles how the once average-young-man Hefner was galvanized in the early fifties by the fraudulent Kinsey Report (See Reisman’s earlier work Kinsey, Sex and Fraud: The Indoctrination of a People, Huntington House), and proceeded to single-handedly overturn the sexual mores of his time.
On page 25 Reisman quotes Hefner: “Playboy freed a generation from guilt about sex, changed some laws and helped launch a revolution or two... Playboy is the magazine that changed America.”
Reisman’s findings prove Hefner exactly right, but rather than deserving the applause Hefner expects, the results have been catastrophic.
She shows that “soft-core” pornography, winked at by society, as is Hefner, has emasculated men and bred in them selfishness and irresponsibility, while victimizing women and children by exposing them to ridicule, exploitation, abuse, violence, poverty, and death. Society, in large part, uncritically accepted Hefner’s pose as a philosopher while his magazine made inroads into America’s bedrooms coming between husband and wife, and even, Reisman demonstrates, between men and their own masculinity.
It has also made inroads into the psyches of more than one generation of children. Thanks to Hefner’s legacy, practically every American male under the age of 50 has had his sexuality formed in a pornographic culture. This, in turn, has produced in women an epidemic of fear and distrust of men. And worse.
The greatest danger of “soft porn,” and Playboy magazine in particular, lies in its alleged “innocence.” Behind the wholesome good looks of the naked “girl next door” portrayed in its pages, lies an agenda hidden only by society’s mass-scale denial. In a particularly fascinating chapter, “A Neuro-Chemical Addiction,” Reisman shows how this agenda is focussed on the realm a man enters when his normal fascination with women’s appearance becomes an insatiable addiction.
Addiction brings denial in its wake, and this has taken place on a culture-wide level. With impressive insight Reisman points out the key distinction between normal healthy sexual desire and the lust that enslaves the pornography addict. She says the addict has “an intoxicated, disoriented central nervous system. Pornography is media induced stress.” (P. 17) The addict becomes addicted not to sex per se, but to the “rush” pornography produces.
Drawing from poet David Mura she says, “Underneath all the assertions of ‘healthy fun’ the casual user senses anxiety and shame. In the addict, fear, loneliness, and sadness fuel the endless consumption of magazines, prostitutes, strip shows, and X-rated films. In pornography, one often experiences a type of vertigo, a fearful exhilaration, a moment when ties to the outside world do indeed seem to be cut or numbed. That sense of endless falling, that rush, is what the addict seeks again and again.”
She demonstrates how the pornographers work through a juxtaposition of stimuli to have an effect:
"The human brain experiences conflicting and confusing images and information when viewing pornography. Airbrushed pictures of cosmetically and surgically “perfect” nude women gaze with professional coyness at the consumer from pages that include jokes of male impotence and castration, rape, adultery, child sex abuse, religious ridicule, and even pictures and jokes of women and children being tortured or sacrificially murdered. Each month’s sadosexual stimuli is meshed with advertisements for autos, liquor, and fashion. Serious articles and interviews with famous authoritative male figures imply (by their appearance in the magazine) that pornography is acceptable and an important element in a powerful world. By definition the collection of such a multitude of conflicting sexual and scary value laden stimuli in one sitting would tend to disorient the human brain. (P. 17-18)
"To reach this “rush,” the addict must turn to ever more sensational stimuli and novelty. To one who is moving more deeply into shame and anxiety, novelty lies in the direction of innocence. Thus, Reisman shows, in this world where all object relations become sexualized, children become an obvious target."
In addition, rather than the tenderness that marital love inspires, the stress of increasingly unnatural sex leads to violence fueled by shame and guilt. No wife can produce what the addict seeks because conjugal love is an entirely different act than pornographic activity. Reisman shows the difference:
"[I]ntensity of arousal ... increases in proportion to the level of stress. This is why after a night of conjugal love, Jane and John may think, 'I was more aroused by that ‘blue’ movie than I am to Jane (John) anymore!' Quite the contrary. When in love—after the first flush of newness and insecurity have passed—one should feel a sense of trust and faith. Responding to a 'sex' cue experienced in a state of fear, anger, or shame should trigger—temporarily—a “higher” arousal state than would 'normal,' no longer new, conjugal love and trust." (p. 22)
This chapter alone is worth the price of the book for its clear and concise explanation of the mysterious power that pornography—especially soft porn, with its alleged innocence—has over so many men, even men unwilling to be mastered by it who struggle with persistent and unwanted temptations. This chapter makes an excellent resource for pastors and confessors trying to help men break out of the cycle, and is perhaps the best treatment of this problem in the popular literature. The appendices of the book also give detailed instructions on what citizens can do to halt pornography in their communities.
The reader comes away from this book with the feeling that Reisman has put her finger on the reason for the contemporary breakdown of the family and of masculinity and fatherhood in particular. And maybe she has.
“Soft Porn” Plays Hardball is currently out of print but can be found for sale on the Internet by searching the title on Google.com.
Dr. Reisman's website is at www.drjudithreisman.com
This article prevoiusly appeared in The Sooner Catholic, June 8, 1994, and in Crisis magazine under the Title "Pornography's Threat to Men," in September 1994.
Contact: John Mallon