Thinking Out Loud

July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


September 4, 2008

Music That Takes You Back to Another Time and Place

Filed under: Church, music — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:13 pm

If you’re not old enough that The Beach Boys were part of your musical education, or you don’t know what that “thing” is in the picture above*, feel free to skip this section.

Every six months or so — provided I decide that it’s worth the bother — I get into a mood and start spinning some of the music from my past which only exists on vinyl records.   Usually, I’m in a really good mood after.   So one time a few years back, I asked Mrs. W. what it is about this music that produces a different response in me than I get, for example, in the middle of a worship service.   She replied using a word that had somehow previously escaped my working vocabulary set.   She said that those songs are ‘evocative.’

Unless I’m misreading my dictionary, this is true because many of these songs have an association with a previous time in my life, where I was, what I was doing, that sort of thing.   But certainly many praise and worship songs can be equally ‘evocative’ of time spent in God’s presence, not to mention where I was when I first heard those songs.

Instead, I think these songs do something for me because of unique features of rhythm, melody and harmony — it’s the whole sound that’s evocative — and when it comes to harmony, nothing does it for me like the layered, textured sound of The Beach Boys.   For that reason, I’m a huge fan of Brian Wilson’s 2003 album Smile, which is why this week I headed straight to the music store to get his new album That Lucky Old Sun.

I’m not going to do a record review here; I just want to make some observations.   This is an album in a style about which we would normally say, “they don’t make albums like that anymore.”  But as Mrs. W. so succinctly observed, “Yes, but they do.”  Or rather, Brian Wilson does.  Whatever was “in the water” when the Beach Boys recorded classics such as the Surf’s Up album over a generation ago, Brian has tapped into it once more to create music that is entirely its own genre.  If you’re a young musician reading this who somehow skipped the disclaimer in the first paragraph, don’t ever think that all the melody lines have been crafted, all the rhythms have been exploited, all the chord progressions have been sequenced, or even that all the chords themselves have been played.

By the way, I have no idea what the lyrics are about.   I wasn’t listening to them.  That will come later, on the third or fourth time through, or when I’m not driving and can read the lyric booklet.   My listening today was all about the sound, that distinctive southern California beach music that defines the 1960s in places like Malibu and Venice Beach; in the same way the distinctive Motown sound defines the 1960s in places like Detroit, Lansing, Flint or Dearborn, Michigan; or anywhere else that the music might have been playing above the noise of a General Motors assembly line.

(Is there something else at play here?  Could the driving Motor City rhythm of a song like “You Can’t Hurry Love” have become the musical association connected to the excitement of Huntington Beach, CA?   And the beauty of “Good Vibrations” have been something we linked to African Americans struggling to make ends meet in the factories of east Michigan?   Is it association or something more intrinsic?)

If you’ve haven’t, I’d say buy Smile before you consider That Lucky Old Sun. but I was in no way disappointed.  Instead, as a Christian — this is a Christian blog after all — I just wish there was Christian music that was ‘evocative’ in the same way; or at least captured the rhythm and energy of a good Motown song, or the beauty and complexity of a southern California beach sound.   Then again, I don’t know that I see the latter working on Sunday morning at 11:00.   Well, maybe if we all wore sandals, shorts and shirts with flowers and palm trees.

*It’s a 45-rpm record adaptor.  You see, records all had different sized holes…why are you laughing?  No, I’m serious…see, there were 7-inch records, they played at 45 RPM and there were 12-inch records that played at 33 1/3 RPM.   What?   No, I don’t know what the 1/3rd was for.   Anyway the little records had the big holes, except in the U.K. and Europe.  Stop laughing.   No I’m serious… so you had to buy these little plastic things that would — stop looking at me like that — oh, never mind…

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