Living in a World of “Little Boys With Their Porno”

Earlier this year, Arcade Fire released their highly anticipated double album Reflektor to considerable fanfare. While much of the subsequent attention has been focused on songs like the title track, ”Here Comes The Night Time,” and “Afterlife” — and understandably so — there’s one song on Reflektor that has stuck with me since my earliest listening sessions, but that seems to have flown under most critics’ radars: the bluntly titled “Porno.”

“Porno” begins with slinky synths and disco-lite beats over which Win Butler intones “You take the makeup off your eyes/I’ve got to see you, hear your sacred sighs” to his lover. Given the song’s title, we listeners brace ourselves for a sordid tale of lust and debauchery. However, when the chorus arrives, the band performs a bit of musical sleight-of-hand, turning “Porno” into something approaching a lament.

You can cry, I won’t go
You can scream, I won’t go
Every man that you know
Would have run at the word “go”
Little boys with their porno
Oh, I know they hurt you so
They don’t know that we know
Never know what we know

Later, Butler sings:

But the cup it overflows
Little boys with their porno
But this is their world, where can we go?

Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me
Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me
Can you see me?

Throughout the song, Butler laments the damage done by pornography — both to women, whom pornography reduces to mere sexual objects, as well as men, who grow increasingly confused and damaged in their thinking regarding women and sexual performance. (Or, as Butler puts it, “And boys, they learn some selfish shit.”)

Butler’s lyrics were swirling around in the back of my mind as I read a recent Telegraph article concerning the effects of porn on the brain. One of the article’s more disturbing portions concerned porn’s effects on boys and young men:

The psychologist, Catherine Steiner-Adair, interviewed a thousand children aged between four and 18 across America for her new book, The Big Disconnect. Among her findings was a marked tendency among boys to approach girls they liked in a sexually aggressive manner. “That is a trend,” she tells me. “There’s no question about it.” They send extremely crude messages — Steiner-Adair gave me a dozen examples, none of which I can reproduce here — and, unsurprisingly, “the girls don’t like it.” And they rebuff the boys.

“The boys are very confused about how to approach girls,” she says. “Their sexual education is porn. And it’s very misogynistic and violent porn.” Porn has become more extreme over the last two decades, probably because its users’ “tolerance” has rapidly increased with the ubiquity of internet connections. Steiner-Adair had conversations with boys who wanted to know why women liked being choked when they were having sex or why women liked being urinated on.

Because young men lack the experience that would allow them to differentiate between an extreme sexual performance and real sex, says Steiner-Adair, some of them “are surprised when the girls don’t want to play out the scenarios that they have been watching.” The result is mutual unhappiness, frustration and disappointment. And, according to Doidge, a potentially permanently addled sexuality thanks to the presence of porn during this highly plastic period of brain development.

Earlier this year, I wrote about pornography’s damaging effects, as well as its growing presence. We live in an age where it has never been easier to access porn, and not surprisingly, porn is being consumed at astronomical rates. And if Steiner-Adair’s research is any indication, a not insignificant portion of those consumers are young, hormone-addled boys for whom porn is initially exciting but ultimately frustrating, unfulfilling, and damaging.

Some criticize claims that porn leads to increased negative activity towards women by pointing out that overall sexual violence against women in the U.S. has decreased (though it’s unclear whether increased porn consumption has anything to do with the decrease). It’s obviously a good thing that sexual violence has decreased, but focusing on that alone misses the point that it’s not simply sexual violence that should concern us. The damage done to one’s capability for intimacy, the skewing of expectations regarding the reality of sex, the increase in miscommunication between men and women — these are other valid concerns.

Unfortunately, such effects are probably difficult to quantify, though as the aforementioned article points out, they certainly exist. And confronting what Butler calls those “little boys with their porno” is going to be a critical issue for parents, teachers, pastors, and other authority figures in the years to come — especially since I doubt we’ll see a decrease in porn production, access, and consumption anytime soon.

I have two sons and a daughter, and I know that someday, I’ll need to address the issue of pornography with them. Perhaps they’ll have seen something while browsing online, or a friend or classmate will have told or sent them something explicit. In any case, I’ll have to have that discussion, and the thought of doing so — the thought of my children experiencing, and being affected by, pornography – makes me sick to my stomach. I wish, with all my heart, that they could remain innocent of it. But as Butler sings so plaintively, “Little boys with their porno… this is their world, where can we go?”

Where, indeed?

About Jason Morehead

Jason Morehead lives in the lovely state of Nebraska with his wife, three children, zero pets, and a large collection of CDs, DVDs, books, and video games. He's a fan of Arcade Fire and Arvo Pärt, Jackie Chan and Andrei Tarkovsky, "Doctor Who" and "Community," and C.S. Lewis and Haruki Murakami. He's also a web development geek, which pays the bills — and buys new music and movies. Twitter: @jasonopus. Web: http://opus.fm.


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