Porn, Sexual Over-Stimulation and American Consumer Culture

Carl’s Jr. clearly doesn’t trust its burgers to sell themselves. For several years now, the fast-food chain has distracted its customers from the gray, questionably-sourced meat on its menu with a different sort of flesh, that of scantily clad models who contort themselves while eating, supposedly, Carl’s Jr.’s latest culinary creations. Men- let’s not fool ourselves about the target audience of these ads- are routinely drawn to Carl’s Jr. hamburgers and other consumer products through appeals to their libido.

 

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But when that libido is over-stimulated in public life, men — and I speak here primarily of cisgendered heterosexual men – may require increasingly “strong” stimulation in their private lives. This constant exposure to graphic imagery – from your Carl’s Jr. commercials to hardcore porn – no doubt leads to not just sexual fantasies, but expectations. These types of expectations manifested themselves tragically in the May 23rd murders committed by Elliot Rodger, a criminally ill 22-year-old who lashed out at the world for not giving him the sexual pleasure he thought he deserved. While Rodger’s crimes are vile and exceptional, they nonetheless are rooted in a consumer culture wherein women’s bodies are marketed as products and where the masculine customer is always right.

In 2001, an Antiques Roadshow episode featured a man with a 1907 Budweiser tin that showed a modestly dressed woman holding a beer stein. “Ah,” the appraiser said, “look what she’s doing with her skirt.” The woman was holding her skirt by the knee, lifting it ever so slightly to reveal a patch of pasty ankle. This is how they used sex to sell products back then, explained the appraiser.

Gradually, between that Budweiser tin and Carl’s Jr.’s burger porn, several sexual revolutions have shattered the more puritanical mores of 1907, but the seed of women’s objectification has remained a constant. And as advertisers have gone further in the amount of sex they sell to the public, the marketplace for “illicit” sexual stimulation has had to become more extreme to satisfy a public that is no longer titillated by a glimpse at a lower leg.

Pornography must always be several steps ahead of what is publically permissible. When Carl’s Jr., GoDaddy, etc. air their advertisements on national television, porn adjusts accordingly. As a result, the porn industry caters to a growing audience for “hardcore,” featuring dehumanizing displays of simulated rape and torture to appeal to an over-stimulated clientele. There’s a neurological component at play here, something that psychiatrist Norman Droidge calls “neuroplasticity.” The brain constantly seeks new images to compete with old ones, and adapts to make older images seem less shocking and abnormal. When seeking new stimulation, the mind opts for the increasingly extreme- and the porn industry is willing to provide it to its hyper-sexualized costumers, societal consequences be damned.

For many adolescent boys, these images are their formative experiences with sex. They become conditioned to associate sexual pleasure with the physical abuse or humiliation of women, if they are hardcore porn voyeurs. It should be expected that what boys learn from porn will manifest itself in their real world relationships and sexual encounters with actual women.

Porn is a major part of the culture that taught Elliot Rodger to assume that sexual pleasure and female subservience was his birthright as a man. It’s the same culture that, in the words of hip-hop lyricist Tariq Trotter, uses sex to sell “everything from the liquor, to the nicotine/Cell phones, antihistamine, chicken wing.” When women’s sexuality and hamburgers are portrayed as one and the same, it sends the message that both can be easily obtained, and for a small price. It should come as no surprise that a decadent society that encourages brazen consumption also faces a rape epidemic. Voracious insatiability is not without its victims.

gabeAbout the author: Gabriel Rubin is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, where he is the editor-in-chief of the Washington University Political Review.

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Categories: Violence

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10 replies

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  8. If you need that to sell a burger it’s not worth eating!!!

  9. I agree that male entitlement is a huge part of rape culture, and so is viewing women as passive objects to receive sexual interaction. But along that same vein, it’s important to remember than many women have affirmed their agency in deciding to watch porn, be in porn, sell sex, and generally own their sexuality. Trust me, there are plenty of women who are into porn (even hardcore porn) and who choose to enjoy (and to sell) all kinds of sex without seeing themselves as victims. We do need to teach both men and women not to see women as objects, but we also need to create an environment where women can be sexual beings without fear.

  10. I wish this was less true, but damn, in any sort of advertisment and mass media in general, the more of white-skinny-shaved is revealed, the better.
    What do the guys expect then, in real life, with real women? I don’t want to put such large label on so many people, so to be less general – I’m scared of how many people are actually completely brainwashed by this.

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