The poker-faced NBC News anchor Brian Williams has viewed, with apparent dispassion and even amusement, scenes of his actress daughter Allison committing bizarre and debasing sexual acts on the HBO series “Girls.”
"She's always been an actress,” says the evidently unmoved and unmovable journalist. “For us, watching her is the family occupation, and everybody has to remember it's acting, no animals were harmed during the filming, and ideally nobody gets hurt."
Yeah, that knowing smirk carries the day, Brian; now we can all chuckle like the sophisticates we are, roll our eyes at the prudish critics and move on. Right?
Well, no – a hard no. The specifics of the acts portrayed onscreen by Ms. Williams are so vile that they disinvite description, let alone viewing. And per Paul’s command to the Corinthians (I Cor. 6:18), I urge readers not to lend their imaginations to them.
“Girls” has a large viewing audience and is widely discussed in the popular media. Yet its star and creator, Lena Dunham, in her recent memoir described herself as a “predator” in how she dealt with her small sister. What follows, an excerpt from National Review writer Kevin D. Williamson’s article on Dunham, is graphic and disturbing.
(Lena Dunham’s) father, Carroll Dunham, is a painter noted for his primitive brand of highbrow pornography, his canvases anchored by puffy neon-pink labia; her photographer mother filled the family home with nude pictures of herself, “legs spread defiantly.”
(Lena) Dunham writes of casually masturbating while in bed next to her younger sister, of bribing her with “three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds . . . anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.” At one point, when her sister is a toddler, Lena Dunham pries open her vagina — “my curiosity got the best of me,” she offers, as though that were an explanation. “This was within the spectrum of things I did.”
This is a young woman described by TIME magazine – once a leading force for American values and national priorities - as her generation’s “gutsy, ambitious voice.”
From Lena Dunham to Brian Williams: The latter occupies a position traditionally viewed as estimable and sober-minded. By his own account, he watches unperturbed as his lovely young daughter commits, and has committed upon her, debasing sexual acts (supposedly “simulated;” the definition of simulation, in this instance, is reminiscent of a former President’s disquisition on the meaning of “is”).
How a father can rationalize his passive observation of this crude objectification of his daughter is beyond me. That Mr. Williams applies his moral judgment to what stories he covers and comments upon during the evening news is more than troubling.
It is impossible to so detach oneself from what one does that one can stand outside it. Thus, pornography is inherently dehumanizing, even if those participating in it are “acting” and even if those watching keep telling themselves “it’s only TV.”
Pornography, simulated or actual, visual or literary, filmed or photographed, is a stench in our culture that not only debases and desensitizes, but worse. Consider a recent study by Dr. Cicely Marston and Ruth Lewis of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; in a summary of its findings, Ben Johnson of Lifesite News writes, “Due in part to what they see in pornography, teenage boys have no qualms coercing young women into having anal sex, according to a new study, with some of these encounters possibly crossing the line into rape.”
So, could watching “performers” “act” actually have an axiological impact? Sort of like “Triumph of the Will” or “Schindler’s List” – they were just movies, weren’t they?
It’s unfair to scrutinize the on-screen sexual behavior of Ms. Dunham and her female co-stars without noting the participation of the men who most willingly join them. The focus in the anti-pornography, anti-debasement movement is on the often victimized and always misused women involved in outright or pseudo-pornography. But the men who partner with them are every bit as guilty of immorality and perversion as the women with whom they perform sex acts. To Ebon Moss-Bachrach and his fellow male actors in “Girls,” to the thousands of men who exploit women (and themselves) in filmed sexual intimacy on large or small screens and to the tens of millions of men who watch them: Shame on you. True shame, in the biblical sense of the term - may it lead you to the repentance that leads to salvation, as described by Paul the Apostle to the church in Corinth (II Cor. 7:10), even as it has to all of us who once were lost but now are found.
To those who claim graphic, anatomically precise portrayals of deviant sexual behavior are all part of acceptable theater, I would refer them to a story told by our 16th President. In late 1862, Abraham Lincoln was having a discussion with a Congressman named George Julian and told the following story to make a political point: There was “a boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, ‘Five,’ to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg.”
You can call pornography art and deviancy acting, but that doesn’t make them so.
And calling pornography “art” doesn’t change its effects. Writing in Psychology Today, Yale University professor Jonathan Knobe warns that “it doesn't look like pornography is leading men to treat women as mere 'objects' … Instead, we seem to be getting something that might be called animalification—treating a woman as though she lacks the capacity for complex thinking and reasoning, but at the same time, treating her as though she was even more capable of having strong feelings and emotional responses.”
In other words, women can respond as emotionally charged and sexually voracious for the purpose of pleasure (their own and men’s), but as relational and fully realized persons, they’re unimportant.
We can hope and pray that before descending even further into a very dark tunnel, young Allison Williams and Lena Dunham will see what they are doing to themselves and so many others. One thing for sure – it’s not about art.
Publication date: January 15, 2015