One of the more well-known ideas about cultural change is the “slippery slope.” The notion is that when you take a step down a slippery slope, you are at risk of losing your footing and can end up sliding all the way down. The term is often applied to first steps that seem innocent enough, or at least few would sensationalize, yet they are steps that put you at risk for sliding further than anyone would have envisioned.
There are few places, culturally, where this can be seen more clearly than in the relationship between media and sexual mores.
First, remember that one of the dynamics of media is that it affirms things. If you see likable characters on TV having sex outside of marriage – without consequence and with clear pleasure – then sex outside of marriage becomes not only acceptable, but desirable.
A second dynamic of media is that it normalizes things. Whereas there might have been a “yuck factor” inherently in place for certain activities or relationships, particularly if they were based more on emotion than reason, then all that is needed is to make you feel more positively about that activity or relationship. And if you begin to feel differently, then you begin to think differently and accept differently. And you, eventually, move from “yuck” to actual affirmation.
Consider the role of media and homosexuality. Few would deny there used to be a collective, cultural “yuck” at the idea of homoerotic behavior between, say, two men. So what made homosexuality so culturally accepted in such a rapid period of time? It was Ellen, followed by Will and Grace, followed by Modern Family.
No matter where pundits stand on the morality of homosexual behavior, few would deny the cultural dynamic of how media shapes cultural standards and attitudes.
And now to the slippery slope.
When media began mainstreaming homosexual behavior in increasingly positive ways, resulting in full cultural acceptance and even the legalization of gay marriage, those in favor of the movement were quick to deny the idea of a slippery slope. Gay marriage would not be the first foot down the hill toward a sexual free-for-all. Nor would the media’s mainstreaming of homosexuality lead to the mainstreaming of other previously taboo sexual activities.
More astute observers knew better, and now it is being manifest.
In a story titled “It’s Polyamorous Polysaturation – Unconventional Relationships Abound on TV,” National Public Radio reported on the number of polyamorous relationships (sexual relationships involving more than two people) on such shows as House of Cards, Girls, I Love Dick, Orphan Black, Transparent and The Magicians.
For example, in House of Cards, one of Netflix’s most popular shows, the fictional president of the United States and first lady are in a joint affair with one of their Secret Service protectors.
The number of shows highlighting – in positive ways, mind you – “open” or polyamorous relationships as well as “throuples” (three people in a relationship), is so high one would almost think there was a cultural conspiracy to get this lifestyle mainstreamed as fast as possible.
Of course, to the Christian who believes in the reality of not only evil but the evil one, there is.
But the speed with which this is happening is stunning. In the NPR report, the general manager of MTV Networks noted that it would have been almost impossible to imagine so many unconventional relationships on TV even five years ago.
So where is the slippery slope taking us?
If we’ve already slid past homosexuality into polyamorous relationships, what is next?
The culturally observant would place the mainstreaming of virtual reality porn as next on the agenda. Actually, it’s already on the agenda; it’s just next in line for wide acceptance.
For example, it was clear how people used their virtual reality technology they received for Christmas. According to an article in Real Clear Science, views of virtual reality pornography on one website spiked at 900,000 on Christmas day. The very same article also went on to decry concern, citing how the technology “has the opportunity to create new, more positive ways of experiencing pornography” by opening the door “to a whole world of new sexual experiences.”
While admitting some potentially negative aspects of certain types of pornography and pornographic use, such as revenge porn and violent/degrading images, the larger argument is to make pornography positive and take it into the mainstream, even suggesting its use in the classroom to transform sex education. “Since young people will always access pornography,” says journalist Matt Wood, “perhaps we should be seeking to change these experiences into something more positive.”
The final line?
When it comes to pornography, “Instead of predicting doom, perhaps we should insist on a more positive future from virtual reality porn.”
Ironically, no one likes this.
According to a recent Gallup survey, the average American is more liberal on moral issues than ever before. There is a widening acceptance for gay relationships, divorce, pornography, polygamy and physician-assisted suicide. Yet those same respondents are simultaneously more concerned than ever about the moral decline of culture.
Which shows that when you start sliding down the slippery slope, you see the fall,
... you just don’t know it’s you who is falling.
James Emery White
Neda Ulaby, “It’s Polyamorous Polysaturation – Unconventional Relationships Abound on TV,” NPR, May 24, 2017, read online.
Matt Wood, “The Uncertain Future of Virtual Reality Porn,” Real Clear Science, May 22, 2017, read online.
Kate Shellnutt, “Moral Outrage in America Is Now for Everybody,” Christianity Today, May 26, 2017, read online.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.