When Porn Comes Knocking at the Door

With online pornography consumption on the rise during days of lockdown, New Zealand recently launched “Keep It Real Online,” a government safety campaign that provides content to help parents not only protect children from the threats that lurk on the Internet, but also come face to face with them. The movement gained positive attention this month through a video ad about Internet pornography, using their motif of every parent’s worst Internet nightmare knocking on their front door.

The ad shows a lady with bathrobe and morning mug answering the door. To her surprise, she finds a cheerful naked couple standing on the porch. The following dialogue ensues:

SUE: Hiya, I’m Sue. This is Derek. We’re here ’cause your son just looked us up online—you know, to watch us.

MOTHER: Matt, Matt, darling, there’s some people here to see you. So, he watches you online?

 

SUE: Yeah, you know, on his laptop…

DEREK: iPad, PlayStation…

SUE: His phone, your phone…

DEREK: Smart TV projector…

SUE: Yeah, anyway, we usually perform for adults, but your son’s just a kid. He might not know how relationships actually work. We don’t even talk about consent, do we? No, we just get straight to it.

DEREK: Yeah, and I’d never act like that in real life.

SUE: Nah. (Matt appears behind Mother, looking stunned) Hey, Matty. You alright?

MOTHER: (Aside) Okay, Sandra, stay calm. You know what to do here. (To Matt) Alright, Matty, it sounds like it’s time to have a talk about the difference between what you see online and real-life relationships. No judgement!

Besides being amusing, this ad is gently trying to get parents to wake up and smell the coffee: kids are “learning” about sex through online pornography. That is a problem because pornography is a lie, which is central to the pornographic experience—refusal to engage in the real and revelry in the unreal. What is interesting about the New Zealand ad is that its offbeat, waggish attitude makes the problem of pornography approachable and less distressing. Without detracting from the seriousness of the issue, the ad dodges being condemnatory, preachy, or alarmist. It is a true piece of satire, rendering the problem of pornography in a humorous light and therefore in a palatable light, while leveling a practical and persuasive challenge to parents.

Unfortunately, messaging like this is on the rare side in our porn-saturated age, which is a little surprising since the negative effects of pornography are becoming more widely acknowledged, even by governments and scientific studies. There is still, or course, a “judgement free” attitude about the whole thing. Even though this ad throws in a “no judgement” line, it is nevertheless unabashed about the danger and delusion of pornography and encourages parental awareness with a frankness that one is hard pressed to hear even from the pulpit. The deadly effects of pornography can be lifelong. While the glib nature of the ad concedes to the tacit approval that exits in our culture towards this sort of “adult entertainment,” it may as well be an ad casually encouraging parents not to let their child play Russian Roulette. Both are a question of life and death.

“Keep It Real Online” has a series of commercials like this about online bullying, stalking, and inappropriate content. While they argue, and rightly, that parents should talk to their kids about their online activity, they actually pose an argument for getting kids off the Internet period. Why play in a minefield? Keeping it real online is probably about really keeping kids offline. The Internet is so often used to entrap people, both young and old, through fantasy, the virtual, the unreal. At least as far as kids are concerned, the Internet should be used as a tool and not a toy.

As New Zealand’s campaign says, it’s all about keeping it real with real preventative measures and real communication. Such measures can be difficult to implement, but they are worth it in the long run. At the boarding school where I work, for instance, the boys are not allowed to have cellphones or computers. If a student is discovered with one in his possession, he is expelled. The reason for this hard-and-fast rule, draconian though it may sound, is that we are so adamant about keeping pornography out of our community, that, when it comes to teenage boys, we define the cellphone and the laptop as purveyors of pornography—and we are careful to tell them just that and in no uncertain terms. Again, why run the risk?

The reality is, porn is widespread, strategic, and insidious and must be met with just as much intelligence and intention. Porn is tremendously accessible, but that does not mean that it is inescapable. This is the reality that must be faced without panicking. Prudence demands that parents either plan on pornography rearing its ugly head or presume it already has and act accordingly. Whether children seek porn out or not, nowadays it is unimaginable that most—if not all—have not been assaulted by pornography’s lies in one way or another. It is a question of degree, but those degrees matter, as do the measures we take to mitigate them.

As the New Zealand ad bluntly (and blithely) states, pornography creates a false expectation. Men, for example, have a predisposition to protect women, but pornography depicts a violation of women that breaks down a boy’s sense of an essential characteristic of manhood. These perversions of self-knowledge are a tremendous inhibitor of knowledge of outside things, of truth, of the real. What is more, the disproportionate concept of mastery and manipulation that porn creates can cause boys to shut off instinctively when drawn to receive truths that are solid and supreme. Reality is not something that can be enslaved like a fantasy, and hence reality is often rejected once a taste develops for pornographic illusion. In other words, there is no keeping it real with pornography, so parents need to keep it real when it comes to pornography.

Reality can’t be uploaded or downloaded. Neither should it necessarily be something accessed easily—but it must remain the goal. Connected to the real, innocence and wonder can be safeguarded or even rekindled. Pornography is with us, and we shouldn’t wait for it to knock on the door to remind us, like our neighbor, that we need to do something about it. We have to be good parents, which means proactive parents, and guard our families and our culture from the disrespect and disregard that exploits for pleasure’s sake, ruining lives in the process. Only actual engagement will reduce of the spell of virtual disengagement. In the meantime, do you know what your kids are watching?

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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