Saturday, May 12, 2012

Porn: The banality of evil in the 21st century.

Nine men have been jailed in Rochdale for their part in the grooming and sexual exploitation of five females aged between 13 and 15. One of these young women was forced to have sex with twenty men in one night.

I suspect that if these young women had been aged 18 to 20, the story would not have made headlines.

Hannah Arendt wrote about the banality of evil; how ordinary people could be involved in committing atrocities because they accepted the premises of the state, and assumed that their actions were, therefore, normal.  There seems to be a greater likelihood that acts that could be considered evil are more likely to be committed when a group is involved, as in Rochdale or in Abu Ghraib. Perhaps peers encourage each other, and people who ordinarily would not commit evil feel able to, or pressured to do so. The peer group normalises such behaviour.

Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the learned, fundamental, deep-founded, unconscious beliefs, and values, taken as self-evident universals, that inform our behaviour which he describes as 'Doxa', and suggests that this knowledge emerges from and reinforces another concept, the 'Habitus'. Habitus could broadly be taken to mean the internalised assumptions that arise from living in a particular culture.

I remember seeing Passolini’s film ‘Salò and being horrified by the increasing degradation and torture that was perpetrated on the victims of the men of power.

The film ended with two young soldiers, both of whom had collaborated in all of the prior atrocities, dancing a waltz together. The banality of evil captured.

Now this film is pretty much freely available for anyone to see; yet when I saw Salò in the late 1970’s it could only be shown with a Home Office licence. And this leads to a wider point.  The current ease of access to a film like Salò is hardly surprising in the context of the massive amount of pornography that is freely available.

Pornography represents another dimension of the banality of evil. Much pornography involves the degradation of women, be it anal penetration, double penetration, ‘air-tighting’ (where mouth, vagina and anus are simultaneously penetrated) or the insertion of objects that painfully stretch the vagina or anus. Oral sex typically involves deep, painful penetration, and the male usually ejaculates over the woman’s face. Some porn (bukkake) involves multiple men ejaculating over a woman’s face, another type of humiliation.

Imagery of this type is creating a habitus not only for those who access it, but for the partners of those who access it. Assumptions that this type of degradation and violence is normal lead to men expecting that sex will be like this and women internalising negative views of themselves as sexual objects. All the while, billions of dollars are made (typically by men) who profit from the sex industry.

We need to change the way we think ; the way we think about relationships and gender, and challenge this habitus that reinforces stereotypes and limits the possibilities for intimacy.


Arendt, H. (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A report on the banality of evil. New York: Penguin

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 

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