“Watch Your Step” – A Review

Last month, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a Mormon Messages video entitled, “Watch Your Step” – which is a visual story created to illustrate a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland (Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) at the April 2010 General Conference. This video is meant to show “how a moment’s decision can have far-reaching consequences – for good or bad”, by illustrating two outcomes based on a man’s decision to, or not to, look at porn on his computer. This video is a perfect example of the Church’s ignorant and simplistic black and white thinking, and its use of fear and guilt to control its membership.

For those who are not familiar with the talk, it can be found on the LDS website here: ”Place No More For the Enemy of My Soul”.

While the video can be watched right here:

Though the overall message (along with the closing titles’ web address) is about the consequences of viewing pornography, not once is the term used – it’s simply implied. This leaves it to the viewer to discover and interpret what it is that the man is looking at on his computer – whether it be famous works of art, scantily clad runway models, photographic nudes, sex videos, snuff films, etc. So with the vagueness of what he’s looking at, we are purposely left to fill-in-the-blanks, and assume the worst (whatever your worst may be).

Just as Holland’s voiceover says, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so watch your step”, the video rewinds to bring the viewer back to what is presumed to be the point at which this man made a decision that causes him to leave (or be asked to leave) his family behind. The implication that the outcome, which we (the viewers) just witnessed, was directly caused by a singular decision, is absurd. There is rarely ever a single choice or specific event that becomes the exclusive factor in an outcome without additional influences or greater context surrounding it. A single decision doesn’t cause some kind of predetermined and predictable result, since everyone involved has the ability (to varying degrees) to choose how they react to someone else’s decision.

It’s also implied that looking at porn is automatically an addiction, which cannot be controlled and will consume every waking moment (ie: the man looking at his smart phone rather than drawing with his daughters). Countless people drink alcohol without becoming alcoholics, just as there are people who watch porn without becoming addicted. But this is exactly what the Church wants its viewers to believe: that the slippery slope is actually a crumbling cliff, with only one possible outcome for a misstep. This increases fear and anxiety, not only in the one ‘committing the sin’, but for those who become aware of that person’s actions. This in turn causes people to overreact to what would otherwise be a rather commonplace and benign situation.

With the cool-toned depressing video on the left, and the warm-toned happy video on the right, we’re then shown a blatantly false dichotomy of outcomes to this man’s decision to watch porn. Apparently, watching porn will guarantee that he will have arguments with his wife (who has no choice but to be angry and offended), leave his family, and wander the streets alone at night wearing a hoodie. Conversely, not watching porn will ensure he remembers to buy his wife flowers, stay with his family, and take them to the movies. Why can’t this man watch porn AND keep his family? There are countless men, and women, who watch porn without it affecting their relationships, not to mention couples who enjoy porn together. Why is it better for his family to be without their husband and father, than to have him remain in their life and continue to watch porn? How does viewing pornography become a justifiable reason to break up this family?

The Church also overlooks its own part in the story depicted: the social pressure generated by the Church and its membership to conform to a specific ideal, breeds intolerance toward anything seen as ‘deviant’ or abnormal. This pressure, along with other teachings of the Church, then help to encourage the very predetermined result that they warn will happen (ie: my weak husband watches porn, and I’ve been told that that is wrong, and if I don’t have a faithful and worthy priesthood holder as the head of my family, then I won’t gain eternal salvation. Thus, I best be rid of him so that I can find myself a stronger and more faithful husband.) Holland even says, “picture the faces of those who love you and would be shattered if you let them down”. This is basically telling us that if we watch porn, we will not only be disappointing our family, but inflicting harm on them. While at the same time, it is informing us that if we have a family member watching porn, we SHOULD feel “shattered”.

Viewing porn is only regarded as ‘wrong’ because that’s what the Church tells its membership. What is it that makes the naked human body, or our sexuality, inherently evil? Granted, the porn industry is highly misogynistic, sexist, and depicts women as mere sex objects – to which we all should take offense – but that is not inherent in nudity, sexuality, or the visual depiction of either. If you agree that a medical textbook’s images of sex and the naked human body is not porn, because it’s used in a different context, then you’d have to agree that context is highly relevant to whether or not nude images are considered porn. So this video’s blanket, yet vague, statement that porn is evil and will destroy your life, simply creates a false dichotomy that is ignorant to the vast majority of people who have perfectly happy marriages while enjoying pornography.

I’d like to finish off with a bit of a side note on the gender stereotyping that is used extensively throughout the video. First off, it’s a man that is shown to have the porn ‘problem’, thus reinforcing the idea that men are the weak ones who have trouble controlling their sexual desires. He is also portrayed by a rather muscular and tall man, who oozes masculinity while wearing his dress shirt & tie. While the woman is depicted as being a stay-at-home mom, even wearing an apron in the kitchen – well, at least in the gloomy events (On the happy side, she’s shown wearing no apron, and is arguably treated more as an equal).

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Posted on 2011-08-14, in Culture, Mormonism, Sexuality and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Nice observations here ProgExMo, good eye – the more we spot and dissect the propaganda, the more people will open their eyes and stop being affected by it. I’d like to post my and my husband’s video about hope of working through pornography issues and staying together as a couple. I want people to know this is not a reason to tear your family apart, not by a long shot:
    http://www.iamanexmormon.com/cycle-of-guilt/

  2. You haven’t done the slightest amount of research on pornography have you? Here’s some facts for ya:
    -It is estimated that 13.3 billion dollars was spent on pornography in the U.S. in 2006 alone. That’s an average of 45 dollars spent for every living person in the U.S. (Ropelato, 2010). –
    -Ropelato further puts those numbers into perspective by pointing out 13.3 billion dollars is more revenue accumulated per year than what Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix do combined. Considering that these numbers don’t take into account the smorgasbord of free pornography consumed each year, these numbers fall well short of an accurate estimate of the prevalent use of pornography.
    -Further statistics show that 18 to 24 year olds, college-age students, are the largest group of pornography users with an estimated 87% of men, nearly nine out of ten, and 30% of women claiming to view it (Carroll et al., 2008). So yes, many more men use it than women.
    -Also, neuroscientists have discovered that the neurotransmitters oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine are all involved in a “chemical bonding” that occurs in the brain between two people when they have sex. Guess what happens when you look at porn and masturbate? Those same neurotransmitters bond you to the porn. Over time, the effect is that men distance themselves from both spouse and children as they become ever more bonded to the porn. They also become severely impaired in forming sexual bonds with anyone. (Hilton, 2009)
    -These are just a few facts, you’re full of crap. Casually looking at porn is just about as plausible as the casual use of cocaine…it’s not. If you’re fooled into thinking that way, I have a lot of resources for you, just ask. I’m giving a review of this literature on Oct. 19th at the Strengthening the Family Symposium if you’re interested

    • Hello RyGuy,

      I have done some research on pornography, though I have not ‘studied’ it. My post was not intended to be taken as an accredited article, nor did I make any such claims. I was only applying some critical thought to what I considered to be a gross misrepresentation of the dangers of pornography. I made no reference to any studies because I don’t believe it is a prerequisite to have studied something in order to see the numerous errors and assumptions behind a video such as this.

      As for your facts about the pornography industry’s revenue, I fail to understand how that is at all relevant to my critique. The fact that the porn industry makes absurd amounts of money doesn’t automatically make it harmful. There are plenty of other industries that make obscene amounts of money (such as the make-up industry, fashion, marketing, film, oil, etc.), does this mean they’re inherently harmful?

      The stat you mention, that 13.3 billion was spent on porn, which works out to $45 spent for every living person in the US[1], is actually a surprisingly LOW number. Think about it, that’s $45/person per year, or $3.75/person per month. The average American spends more on reading materials, which is saying something considering the state of the print industry lately! Pointing out the fact that the porn industry is making a lot of money, only illustrates just how widespread and common porn is among Americans, but says NOTHING about whether it is a ‘problem’ for the viewers of it.

      The Generation XXX study by Carroll et al.[2], was a particularly interesting read. It was based on a problematic assumption that “family formation values” SHOULD be the goal of an individual. This automatically renders the results of the study biased to a heterosexual marital norm. Also, they frequently misused the word “value” when they should have used “attitude” (ie: pornography acceptance is an attitude, not a value. Also, ‘family formation values’ was defined as an attitude, not a value). Also, using such terms as “out-of-wedlock” and defining potential risk behaviors as “Sexuality”, again illustrates this study’s bias. Though the study seems otherwise valid (if one accepts the aforementioned assumption), it in no way supports your claim that pornography is harmful.

      Though I couldn’t seem to find the exact Hilton study you poorly referenced, I did find this article by Hilton entitled, Understanding the Addictive Nature of Pornography[3]. Having read this article, and some of the sources he cites, I can find no reference to a causal link between the ‘chemical bonding’ to porn and the distancing oneself from both spouse and children. There could be any number of other reasons for this distancing, or even for the viewing porn in the first place. The sociological variables are numerous. Also, I have not been able to find any research that claims that pair-bonding is limited exclusively to one relationship. People may very well be able to create & maintain numerous pair-bonds throughout their lifetime. So to claim that being ‘bonded’ to porn is a bad thing would need much more evidence and research.

      You also make the claim that “casually looking at porn is just about a plausible as the casual use of cocaine”. This is assuming that, just because cocaine stimulates the same areas of the brain as watching porn, it is just as powerful at creating an addition. Not all drugs are created equal. Hiltons claims about pair-bonding all cited research on prairie voles, and as another study points out:

      “We strongly emphasize that there are no hard data demonstrating common physiological mechanisms for pair-bond formation in voles and man. In addition, as with many human behaviors, the emergence of the neocortex and its ability to modify subcortical function cannot be ignored.”[4]

      The similarities in brain activity between drugs, porn, and sexual relationships, only goes to suggest that all these ‘natural’ and ‘chemical’ stimuli can be addictive – including overeating and even monogamous relationships!

      All the studies you referenced either have no relevance to my article, or they only go to explain why porn CAN be addictive, as with numerous other things. The widespread use of porn doesn’t say anything about its supposed inherent problems. On the contrary, I see its widespread use as further evidence that the risk of forming an addition is quite low.

      I want to be very clear, I’m not saying that pornography cannot be harmful or addictive, I’m simply saying that it is not automatically addictive as the video suggested. Also, there are so many social and societal factors that influence how we regard pornography, that it would be foolish to assume that porn is inherently evil. As with the countless other drugs, pleasures, and activities, there is a certain amount of risk involved, and it is only when these activities interfere with the goals, health and functioning of an individual should they be regarded as a ‘problem’. One should also ask “why” someone might turn to porn in the first place; it could simply be an emotional outlet that may not be needed in the future.

      Finally, I’d like to point out that all of these studies were commissioned by Brigham Young University (BYU), which is LDS Church owned and operated. I’d suggest that if you’re going to do a lit review at the Strengthening the Family Symposium, you’d be wise to use studies from a variety of outside sources if you want to have any kind of real credibility.

      PS. In the future, if you want to comment, please refrain for making personal attacks. “You’re full of crap” is not only unproductive, it’s insulting, and I will block you from commenting if it persists.

      ————

      [1] Jerry Ropelato (2010). Internet Pornography Statistics. Retrieved 30 September 2011, TopTenReviews.com

      [2] Donald L. Hilton Jr. MD (2009). Understanding the Addictive Nature of Pornography. Retrieved 1 October 2011, CombatingPornography.org

      [3] Jason S. Carroll, et al. (January 2008). Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults. Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 23, No. 1 [Archived here]

      [4] Larry J. Young, Zuoxin Wang (26 January 2004). The Neurobiology of Pair Bonding. Nature Neuroscience, 7, 1048-1054

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