In this issue of Banter M:
Requiring Condoms in Porn is a Stupid Solution Waiting for a Problem - In a thought provoking and NSFW screed against California's proposition 60 that mandates condoms in porn, Bob Cesca argues that it is in fact "a solution seeking a problem." For those of you offended by pornography talk, you won't want to read this.
Donald Trump Is Advocating Sedition - Trump has crushed and tossed aside so many of the conventions and protocols of our political system because, as Chez Pazienza argues, he doesn't believe the rules apply to him. But some rules can't be broken, because the entire foundation of our democracy rides on them.
Capitalism is Making You Sick - Ben Cohen decries an economic system that values humanity's worst instincts while actively destroying everything that makes us good. We are anxious and depressed not because we don't have enough money, but because we believe that more money would make us happy.
Requiring Condoms in Porn is a Stupid Solution Waiting for a Problem
by Bob Cesca
Author's note: The following is an honest and somewhat graphic discussion about pornography. If you're offended by such topics, you might want to move on to something else.
Before we dig into California's "Prop 60," and in the interest of full disclosure, it's probably not much of a shock to learn that I watch my fair share of online porn. I'm not exactly sure what this says about me other than the obvious fact that I enjoy watching human beings getting off -- that it turns me on and makes life just a little more fun. While we're here, I don't mind clarifying that as man who resides somewhere toward the hetero end of the spectrum, my preference is for either traditional male-on-female porn or, more often than not, female-on-female porn that specifically features oral sex.
Oooh! Sue me. Those without sin, cast the first whatever. We're all adults here.
Does this make me a bad liberal or a misogynist? I don't know, nor do I concern myself with any minor contradictions inherent in my worldview versus my normal, healthy adult interest in sex. In fact, I'd vigorously object to anyone who'd argue that I can't be a leftist and admit to watching porn. Frankly speaking, I'm not seeking out rape fantasies nor am I interested in amateur porn with suspiciously young participants. I dig well-produced, high-definition porn that features professional sex performers who at least act as if they're really, really enjoying themselves. The women in the porn videos I tend to choose are preferably "womanly" -- that is, they're not "teen" lookalikes. Call them "MILFs" or "cougars," but that's the kind of female porn actor I prefer. Simply put: I like what I like.
Are the actors exploited against their wills or physically harmed? Again, I don't really know for sure, but my choices lean toward videos that likely involve well-known, professional actors and therefore actors who seemingly want to appear in these movies with eyes open. They don't seem to be harmed or taken-advantage of. (Though some of the anal sex in straight porn looks like it could take weeks of recovery before the next shoot.)
The key here, though, is "professional." Like some traditional actors, mainstream adult movie actors tend to work within cliques of co-performers, directors and distributors. They personally know the people around them. They also go into the industry knowing the risks, be they accidental injuries (it happens) or, yes, diseases. There are, of course, precautions that are taken and probably a few rolls-of-the-dice, too.
Yet "Prop 60" assumes that the state of California and its residents know better than the performers themselves. And so, if passed, the ballot initiative would require male porn actors to wear condoms. Furthermore, the proposition would allow residents to act as condom-patrols, reporting actors who attempt to sneak past this new layer of censorship. To that point, if a non-condom user was discovered in a porn video after the passage of the initiative, and the Cal/OSHA bureaucracy failed to take action, any consumer could file a civil suit and claim part of the revenues from the video.
This is ludicrous on so many levels and, even as a self-identified liberal, I find the nanny-state overreach on this proposition to be oppressive. Opponents of the proposition, including the DCCC, the California Democratic Party, the California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party, various local Democratic and Republican organizations, San Francisco Berniecrats, the Free Speech Coalition, the AIDS Project Los Angeles, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, the Adult Performer Actors Guild and dozens of others agree that the law is not only too restrictive, it would be a "frivolous lawsuit bonanza."
"The proposition would, in effect, make every Californian a potential condom cop by both mandating condom use and creating a private right of action so that any resident who spots a violation in a pornographic film shot in the state could sue and collect cash from the producers and purveyors if they prevail in court. This is an extreme approach — and demonstrably counterproductive. ... We support rules that make performers in adult films as safe as possible. That’s why we reject Proposition 60 and urge voters to do so as well."
Additionally, actors themselves could be at a higher risk for injuries due to the friction created by the condoms during marathon shooting sessions, each one lasting far longer than normal sex sessions.
Popular actor "Stoya" wrote the following for VICE:
"These sex acts are generally longer in duration and more theatrical in content than the average sex act. Recreational sex and professional sex in front of cameras both involve a certain level of risk, and those of us who engage in professional sex in front of cameras take precautions to lessen the potential for harm at work. Every time that a hole in our precautions is exposed, we look for ways to further lessen the risk. As with cars, as long as human and mechanical error exist, sex will never be completely safe."
Stoya elaborated that the constant rubbing of the latex, even if lubricated, against sensitive flesh, as opposed to the natural give and take of skin-on-skin, could cause tears and abrasions in both the vagina and rectum. She also noted the reality that actors are required to undergo HIV testing every 14 days. Due to the mandatory tests coupled with education and allowances for voluntary condom-wearing in videos, the rate of HIV transmission during porn shoots has been exactly zero.
Despite hundreds of thousands of HIV diagnoses between 2005 and 2014 in the general population, there have been zero demonstrable on-set HIV transmissions in that period. That means the tremendous amount of money and time spent promoting this bill...is wildly out of proportion to the non-issue it proposes to address.
Sounds like Voter ID laws, doesn't it? A solution seeking a problem.
Oh, and at the risk of burying the lede, the chief proponent of the initiative, Michael Weinstein, has been accused of pushing Prop 60 onto the ballot with the sole purpose of driving the porn industry out of California entirely. So, it seems the proposition might have little if anything to do with worker safety or public health.
Proposition 60 would install Michael Weinstein, the sole proponent and funder of the initiative, as a state porn czar and allow him to use taxpayer dollars to pay his attorneys.
Great. A "porn czar" who'd end up costing taxpayers millions of dollars in lawsuits and other measures to enforce the proposition. Smart.
And not unimportantly, being a regular consumer of online porn, there's an aesthetic problem here, too. Again, let's be honest. There's something about seeing an actor wearing a condom that disrupts the fantasy of a scene, and thus, it diminishes consumer interest in that particular film, driving us to non-condom alternatives. So, I'll be frank once again by saying that I tend to avoid videos with condoms. Short of physical violence in porn, there's nothing that's more of turn-off than seeing a condom on an guy's penis. Perhaps I overthink these things, but when I see a condom in a porn, I'm no longer absorbed in the fantasy. I'm distracted by thoughts of sexually transmitted infections and HIV -- the lack of sensation and the fuss about opening the packet and sliding it on. A condom? What does that guy have? Seriously, what's the point of watching porn -- of seeking a sexual fantasy that includes this one glaringly obvious bit of realism? So, I personally tend to click over to something else.
Yes, I absolutely understand that porn sex is significantly different from real sex. Not better, but different. And that's the problem. While I don't have any skewed notions of what real sex ought to be, and, full disclosure, I happen to be sexually active in real life, the fact remains that when I'm watching porn, it's about exploring the beauty of the human form and the escapist fantasy of unreal sex that's so alluring. The attraction is not unlike any theatrical movie, but for different reasons. It's absolutely not a substitute for real sex, which is always going to be vastly better, it's simply an exotic, other-worldly version of it. Hence, the addition of a condom is simply too jarringly "real" when all we want, and all that's intended, is the fantasy. (There's a separate issue here for a different day: those who mistakenly believe porn sex is real sex and vice versa.)
Back to Prop 60.
Sadly, according to the only poll conducted so far, Prop 60 is supported by a majority of California voters, 55-to-32. This is probably due largely in part to the topic itself than the details or ramifications of the proposition. It's fair to assume that few rank-and-file citizens are willing to reveal to pollsters their support for the porn industry. After all, it's porn. It's ugly and weird and perverted, right? There's also a common misconception that porn actors are dropping like flies from HIV, which, as we noted above, simply isn't true -- at least throughout the last 12 years.
Stoya added, "I believe that pornography as entertainment serves a widespread human need as a safe place to fantasize." Of course that's exactly right. As long as performers are aware of what they're doing, and as long as no one is hurt in the process, there's no point in non-experts telling the experts how to make their movies, nor is it appropriate to meddle with the cinematic fantasies they're manufacturing -- even if you don't believe porn is an art form or a genre of filmmaking. (It's a little of both.) No one knows better than the actors who make these movies whether they're at risk, and holding up the threat of class-action lawsuits against each performer for not wearing a condom seems like an overly punitive measure for a problem that simply doesn't exist.
Next: Donald Trump Is Advocating Sedition - by Chez Pazienza
Donald Trump Is Advocating Sedition
by Chez Pazienza
Lately I've been spending a lot of my free time, of which I have very little, going back through the archives of my old blog, Deus Ex Malcontent. It's fascinating to dig into the various long-form pieces, short-form brain farts, and snarky one-off comments that make up the history of DXM, mostly because the whole thing now exists as a kind of time capsule. Not only is a specific, often tumultuous period of my life preserved in internet amber within its pages, but obviously so is an era in our nation's history and culture. I'm talking about the mid-to-late-00s. The time marking the death spiral of the Bush administration and the birth and rise of the Obama years and the resultant hope and right-wing chaos that came with it.
It's easy to forget just how awful things were during the Bush administration, specifically Bush's second term, as the disaster that was the Iraq war truly became obvious and indefensible. As voices of opposition were silenced or their lives put in jeopardy were they unfortunate enough to be working for the government. As the lasting image of a shoe being thrown at George W. Bush provided a fitting punctuation for America's shameful statement that it had fallen far. Attacking nations that didn't provoke it while allowing its own cities to drown in a hurricane's flood waters. Putting both the national and global economy at risk in the name of unfettered, unapologetic greed. It was a dark time.
But look back on it now and the Bush era almost feels like the good old days. Certainly not in terms of what government has done for its people, given that President Obama truly will go down in history as one of the greatest presidents of the modern era -- potentially, of all time -- but in terms of where we stand now going forward. The Bush years were ugly and embarrassing, but they weren't completely fucking crazy. George W. Bush, for all his faults, was a standard politician -- an intellectually incurious disaster but someone who at least for the most part operated within predictable parameters of political corruption in the United States. This, though. This person running for the same office under the same party George W. Bush did just within the last decade-and-a-half. He's something we've never seen before.
There's no need to run down every horrific thing Donald Trump has done over the past year, since throwing his clown hair into the ring to be president. As has so often been the case with Trump, there are so many offenses that it's often not necessary to go back past the last one to prove how entirely until he is to be President of the United States. And his most recent offense -- it's a doozy, a stance unlike any we've seen before in modern politics. Put simply, Donald Trump is sewing the seeds of violent sedition among his zombie zealots. He's doing it by saying something almost no presidential candidate has said before him: that he will only accept the results of the upcoming election if he wins.
This morning at a campaign stop in Ohio, Trump literally said, "I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election, if I win." The comment was a defiant answer to those still questioning whether he seriously meant what he said when he hedged on the question of acceptance at last night's debate. Fox News's Chris Wallace put it to him directly: will he accept the will of the people and concede if he loses. But Trump can't stand being a loser; it goes against everything his ridiculous brand stands for. So he of course wouldn't answer the question, saying that he plans to keep voters in suspense.
The answer elicited gasps from the crowd. With good reason.
Trump has crushed and tossed aside so many of the conventions and protocols of our political system. In predictable fashion, he's just done whatever the hell he wanted to, ignoring decorum and tradition for the simple reason that he doesn't believe the rules apply to him. But some rules can't be broken, because the entire foundation of our democracy rides on them. America's political system may be fucked-up, but there's one hallmark of it that's gone rightly unquestioned for decades into centuries: that after every presidential election, there's a peaceful transfer of power. There's no violence. There's no holding out. There's acceptance and graciousness.
Why? Because the solvency of our democracy depends on it. There's an implication in the way this country transitions from one leader to the next. That implication, as has been discussed so many times in the bombastic televised election coverage, is that our way is better. Unlike so many other countries, ours isn't governed by a strongman who locks himself in his compound, refusing to come out and hand over the government to someone else. We don't have coups or chaos in the streets. That's just not who we are -- and we're a better nation for it.
But what Trump is suggesting, in keeping with his worship of authoritarianism and those who practice it, is a denial of all of that. A denial of who we are and what we stand for. It's not a surprise when you consider that his entire campaign has been strangely anti-American. His pitch is that this country is no longer great -- it's in fact, if you believed the Republican National Convention, just one step north of being a fiery dystopia -- and that only he can make it great again. He says our leaders aren't as smart as tyrants like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. He gleefully defiles so much of what we stand for.
Knowing this, as well as his inability to accept defeat with grace and dignity, it makes perfect sense that he's now claiming he'll defy the will of the people. You can think it's as simple as a belief on his part that the election really is rigged if he loses, but that's a bunch of bullshit. If it wasn't the "rigged" argument it would just be something else. Trump can't lose. He's a winner. He's got a "winning temperament," whatever the hell that is. He succeeds. It's what he does. Of course he can't be seen actually -- gulp -- losing.
But he's going to lose, whether he chooses to concede or not. If the polls hold, Hillary Clinton is likely going to crush him in a landslide. There will be no doubt among any serious person that he cost himself the election and that he was, completely and utterly, defeated. He can be the guy sitting at the restaurant table telling his girlfriend, "Well, you can't break up with me -- I don't accept it," but it'll get him as far as it usually gets that guy. It's not us, it's him. We don't want him. He doesn't have to accept it because it doesn't change a goddamn thing.
Will Trump follow through with his threat? It'd be nice to say no. But it would be unwise to put anything past this narcissistic buffoon at this point. It would be nice to think that on the night of November 8th our long national nightmare will be over. But I wouldn't count on it. In fact, it's entire possible that if Trump holds out, it'll just be the beginning. His people say they're ready for a revolution. They're ready for sedition. Jesus, how are we even talking about this? How did it come to this?
Next: Capitalism is Making us Sick - by Ben Cohen
Capitalism is Making You Sick
by Ben Cohen
Anxiety in the modern world is now so prevalent that almost no one I know doesn't suffer from it in one form or another. The statistics on mental health disorders in western countries corroborate this personal observation, and given our current trajectory, the epidemic is set to get worse. As George Monbiot wrote recently in the Guardian:
A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.
And as an article in the New York Times suggest, the statistics in America are no better:
Nearly one in five of us — 18 percent — has an anxiety disorder. We spend over $2 billion a year on anti-anxiety medications. College students are often described as more stressed than ever before. There are many explanations for these nerves: a bad job market, less cohesive communities, the constant self-comparison that is social media. In 2002 the World Mental Health Survey found that Americans were the most anxious people in the 14 countries studied, with more clinically significant levels of anxiety than people in Nigeria, Lebanon and Ukraine.
In a time of unprecedented material wealth and political stability, this is astonishing. As we get richer, have more access to health care, live longer and have far less to worry about on a day to day basis, we are becoming nervous wrecks incapable of living happy, fulfilled lives. While many write this off as millennial whining, the truth is that we have created a society that has a terribly detrimental effect on our psychological well being, and it seems the younger generations are the most affected by it.
Why then, is this the case? George Monbiot suggests -- correctly in my opinion -- that it is our economic system destroying our emotional lives. "It seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same," he writes. "Human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism."
This ideology of competitive self interest has undoubtedly had an enormous beneficial impact on our material wealth. Western industrialized nations are materially richer than ever, and their citizens able to purchase consumer goods at rock bottom prices. When the poorest Americans have almost as many flatscreen television sets as rich Americans do, mental health problems simply cannot be ascribed to poverty, particularly when much poorer nations are psychologically much healthier.
The problem then, is a collective mental construct. And it is one of desperate aspiration, the relentless pursuit of more of whatever it is our society says you must have, and selfishness as a virtue. While human beings are undoubtedly selfish, we are also generous, sensitive and loving. Our economic system not only denies these instincts, but actively works to destroy them. When the incentive is to make a personal profit from everything we do, stepping on someone else then becomes "just business". An old lady loses her antique store because Star Bucks can pay higher rent? Just business. A family owned restaurant collapses because they can't compete on prices with corporate owned chain restaurants? Just business.
When we ascribe value to something based solely on its profitability, we strip away everything it means to be human. Rupert Murdoch built a news empire spreading fear and hatred of the most vulnerable people in society, but because he made millions doing it, he is almost completely immune from criticism. Media corporations sell us reality TV that induces eating disorders in teenage girls and shames them into buying worthless beauty products. But because they are monetarily successful, no one bats an eyelid. It's "just business".
"Just business" culture has made us infinitely richer, but infinitely sadder as we struggle to find meaning outside of material gain.
Although it's not something I wanted to mention in this article, the emergence of characters like Donald Trump is perhaps the culmination of this psychologically toxic culture. We are seeing what the fruits of this unyielding selfishness really are, and it is deeply, deeply disturbing. The Trumps of this world are built to thrive in societies based on selfishness -- they are more cutthroat, more willing to screw people over, and completely unfeeling in their relentless pursuit of power. Would characters like Donald Trump emerge in societies that valued cooperation, compassion and equality? Trump is a monster created in a system designed to produce people like him, and it should come as no surprise that his capitalism on steroids ideology has gained traction with many Americans who know no other way.
The truth is, most people are not like Donald Trump and cannot live happy, fulfilling lives in capitalistic societies. Most people intrinsically understand that wrecking people's lives for profit isn't good, and they build up stored feelings of guilt as they do their best to navigate a system that has no empathy for them either. One might win the proverbial rat race, but when all is said and done, you still have to be a rat to win it.
The only way to change this system is, at least in my opinion, to resist it in as many ways as possible. This doesn't mean you should go and live in a tree somewhere in a rainforest, it means you must do your bit to not become completely entrenched in the dominant culture. This might mean voting for politicians who don't value selfishness above all else, or making a career change based on happiness rather than how much money you can make. It could be turning off your television, buying food from local stores or cutting down on shopping. The changes don't have to be huge, but if enough people start to make them, culture can change more dramatically than we have been led to believe. We created capitalism in our minds, so we can uncreate it too. Given it is clearly making us sick, the sooner the better.