What could be duller sounding than the word temperance? So out-of-date. So repressive. So passionless. And exactly the word our country needs.
If the political race has done anything good—and that is hard to imagine—it has held up a mirror to our culture and revealed our soulless skeleton. After Donald Trump’s “hot-mic” incident both parties hurled their moralizing grenades, blasting the internet with their hypocrisy.
What the parties, and apparently all of us, have forgotten is that the corresponding virtue to immorality is temperance. Temperance deals with the lusts that war against the soul. When unbridled, desire can control us. So lust is born, and it drives us towards pleasures that cannot satisfy. Our culture drips with lust, evidenced by its pornification.
In 2011 I wrote an article that highlighted a new study published in Sexuality and Culture. I’m revisiting that piece to show how our hyper-sexualized culture continues to castrate our souls.
The study, conducted by University of Buffalo researchers, compiled more than 1,000 images from forty years of Rolling Stone magazine, comparing male and female poses, wardrobe and language used in the articles. The study showed that women have been vastly more sexualized than men. The 2000s showed a marked increase in hyper-sexualization of women in the magazine, which is regarded as a pop culture barometer.
“Hyper-sexualization” refers to images that communicate to the reader that the person in the image desires sex. Sociologist Erin Haden said: “It is problematic when nearly all images of women depict them not simply as ‘sexy women’ but as passive objects for someone else’s sexual pleasure.” In her TEDx talk, Dr. Gail Dines says young girls are trained by pop-culture to be “porn-ready.” They realize they have two options: “f—ability or invisibility . . . the adolescent wants to be seen. Invisibility is not an option.” So young girls mimic the ads they see, which endorse the idea of sexual availability.
Our culture, according to Dr. Dines, is pornified. Porn sites receive more monthly traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Ninety percent of porn scenes contain at least one aggressive act if both physical and verbal aggression were combined. The average age a young boy sees pornography is twelve.
In 1999, Calvin Klein scratched plans for a billboard in Times Square depicting two six-year-old boys wearing nothing but their underwear, standing on a sofa, arm-wrestling. Then in 2002, Abercrombie & Fitch came under fire for their “XXX” catalog. The pages contained images of nudity to near orgies. The models? Young adults. A&F’s penchant for exploiting young people continued when, in 2011, they launched a line of push-up bras aimed at little girls. In 2011, French Vogue featured Thylane Lena-Rose Blondeau striking sultry poses in provocative clothes. She was ten. French fashion brand Jours Après Lunes launched a new line of “loungerie,” a hybrid of lounge clothing and lingerie that a four-year-old can wear. But Jours Après Lunes’s new line is not designed to make women sexier. It’s designed to make young girls sexy, even ready for sex.
The outrage and disgust for Trump’s comments about groping women is more than justified. But, as Heather Mac Donald notes in her recent article in City Journal, where is our ire for the culture at large that praises celebrities like Beyoncé for singing lyrics like the following? “I did not come to play with you hoes, haha / I came to slay, b— / When he f— me good I take his a– to Red Lobster, cause I slay.”
Philosopher Hannah Arendt once wrote that, if left unchecked, modern society would annihilate itself if given the chance. It feels like we are there. Our collective hypocrisy is clear, as we (rightly) condemn Trump while we pick up 50 Shades of Grey at Red Box. We are all of us consumers of self-gratification.
In other words, our pornified culture exposes us as a people of enfeebled desires. We’d rather fantasize with images than do the work required for deep and meaningful relationships. In our hyper-connected society, we’ve become distracted from one another, ransoming real relationships for cheap gratification. The word “distraction” comes from a Latin term that means “torn apart.” We are not only disconnected from one another, we exploit each other, and tear ourselves apart.
In his famous Oxford address “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis said that we allow lesser objects to satisfy our desires, unaware that ultimate gratification is offered to us. “We are half-hearted creatures,” writes Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
Annihilating Mr. Trump for political expediency might feel good to some. But it doesn’t teach us how to cultivate rich desires that get us beyond the mud pies. If humility is the ally of temperance, then maybe Trump was on the right track in apologizing (albeit grudgingly). If we’d rather not annihilate ourselves, maybe we can apologize to our families and friends and be embarrassed for some of our choices, temper our own lust, and reclaim the priceless value of the human soul.