Jewish World Review Dec. 14, 1999 /5 Teves, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WE AMERICANS like to think we're exposed to an awful lot these days. Certainly, there's no question that our popular culture is a lot coarser than it used to be. This fall's new television season -- with its barely bleeped expletives and relentlessly sexualized teen-agers -- provides all too many examples of how words and images that used to be taboo are now considered fit subjects for popular entertainment and amusement.
This lowering of standards hurts us in many ways. But perhaps the most destructive thing it does is aid the slow and steady advance that truly virulent obscenity and pornography are making in our society.
What particularly concerns me is the extent to which hard-core pornography is increasingly aimed at our children. We like to think that with all our rating systems and warning labels, vigilant parents can protect their kids from this sort of thing. But it's not so easy, not in a world increasingly filled with what I call stealth pornography. Passed off as "innocent fun" to which only a prude or blue-nose would object, stealth porn is in fact neither innocent nor fun. Rather, it is repellant fare directed at our children, with the deliberate intention of encouraging them to develop a taste for the real hard-core stuff.
Ironically, what allows it to fly under the media's radar is the very thing that makes it so dangerous: its obscene nature. Because broadcast television and community newspapers are bound by common standards of decency, they are not able to show or tell us in any detail how unbelievably degrading and hurtful this stuff really is.
A particularly pernicious case in point is a magazine called Big Brother Skateboarder. Published by Larry Flynt, Big Brother Skateboarder is filled with the sort of rampant obscenity, casual misogyny and deviant sexuality one might expect to find in Flynt's infamous Hustler magazine. But it's not in Hustler; it's in a magazine aimed at children as young as 8 years old.
This past spring, Guy Kemp, a talk-show host on National Public Radio, broadcast an interview with Big Brother Skateboarder's managing editor, Dave Carnie, where Carnie boasted openly that his magazine was designed to dupe parents into thinking it was an innocent sports publication. When Kemp asked Carnie point-blank whether Big Brother Skateboarder was "marketed so that parents won't know what's inside," the editor did not flinch. "Yes, definitely," he said. "It's definitely what we're doing. The kids who are reading our magazine are 14 and 15, even as young as 12, and they're gonna learn this stuff anyway. I don't care what people think."
Appalled at what I had heard, I took up the subject on my own radio show back in May. Imagine my surprise a few months later, when I was shopping with my son in a very upscale shopping center. I came across a copy of Big Brother Skateboarder in a nice-looking clothing store that catered to kids. If there was any question about how deeply stealth porn had permeated our society, here was the answer: You could find it right in the heart of family-oriented, politically conservative Orange County, California.
When I mentioned this experience on my radio show, I was also branded a liar for calling Big Brother Skateboarder pornographic. The fact is, however, that Larry Flynt himself seems to agree with my characterization. In a recent television interview, he was asked about my allegation that though it is aimed at children, Big Brother Skateboarder is full of four-letter words, nudity and pictures depicting sex. "I think that's largely the appeal of this magazine, and why it is so popular," he responded, adding sanctimoniously: "I can't see sugar-coating what life's all about."
Some of us might disagree that "life is all about" crudeness and vulgarity. Certainly there's no question that the kind of material that Big Brother Skateboarder contains is not appropriate for children. And here we come to the heart of the issue of stealth pornography: How can I convey the offensive nature of the magazine's content without being offensive myself? The nature of pornography, after all, lies in the details, in its celebration -- even veneration -- of the kind of behavior most of us can't even conceive of. Not knowing exactly what it is, of course, allows people to believe that critics like me are overreacting to racy but ultimately harmless fare, that the sort of thing Flynt is purveying in Big Brother Skateboarder is "no big deal."
In short, it is our squeamishness that allows pornography to proliferate. To keep their filth in circulation, pornographers count on the mainstream media's reluctance to describe the exact nature of their wares and on our unwillingness to know about it (not to mention our fear of appearing prudish or un-hip).
So what kind of magazine is Big Brother Skateboarder? It is a magazine that runs articles encouraging young boys to masturbate and young girls to "steal the show" at a party by taking off their clothes and having sex with whomever happens to be around. It is a magazine with a penchant for publishing photos of semi-naked men cavorting in g-strings and of young women simulating oral sex on young men.
But perhaps the most unconscionable thing about Big Brother Skateboarder is the extent to which it seems deliberately designed to fool casual browsers into thinking it's no different from any other skateboarding magazine. A parent who idly flips through it probably won't notice anything but photos of skateboarders and articles about skateboarding. It's only when you sit down and actually read it cover to cover -- which is what kids do -- that you realize its true nature. To complicate matters, not every issue is loaded with filth; a particularly egregious one will be followed by a relatively tame one.
This duplicity, of course, is the nature of stealth pornography. Adult magazines that contain this sort of material are quite properly kept covered and stored behind counters to prevent children from being exposed to them. But magazines like Big Brother Skateboarder avoid such constraints. How? By exploiting our ignorance and taking advantage of our naivete.
There is really only one solution to this problem. No matter how unpleasant or discomforting it may seem, we must educate ourselves about stealth porn. To abdicate this responsibility is to allow the Larry Flynts of the world unfettered access to our