The Real Pornography
An email conversation about the news of the day.
April 18 2002 11:03 AM

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Atul,

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Yes, of course we have to protect our children in every way possible, and I have been quite vigorous in warning my daughter, who has yet to become appropriately paranoid on her own, against being free and easy and friendly with every adult she meets or flashing her underwear in public because she thinks it's cute. I hate to admit it, but suddenly a lot of adult men I see look like potential perverts. And my brother, a TV producer, responded to my post yesterday by reminding me that he once worked on a show about kiddie porn and had to look at the stuff and found it so revolting that his stance on the real (if not the virtual) thing is, he said, "not much different than Gary Bauer's or John Ashcroft's."

Nevertheless, public hysteria and extremism are almost always bad responses to any problem. The "war on drugs" has resulted in children being taken away from their parents because their parents used marijuana for medical purposes, and it has led to parents being indicted for taking photographs of their own children nude in the bathtub. I might also add that I'm no fan of the anti-bullying fervor now sweeping our schools. I don't think that mean behavior among kids can be officially mandated out of existence. But I am suspicious of bullies like John Ashcroft taking to the bully pulpit to protect our children. And our efforts to do that can be so perversely skewed. For example, even the "arty" TV channels like Bravo now censor out the curse words in movies. So I had the disturbing experience a few months ago of watching a movie late at night during a terrible bout of insomnia. The movie was a brutal "noirish" piece of garbage, with a bespectacled guy called "The Professor" who loved murdering people and would stick pillowcases over their heads and then stab them with almost intimate slowness. And as he was doing so, any swear words he might be saying were bleeped off the soundtrack!

Anyway, I agree with you that the Supreme Court got the ruling right this time.

And now, bugs and Botox. I LOVED the report about the new insect order. I also loved the fact that the order is related to the "phasmids" (sounds very '60s, doesn't it?), which include the walking sticks, leaf insects, and praying mantises. These were my favorite childhood insects. The leaf and stick insects have an amazing repertory of mimicry tricks, resembling knobby twigs, crinkly leaf litter, a patch of lichen. And I adore praying mantises, not for the reasons that some might suspect (husband-ophagy) but because they can turn their heads and look you straight in the eye, which is not the sort of personal contact you expect from a bug.

Now if you'll excuse a moment of piety on my part, this discovery offers yet another reason (as though we needed any) why we must do something to keep nature from vanishing. Hell, if we're still discovering entire new orders of things, we obviously have a long, long way to go before we know all the things we share this world with. Which is why I found one quote in today's New York Times especially repulsive. In arguing for the exploitation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the president of the "Club for Growth" said: "I'm adamantly opposed to energy conservation. We're not running out [of oil]. All we have to do is go out and find it and produce it."  "Adamantly opposed" to conservation?? Talk about pornography!

On Botox, I think it's hilarious that your hospital restricts it as zealously as it does Oxycontin (and Viagra). But people's mounting obsession with youth and appearance doesn't surprise me. Consider how much of the brain is taken up by the visual cortex—maybe three-quarters? We are visual primates, primed to absorb huge amounts of visual information and to rely on it for just about everything we do and think. Moreover, we are surrounded by hyperbright and hyperkinetic visual imagery as never before. So, in order to attract attention and stand out from the background noise, signals just have to keep getting "louder," which is why, I suspect, breast implants keep getting bigger and the demand for smoothness, muscularity, and flawlessness ever greater.

What's going to stop the trend? Maybe nothing—except something like a tainting of the Botox supply with full-strength, fast-killing botulin.

Natalie

Natalie Angier is a science writer for the New York Times and the author of Woman: An Intimate Geography.

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