September 28, 2012

Emotional disconnection as a feature of guys' fantasies these days

What started my mind on this topic was wondering whether or not the Millennials thought about a person from their daily lives, or perhaps a real-enough character from a TV show or movie, when they're alone with themselves. The steady trend toward social-emotional avoidance for the past 20 years suggests that they probably do so less, and rely more wholly on looking at porno chicks, no imagining at all.

I wonder what effects that has. It's a very new state of technology, so we have no guidance from the past – none of those “Now remember son...” kind of moments. It must numb a person's social skills and weaken the overall pleasure they get, the worst of both worlds.

At least when I was in middle and high school, thinking about a girl in my school always involved some kind of initial social interaction – my mind's eye didn't start the movie in media res, so to speak. Sure it was incredibly superficial, no Shakespearean dialogue or anything, and of course the beforehand talking and flirting didn't last very long – let's get to it, you know. But there still had to be some kind of minimal emotional connection to ease my mind into another state. And I don't mean that it had to be sweet – it could've been flavored with any believable emotion, whether sentimental or debauched.

This simple practice of thinking about someone in real life must serve to keep you grounded particularly during those times when you're most tempted to spiral off into outer space, whereas porno encourages you to keep divorcing yourself further from reality. Even better, it heightens the pleasure by compounding the physical catharsis with a social-emotional feeling of triumph – like, “I can't believe I just made it with Kelly Kapowski...” You don't feel that simulated sense of accomplishment when staring at a dirty magazine – the girls have no importance in your life. And given the two ways of going about it, imagining someone in a real-life situation makes you more ambitious and confident when pursuing girls in real life.

One of the great mysteries in pop cultural history is the disappearance of narrative plots and character roles in porno movies. They used to be universal, and if that mode survived for so long in a competitive industry, it had to have been meeting some kind of audience demand. Otherwise it wouldn't have been worth the cost of writing the script, building and dressing the sets, and having the players memorize their lines, all of which would count now as pure waste from the producers' view.

Obviously nobody watched those movies for the narrative, dialogue, etc., themselves – just about any movie playing in theaters or on home video would've done a far better job at that.

I think it must have been a need to get more into the setting emotionally before getting on to your main business. It doesn't need to be finely textured; even the thinnest semblance of reality helps you to suspend disbelief and let your mind wander into the mind of the dude on the screen, where the act seems to follow from some minimally plausible scenario. It doesn't have to be drawn-out or complex, just enough to put your mind at ease that you're not merely watching a documentary shot of on-camera prostitution. The latter style would only heighten your self-awareness and prevent even the most fleeting connection with the girl you're picturing.

And what's with all the close-up shots of the man's overjoyed face in porno movies from the good old days? Seems like they haven't done those in ages. It's a simple reaction shot, helping the viewer to empathize and experience it more viscerally. Unconsciously your mind is thinking, “Damn, if she twists his face into that shape, this girl must be the fuck of the century.” The target audience of porno today must have no need at all to resonate on the same emotional wavelength as the dude whose body they're watching.

And then there's all the T&A that used to be shown in popular movies, but has since disappeared. It seems like every movie from the 1980s is about 90% the real movie and 10% soft-core porn. There was thus more than one way that guys met their need for a blending of characters-in-a-narrative and naked girls, to enrich the overall experience. Over the last 20 years, those two functions have been split apart, with popular movies showing no skin at all, and dirty movies dispensing with any plausibility and going for a prostitution documentary style.

I have little interest in the history of porn per se, only for what it reveals about larger changes within our society. Psychological states, social patterns, attachment styles, etc., don't leave direct traces like bones and stone tools do. Their lasting impressions are more indirect, and anyone interested in finding out what went on then and what's going on now should not be above the approach of “leave no stone unturned”. In fact looking at an off-beat case like dirty movies makes the overall pattern of change much more vivid than some other case studies – even where you'd think empathy, the need for emotional closeness, etc., might always be zero, there's actually a striking change over time.


  1. Hard to say what's going on.

    I think even sheltered men would rather have some emotional connection in their fantasies. It could be that the people who make porno movies have changed in character.

  2. I'd bet a lot of porn watching, esp for adolescents, is done with the speakers on mute: that'd cut down on the effectiveness of dialog & acting.

    How competitive was movie/video porn? We know from watching the other movie industry that there are factors besides money. A successful porn director might want a reputation as an "artist" more than he wants the money from slightly-higher grossing films.

    Didn't the movie director in Boogie Nights lament video porn as killing the art?


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