With the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, the sexual assault debate has ignited once again, as it will with each new accusation—whether true or false—of high profile celebrities or public figures. Every time, we hear the same message: There is an abuse of power that allows people to force themselves upon others. We are urged to reject our violent “#metoo” sexual abuse culture.
Indeed, we must reject all sexual abuse. However, we must also admit that we as a society have created this sexual abuse culture. The Sexual Revolution “liberated” people from the mores and behaviors society once expected of individuals. It took away modesty, chastity and customs that served to protect people from abuse. The Sexual Revolution promoted promiscuity that easily degenerates into abuse, harassment and assault.
The shock of the Frankenstein monster we created has led to a hypersensitivity toward anything resembling harassment and abuse. Many real cases of abuse have been denounced. However, there are also cases in which false accusations of impropriety ruin a career. This hyper-sensitivity has created a frenetic climate of guilty until proven guiltier. Indeed, it is mob rule, with the only too willing media playing judge, jury, and hangman.
The Other Abuse Culture
This hypersensitivity to abuse is mirrored by a hyper-insensitivity of another sexual harassment culture. Talk of this other culture is notably absent in the debate. However, this culture can portray the most blatant sexual abuses without fearing any retribution or consequences. The most rabid denouncers are strangely silent and fall limp at its mention. Indeed, they might even sympathize with its portrayals.
The abuse culture in question is the entertainment industry. It is found on movie screens and entertainment venues everywhere. This culture broadcasts hyper-insensitivity to violence, nudity, profanity and gratuitous sex. It teaches young people that all these things are normal and can be done without consequences. People are desensitized by a wide array of abusive and immoral behaviors that sets the stage for #metoo abuse.
While some actors have been denounced for behavior off the screen, nothing is banned on the screen. We are not talking about a few isolated films. Picking recent R-rated films at random will reveal examples of a culture of promiscuity that leads to sexual abuse and aberrations of the worst kind. And yet no one says anything.
A Random Review
A recent example might be the late summer blockbuster, “Crazy Rich Asians,” that swept the nation with rave reviews. One scene shows what Kyle Smith described in a National Review article as a “bachelor party [that] takes place on a huge freighter, in international waters in the company of bikini models from around the world.” Here is a case of implied actions by powerful, rich men with sexually suggestive women that would be outside the reach of the law in international waters. Audiences fantasize with playing out the sinful roles. Society is expected to be complicit, accepting these mortal sins against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments as normal. No one complains.
A few examples of reviews found on the Catholic News Service (CNS)—a division of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—should be enough to demonstrate the hyper-insensitivity toward the abuse of others, especially women. There is no righteous indignation toward these abusive portrayals; some are shown in a positive or even comic light.
The Film “Assassination Nation,” for example, portrays “considerable violence,” involving “gunplay, torture and suicide, drug use, strong sexual content, including two implied nonmarital encounters, aberrant behavior and an adultery theme, a pornographic image, explicit dialogue and frequent rough language.” CNS rated it “L – limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling.”
“Life Itself” contains “brief scenes of suicide and accidental death with gore, mature themes including abortion, drug use, a premarital situation, an ambivalent treatment of marriage, a few uses of profanity, a couple of milder oaths as well as pervasive rough and much crude language.” CNS rated it “A-III – adults.”
Another film called “Eighth Grade” involves minors—eighth graders!—suffering from unwanted sexual demands, “sexual humor” and crude language—all of which would be labeled harassment off-screen. CNS rated it “A-III – adults.”
By contrast, CNS used its “O – morally offensive” rating for films like “The First Purge.” It contains “excessive gory and gruesome violence, including a sexual assault, graphic aberrant sexual activity, drug use, brief partial nudity, several profanities, a few milder oaths and pervasive rough and crude language.”
As described by reviewers, many films deemed acceptable in society contain ample material for denunciations in today’s hyper-sensitive abuse culture. The viewer is unaware of any character in these films that suffered negative legal consequences as a result of their sinful acts, either immediately or thirty years after. The fact that these sins are portrayed favorably on screen does not nullify their bad effects off-screen. And yet no one complains.
Rejecting This Second Culture
This is the second sexual abuse culture that no one dares to mention. It should likewise be vehemently opposed. Unlike the first culture that is limited to individual actions against another, this culture victimizes anyone who watches it. Because the acts it portrays have no legal consequences, they are much more irresponsible and pervasive. We can be exposed to more sexual abuse and harassment in one evening in the second culture than a full year in the first. And yet, no one complains.
This second culture is defined by the plots and themes that degrade humanity. They are watched by everyone, male and female, conservative and liberal, old and young. We are flooded with images of these irresponsible and sinful characters that live in a surreal world, acting out their impulses and whims. They make sexual abuse look so easy and gratifying.
Each deplorable and sinful act represents not a single episode but is multiplied by the number of times the film is shown. It is as if the same abuse is committed millions of times inside theaters, homes and mobile devices. Inside the minds of countless viewers (and abusers), these films send a message of validation and social acceptability.
A Moral Problem
Those who decry the first culture have little problem accepting the second. This contradiction suggests a moral problem by which individuals do not discern right and wrong correctly.
People think what determines the acceptability of an act is the freedom and pleasure of the individual, not an objective moral law. They do not realize that the cause of the first sexual abuse culture is a distorted notion of personal freedom best understood as an amoral license that often leads to the abuse of others. The cause of the second abuse culture is a willingness to fantasize about a rules-free world where all are free to act according to their whims and pleasures without a moral compass. Both cultures lead to sin and disaster in society.
Any serious treatment of the sexual abuse must embrace a moral law that re-establishes a correct understanding of right and wrong, the notion of sin, and the Catholic dogma of Hell’s eternal punishment for those who die in the state of mortal sin. It must also include a rejection of the Sexual Revolution that has so destroyed the lives of millions with the lying promise of moral liberation.
Any other solutions will only address the symptoms of our hyper-sexual culture that encourages the behaviors now deplored. It is time to address their causes. It is time to denounce the other culture that none dare mention.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Soceity--Where We've Been, How We Go Here, and Where We Need to Go. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania, where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.