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Innocence lost.

David Schwimmer, TV star and director of “Trust”,  on the internet, pornography, and loss of innocence:

“When I was 13 it was a real challenge to get your hands on Playboy. But today unfortunately most kids before the age of 13 have seen pornography online and not just a still image, [it is] moving pictures. And if you’re a 9- or 10-year-old, and your first encounter with sexuality is some kind of pornography online, then that’s a definitely a loss of innocence.”

Schwimmer further argues that the Internet isn’t the only culprit – that we’re seeing a cultural shift on how we view and define pornography:

“Unfortunately [there is a lot of] sexualization of young adults in advertising. There used to be a big uproar about Brooke Shields in her jeans 15, 20 years ago, but now people take it for granted. I think it is a shame and I find it pretty disturbing to see a huge billboard in New York – you see a young girl that looks 15 maybe, although you can’t tell. You’re like, ‘wait a minute she’s in her underwear on the floor of a dirty hotel room or something.’ But you just drive by and you’re used to it. I think it’s a problem, and it contributes to [the loss of innocence].”

It’s not often that mainstream Hollywood figures start conversations about advertising, culture and the loss of innocence.

Let’s take a look at the ad responsible for the controversy Schwimmer mentioned above. It’s from 1985, courtesy of Calvin Klein, notorious for pushing the envelope of acceptability. At the time, this generated considerable press and outrage over its portrayal of a young Brooke Shields.

What is your reaction to this ad? Are you incensed at what it portrays, the values it seems to promote? How do you feel about your 13-year old son or daughter standing in front of this ad at the mall? Does it make you want to change the way you shop or the way you think about advertising and culture?

Notice how you feel about this picture and then take a look at the next one.

This 2010 Calvin Klein billboard is currently on display in New York.  

What is your reaction to this ad? Are you incensed at what it portrays, the values it seems to promote? How do you feel about your 13-year old son or daughter standing in front of this ad at the mall? Does it make you want to change the way you shop or the way you think about advertising and culture and loss of innocence?

If TV commercials, movie ratings, and print advertisements over the last 25 years are the barometer, then the next quarter decade of cultural evolution will bring the US to par with current day Europe. Full frontal nudity and use of the “f” word on primetime TV and PG-13 rated movies. Previously X-rated concepts available in R-rated films. A loss of innocence never before seen in recorded history. So, basically, a repeat of the last 25 years.

If we do not change the way we make choices within our culture, will innocence be regained? I think not. The cultural choices that we make every day - influences we choose to allow into our hearts, minds, and homes - influence our perceptions of what is good and what brings life. What messages do you allow into your daily world? What influences are hanging on the wall of your children’s room? Would they have been okay hanging in your room as a boy or girl? What do you think about that? What are you going to do about it?

.xxx – coming to the internet near you

First, a bit of history. ICANN is the organization responsible for doling out top level domains for the internet worldwide. They are the group that decides who gets so called TLDs like .com, .net, .org and more. In fact, there are TLDs not only across global horizontals like .biz, .gov, and .info, but also vertically aligned by country. Canada is .ca and a few years ago the tiny island nation of Tuvalu made headlines by selling their TLD for 10 million dollars. Somebody really, really, really wanted to own the rights to everything .tv, I guess. In 2005, the idea of making a domain just for pornography surfaced. There were tons of arguments presented by both sides, but the most compelling presented to ICANN was a resounding “no” recommendation by the Bush administration. In fact, most of the board members cited this in voting not to allow the .xxx domain at that time. Yesterday, March 18th, however, the board voted to approve the .xxx designation for use.

For perspective, note that in anticipation of this ruling, almost 250,000 domains have already been pre-reserved for companies already occupying the .com version. In other words, the company that owns reserved a long time ago in anticipation of being able to use it someday. The ICANN vote was pretty one-sided. Nine board members voted yes, three voted no, and four did not  vote. Several board members noted that the current US administration did not present a strong argument regarding the merits of the .xxx domain, which had previously carried great weight with the board.

In an interesting twist, the pornography industry and the anti-pornography industry both recommended voting “no” to ICANN. The anti- group for obvious reasons, the pro- group because they didn’t want to have to pay additional yearly fees for property they already own on the internet. I found this fascinating. Most businesses would be excited to acquire additional real estate on which to sell their wares. But the porn industry basically said that they didn’t want to pay the estimated $60 per year for the .xxx version of their existing sites. The only conclusion I can draw is that they are happy with the amount of traffic they already have. And frankly, they’re right to be happy. With more than 425,000,000 pages of porn already up, supply is well in hand. Plus, most filtering companies will make it very easy to block the purposeful search of any .xxx domain.

I think the greatest tragedy of this vote is not the effect of another 250,000 or 5,000,0000 or 425,000,000 pages of porn. The greatest tragedy this vote reveals is the level of legitimacy that pornography has gained in our world today. Our elected administration did not find it troublesome to afford the same level of credibility to pornography as to education. And now .xxx sits alongside .edu.

So should you be worried about .xxx? The answer is…it depends. If you were already concerned about the state of pornography in the world, then yes, you should continue to be concerned. The business of pornography has long driven technological advancement. While there were many factors that led to VHS winning the battle over Betamax, the fact that Sony refused to license Betamax to the pornography industry was an important one. It only took a couple months after Microsoft released the new Kinect gaming system for the first virtual sex game to hit. In my opinion, the real reason for concern isn’t that the new .xxx domain will make it easier for people to find porn. The real concern is that we’ve reached a level of saturation, availability and widespread acceptance of pornography never before seen in recorded history.

The average age of first exposure to pornography for boys is now 11 years old. Almost 95% of the time, it is through accidental contact during an unrelated internet search. When they are trying to find it on purpose, as more than 55% of teen boys do on at least a monthly basis, the vast majority use their iPod touch or a similar personal, unfiltered, internet device. More than 25% of all mobile device searches are for porn. Youth pastors report that porn is the number one thing holding their high school boys back. In a 2010 survey by Covenant Eyes of 3000 college dormitory residence assistants (RA’s) and similar positions, the percentage of men struggling with online porn was almost always between 90% and 100%. And one out of every two married, Christian, men struggle with looking at porn on a daily basis.*

The real truth is that we should all be concerned about the state of pornography in the world. The next evolution of how porn will show up at your door is important and we should be aware and ready to fight. But more importantly, maybe the real question for each of us is – What can I do right now to start equipping myself or my husband or my son to understand this issue and begin a life changing journey toward real freedom. Because one thing is certain. It’s time for a real conversation about a difficult topic. Start here. Start today.

*Statistical citations available, click here to submit a request.

In the company of mockers

Psalm 1 (NIV) says “Blessed are those who do not…sit in the company of mockers…” As I was reflecting on this last week, I couldn’t help but be staggered by the number of places in my life where I choose to sit in the company of mockers. Mocking means to treat with ridicule, contempt, or derision. When I sit back with some perspective and that definition, it seems that I am surrounded by a world full of people mocking me, my values, Jesus and Christianity in general, as well as the life choices I am making. In the past, I’ve chalked up the mocking to ‘just the way things are’ or ‘that’s just the world in which I live’ or whatever. And while those rationalizations may have some truth to them, the last week of pondering this has led me to the conclusion that it is most often my choice to sit in their company. How many hours a week do I spend in front of the television, watching movies, listening to the radio, or my personal habit, endlessly devouring each bit of online news that streams across my screen.

Sure, there are fun shows that entertain. Radio can inform. Keeping up on current events seems harmless enough. But it seems easy enough to reconcile this verse with what we know of Jesus’ life here on earth. I don’t recall many verses in the gospels that are devoted to conversations about the good or bad of the current political regime. I think it is safe to assume that Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time debating politics with his disciples. He seemed primarily concerned with the condition of the human heart, not human circumstances. Even when he was actively fixing circumstances, which he did quite often in healing the sick and such, he almost always asked them questions about their heart.

And when confronted with those who mocked him, he didn’t sidestep their contempt, ridicule and derision with excuses. He didn’t placate their self-defined righteous anger with soft words. He risked offending them by telling the truth in love. Jesus seemed to delight in challenging the status quo, didn’t he? When the Pharisees tried to bait him with politics, he went right for their hearts. When the rich young ruler asked for a next step, he didn’t suggest a building program or a stewardship plan or a planned gift to the future church, Jesus  went straight for his heart.

I’m not writing this because I have a prescription ready for you. On the contrary, I’m in the middle of the situation and I feel compelled to speak about it out loud. Because I am convinced that often I choose to sit and watch a movie instead of pursuing my wife’s heart at the end of a long day. While that movie may not overtly communicate that everything I hold dear is wrong, it does usually mock, deride, ridicule and hold in contempt the values I treasure and want to live by. Too long have I been content to just let that happen, to sit silently, letting the opinion of mockers spill freely over me. Content to absorb, seemingly unaware that according to Scripture, long term exposure to mockery is hazardous to my health. As is the case with most of my life, it seems, the more difficult choice is usually the one that leads to real life.

Maybe Robert Frost captured it best:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.