The Black Mirror of Internet Desire

‘Give me the decadent any day. Purists shit me.’

So reads the prompt I wrote for myself some time back and stuck to a sticky note on the side of my computer, which is where I tend to post sticky notes with ideas I’d like to pursue later.

But this one puzzles me. I can’t remember what prompted it. Maybe an encounter with someone or other who plunged me into that abyss of inadequacy that makes me want to rail against perfection.

Last Saturday, I took myself off to the fortieth anniversary of the Freud conference, which was held at the Cunningham Dax Centre in Carlton on the topic: ‘The Black Mirror: psychoanalysis in the techno-culture age’, a conference that explored how technology can influence our lives in unhelpful ways, particularly when it comes to some folks’ addiction to pornography.

The issues with the Internet relate to its speed and availability.

In earlier days people found their porn in newsagents, on the top shelf and more often than not, they needed to buy furtively, given its unacceptability in public.

Or their pornographic images might have come in the mail in brown envelopes ‘For adults only’.

Children might have found pornography under their father’s bed, his Playboys and Penthouse magazines, but it took time and effort to find these images and gratification was not instant.

In the case of the Internet, every sexual fantasy can find its equivalent in some way or another.

The second of the two speakers, Alessandra Lemma, and Heather Wood from the Portman clinic in London, talked about this as rule 34, namely there is always an image on the Internet for every single fantasy, if only we’re prepared to search for it.

Both Lemma and Wood spoke of the rise in numbers of people accessing porn and likewise some downloading illicit images.

They wondered about the extent to which the Internet is cause or effect.

Certainly, its ready availability increases the likelihood of people gratifying their desire to see images of underage pornographic images that are illegal.

Notwithstanding the dreadful effects on those children who have been exploited in the way – in so far as their images on the Internet can be pored over endlessly to gratify the unspoken desires of troubled men – there is a need to reflect upon these people who seek such comfort: the paedophiles or would-be paedophiles of this world with some compassion.

Some of these men addicted to porn (and women) present for treatment at the Portland Clinic, sometimes after they’ve been found guilty of downloading illegal images, and when they explore their life stories with one of the clinic therapists, there is a great deal of meaning behind their voyeuristic decisions, including their choice of images, their sexual desires, childhood experience and behaviour.

For this is what the Internet is about in large part: voyeurism and exhibitionism, defensive manoeuvres we all employ from time to time and part of being human.

The trouble with the Internet, notwithstanding its wonderful aspects, it often comes in the form of graphic images and sounds that leave less to the imagination than in the past, and these images, Lemma argues, are forced into the viewer.

There is our initial curiosity, but sometimes our curiosity only goes so far and we would stop it at a point, but the Internet drags us further and takes us into places we sometimes wish we’d never been.

The images get pushed into us and we cannot un-see them.

For children, this is particularly problematic. Children might be curious about what goes on in their parent’s bedroom but they also find it troubling.

The Internet can expose them to the primal scene, their parents in intercourse and so much more that is deeply disturbing before they are of an age to process there experience.

The problem becomes increasingly explicit and for some vulnerable people more and more addictive so that there are those who spend entire nights awake watching porn and they stop being able to function in their normal lives at school or work.

As well, these persistent exposures to online porn drain those addicted to Internet porn of energy and of imagination. They lose the ability to relate to real people.

During discussion, we talked of the 2D nature of Internet relationships, which preclude imagination to some extent, as against the 3D nature of real relationships.

Wood spoke about desire, delay and delivery as the three dimensions of experience that can be reduced to two dimensions on the Internet, whereby desire is met with delivery without the benefits of delay. Hence the 2D nature of the Internet.

Usually to help us deal with our desires we need to be able to work at seeking their gratification to help overcome the frustration of not actually getting exactly what we want but with the Internet our desires are met seemingly at the click of a button and this causes what Wood described as triumph over the object, over the desire.

The image is powerful. More so than we sometimes realise. It lodges itself in our head and forces itself onto us.

As much as young women can suffer the feeling that their bodies must be hairless and pre pubescent, young men can also experience erectile dysfunction because they imagine they can never perform well enough, not nearly so well as the exaggerated and enhanced characters on the pornographic stage.

In this regard, Wood pointed out the strange juxtaposition of society’s zero tolerance of child abuse alongside this pressure for adult bodies to be seen as pre pubescent.

There was also talk on the fluidity of gender and the degree to which images online can fuel this confusion for young people in adolescence who are trying to work out who they are, whether more masculine than feminine and all degrees in between.

One woman in the audience talked of the images of gloves as related to her career in nursing, when to do an internal examination, as a midwife, requires the wearing of latex gloves. If such an examination is performed without gloves it becomes an assault. Hence she argued the need for boundaries.

The speakers described the Internet screen as the Black Mirror, in contrast to the maternal mirror of infancy, one which reflects back the baby through the mother’s eyes and gestures.

The Black Mirror does not reflect back. Rather it projects into and gives an illusion of control none of us have. It can interfere with relationships.

During the final discussion, I worried that this audience of people whose average age would have most likely been somewhere between 40 and 50, were becoming too gloomy indeed.

What would the generation below us and below them again make of these things?

One member of the audience reminded us of how panicked people became at Claxton’s invention of the printing press, as a result of which people were then able to read their bibles by themselves instead of having the bible read to them.

And another talked of the days in which the legs on the piano needed to be concealed given that their comely shape and might remind men of the sight of a woman’s ankle when women needed to be covered from top to toe to help them circumvent male desire.

What a history it is to the human race.

From the inhibited and anxious to the extreme and in your face and all of us, all the time struggling to deal with our sexual desire.

4 thoughts on “The Black Mirror of Internet Desire”

  1. Gosh, there’s a lot to think about in this piece, although thinking about it frightens me. In the past, it was harder to surreptitiously do anything, certainly watching porno videos couldn’t be done unless parents were out! And even then, you still had to go and rent it, I guess! But these days, kids can do it all so easily and parents would have no idea. Scary thoughts.
    Thanks for sharing these talks with us.

  2. There’s too much of everything online. Everything. It exhausts me. I never imagined for a second I would ever tire of reading but online there’s always something else to read. It never ends. When I was a boy I had a handful of books and LPs and a very small collection of soft core porn. The books and LPs I had some choice in the picking but the porn I found in the street, usually a loose page or two; I was probably fifteen before I held my first Penthouse in my hands and it wasn’t my dad’s; it was my friend’s dad’s. The porn was precious because it was rare, a few images to pore over and obsess about. I can still remember the first—or at least one of the first—stories I ever came across where a guy gets his dick stuck in his zip and, no, that did not lead to a zipper fetish. I have decidedly mixed feelings about pornography. It serves a purpose and I was grateful for it but I also realised from the start this was an unreal world and had nothing to do with the girls I was interested in dating.

    Nowadays, as you rightly say, everything’s immediately accessible even if you’re not looking for it. Only last night I went searching for information about the actress Sofie Gråbøl and was immediately presented with images of her in the nude in some of her early film roles. And very pretty she was too. I’m not saying I’ve seen it all—I’m sure there’s loads I’ve not seen—but I’ve seen enough. My curiosity’s been satisfied. Mostly but I’m not dead yet.

    We live in a very different world to the one you and I grew up in. I’m not sure when I started to feel old but I bet I was still in my thirties. I looked at kids and their attitudes and didn’t recognise myself in them. All this jumping into bed with anyone and everyone: I can’t relate to any of that. Would I have done it if I could? I can’t envisage a world where I would have. I wouldn’t have been me. I’ve always been too interested in relationships, which is maybe why porn never became an obsession with me. It was no different to science fiction—very badly-written science fiction. I tried my hand at writing some once. God, it’s hard. I couldn’t take it seriously, not for a second—there’s too much scope for humour—and so I gave up before I ever got started and have (wisely, I think) kept sex as a side issue in most of my writing.

    People spoil things. You can’t read a review on IMDB or Amazon and trust it. You can’t read a news article in Facebook and believe it. I’m not saying the Internet’s been ruined but it has been spoiled. It’s certainly taken the magic out of sex. And that is a terrible shame. It’s a trade-off though. When I was researching my new novel—one of the characters in Left is an online sex worker—I ended up reading a lot of stuff I wouldn’t normally go near but not all of it was horrible. There was one site where people posted stories of their experiences of masturbation and there were many posts where the underlying tone was very much it’s-so-good-to-be-able-to-say-these-words-out-loud. Not all the posts were by young people (although there were some teens) but it was the comments by older people that touched me. In the end I never used any of it but it was interesting. When I was a young teen I felt so alone and there was no one to talk to. Was that a better world or merely a different kind of bad?

    People with addictive personalities are always going to be at risk. I’m one of them which is why I don’t drink. I can afford to and I don’t exactly hate the stuff but why open the door? We live in a world where self-control is much harder than it used to be though. It’s not encouraged: buy now, just put in on your card. When I bought my first men’s magazine it was a major expense. I was only earning pennies so what’re we talking, a day’s wage? You appreciate something you’ve worked eight hours to own. I certainly did. Nowadays if you know where to look whatever’s new can be yours for nothing and although they sound like they should mean the same thing there’s a world of difference between priceless and worthless. Maybe it discourages materialism but at what cost?

    1. There is too much information to manage, Jim. I suppose there always has been but now it seems worse. More in your face. I’ve just been on a jam packed four day conference and my head is full to bursting with all the new ideas, people and images that now fill my head. I tried to take notes but I doubt I’ll go back over them. The best I can do is to attend to the ideas that come back to me in the form of memories and hope some of them stick. It was such a wonderful conference but mostly the familiar stays.
      I suppose the best we can do is try to find a balance in all of this. Thanks, Jim.

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