Chemical addictions are no laughing matter, but they’re trivial compared to other, under-appreciated addictions that plague America: pornography, popularity, and power. Chemicals can wreck the lives of addicts and the unfortunates with whom they come in contact. The three Ps are on track to destroy an entire country, perhaps an entire planet.
It is difficult to find reliable statistics on pornography: who watches it, how much, on what forums, and the industry’s revenues and profitability. The numbers that are out there are all over the lot, but it is inarguably a multi-billion dollar industry with tens of millions of customers. What pornography does to the human brain has become an acceptable subject for scientific study. For many, porn generates neurological and chemical reactions similar to those generated by various drugs. Like drugs, pornography’s effects are so potent they can lead to addiction; the afflicted often risking marriages and jobs.
For a brief physical interaction that may or not have be an expression of romance and love, sex in all its variations commands a bizarre level of attention. The sexual revolutionaries stormed the barricades in the 1960s, but sex is more of a preoccupation now than it was then. Sexual imagery in advertising, entertainment, and the media bombard us. Virtually every formerly “transgressive” sexual practice, with the exceptions of pedophilia, bestiality, incest, and necrophilia (and they all have their advocates) are now tolerated, if not embraced, by most Americans.
Yet there remains a residue of prurience, titillation, naivety, and shame, something left over from the days when sex was not a subject for conversation, much less magazine covers. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert is being investigated for allegedly improperly withdrawing money from his bank, paying blackmail to hide the details of a homosexual relationship. Bruce became Caitlyn. For all the tolerance and sophistication Americans have supposedly acquired since the bad old repressive days, they gawk at these spectacles like circus crowds used to gawk at bearded ladies and two-headed calves, with the modern barkers of the press, television, and Internet taking the rubes’ money and shepherding them into line.
Caitlyn has made more money, won more accolades, and garnered more publicity than when Bruce won the Olympic decathlon. The dollar potential of publicity and popularity is tantalizing: get half of one percent of the American population to buy what you’re selling and you’ll make a fortune. Caitlyn was part of the Kardashian juggernaut (pun intended) that capitalized curves, cat fights, self-absorption, and surgically enhanced pulchritude into hundreds of millions of dollars. Having turned what most of us would regard as a private decision and the subsequent transformative process into a publicity bonanza that not only keeps up with but surpasses the Kardashians, Caitlyn’s laughing all the way to the bank.
Lucrative as fame can be, for most of the famous, it’s not the primary draw. For that, think of the toddler screaming: “Look at me!” Among grown ups, the need for attention can range from nonexistent to pathological, and the latter predominates in the celebrity universe. The Irene Cara “Fame” (“I’m gonna make it to heaven, Light up the sky like a flame”) is a bonfire stoked by a gargantuan, multifaceted industry that attracts millions of moths desperate to emerge from their obscurity. For the few who make it, being in the public eye uncorks a brain-bath of potent neurotransmitters that often proves quite addictive. Even the threat of losing it may be psychologically devastating. Like most addictions, it requires increasing doses to provide the same high. Coming off those highs can be a depressing slide, the David Bowie “Fame” (“puts you there where things are hollow”). The costs of a fall from grace explain the don’t-rock-the-boat fear of so much of the celebrity stable: the PR machinery, bland public statements, scandal suppression, political groupthink, and endorsement of fashionable causes.
There is no psychological rocket fuel, for those so addicted, that rivals the exercise of power. Human history is mostly a chronicle of who scraps to the top of the manure heap, and much of it makes Game of Thrones look like a nursery rhyme. The chance to force others to bend to one’s will acts as a mega-neurotransmitter that overrides risks, judgment, and morality. No single group has inflicted more misery on the rest of us than our rulers, not by a long shot. Power sits atop the hierarchy of addictions and usually involves some or all of the others. Nobody in their right mind would take the other side of a bet that sexual promiscuity and chemical addiction rates—if accurate tallies could be obtained—are higher in Washington D.C. than the national averages. For reveling in fame and having one’s ass kissed, only Hollywood approaches the capital.
These addictions probably stem from evolutionary biology. The fat epidemic demonstrates that the human body hasn’t evolved for today’s sedentary lifestyles, In the same vein, human psyches are ill-equipped to handle certain powerful neurotransmitters, For much of history, the “life of man” has been “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651) Pornography would get you burned at the stake; sex—with a partner who was just as grubby and unwashed as you were—was for procreation; fame, for 99.99 of the population, extended no farther than the borders of their villages; power was divinely ordained for the crown and nobility. Progress, technology, wealth, and the growth of nations and governments has enabled the hyper-stimulation of certain areas and chemical processes within the brain that for millennia have lain dormant. Anyone trying to stop humanity from careening into oblivion must realize that the crux of the battle is fighting addictions that are far more difficult to defeat than traditional chemical addictions
“Fame” (Irene Cara), written by Dean Pitchford, Carlos Alomar, Ivan Graziani, and Michael Gore
Copyright: Universal Music Publishing Ricordi S.r.l., Unitunes Music, and Emi Affiliated Catalog Inc.
“Fame” (David Bowie), written by Dean Pitchford, David Bowie, John Lennon, Carlos Alomar, John Winston Lennon, and Michael Gore
Copyright: Emi Music Publishing Ltd., Jones Music America, Chrysalis Music Holdings Gmbh, Emi Affiliated Catalog Inc., Lenono Music, Chrysalis Music Ltd., Air Chrysalis Scandinavia AB, Chrysalis Music, Tintoretto Music, Unitunes Music, and Unidisc Music O.B.O. Unitunes Music
THERE ARE GUTTERS, AND THERE ARE PINNACLES