When I was very young, my parents read me all the stories and poems about Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne. Over and over and over.
It got to the point that they wondered why they were still doing it because, even before I could read myself, I had every line memorized. If either of them got sloppy or creative and changed one word of the received text, I called them on it.
But never once did I sit on a tree branch in the rain with 13 pots of hunny. Never once did I turn an umbrella upside down and use it as a boat. At no time did I hold on to a party balloon and rise up into the sky. Or even think that any of those things were possible.
(Though it remains the great shame of my life that I have never built a house for a clinically depressed homeless friend. The fact that I don’t have any clinically depressed homeless friends is no excuse.)
Later on, I saw probably every piece of celluloid depicting the adventures of the Lone Ranger, Superman and Captain Kirk. At no time did I get into a gunfight, jump out of a 15th-story window or wrestle a Gorn.
(It did take me far too long to realize that the idea of a newspaper reporter like Clark Kent having his own office was completely unrealistic.)
Intervening generations of children have obsessed over things like Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Avengers. They read the books, buy the props, wait in line all day to see the midnight release of the latest film and stay up all night arguing canon in online chat rooms. (Or are those still a thing?)
In every case, people, even very young people, who engage in such fantasy know deep down that it is just that. Fantasy. It’s not real. It’s fun. It’s exciting. At its best it can be moral, inspiring and borderline profound.
(Wait. How’d that get in here?)
But the stories, the characters, are not real. If we thought they were, they would lose both their entertainment value and their potential to impart valuable lessons. Because, if we really believed them, instead of watching and reading and discussing, we’d be arguing, coming to blows, dividing into tribes and nations over differing interpretations of “The Hobbit” and calling out anyone blasphemous enough to prefer Star Wars to Star Trek.
And then there’s porn.
A bill now before the Utah Legislature, HB243, would require that anyone in Utah who, ahem, stumbles onto an online pornography site would have to sit through a warning label. To wit:
"Exposure may lead to harmful and addictive sexual behavior, low self-esteem, and the improper objectification of and sexual violence towards others, among numerous other harms.”
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that none of that is true. Nor am I going to deny the truth of the counter-warning posted by the trolls at one porn site. Specifically: “porn may lead to decreased stress, increased happiness, and lower rates of teen pregnancy.”
The problem is not that we have harmful messages, about sex or about anything else. The problem is that we have people who take them to heart. It is difficult to imagine that anyone gets their ideas about sex and love and healthy behavior from a porn reel any more than that they derive their knowledge of physics from Quidditch.
Though our faith in the ability of people of all ages to see all the stories and fables and still cling to what is real — without which the First Amendment is a dumb idea — is seriously undermined by the success of the baboon in the White House and the flood of cable TV and social media propaganda that got him there and threatens to get him there again.
[Read also. Right now: The Billion-Dollar Disinformation Campaign to Reelect the President - by McKay Coppins in The Atlantic]
Maybe there is a deal to be made here. The Utah warning label on porn sites. A similar disclaimer on Fox News and Facebook.
And it doesn’t take outright pornography to raise the problem of young people — mostly female — who see images of sexy people doing sexy things and get downright depressed that they don’t look like that.
But that’s a symptom of the rotten way our society treats women all around, and a failure to provide more female role models who make it on brains and pluck.
Though they exist. In stories. And in real life.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, isn’t smart enough to write fantasy. So he has been writing for newspapers for 42 years.