George Pyle: Utah has unhealthy obsession with running other people’s lives

Pornography, junk food and message bills are bad when they crowd out the good stuff.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Senate works in their final hours at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, March 5, 2021, during the final day of the Utah Legislature’s 2021 general session.

“But you will see for yourself that much has been gained if we succeed in turning your hysterical misery into common unhappiness.”

Sigmund Freud, “Studies on Hysteria (1895)

People who watch pornography and people who try to stop other people from watching pornography are basically engaged in the same activities. Avoiding reality, separating from humanity, dodging responsibility.

Being unable to turn away from anything — booze, porn, video games, Newsmax, sugar, meth, Disney+ — can be debilitating to an individual, fatal to a career, devastating to a family.

Then there’s the addiction to being an annoying political noodge who lives to enact pointless and expensive message bills. Such an obsession is frequently found among the elected leaders of the state of Utah, where members pass bills to ban abortion, seize all federal land within the state, command global social media platforms to conduct themselves in a certain way and, with a bill that Gov. Spencer Cox signed Tuesday, prohibit the sale of any smartphone or tablet that doesn’t have porn-blockers installed as a default setting.

The adult film actress who wrote an open letter to Cox urging him to veto the porn-blocker bill noted, quite correctly, that it isn’t the job of the state to parent our children. There are filters on just about every internet device ever made. And parents should be monitoring their children’s screen time, not just for porn but for violence, identity theft scams and other things.

But such bills get passed as a way for our leaders to claim they are protecting us from something, but only when that something doesn’t have a rich and powerful lobby protecting it.

As with someone who eats a lot of junk food, the problem with message bills might not be so much what is done as what is not done. If you aren’t hungry or thirsty after a lunch of pork rinds and Pepsi, it’s the salad and milk you didn’t have, and the real protein and vitamins you missed, that hurt.

Thus the reasonable concern that too much pornography will push aside real human relationships. And the frustration that the Legislature shields us from dirty videos but not from guns, air pollution, radioactive waste, texting drivers and predatory lenders and landlords.

The porn-blocker bill may not be much of a problem. It is written so it won’t take effect unless at least five other states pass similar legislation. But, unless three of those states are Nevada, Idaho and Wyoming, all we’ve done is shift more business opportunities to our borders.

And the porn-blocker bill doesn’t even use the word pornography. It refers to another section of the Utah code that bans “material that is harmful to minors,” defined as “representation, in whatsoever form, of nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, or sadomasochistic abuse when it ... taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest in sex of minors.”

Which could be read to include the ads that dominated the online New York Times on Thursday, a series of photos featuring an attractive young woman of somewhat tousled appearance, clad, apparently, only in a bed sheet, lounging next to the expensive Louis Vuitton handbag you are supposed to want to buy having seen it in such a sexy situation.

A world with no pornography in it might be very pleasing indeed, if it meant that there was no demand for it because everyone was personally and sexually fulfilled.

I wonder what color the sky is on that planet.

On Earth, we have young men who kill women, sometimes in large numbers, because they can’t handle their innate feelings and become enraged by women who don’t give them sex. Which will increasingly be the case as the rising female generation makes its own way, financially and emotionally, and will no longer have to trade sex for security.

Or, as in the case of the murders in the Atlanta-area spas last week, we have men who think those urges are shameful and blame women who may not, themselves, ever have been sex workers. Which will forever be the case as long as women from marginalized groups have to trade sex for security.

Casually speaking of sex and pornography as though they were evils to which weak and evil people become addicted doesn’t lead to a healthy respect for sex, or for women. It just makes too many people shameful, angry and uncommunicative, until they explode.

The joke about porn is that it gives young people an unrealistic expectation of how long it takes the plumber to get to your house. The racy stuff that sold a lot of Betamax machines in the 1980s did suggest that everyone out there was having a lot of sex, all of it consensual. Misunderstood, that can leave some people (mostly men) thinking they are unfairly missing out and other people (mostly women) thinking there is something wrong with them if they don’t want to do all that.

He wasn’t. And she shouldn’t.

So, parents, know what your children are watching. But, more than that, raise young people who know what’s real and what is fantasy.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) George Pyle.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, thinks “parental controls” should be a switch that stops other people’s parents from watching Fox News.


Twitter, @debatestate