Thursday, January 31, 2008

Less is More

JPII famously remarked, on the topic of pornography, that it is wrong not because it reveals too much of the person, but precisely because it reveals too little. I can remember the first time I heard this, and the feeling of certainty that followed as the holy father's word's settled into my heart, but I would have been hard-pressed to explain exactly how pornography 'reveals too little' of the person; I just knew he was right.

I have been tremendously blessed with beautiful and brilliant friends, and lest my readers surmise that I spend all my free time in bars, let me assure you that this particular happy hour encounter I'm about to relate did, in fact, take place in the comfort of my own home, (though there was certainly good beer involved.)

A friend who is particularly gifted in her understanding of Theology of the Body was sharing some wisdom gained from a week-long immersion course she'd recently attended by Christopher West, and her explanation of the depersonalizing effects of pornography on the human person was mind-blowing.

A priest who was present for the course she attended gave a presentation on satanic art, which, it turns out, is nothing more than a collection of images of isolated parts and pieces of the human body separated from the whole. Does this sound familiar? But what is satanic about the separated body parts he was showing them snapshots of? A nose here, a torso there, perhaps the lower half of a leg... These were to be understood as diabolical, somehow?

Well, yes. The difference, the priest explained, between the nude painting of a woman's body he showed them next, and the pornographic image that same painting became when overlaid with a an otherwise clear plastic film which superimposed stirrups, knee-high boots and pasties on the painting, was in the compartmentalization and deconstruction of the whole person.

The model in the painting was, if anything, more covered by the stripper outfit, but she'd been unmistakably transformed from a person to a sex object, and here's why: according to my friend, who's grasp of artistic theory far outpaces my rudimentary knowledge, a good painting uses light and color to keep the eye moving, so that at no point in the encounter with a work of art is the beholder simply focusing on one solitary aspect of the subject. This, the priest told the audience, is the fundamental difference between the reverent artistic portrayal of the human body in the nude, and the lust-driven pornographic images which focus the eye here or there, emphasizing a toned stomach or bare breasts while ignoring the beauty and the unity of the human body as a whole.

Adding insult to injury, as a recent Dove commercial demonstrates, many of the images we are confronted with daily are actually composites of different body parts of different people! So when you're staring up at that gorgeous, leggy Calvin Klein model on the billboard and lamenting your own dimpled thighs, it might be helpful to keep in mind that you are acutually comparing yourself to not one person, but perhaps 5 or 10 models who have been pieced together in an effort to create "the ideal woman."

This knowledge incited an almost involuntary reaction of "eww" and "ahh" as I pondered her words. Eww because it's such a disgustingly effective and grotesque technique aimed at the destruction of the dignity of the human body, and Ahh because the pope's words were unveiled for me in a completely new way. I now understood the truth my heart had instinctively recognized, but that my mind had been unable to reconcile: pornography shows too little.



  1. My first impression of JPII's remarks was that the pornographic image was an 'objectification' of the body with all other aspects of her being removed. Thus it showed too little.

    The most offensive media image I find of woman currently is in the Heiniken commercial in which a woman is 'devolved' into a mechanical android something-or-other with a keg of beer for her torso. All of this of course is there for someone's pleasure.

  2. Yay I loved this entry. When I sprained my ankle last year I spent many hours reading theology of the body. JPII has given the world a beautiful tool to ( if i can be cheesy and borrow the phrase from the intelligent design people) unlocking the mystery of sexuality. it's so exciting and so revealing and so full. i am so grateful that jon and i had that grounding before we got married, yes let the Pope in your bedroom!! ;)


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