WASHINGTON, D.C.—Taking a break from its coverage of the national debate over health care and whether to continue waging war in Afghanistan, the Washington Post weighed in Thursday on the “suddenly inescapable” issue of public porn watching.
The article, written by a young staff writer, Monica Hesse, contains a few handy anecdotes about people stuck in buses, at libraries or on planes next to people who suddenly start watching adult fare on either a mobile device or computer, and the consequent decision whether or not to do something about it. She also relates a story about one woman who was stuck in traffic behind an SUV with “acrobatic” porn being played on the vehicle’s television. Termed “drive-by porn,” such incidents have become common enough to have instigated laws in a few states outlawing the practice.
What is particularly interesting about the article is not only the utter insouciance with which it approaches the subject, as if the issue were essentially one of getting a handle on the technology rather than the boorish behavior enabled by the technology, but also the writer’s almost palpable acceptance of the ubiquity of porn viewing in public. For better or worse—but mostly for better—it is articles like this that drive the religious right mad with outrage over what it sees as the mainstream’s inexorable and de facto approval of pornography.
“Perhaps this is the real problem,” Hesse speculates, “the increasingly blurred boundary between public and private. If we are so accustomed to burying our noses in tiny screens, carrying our entertainment in and out of the house, perhaps people are simply getting confused as to where they are.” Could simple public service announcements clear this up, she asks, sarcastically.
"At some point . . . we've completely lost the ability to tell when it's socially appropriate and when it's not," said Jana Matthews, a mother of four and English professor who encountered one such porn exhibitor on a plane. Of her last job, teaching at a university in Pennsylvania, she told Hesse, "I don't think there was ever a time when I would do research at the library and someone wasn't using a public terminal to watch porn. I'm trying to do research and you're sitting there watching your . . . porn."
Perhaps not surprisingly, each of the situations of public porn being essentially forced upon an unwitting viewer seems to have been committed by a male. Each of the “victims” in the article is a female. Could it be that in addition to breeding a generation of men who think nothing of imposing their viewing habits on others, we are as a society enabling them by putting the burden of doing something about it on women? Is the assumption that another man would care less about a guy next to him watching public porn?
“Sandi Benedetti, a bartender in Northeast Washington, was catching some extra sleep on a long morning Metro ride when a guy in a business suit took the seat next to her—the only one available on the rush-hour train,” relates Hesse. The guy pulls out his laptop and the next thing you know, the sounds of sex are filling the car.
"He sits down, reaches into this leather bag, gets his laptop, and suddenly I'm hearing Ah Ah Ah Ah AhAhAhAh! The guy in front of us turns back and glares at me! Like he thinks I'm with this guy! And then the woman across the aisle, too."
Instead of making a scene, Benedetti, an “adventurous gal,” plays along and starts watching the porn with the guy. "Dude smiles at me," she says, "and then we both just watch together. Stop before mine, he packs up the computer and gets off. We never said a word."
Hesse characterizes the awkward happening as “just two consenting adults, on their way to work,” but could it not also be a case of the regrettable enabling of behavior that no thoughtful person would ever contemplate doing and no self-respecting society would ever condone?