Meet the New Smut, Worse Than the Old Smut

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There was an underbelly ripple when the news broke that Victoria’s Secret had called off its Christmas season “fashion show,” a prime-time network TV event featuring provocative displays of risqué lingerie. Cancel culture analysts have conjectured at an awareness of the brand’s lack of “body diversity” together with a growing sensitivity to the problem of female objectification. But the answer has less to do with a moral compass appearing in the American palm than it does with a smartphone already occupying it. It is simple: Victoria’s Secret is surrendering to the squalid world of online pornography.

That much is not surprising. What is surprising, and sickening, is how nudity, once the sign of human innocence, has become the sign of its corruption.

Victoria’s Secret, together with Playboy Magazine, can’t keep up with the Age of the Internet. Some may recall the shock Playboy caused in 2016 when it stopped featuring nudity. What was the world coming to? Or, rather, what has it come to? In an age of online on-demand pornography, with every possible perversion only a click away, this move by the former industry leader was paradoxically calculated to boost sales by reigning in the smut which had grown commonplace.

One year later, however, Playboy got naked again when Cooper Hefner, son of the late founder, Hugh Hefner, announced, “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem.” It is bad enough when pornographic behemoths like Playboy and now Victoria’s Secret are forced to capitulate under the pervasiveness and popularity of internet pornography, but it is worse when forthright expressions emerge capturing the capitulation of an entire culture. Perhaps Victoria’s Secret will be next to return to its vomit.

Could it be that interest and intrigue and subtlety are gone? Must appetites be gorged if they are to be engaged? Has the age of all-out porn pride dawned? With the rise in scrutiny and criticism of the effects of pornography and its role as a public health threat, there is a rising defense as well, rejecting the idea that pornography is detrimental for men and debasing to women. The cry for uncensored celebration rings loud. Let empowered women put themselves on display and make a buck through their bodies at the same time if they choose.

With a porn site ranked among the top ten visited websites in the United States, nudity is just too normal nowadays for niche events like an annual lingerie television show or a quarterly pin-up magazine to be of much interest to anyone anymore. Though it may be pleasant for some to conjecture that the cancellation of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is the result of an enlightened society, it is just a consequence of the prevalence of online pornography. Technology is making Victoria throw in the towel, not a newly-minted modern morality. This is not a sign of a return to innocence; it is a sign of the complete loss of innocence.

Pornography is perhaps the prime destroyer of innocence. Before Adam and Eve lost their innocence through original sin, naked was normal in a different sense, for it was not even noticed. When they gained the knowledge of good and evil, they immediately knew, with the clarity of that distinction, that they were naked. They were exposed by sin both spiritually and physically. And they were ashamed and afraid. This engendering of shame and fear—this loss of peaceful innocence—is experienced in every one of their children throughout the ages as reason dawns and the tragedy of the recognition of good and evil is grasped.

The widespread perversion of nakedness both symbolizes and embodies the diametric opposite of this essential struggle. It marks a certain fulfillment of the serpent’s promise at the tree, of the eye being opened and all things being laid bare—the tree that was “fair to the eyes, and delightful to behold.” The serpent did not wholly lie; the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened. But what they saw was sin and shame. Pornography embraces the vision of fallen nature with an abandon that is so wild it has even learned to excuse and eradicate shame. Shame has become just another thrill that thickens over time.

The eyes of men and women are still open through the inheritance of fallen nature, yet they have lost the vision of shame through a mind-bending, conscience-crushing hedonism that has effectively rendered the distinction of good and evil indistinct in a stupor of sin as opposed to the simplicity of innocence. It is in this state of affairs that Victoria’s Secret, like Playboy before it, surrenders to the chief purveyors of pornography. Nudity is always a click or a flick away, and hence it is everywhere. That is the reality that Victoria’s Secret and Playboy faced before they surrendered, and it is one that Catholics must face before it can be fought. Meanwhile, the average age at which a child encounters pornography is eight years old.

No category of pornography can offer intimacy, for pornography does not access the real with love. Pornography reveals nothing even with its nudity. Victoria never had a secret to begin with. Pornography is the serpent’s secret—a seductive barrier to the reality all are commanded to know as inheritors of human stewardship and the divine image. For those who truly love, pleasure is derived by virtue of the reality loved. The loss of innocence does not necessitate ignorance. Men and women did not become like gods as the serpent promised; they retained the likeness of God in their hearts. And it is the heart that holds the secret of salvation and can reveal what is worth loving and worth knowing intimately.

Photo credit: Getty Images Entertainment

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a senior contributor to Crisis and headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy.

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