Good Porn and Evil Do-Gooders? Good and Its Many Shades of Gray

Roger Durham embraces the ambiguity, tension, diversity of thought and juxtaposition of words like “good” and “porn” in the discussions here.

A couple of years ago I was watching Fox News on a Sunday morning and a story caught my attention. Two guys were being interviewed about a project they were launching called, “The Good Men Project”. Both guys had compelling stories – different stories – that intersected at a common question: “What does it mean to be a good man? We’ve made it financially and professionally…we’re successful by many measures. But here we are, in our 40s and we know there is more to life than this. We’re successful men, but are we good men?” Tom Matlack and his friend James Houghton were asking the same kinds of questions that I and my friends were asking.

My story is different from theirs. I am a 51 year old guy who has had several careers. I’ve been a minister, a business owner and now work in sales for a multi-billion dollar energy management company. Retirement is nowhere in sight. I am divorced and remarried and a father of two sons and one stepson. The guys I hang out with have made pretty successful careers. A couple of them are doctors, a few of them are attorneys, one is a top executive with a Fortune 500 company, one is a builder, several own small businesses. To a man, they are asking the same kinds of questions that Tom and James framed that morning on Fox News.

“I’ve got a great career and family, but what’s next? And what if those things go away?” “I’ve done a good job of running a business and making a living, but am I a good guy?” “How do other people see me, and why does that matter more to me now than it did when I was 20-something?”

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As a contributor to the Good Men Project, I have come to appreciate the great diversity of manhood represented in the articles. I was excited to be part of what would become a national (if not global) conversation about what it means to be a man in the 21st century. I don’t know what I expected when I started, but I didn’t expect to find my modest, reflective articles about the kinds of questions men ask standing next to articles about porn and masturbation and the sex industry. I didn’t expect so much focus on addictions. I didn’t expect men to attack other men for contributing to the demise of manhood. I didn’t expect women to attack men for daring to think that men could corner the market on being good. I didn’t expect to be part of a conversation that would stretch the notion of “good” across such a broad canvas of human experience. I don’t like some of what I find on this site. I don’t agree with some of what I read. But I have come to appreciate the variety and the depth of the conversation, and the surprising articles that twist the prism of goodness in a way that makes me think differently.

I didn’t expect to be part of a conversation that would stretch the notion of “good” across such a broad canvas of human experience. I don’t like some of what I find on this site. I don’t agree with some of what I read. But I have come to appreciate the variety and the depth of the conversation, and the surprising articles that twist the prism of goodness in a way that makes me think differently.

Most recently, that happened with an article by Emily Heist Moss titled, “Are There Good Guys In Porn? An Interview With Porn Star James Deen.” Now there’s a question I never considered. Are there good guys in porn? Would good guys participate in an industry that objectifies women so brutally and unabashedly? I had a pretty clear opinion about that, until I started reading the article. But the farther I got into it, the more complex the questions became. Emily’s treatment of the topic forced me to think about the moral complexity of goodness and how ill-prepared I am to think about it in a way that does not lean toward the judgmental.

But that is exactly why I think this conversation is so important. One of the reasons that “good” has been such a weapon of judgment in the past is that we have been willing to let the church and the temple and the mosque define goodness in very stark terms. We have not explored venues, outside of the overtly religious, to think about what it means to be “good”. And so, we have let “good” be defined as the opposite of evil, with no shades of gray allowed.

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The fact that “Good” stands proudly in the banner of this website, and that there is an open invitation to contribute thoughts that relate, in some way, to what it means to be “good”, and that the invitation creates room for ambiguity and tension and diversity of thought and the juxtaposition of things like “good” and “porn” – that’s what keeps me coming back to this website. And that’s what makes this such an important conversation, for me. It makes relevant a conversation about “good”, among people who don’t claim to be any better than the next person.

Ultimately, that’s the point of this conversation. Isn’t it? The point is not that anyone has figured out what it means to be a “good man”. The point is that we can talk about “good” in a way that is not layered with judgment, and hopefully, broaden our understanding of what it means to be “good”. That’s a big task. And an important one. In my view, a broader understanding of goodness can do nothing but help all of us–men and women alike–who are trying to figure out how to be better people–even if we never get to the “good”.

photo by erix on flickr

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About Roger L. Durham

Roger L. Durham is an ordained Presbyterian minister, a former business owner, and is currently working as a client development manager for Summit Energy.

Comments

  1. Tom Matlack says:

    Roger thank you for this thoughtful piece and for you continued friendship.

  2. One of my issues is how much we keep focusing on porn. Shouldn’t we be looking at real human interaction and sex rather than an industry that is purely based around making as much money as possible? Have we all gotten so porn obsessed (on both sides of the debate) that we’ve actually stopped talking about real sex and lost ourselves to a capitalist industry? Whatever your views are on porn, pro or anti, for whatever reasons, we all have them, i really do feel we’ve gotten so far removed from sex it’s crazy. Let’s talk about the act of sex, of pleasing another human being, of satisfying someone else, not just ourselves for a change? No money involved, no abuse, no objectification, not sitting in front of our computers and masturbating etc etc, but real SEX!!! It would be a refreshing change and perhaps a shift in thinking that is long over due. I’m so bored of porn and the constant bombardment of it everyone we turn, for MANY reasons. Isn’t everyone else??!! ;)

    • Lou, you have some really good points. I think there are probaly a number of readers of this site who are agnostic about porn, if not bored by conversation about it. I would count myself as one of those. But for others, it is an important topic, for a number of reasons. So, to be authentic, to be real, there has to be room for conversation about porn, alongside discussions about other topics that are important to others. Thanks for weighing in on this. I hope you find some articles on this site that come closer to the treatment of sex that you would find appealing.

  3. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    I decided to do at least a month without using porn. This is a sacrifice because I am on Effexor, which made it difficult to ejaculate without extra stimulation, so I’d often need to masturbate after sex with my wife. I’m not missing the porn, though. Masturbation worked without the porn sometimes, but it was a good guaranteeor…

  4. I agree with the concept of a porn diet. But while we are at it lets do a TV, radio, newspaper and internet diet. If we do I am sure we will all be happier, saner, smarter and wiser.

  5. Objectification is not an absolute negative. The idea that it is inherently bad to “objectify” someone is ridiculous, yet amazingly common. If I go jogging without a shirt and a woman shouts something approving, there’s no way to deny that’s inherently objectifying. She’s not responding to me as a person, certainly. So how do I react? I’m pretty happy with it. She’s pretty happy with it. What’s the problem?

    The stigma associated with objectification is based on a context in which objectification is used as a tool of dehumanization in a system that oppresses the objectified. The problem isn’t the objectification itself. The problem is objectification in the context of patriarchy. Porn may be inherently objectifying, it certainly isn’t inherently dehumanizing OR inherently patriarchal.

    The idea that women in porn are being “exploited” is about as misogynistic as anything I can think of. It infantilizes women and perpetuates conceptions of women as sexually vulnerable and men as sexually threatening, the same BS stereotypes that come into play when female sex offenders are treated more lightly than men.

    Are male pornstars being exploited? No? Gay male porn stars? If not, why not?

    It really comes down to whether you see women as weak, and in need of being protected from male sexuality, a position shared by both misogynists and anti-sex feminists.

  6. Unca Woofie says:

    Every business is based in large part (if not “purely”) on making as much money as it can; look around you…one of the top reasons for the #Occupy movement is that too many businesses, large and small, have followed the “make as much as you can” philosophy to the point where the American Dream has been hijacked & the country is filling up with empty houses, wrecked savings, service-sector jobs that don’t pay worth a damn, and last but not least, college graduates so deep in debt just to get their education in the lousiest job market since the 1930′s.

    Using the “money-grubbing” paradigm as an admonishment concerning dirty, bad, nasty ole porn is naive.

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