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Is Hollywood Finally Waking Up? New Movie Shows the Ugly Truth of Pornography


Kim Scharfenberger - published on 10/27/13 - updated on 06/08/17

The new movie Don Jon shows pornography for what is really is: ugly, addictive, and absolutely destructive of one's relationships.

Society has slowly but surely been wising up to the truly insidious nature of pornography. Just this past summer, the United Kingdom elected to apply pornography filters so that the default U.K. home internet connection would be family-friendly. Also this year, Iceland was involved in talks to ban pornography from Internet networks, but this was unfortunately met with quite a bit of criticism from “freedom of the Internet” advocates.

Clearly, there’s still a long way to go before society is fully released from pornography’s grip. Many porn consumers remain unaware of the negative effects pornography causes, not only to the female actors (many of whom are abused and prostituted) but to consumers themselves. Consumers face eroded marriages and relationships with their loved ones, dissatisfaction with their actual sex lives, and psychological addictions similar to drug and alcohol abusers. Yet much of society continually turns a blissful blind eye to the obvious facts and touts pornography as a harmless stress reliever or relationship booster in the bedroom.

In no area of society is this mentality clearer than in Hollywood, where very few films shed a negative light on pornography. Most often, porn is portrayed as a lighthearted activity mainly undertaken by young and energetic couples. A notable example of this mentality is the 2008 film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, in which two young people decide to cast themselves as lovers in their own porno in order to pay off rent and utility bills. While faking sex for the camera, the two discover that they were actually in love the whole time and then proceed to start their own business making amateur porn videos for couples. (And they lived happily ever after?)

Given the casual approach taken by so many Hollywood films, it comes as quite a surprise to note the decidedly negative portrayal of pornography in a film currently playing in theaters, Don Jon. Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore, and Tony Danza, this film’s line-up of stars isn’t exactly small-time. It is a mainstream Hollywood production, assertively marketed to a young demographic. And yet, its depiction of pornography consumption is none too kind.

The film’s titular protagonist, Jon Martello (Gordon-Levitt), is all too uncomfortably familiar in his callow treatment of women and his definitive list of the things he cares about: “my body, my pad, my ride, my family, my church, my boys, my girls, my porn.” He spends much of his time clubbing and seducing women, while his nighttime hours are spent with his vast porn collection. As a whole, Jon struggles to connect with the people in his life, especially the women. Even when the beautiful, but unfortunately vapid, Barbara Sugarman (Johansson) catches his eye and they begin a relationship, their lovemaking leaves Jon dissatisfied and he again resorts to porn binges in the middle of the night to satiate himself. Predictably, Barbara catches him in the act and his life and relationships begin a downward spiral.

Don Jon unabashedly shows the debasing and ugly sides of porn addiction – a rare perspective from Hollywood’s normally positive and gung-ho approach to porn. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who wrote and directed the film, as well as stars as the main character) mentions in severalinterviews that due to Jon’s addiction, “he’s constantly comparing women to the images he sees on TV, videos, and pornography.” As a result, “every woman, and really everybody else in his life, becomes just a thing, an object on his shelf.”

The film is by no means perfect and falls short in many other moral categories. (As an example, the film seems to convey that masturbation and fornication are OK, so long as they are done without porn in mind.) Yet despite the film’s shortcomings, there is something to be said about its decision to shed light on the ugly truths of pornography consumerist culture. No, porn isn’t just a nifty tool couples use to improve their love life. And no, it isn’t a harmless pastime that young men and women can engage in to blow off steam or “relax.” Don Jon actually succeeds in showing pornography for what it is; a devastating monster that destroys your personal life and any meaningful relationships you might try to forge. What we’re seeing here might be the beginnings of the societal tide turning against pornography, and with any luck, the film will make many young people rethink their priorities. At any rate, modern-day Hollywood has finally succeeded in pointing out a glaring, but often ignored, reality.

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