Russell Brand weighs in on 50 Shades of Grey and the mainstreaming of porn

Actor, Russell Brand, has decided to speak out about the impacts — not of hardcore or gonzo porn — but softcore pornography and mainstream films such as Fifty Shades of Grey on individual men and society at large. His comments are quite good and, despite the fact that many feminists have said the same and more for years, I am deeply appreciative of men (particularly men with large followings and platforms) who speak out against porn culture. It is very rare and certainly isn’t demanded of them.

He is very honest about his porn-use and his desire to stop, saying he was “obsessed with porn” when he was a teenager (and that was pre-internet, so pornography was far less accessible). Brand admits to not yet being able to fully kick the habit, but feeling incredibly ashamed every time he looks at porn online, “knowing it’s wrong” and aware that, for the most part, the performers aren’t enjoying themselves.

He describes Fifty Shades of Grey as, not just some sexy fun for the ladies, but something much more insidious — the commodification and mainstreaming of softcore porn.

Brand argues that “our attitudes towards sex have become warped and perverted and have deviated from it’s true function as an expression of love and a means for procreation” and says that porn has reduced sex “to kind of extracted physical act.”

He’s looked up some research on the effects of long-term exposure to porn in the Journal of Adolescent Health, which include:

  • Exaggerated perception of sexual activity in society
  • Diminished trust between intimate couples
  • The abandonment of hope of sexual monogamy
  • The belief that promiscuity is the natural

Of course, even knowing all this, he notes, we still don’t know even the full impact of widespread access to porn on society. It is really only this generation that has literally grown up looking at porn online, getting their early sex education it.

Brand points out that “soft core porn is everywhere” — in advertisements, billboards (and in film, clearly…), etc. What he’s describing, of course, is “porn culture,” wherein women are pornified in every possible arena, to the point where we can’t even imagine female nudity or depictions of female sexuality that aren’t objectified and sexualized for the male gaze (a gaze that is also internalized by women).

“If I had total dominion over myself, I’d never look at porn again,” Brand says. “One of the reasons I’ve sensed that pornography isn’t good for me as an individual is because of the kinds of conclusions reached by Gary R. Brooks, who’s observed the consumption of soft core pornography like Playboy.”

He reads off Brooks’ “five main symptoms” of exposure to soft core porn:

  1. Voyeurism: An obsession with looking at women rather than interacting with them.
  2. Objectification: An attitude in which women are objects, rated by size, shape, body parts.
  3. Validation: The need to validate masculinity through beautiful women.
  4. Trophyism: The idea that beautiful women are collectables who show the world what a man is.
  5. Fear of true intimacy: The inability to relate to women in an honest and intimate way, despite deep loneliness.

Brand notes that, while “a film like Fifty Shades of Grey” is (supposedly) “from a ‘female perspective,'” the harm remains, and compares the proposed solution of “porn for women” to “trying to solve the problem of racism by inventing a word for black people to call white people that’s equally as bad as the ‘n-word.'”

“The cloud of pornographic information and even soft cultural smog like Fifty Shades of Grey and [pornified advertisements] is making it impossible for us to relate to our own sexuality, our own psychology, and our own spirituality.”

While Brand doesn’t name violence against women as a specific harm, I’m impressed by his understanding of objectification and his willingness to say something fairly unpopular, despite his lefty/hipstereque/bro-y fanbase. Men, today, are raised in a society that tells them, not just that they can, but they should watch porn — that it’s normal and harmless. It’s pushed on them at every turn and is readily available. I realize this may make me sound “soft on men,” as it were, but it isn’t easy to push back against these forces and I do believe that, for many men, porn-use becomes addictive. As Brand points out, many men know porn is “bad,” know it disrespects women, and feel ashamed every time they use it — yet they continue. I do hope that these men will continue on to understand how very deeply porn and, more generally, objectification, contributes to the global oppression of women, to the point where they train their minds to stop altogether. It’s also about time leftist men take a stand against systems and industries that hurt women.

Now, I wonder if #twitterfeminism will rip him to shreds and call him a prudish bigot? …No? Oh.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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