Monthly Archives: February 2021

Remembering Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I remember the first time I wandered into City Lights Bookstore. It was on my first trip alone to San Francisco, and it was like no other bookstore I had ever been in.

I was in my twenties and in awe of the array of topics I could choose from. Radical and vital. Subjects which were usually forbidden, censored or severely curtailed by most mainstream publishers and bookstores. Voices I had never heard before, about things I knew little to nothing about. And all affordable.

So I was really saddened to hear about the death of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, poet and founder of this amazing establishment. He opened a world to me and countless others, who desperately needed that door cracked wide open. He made it to 101 years of age.
In a time where the threat to expression and speech has seldom been higher, with corporate interests and the surveillance state joining forces, emboldened to tighten their grip on deciding the very future of human discourse and language, Ferlinghetti’s vision and courage has never been so needed.

May he rest in peace and in power, and may we carry the torch he lit so many years ago forward.

“If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of
apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.
You are Whitman, you are Poe, you are Mark Twain, you are Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay, you are Neruda and Mayakovsky and Pasolini, you are an American or a non-American, you can conquer the conquerors with words.”

— Lawrence Ferlinghetti. From Poetry as Insurgent Art

Lawrence Ferlinghetti (March 24, 1919 – February 22, 2021)


Kenn Orphan February 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Rush Limbaugh and the Echoes of Hatred

When I was attending a Christian college in the States in the 90s, I remember hearing the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh blasting from some of the rooms of the dormitory where I was housed. At the time I remember feeling astonished that anyone could listen to this man for any length of time. Beyond his noxious rhetoric, I found his very cadence to be akin to stab wounds.

Of course, I was leftwing, antiwar, antiracist, anti-capitalist and queer. I wasn’t exactly his demographic. But the tone was unmistakable. It was one of cruelty. Of ridicule. Of dehumanization. Of hatred. And it felt like a battering. That it appealed to many self-professed American Christians at the school I attended was telling. Rush was, to them, a “culture warrior.” Battling “the gays, the blacks and the godless, anti-American communists.”

Fast forward from then to now. Fast forward through the Clinton years and his expansion of the racist carceral state. Fast forward through the Bush years and his murderous war based on lies against a country that never attacked the US. Fast forward through the revelations of war crimes leaked to the public thanks to the courage of Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange. Fast forward through the relentless attacks on civil liberties. Fast forward through the photographs of horror from the US gulag of Abu Ghraib. Fast forward through Obama’s drone wars, attacks on whistleblowers, and record deportations. And arrive just four years ago at the so-called “Trump era.”

Like Limbaugh, Trump revels in sadism. He has never hid his animus toward women or his visceral racism. He denied climate change and courted more war with his expansion of militarism. But he was a symptom of a greater diseased culture. An echo of the myth of “American exceptionalism.”

How we measure time is important. It is a metric that is not merely linear. It is a tumbler overflowing with events and trends. Of thoughts and actions, of policies and projections, both conscious and not. Limbaugh was one of many harbingers of America’s trajectory. When we look at it through this lens it should not come as a surprise that America ended up with Trump four years ago. But if we stop there, we will miss where it is headed now.

Limbaugh didn’t simply emerge out of nowhere. Neither did Trump. Their animus and cruelty arose from the collective psychic projection of the entire American project itself. A white Christian settler’s dream of “Manifest Destiny” that ended in massacres, genocide and the trail of tears. It was a slave owning empire that expanded via exploitation and brutality.

If we know this, we must also know that there was never any noble era in the official narrative of American history. Not in its experiments on unsuspecting Black men at Tuskegee. Not in the ash shadows on the pavement of civilians vaporized in Hiroshima. Not in the internment of Japanese citizens in concentration camps. Not in Jim Crow. Not in the nuclear bomb tests which irradiated the people of the Marshall Islands. Not in the ditches of Mỹ Lai. All of it led us to where we are now. And if recent history is any guide, political platitudes and niceties will not shield us from the consequences of such dark hubris.

We don’t know what Limbaugh’s inner life was like. We shouldn’t care too much, because the man spent most it lashing out at his opponents, dehumanizing or ridiculing others, especially those who were vulnerable or oppressed by society, and spreading falsehoods. The latter was especially true when it came to climate change and pandemic. But if we don’t recognize that his voice was a bellowing echo of America itself, a long cadence of cruelty, we will never understand that this trajectory has never been altered.

None of this should be disheartening if we do not subscribe to the American enterprise. There are other narratives, ones which have constantly and relentlessly challenged the cruelty of the dominant one. From the Abolitionists, to women’s suffrage, to the labor movement, to Civil Rights, to antiwar, to Indigenous resistance, to queer liberation, to environmental consciousness. All of them presented counter voices to the one echoed by vile figures such as Limbaugh or Trump. All of them have offered conduits for dissent. We need only the ears to hear.

One day, when one of Limbaugh’s vicious broadcasts was blaring from one of the rooms of that college I attended, I also heard the faint sound of a guitar playing outside. I longed to escape this torment, so I wandered out the door, following the sounds, to a nearby park where I found a small group of people sitting in the grass under a tree. They were singing about peace and solidarity, and warmly waved me over to join them. Then, after a few minutes, something miraculous happened. I no longer heard the stinging timbre of that man who has just died. His echo of hatred was finally silenced, then, as it is now.

Kenn Orphan February 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

This is America

The message above was posted by Tim Boyd, the former mayor of Colorado City, Texas, in response to the record freezing temperatures ravaging his state. At least 23 people have died due to the failure of the electrical grid and cold weather. He has since resigned due to the public outrage that ensued.

It’s good that Tim Boyd was disgraced by his words. They were abhorrent, after all. But let’s not kid ourselves to think that what he believes is beyond the pale in America.

Let’s not forget about the Portland supermarket that just threw away mountains of “perishable items” after a winter storm knocked out power to much of the city. They then had the police guard the dumpsters from hungry people who also suffered from the power outages and simply wanted to forage for food.

But this is nothing new. On the contrary, it is standard practice. I saw it with my own eyes when I was a social work intern in Los Angeles with the houseless. The supermarket next door routinely doused their day old bread with bleach before tossing it in the dumpster, rather than give to those in desperate need.

When I drove across the US a few years ago I witnessed desperate poverty in scores of American cities and towns. Places sacrificed or carved up at the corporation’s pleasure. But there was also a prevailing cultural message that any suffering a person endured was the result of personal failure. Not the economic or material conditions one is born into. Not imposed poverty. Not racist, homophobic or misogynistic barriers.

America is a place where the idea of cooperation is routinely scoffed at, and the myth of individualism endlessly lauded. It is a place where the snide sadistic mentality of “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” is constantly rubbed in the faces of the poor, the historically oppressed and the disenfranchised, by the wealthy and powerful.

This is a place where televangelists preach prosperity as a sign of Divine favor. Feeding the multitudes, as Jesus did, is not the preferred parable. It is a place where celebrity billionaires like Oprah Winfrey present themselves as spiritual gurus and chide the suffering for not “taking responsibility for their lives,” while ignoring the entrenched systems of injustice that make life a misery for millions every single day. And it is a psychosis that has become internalized at every level of society.

So let’s not kid ourselves about Tim Boyd’s post. He did a great job at summing up the prevailing ethos of the American Empire, the last fortress for late capitalism. And let’s not pretend that the actions of that supermarket and the police in Portland were out of the ordinary. These are merely the symptoms of a diseased culture. An ethos of barbarism that has been elevated to a state religion. And the ruling class evangelizes the world with this propaganda by coercion and distraction. Endless militarism and wars abroad, endless cruelties and humiliation meted out on the working class and poor at home. The god of America is the power of wealth and its worship. And until this is reckoned with, none of its maladies will go away.

Kenn Orphan February 2021

*Title image is Portland police officers guarding the dumpster of a local grocery store. Courtesy of OregonLive.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Remembering Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian Poet, Writer and Humanitarian

My Grandfather’s Cloak


My grandfather, still harbouring the illusion

that all is well with the world,

fills his countryside pipe

for the last time

before the advent of the helmets and bulldozers.


On the bulldozer’s teeth

my grandfather’s cloak gets hooked.


The bulldozer retreats a few yards,

empties its load,

comes back to fill its huge fork

and has never had enough.


Twenty times, the bulldozer

comes and goes,

my grandfather’s cloak still hooked on it.


After the dust and smoke

had cleared from the house that had been standing there

and as I was staring at the new emptiness

I saw my grandfather

wearing his cloak,


wearing the very same cloak,

not one that was similar

but the very same.


He hugged me and maintained a silent gaze

as if his look

ordained the rubble to become a house,

restored the curtains to the windows,

brought my grandmother back to her armchair,

and retrieved her coloured pills,

put back the sheets on the bed,

the lights on the ceiling,

the pictures on the walls,

as if his look brought the handles back to the doors

and the balconies to the stars,

as if it made us resume our dinner,

as if the world had not collapsed,

as if heaven had ears and eyes.


He went on staring at the emptiness.

I said: What shall we do after the soldiers leave?

What will he do after the soldiers leave?

He slowly clenched his fist

recapturing a boxer’s resolve in his right hand,

his coarse bronze hand,

the hand which had tamed the thorny slope,

the hand which holds his hoe lightly

and with ease like prayer,

his hand which can split a tree stump with a single blow,

his hand open for forgiveness,

his hand closed on sweets to surprise his grandchildren,

his hand amputated

years ago.

Mourid Barghouti, Palestinian poet and writer, 8 July 1944 – 14 February 2021.

May he rest in peace.

*Title art piece by Palestinian artist Khaled Al-Maazi.

Kenn Orphan February 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The Final Dance: A Conversation with Cheryl Deines on Death and Dying, the Pandemic, and Living Our Best Lives

KO: I wanted to begin by disclosing that I had the great honour of working with Cheryl in hospice care as medical social workers and grief counselors for several years. Her compassion, intuitive empathy and healing manner taught me invaluable lessons on how to approach death and grief. 

I know that since our time working together you have been very busy. Can you talk about your book “The Final Dance: What the Dying Teach us about Embracing Life?” How you came to write it, and what you learned through the experience?

CD: Thank you for your kind words, Kenn. I too felt honored to work with such a compassionate loving man as you. 

It took me years to write  The Final Dance. Not years of writing but years of not writing and talking about wanting to write this book. Honestly I  kept getting in my own way. I would start to write and then fear would come up. I would ask “Who am I to write a book about dying?”   I felt a lot of resistance. Part of this was because the experiences I had with my hospice patients were Sacred and I did not want to do anything to dishonor those I had the privilege of working with.  

But as much as I tried to talk myself out of writing The Final Dance, there was this nagging voice saying that it was important to share these stories.  I feel honored to have had the experiences I have had. And realized that those of us who work with the dying have a unique perspective.  

KO: Can you describe that perspective more?

CD: Most people experience a handful of deaths in their life. And more and more people are sheltered from the dying experience. But as you know Kenn, those of us in Hospice experience death on regular basis. Because of this I found myself seeing patterns in people’s dying. As well as patterns in what they talked about. What was important to them. In fact, as a counselor for the dying we often have conversations that no one else is comfortable having. Patients try to protect family members by not talking about their dying or family is in denial and don’t want to talk about it. It’s a difficult subject. Especially if the person who is dying is someone you love. Because of this I was blessed to be the one they confided in. 

In The final dance I share some of these deep, rich conversations. Conversations about regrets, about what made them feel their life was successful or not. Being at the end of life gives people a unique vantage point and a big portion of our time is spent allowing our patients to do a life review. What were they proud of? What regrets do they have?What accomplishments mattered to them? 

KO: And what did you discover?

CD: I can tell you that the things people were proud of rarely had anything to do with the amount of wealth or possessions they acquire. It was about experiences they had had, relationships they had nourished,  risks they had taken to do what they loved.  I once worked with a man who told me a year before I met him he had been given a year to live. He went on to share that the last year had been the best year of his  entire life. The terminal diagnosis allowed him to drop any pretenses, to take more risks, to do what brought him joy without apology, to speak his truth. These were the types of lessons I share in The Final Dance.

Also, laced throughout the book I share the many supernatural experiences I, my patients, and their families have had around their dying. As a grief counselor I’ve heard hundreds of  unusual experiences from family members after their loved ones deaths. Convinced that their loved ones had reached out from beyond the grave. Prior to my work with hospice, I would have described myself as agnostic. But after 19 years of working with the dying I can tell you that I have no doubt that there is life after death. In The Final Dance I do not try to convince people of this. I simply share my experiences and the insights gained from working with  hospice patients and their families. 

KO: We are living through a pandemic which has taken so many lives prematurely. There are also other factors which complicate grief right now, like loved ones who are unable to be at the bedside of people who are dying of Covid-19 due to restrictions. I am also thinking about healthcare workers, including cleaning and delivery staff, who are affected by this. What are your thoughts about the pandemic and how it relates to your experiences with death and dying? 

CD: It is painful to witness and hear stories about so many who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19. Especially, the fact that they were not able to be at their bedside at the time of death. I know from my hospice experience how important being with their loved is for  many friends and family. The thought of their loved one dying alone will likely complicate their grieving experience. Wondering how they felt moments before their death. Were they scared? Did they suffer? Did they understand that their loved ones didn’t have choice about not being there? 

KO: Talk more about complicated grief and how it may manifest.

CD: Bereavement Counselors are often assessing for “Complicated Grief.” When a client is diagnoses with complicated grief this implies that they may have a more difficult time going through the grief experience. That a normal grief experience has been complicated by other issues. For example, prior to COVID, complicated grief could be a result of unresolved issues (such as an estranged parent losing their child prior to healing that relationship, or a suicide). I suspect that many who have lost someone to COVID while they were in the hospital may have a  more difficult time. When a friend or family member at the bedside of their loved one in the last days,  it is an opportunity to say what is on their hearts, to make any apologies, to tell them how much they mean to them. It is also an opportunity to see that their loved is not suffering or to intervene on their behalf if they don’t feel they are comfortable. Those at the bedside are able to support each other through the process. I have witnessed much healing between hospice patients and their loved ones in those last days. With COVID patients, people often do not get this opportunity. 

There are other factors that may also negatively impact how family and friends grieve when a person dies from COVID. If they were the one who exposed their loved one this could result in a tremendous amount of guilt. As you know we were getting mixed messages about COVID and there were many who do not believe it existed or felt that it wasn’t as serious as media was implying.  Because of this many people were not careful. Or they may have survivors guilt because they lived through getting COVID and their loved one didn’t

Another factor that impacts people who have lost someone to COVID is the isolation that many are experiencing. Due to the need for social distancing,  friends and family are left alone to deal with their grief.  Unable to hold or physically comfort each other many people feel very alone in the world as they are navigating the grief experience.

KO: Yes, loneliness and isolation seem to be major issues that complicate how we deal with loss and grief. Unfortunately our mental health often gets put on the back burner in times of crisis. This pandemic is revealing that truth in stark ways.

CD: I recently became aware of one other issue that is not spoken about. There are patients who go into the hospital and survive and are released home but are traumatized by the experience. These patients are often on the same floor, sharing a room with other COVID patients who don’t survive. I talked to one patient who had 3 different roommates die while she  was hospitalized with COVID. She witnessed people suffering at the end. Felt their fear. She had nightmares after this. Needing to process all that she experienced.  Just as many of our Veterans coming home from the battlefield do, she was experiencing Post Traumatic Stress. From all that I have heard, I would say that our hospitals have turned into war zones and have much of the same dramatic affects on those who survive. 

This also applies to the nurses, doctors, social workers and other hospital staff who are caring for COVID patients. They too are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress. When the outbreak first started there was uncertainty with how to deal with it and many healthcare professionals witnessed people suffering, unable to breath, afraid and alone.  They also found themselves over and over again being the one who held a patient’s hand while they took their last breath so they didn’t have to die alone.

Many of them have also seen fellow co-workers contract COVID, some who later died. I have a friend whose daughter is a nurse on a COVID ward and had three small children at home so chose to live in a camper outside her house for fear of exposing her children and husband. For months she has not interacted with her children in a meaningful way because of this. 

KO: It really seems to be creating a generational crisis as well, with children being isolated from parents or grandparents, and vice versa. What else have you been seeing in your work with patients, family and staff?

CD: Another way that the medical staff are being impacted by the Virus and the high number of cases is what’s called compassion fatigue. I have been feeling some of this myself. Compassion Fatigue is when a person is so saturated with experiences of others suffering that at some point they either break down or shut down. They are often experiencing physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion. 

When they shut down, they become numb to peoples pain in order to deal with all that they are experiencing. When they break down it becomes difficult to continue to function. They reach a level of exhaustion where they don’t feel they can continue doing this work. We have seen those who breakdown on facebook posts crying, needing others to know how traumatic this experience has been. Those who have shut down are not as apparent. It might look like indifference or a staff member just going through the motions. Patients become numbers and it is difficult to connect with the person who has shut down. 

Either way, compassion fatigue can impact their ability or willingness to provide good care to patients and their families. They have reached their threshold. The affects of compassion fatigue can spill over into their personal life as well. They may find themselves unable to empathize with others or feel the need to disengage with their own friends and family. 

All of these factors have a tremendous impact on healthcare professionals on the frontlines. This includes those who clean the rooms of COVID patients, deliver their meals while putting themselves at risk, EMT who bring them to the hospital. They literally have been at war with this invisible enemy. And with war comes trauma much of which has just begun to surface. 

I currently work in Home Health and visit seniors in their homes. As time has worn on, people are less understanding about how the Pandemic has impacted services available to them. They are tired of being careful, more demanding and irritable. They are fed up with what is happening.  I am seeing first hand the impact of a year of social isolation, fear and anxiety. I have seen patients decline physically and mentally as they spend more time alone in front of a television set. Which feeds into their fear even more as they listen to stats and hear about the rising number of deaths.  

KO: What do you think will need to be done to address all of this psychic and societal trauma?

CD: There will be much work to be done to heal the damage that this time has caused many. Some damage is irreversible. But it’s important to note that not everything about the Pandemic has been detrimental. This time of slowing down and isolation has put into perspective what matters in life in a very dramatic way. People are longing for meaningful connection with another, to be held, touched. There are those whose jobs have been impacted. Working less (or not at all) has given many who had gotten out of balance an opportunity to pause, and look at what really mattered to them.  Many people began evaluating their career choices or how many hours they had been working. Realizing that they could live on less and how being home positively impacted their children or their own well being. They often didn’t realize how much stress they were under or how unhappy they were until they were forced to  step away. It gave people an opportunity to explore other options.  

As we rebuild our lives, and our economy I hope that the lessons learned during this historic and incredibly challenging time propel people forward, making them aware that they can make different choices. May the realization of how fragile life is and how quickly things can change be a lesson we take into our futures. Making meaning out of the madness we have all encountered.  My hope is that this time has served to wake people up to their lives. 

We hope you have enjoyed this conversation between Cheryl Deines and Kenn Orphan. If you would like to order a copy of Cheryl’s book please go to the link below:

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

*Title painting is “At Eternity’s Gate” by Vincent van Gogh.

Corporate Decision

“In the future that the surveillance capitalism prepares for us, my will and yours threaten the flow of surveillance revenues. Its aim is not to destroy us but simply to author us and to profit from that authorship.” – Shoshana Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power

There is a painting I have been thinking about a lot these past few days. It is entitled “Corporate Decision” by the late American artist George Tooker.  In the background, a group of grey suited figures appear to be meeting in a boardroom of some kind. And in the foreground, a family grieves over the body of a loved one. The message is clear. The lives of ordinary, everyday people, mean nothing to those grey suited figures. In fact, ordinary, everyday people do not exist in any real way to those faceless men in the boardroom. Yet they wield enormous power over their lives.

This painting came to mind after being informed that my Facebook account was “disabled permanently” without any warning or explanation. In the blink of an eye, an algorithm took away 11+ years of memories with no option for appeal or recourse provided. And I suspect that it has to do with a massive purge that is taking place across all social media following the incident at the US Capitol on January 6th.

Since the insurrection, social media companies have been on tenterhooks, awaiting the consequences of allowing far right hate groups to organize freely on their pages for years. And they are not taking any chances. There has been a concerted effort by Facebook, Twitter and other social media giants to curtail hate speech. But in their rush to stop the next insurrection, they are rapidly constructing the infrastructure for corporate state censorship.  

My last piece is an example of this. It was in no way peddling the far-right conspiracy theories of a certain well-known cult. In fact, it was highly critical of the phenomenon. But none of that seemed to matter. It was undoubtedly flagged for the sweep. Now, the use of certain forbidden terms, even if you are not promoting the theories behind those terms and are merely discussing them, appears to be reason enough to have you excommunicated forever from the church of social media. Noam Chomsky once said “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.” It appears that that “spectrum of acceptable opinion” is becoming even more limited.

And this is why I have thought about Tooker’s piece so much of late. Of course, my experience in no way compares with the gravity of the subject of that painting, but it has parallels., Our online identities have become so enmeshed with our lives. Social media acts like the journals of the past. A place where we record our activities and thoughts from day to day. And aside from the daily routines we become accustomed to, many of us attach a sacredness to sharing moments of our lives with others in this medium. Moments of joy, frustration, surprise, sorrow, anger. Holidays, births, weddings, deaths, trips, illnesses, dinners, reconnection with old friends. All of this is now captured in pixelated time. When it has been entrusted to a corporation and then permanently disappeared by them due to some arbitrary algorithm, it feels as if your home has been robbed.

Today the corporation has, for all intents and purposes, become the state. We are its subjects. And it is not a democratic arrangement, but a dictatorship of wealth. Deregulation, austerity and privatization, the hallmarks of neoliberal economics, have prevailed. The land, water, air, food and all that makes life possible have been commodified. Healthcare, education, and communication have been monetized.

The commons, and this includes the digital realm, have been carved up among powerful oligarchs who are unaccountable and unanswerable to our questions, complaints or pleas. It freely mines our data while it decides how we should think and speak in its realm. And it profits enormously from this arrangement. Facebook, alone, was worth $528 billion in 2020. And while we still have the freedom to express ourselves enshrined in certain historic documents, that right is meaningless if we have been denied access to the rest of the community. Of course, all speech and expression holds with it responsibilities and consequences. However, in a corporatocracy the arbiter of such decisions has little to no accountability to the people. And dissent of any kind is reason enough for them to expel someone without any warning or explanation.

But this arrangement is not absolute. Anything can change with enough public will. And we have more agency than we realize. As the late writer Ursula Le Guin said, “We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

Kenn Orphan February 2021

Painting is entitled “Corporate Decision” by George Tooker August 5, 1920 – March 27, 2011)

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

The New Conservative Crusade

Special note: the author’s Facebook account was likely disabled by the company for the previous title of this piece, without any regard for the actual content. After careful consideration the editors and author decided to change the title so as not to cause any difficulties for anyone sharing this piece on social media. We apologize if this has caused any distress or inconvenience.

This month, following an opinion piece in the New York Times by liberal political commentator Nicholas Kristof, the Canadian based porn site Pornhub was put on trial. The accusations revolve around the site allegedly allowing and profiting from sex trafficking, child, and rape porn. Without a doubt, Pornhub as well as many other similar sites, have profited from some questionable content. Like social media, it is not responsible for the content uploaded by individuals. It is only responsible for dealing with it once it is there. This is the only logical way that a free and open internet could possibly work. But there is a dark side to Kristof’s Pornhub diatribe. This crusade against porn comes at a time of unhinged QAnon conspiracy theories involving secret elite pedophile rings. And much of it smacks of a typical American-style sex panic.

Following the publication of Kristof’s piece in the NYT, credit card behemoths Visa and Mastercard discontinued their service to the site, adversely affecting the livelihoods of scores of sex workers and performers. In addition to this, far right groups, such as Exodus Cry, have seen the article as a clarion call in their crusade for sexual “purity.” Morphing from the early Puritans into today’s evangelicals, this war has never ended for them. Exodus Cry claims that its aim is to stop human trafficking, an admirable goal. But the organization never addresses decriminalizing sex work or the inhumane immigration laws and policies which are at the root of the problem. They also exclude gay men and transgender people as victims of sex trafficking and assault, even though this is a well documented problem. In addition to this, the founder Mike Bickle and the president Benjamin Nolot have expressed their antigay and anti-choice positions on several occasions, with one comparing being gay to opening “the demonic realm.”

Pornography has always been a charged topic in America, and it is often painted with a broad brush. Most people understand that exploitation of children or non-consensual sex are abusive and thus designated as crimes. Certainly, the modern porn industry is rife with abuses. But beyond this, who decides what is acceptable for adults? Back in the late 1980s, Robert Maplethorpe’s art works were censored in the US because they were labeled “obscene” by some politicians. And the genre of erotica is often lumped in with more explicit, hardcore pornography. Indeed, sexual expression in the visual medium has been a part of human culture for millennia. In fact, to many evangelicals and other religious conservatives all or most displays of public nudity or eroticism are considered offensive or perverse.

But this crusade against a pornography giant cannot be understood outside of the context of the rise of QAnon, a cult that centers around an antisemitic conspiracy about an elite, pedophile ring run by prominent Democrats who sacrifice children to extract a life prolonging chemical called adrenochrome. It is reminiscent of the debunked satanic ritual abuse scandal of the 1980s and 90s. Both panics were over the top and deranged in their allegations and accusations. Both rallied around the noble cause of “protecting children.”  But, as in the panic of earlier times, there is no other reason for this other than the reactionary elements of a society being confronted with the agency of groups who have been historically oppressed.

The liberation movements of the 70s which saw great gains for women and LGBTQ people were seen by many conservative Christians to be the ultimate evidence of America’s denigration. Traditional gender roles were being challenged. Children were suddenly being taken care of by others while women joined the workforceToday, there is a similar dynamic at play. Transgender people are challenging the very notion of a fixed gender. Sex workers are demanding recognition and labor rights. And once again, the hegemony of reactionary sections of society are feeling threatened. The difference now is that there is a marked disconnect from reality in a huge section of the population.

QAnon is perhaps one of the most dangerous of all conspiracy phenomenon in recent history thanks to its enormous influence. There are now sitting members of congress who are adherents. And it gained momentum thanks to the slow and steady chipping away of scientific education. But it should not come as a surprise that it arose in the United States. This is a country, after all, where many politicians still blame natural disasters on gay marriage or supposed sexual immorality.

Without a doubt, the pornography industry was given a significant boost by technology this century. The internet has enabled access to images and videos with ease and in the comfort of one’s own home. And it is no wonder that it has become one of the most lucrative industries on the planet. Sex, after all, sells. And capitalism has created a market where virtually everything, including sex, can be stamped with a barcode. But although pornography is, at best, a poor facsimile of sexual intercourse and relations, it sells because of its power to remove a person from the staleness and monotony of modern life. Like opioids, internet porn serves as a temporary release from the crushing reality most Americans deal with daily. But the latter is far less damaging to the individual and society in general.

To be clear, Pornhub is not a victim in this battle. It will still rake in millions of dollars off the backs of underpaid sex workers. And its content is not likely to change very much from the standard porn it profits from. Sex workers, an already marginalized community, will continue to lose their livelihoods and be demonized as societal degenerates. The real victims of sex trafficking will not see any justice in this crusade against porn either, because ultra-conservative organizations like Exodus Cry are only interested in promoting their rigid and reactionary mores regarding human sexuality. But QAnon has brought this issue to a different level, one fraught with both hysteria and idiocy. No one should kid themselves that the attacks on a prominent porn site are without a broader agenda. This has never been about pornography or “saving” children or women. Conservative evangelicals have an axe to grind. And this is only the beginning of their renewed war on human sexuality and the diversity of its expression.

Kenn Orphan   February 2021

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