With Great Offense Comes Great Responsibility: Spider-Man and Pornography

Screenshot from Spider-Man: Homecoming.

“I’m offended.”

This phrase has become emotionally laden, and all too often used in North American culture to gain unearned power over whatever or whomever has caused the “offense.” But if I’m offended by someone, does that give me special rights?

If anything, being offended confers responsibility: responsibility to address the source of offense, to explain my point of view, and, perhaps most importantly, to listen to the other perspective. That’s a lot of work, however; no wonder the path of least resistance leads to Internet trolling and flaming tweets instead.

So, here am I; I’m offended.

“Spider-Man” by Wisesnail Art (wisesnailart.deviantart.com).

I saw Spider-Man: Homecoming in theaters and loved its portrayal of a kid struggling to understand what it means to be a hero. The next day, I read a review by Ben Kayser, Managing Editor of Movieguide, the self-described “Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment,” which not only described the film as poorly written and badly directed, but also took issue with a single line that the headline claimed “might have ruined” the entire film.

Kayser took offense at the line “I was… looking at… porn?” Peter Parker’s friend Ned says this during the climactic battle when he’s providing logistical support in the school’s computer lab. Doing his best to assist his buddy as “the guy in the chair,” Ned gets busted by a teacher who demands to know what Ned is doing. Not wanting to betray Peter’s secret identity, Ned offers this plausible but shameful excuse.  Kayser found this “irresponsible and frustrating,” believing the line to be an attempt to render porn consumption “normal and acceptable.”

I stewed over this for a couple of days before I finally worked out why I was irked: Kayser was offended.  Reading his article and review, I realized that he was offended that Spider-Man: Homecoming didn’t measure up to his values. This is illogical because the only way to ensure that any artistic endeavour measures up to your values is to produce it yourself, by yourself. As any artist will attest, the moment another person becomes involved in your project, compromise begins.

I don’t agree with Kayser that people of faith have to compromise anything in watching this film. Despite Kayser’s offense, porn consumption is normal, or at least it has become so in our society. Most famously, Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse of the University of Montreal had to restructure his  study comparing men who consumed porn with those who hadn’t because he couldn’t find any control subject in their twenties who had never consumed porn. On this point, I agree with Kayser: this is not acceptable, for a variety of reasons. I don’t agree, however, that it’s a cause for hand-wringing and finger-pointing, or throwing rotten tomatoes at an amazing film. I suggest, rather, that this is an opportunity, a chance to have a discussion.

Porn users are not a proud bunch. We might be willing to acknowledge and detail usage in an anonymous Internet survey, but none of us are going to list it as an accomplishment on our curriculum vitae. There won’t be any “Porn Pride Parades” coming to your community anytime soon. You might know someone who is upfront and casual about using porn, but for the rest of us, it’s a source of shame and we are only as healthy as our darkest secrets. If nothing else, Ned’s line is an opportunity to shine some light on a dark truth. I took my eleven-year-old son to this movie, and I will be using this moment to have a frank and open discussion with him about pornography; where Kayser takes offense, I see opportunity. My son wants to be like me; I want him to be better.

Ned’s line is an opportunity to shine some light on a dark truth.

Kayser also doesn’t seem to understand that acknowledging that something is occurring is not the same thing as condoning it. If Ned had actually been watching porn, or if the teacher had replied: “Oh, never mind, then,” that would have been rendering it acceptable. The line, “I was… looking at… porn?” was delivered, however, with trepidation, as if the character knew what was going to happen to his reputation thereafter.

Kayser seemed particularly affronted that a mother at the screening he attended found this line particularly funny (Um, it’s funny ‘cause it’s true?).  When I heard Ned’s excuse, I laughingly groaned: “Oh no!” because I knew what it was going to cost him, and that is my other bone of contention with Kayser’s assessment. Ned’s intention was to protect Peter and honour his promise to keep Spider-Man’s secret.  He chose an excuse that was plausible, but cost him his reputation, sacrificing his own well-being for another. Kind of reminds me of another example in the discourse of faith of someone accepting undue shame in order to protect someone else. In that context, the brilliance of the writing shines through in the juxtaposition of the sacredness of Ned’s self-sacrifice and profanity of his lie.

Be offended—that’s fine.  We are all going to be offended about something sometime, and we none of us have the right not to be. Accept the responsibility of being the change you want to see: “With great offense, comes great responsibility.”

Tim Webster

Tim Webster

Staff Writer at Area of Effect
Tim is a husband, father of three, and has introduced all of his children to the wonders of geekdom. A fan of comics, superheroes, Star Trek, Doctor Who, fantasy, and not as much Star Wars as you'd expect for someone who studies lightsaber combat, he denies the completely unfounded rumour that he has had elective plastic surgery to crop his naturally-pointed ears.
Tim Webster

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