As articulated in Escape from Freedom, how can Fromm's positive conception of freedom be applied to Gail Dines’ Pornland and Margaret Crawford’s “The World in a Shopping Mall”? Discuss...

As articulated in Escape from Freedom, how can Fromm's positive conception of freedom be applied to Gail Dines’ Pornland and Margaret Crawford’s “The World in a Shopping Mall”? Discuss what sort of freedom is expressed by the activity of the consumer in the shopping mall and in the making and viewing of pornography?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The notion of "freedom to" enables the individual to activate freedom as a defining force.  Fromm sees positive freedom as possessing "the same dialectic as the process of individual growth."  It is a reflection of "strength and integration." This dialectic enables the individual to recognize forces that wish to silence one's voice.  The acknowledgement of these forces help to cause a sense of insecurity and doubt within the individual.  The propensity to capitulate to these forces exists. Fromm asserts that the dialectic recognizes moments in which insecurity and doubt present themselves. In the absence of any structure, the individual will accept these silencing structures.  For example, Fromm suggests that individuals embrace conformist structures of the world in which "I am what you want me to be" to avoid complex thought and introspection. Doubt and insecurity is a part of the dialectic that underscores positive freedom. For Fromm, positive freedom exists in the embrace of spontaneity, a form of life where "there is only one meaning of life: the act of living it." 

In the worlds that Crawford and Dines construct, Fromm's understanding of capitulation is understood. Certainly, Dines' view of pornography reflects such a reality.  Dines' would argue that Fromm's vision of positive freedom has been supplanted by an industry that focuses upon constructing what sexual reality should look like, as opposed to what love and intimacy actually are:

Rather than sporadic trips into a world of coy smiles, provocative poses, and glimpses of semi-shaved female genitalia, youth today, especially boys, are catapulted into a never-ending universe of ravaged anuses, distended vaginas, and semen-smeared faces.  When they masturbate to these stories, acts, and narratives of such porn in a heightened state of arousal, a cornucopia of messages about women, men, relationships, and sex are sent to the brain.

Dines would argue that the dialectic of positive freedom when applied to pornography has moved the individual into embracing a conformist view of the world.  Rather than understand the challenging and insecure world of "coy smiles" and "provocative poses," elements that are difficult to comprehend and fully grasp, the imposition of graphic sexual images has provided solidity where there was once doubt.  The view of porn that Dines offers is one in which imposition of "a cornucopia of messages about women, men, relationships, and sex" constitute's porn's appeal. 

The same element can be seen in Crawford's construction of consumerism in the world of the mall.  Crawford defines the science of the mall to using data and analysis to gear individual purchasing behavior.  The mall is not a vision of choice.  Rather, it is an example of "apparent diversity masks fundamental homogeneity."  Managers and administrators continually refine what they possess to manipulate consumer purchasing power.  The goal of "a foolproof money machine" is dominant. The world has become one of a shopping mall.  Freedom and distinctive spontaneity have become replaced with controlled elements designed to maximize profit.  Through this, the individual lacks voice and power.  The consumer's willing embrace of this structure is reflective of how the dialectic of positive freedom can reveal a desire to avoid free and sincere thinking, enabling the mall designers to do it for them.  Fromm would suggest this as critical to understanding positive freedom.


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