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“Porn Hurts Everyone” Exposes Rural America

Road tripping across America has become a metaphor for the ideals and dreams of the nation. The faith in possibility, the optimism fueled by what is to come: these are the qualities that have driven an imperialist force from one ocean to the other—and along the way they have pillaged at their will, taking the land and its resources from those who tended to it for tens of thousands of years.

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And yet, all of that falls by the wayside when one hops into the car, so driven by the belief in progress and the illusions fostered by two centuries of industrialization. Yet, it is precisely on the road where these dreams may die as they choke on the reality of dusty landscapes filled with the ashes of lies.

Irish photographer and filmmaker Niall O’Brien charted an undefined path across the American Northwest along with Ryann Bosetti, James and Ed Pecis, traversing 4,000 miles across California, Oregon, Washington State, and Idaho over a period of three weeks, in search of the truth that underlies the mythology of these here United States.

The result is Porn Hurts Everyone, a beautifully produced monograph that looks at rural America in the era of Donald Trump. O’Brien and Bosetti maintained a respectful distance from the world they saw, looking at the descendants of imperialists who struggle as reality pushes its way through the door.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, rural America has become the new “inner city.” Since the 1990s, counties across the country have rapidly been in decline, as the promise of small town America collapsed under the rule of Baby Boomers, who consumed everything in their path and just a few crumbs left behind. Today, these sparsely-populated locales are falling apart, as poverty, teenage birth, divorce, death rates from heart disease and cancer, male unemployment, and reliance of federal disability insurance continue to climb to the highest rates in the nation.

As O’Brien’s photographs attest, the American landscape no longer supports the myths it once held, and all that remains are the increasing gulf between fantasy and reality. What has not disappeared is the sense of entitlement, though it is becoming something far more perverse in the way that it is told. In one photograph, we sign a sign that hawks, “Your Wife Said Its Ok to Buy a New Gun Today,” reproaching the men who have lost their dominance and promising to replenish it with firearms.

O’Brien’s images are like the quiet before the storm, before the shocking headlines reveal the stark reality of rural America. “I wasn’t conscious of the political side of what I was shooting but that sense emerges through the book,” O”Brien reveals, “I was exploring these small towns that are filled with wonderful, welcoming people, offering me bed and board, but it was what was beneath that, when ewe started talking, that really fascinated me.”

What lies beneath is a tethered thread of twisted narratives that get revised with every passing generation, history rewritten by those who cannot handle the truth, favoring the fantastical illusions of entertainment, art, and literature. It’s a story that retells itself so often, that it is taken for truth—despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Porn Hurts Everyone captures the shadow that lurks out in the blazing golden sun, the shadow that has been falling on those who allowed themselves to be deceived because the truth is too difficult and too gruesome with which to reckon.

All photos: © Niall O’Brien.

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Vogue Online, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, Feature Shoot, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.