Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Crass, Despicable, Sleazy, but is it Euvoluntary?

Via A.V. Club, there are rumors that the creative minds behind adultery service Ashley Madison (presumably no relation to the actress) are working on producing a TV show based on the service (h/t Poet). Having come of age in a time when the sauciest thing on prime-time was Hawkeye Pierce was chasing skirts in Korea, this quite naturally caught my attention.

It seems to me that there are three transactions here.

  1. Adultery
  2. The Internet-enabled matching service for adulterers
  3. The television program promoting the Internet-enabled matching service for adulterers.
Adultery is not euvoluntary. Unless otherwise specified as part of the relationship, sleeping around is a breach of contract. It violates the "conventional capacity to exchange" condition. Infidelity has long been adequate grounds for dissolution of marriage (or worse). But apart from that, infidelity is largely a private affair. Unless there's some sort of contagion effect, where the mere prevalence of cheating produces more cheating, the costs of adultery are either kept within the affected family or are a result of political choices (here, I'm referring to preferential tax treatment, public assistance, or the like). Adultery is largely a private misfortune rather than a public calamity. 

How about the service? Is Ashley Madison euvoluntary? Surely it reduces the cost of the matching problem faced by people who wish to cheat on their spouses, but it's difficult to see how it could contribute to the underlying demand. And it's hard to drum up much sympathy for folks who are on the adultery fence sitting at home thinking, "you know, I'd be fine with cheating on the old lady, but it's just such a hassle hitting the bars after work, man." The home life dissatisfaction that leads to adultery is the problem. These guys are simply providing a valuable service to already-dissatisfied consumers. Should the aggrieved party be more offended by the act or by the pent-up demand that gave rise to it?

And the show? Is an hour-long commercial for purveyors of sleaze euvoluntary? Here, I'm ambivalent. I am well-convinced that rhetoric and persuasion is an important determinant of behavior, but it's not clear to me beforehand what marginal (or average) effect such advertisement would have on the public. Recall that one of the hypotheses to explain the sudden decline in teenage pregnancies was an MTV program about kids with babies. And again, even if the site gets a boost in traffic thanks to the show, the underlying problem of mismatches in the marriage market cannot reasonably laid on the stoop of Noel Biderman and set on fire just before ringing the doorbell and running away.

Curious though. Even if something is vile and reprehensible, could it still enjoy freedom from calls for censorship? My prior belief is that folks who lean socially conservative would look at corrosive entertainment and see it as yet another threat to the fabric of civilization. And if persuasion is effective, it should be worth considering carefully whether or not their arguments have merit.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to the day Americans start having reasonable/realistic attitudes towards sex.

    Not holding my breath.


Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?