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Are porn and video games really responsible for our joblessness epidemic?

The work and pensions secretary has blamed a rise in unemployment on pornography and gaming. But scapegoating people’s hobbies will just make this epidemic even worse, says Ryan Coogan

Friday 24 May 2024 17:49 BST
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The latest ONS figures show that 900,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are classified as ‘NEET’ – not in education, employment or training
The latest ONS figures show that 900,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are classified as ‘NEET’ – not in education, employment or training (Getty)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

I always find it so funny when people talk about pornography and video game “addiction”, because if we’re being honest with ourselves, it’s a miracle we aren’t all addicted to pornography and video games.

We’re all walking around with a little computer in our pockets that can show us naked people, or let us catch Pokémon, for free, on demand, rain or shine – why are we ever doing anything else? People focus on all the hours we waste watching porn, but really, when you think about it, I deserve a medal for all the time I’m not watching porn. Where’s my parade?

However, it appears that not everybody sees things that way. Work and pensions secretary Mel Stride has argued that pornography and video games are fuelling a mental health crisis among young men, causing them to leave the workforce. Speaking to the work and pensions select committee, Stride said that while women’s mental health has been impacted more by unrealistic standards of beauty set by social media use, “for boys… things like gaming, and certainly pornography and things like that, is a more prevalent factor”.

Stride’s comments came as the latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics, for the period from January to March 2024, showed that 900,000 young people aged between 16 and 24 are classified as ‘NEET’ – not in education, employment or training – an increase of around 88,000 from the previous year.

To be clear, this is the same demographic of people whose best years were spent dealing with a global pandemic, a dying economy, and a job market that seems to have been modelled on The Hunger Games. To be fair to Stride, he acknowledged that lockdowns were a clear factor in the NEET phenomenon – but, to be less fair to him, he also appears to think that milfs and Call of Duty are a bigger social ill than a disease that killed 200,000 people.

This isn’t a new thing. People in positions of power are always trying to blame the problems of young people on “those darn computers”, completely ignoring the fact that those same young people are living in a world that is increasingly hostile towards them, and seems to want to rob them of any chance of success or personal fulfilment.

Usually this dovetails with the equally toxic phenomenon of wanting to rob people who already have very little of the few pleasures they have in life – you know, the idea that working class people shouldn’t be wasting their money on booze and cigarettes, when booze and cigarettes are pretty much the only thing getting some working class people through day after miserable day.

Don’t get me wrong – there are absolutely some people out there who spend a little too much time in Fortnite lobbies, and whose hands would be put to far better use updating their CVs. But the idea that one in seven young men is economically inactive because they spend too much time googling “celebrity name feet”, and not because they have to go to war with 150 of their peers to get a minimum wage retail job, is a complete denial of reality.

The problem is that Stride must know full well that there are no easy fixes here. It’s going to take a holistic approach to our economy and healthcare – and, if we’re being honest, probably a new government – that he just won’t be able to deliver. So, like so many politicians before him, he goes after the usual suspects. What is this, the Nineties? We were blaming video games and porn for Columbine – surely you’ve had time to conjure up a more convincing moral panic by now. Next thing you know we’ll be arguing about whether Dungeons & Dragons is satanic.

If there’s anything to blame for the mental health crisis in this country, it’s people like Stride, who are paid more in a year than many of these NEET kids will see in their twenties, come to asinine conclusions about real, pervasive problems in our society. I don’t know if it would be more pathetic if Stride was just saying what he thought voters wanted to hear, or if he genuinely believed what he was saying – but I do know that both scenarios would have the same outcome: a depressed, disillusioned and desperate generation of kids, out of work and out of options.

It isn’t just Stride. There’s an entire online ecosystem dedicated to convincing young men that, if they just put down the controllers and close all those open tabs, they’ll magically be able to improve their lives. It’s a comforting fantasy – but, like porn, it isn’t an accurate reflection of how things actually work in the real world.

So if you’re a 20-something man who’s struggling to find work, and feels guilty because of the methods they use to cheer themselves up, don’t be. Porn and video games probably won’t help, but they won’t make things worse either.

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