Porn

I’ve got some unpopular opinions about porn and not much space to defend them, so I’m just going to bring in three pieces of evidence, make my plea, and throw myself on the mercy of the class. Here we go:

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First, let’s look at my copy of The Satyricon, a notoriously filthy work written late in the first century AD and published, in this English edition, in the 1920’s. What’s interesting about this edition is that many of the dirtiest bits are included, but left untranslated from Latin, presumably so that only scholars can decode them. Implicit in this odd choice is that it’s not the  material that’s inherently bad, but the prurient interest to which it might be put. In other words, The Satyricon is pornography if and only if it might give one an erection. I realize that’s gendered language, and I’m using it advisedly.

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Secondly, consider Hysterical Literature, a video art series in which… well, this will be quicker and less awkward if you just check out this link. In short, it’s like porn, but without many of the features to which people commonly object: no violence, no coercion, no hetero-normative perspective, not even nudity. I bring it up for two reasons. First, to point out that some pornography is very unlike the stuff coming out of the mainstream porn industry; this is just one bit of flotsam in a vast sea of porn that ranges from H-games to erotic fanfic to Naked News. Also, I want to point out that while most of the comments on the page I linked are positive, some still object that the women in the videos are too attractive, that they don’t vary enough in body type, or that men aren’t filmed.

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Thirdly, let’s talk about Facebook’s policy on post-mastectomy pictures. After Facebook removed a number of post-mastectomy pictures and banned a photographer for posting them, an online campaign emerged, and Facebook changed its policies. It now permits post-mastectomy photos, but not breasts unaffected by surgery. Facebook made a good decision, but notice that it WAS a decision, and that somebody had to make it. Porn is not just the reprehensible material we saw in the Frontline documentary. It has little solid definition at all. It’s a label used to suppress material for any number of reasons, not all of them progressive. In many cases, the main goal is to prevent any sexual response in viewers, which may incidentally suppress some negative portrayals of women, but may also end up censoring material that is feminist-friendly.

That brings us back to the comments on Hysterical Literature that I mentioned before. This is a small-time video series that, being pornographic, is intended to be sexy for viewers who are attracted to women. Is there something wrong with the fact that it features attractive women? Are viewer wrong for finding them attractive? Or is the real scandal here the fact that male heterosexual viewers are getting an erection?

If we’re being honest, I think it’s the latter. The worst kind of pornography DOES shape people’s perspective on sexuality. Sadly, many men have come to identify male sexual gratification with the degradation of women… and so have some critics of pornography. They’ve internalized that old, insulting assumption that male sexuality is fundamentally abusive and deviant, and that it has to be supressed for women to be safe. This is why censors have attacked pornography with the term “prurient interest” and why pornographers have defended porn by insisting that women and couples use it too; the fundamental crime that nobody wants to condone is for a lone man to get sexual gratification from an image. The dominant porn ideology, then, is also the dominant anti-porn ideology: that male sexual gratification is abusive and shameful, and that any woman who’s the object of male desire is a victim. I’m all ears for discussions about reforming the porn industry and confronting porn audiences about the vile products they demand. However, those discussions are non-starters for me as long as they rest on the same mutually-degrading images of gender and sexuality that they propose to fight.

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4 thoughts on “Porn

  1. Interesting perspective. “Or is the real scandal here the fact that male heterosexual viewers are getting an erection?” I don’t necessarily agree with that argument, but it is interesting to bring up.That could certainly be an argument against a radical feminist’s argument against porn. As far as the larger societal view, I’m not sure if it would fit. If that were the case, I would assume that bikini-clad women, simulated sex on cable television, or the naked body painted women in Sports Illustrated would be considered porn. I’m not a man, but I’m going to guess that all of the aforementioned regularly give men/boys raging stiffies on a regular basis, yet are not considered pornographic or make men seem like devious pervs for looking.
    I’m know there are some who believe that porn is inherently oppressive to women, and I disagree. I think that women and men should equally be to blame for the objectification and degradation of women in porn. I didn’t watch the Frontline special. I watched the documentary about Vogue. Women are excellent at perpetuating the cycle of self-oppression and objectification onto themselves. Men shouldn’t ALWAYS be the scapegoat. Look at women’s fashion. It’s ridiculous. Women buy magazines with thin, beautiful, scantily clad women, and emulate their look. Men aren’t the ones making the clothes or buying the magazines. Women wear shirts with their tits hanging out and then get angry at men for looking. I’m smart enough to know that if I wear a shirt like that, people are going to look and it’s my own fault. Sorry for the tangent. Anyway, I’m glad you’re bringing up a controversial opinion. Thank you.

    • This deserves more response that I want to compose in a comment box. I’m gonna write a whole other post about it tomorrow, or maybe do a video.
      P.S.: Your correction of “devious pervs” to “deviant pervs” is noted. However, I prefer the mental image of devious pervs, so I’m keeping it.

  2. You bring up an interesting point regarding the degradation and objectification of women in porno movies. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with porn and I don’t believe it should be censored at all. However, I’m not going to lie, I was really disturbed watching the Frontline special when they showed a porno movie of a woman being kidnapped, beaten, raped, and killed. My initial thought was, “Wow, this is something that should be banned.” I definitely don’t support anything that encourages violence against women, and I felt a little sick watching the whole thing. Upon further consideration, I realized that maybe there are some positives to this type of porn. I believe that a lot of people watch porn as a release; porn provides images of sexual acts that viewers will never actually engage in. Perhaps people who fantasize about violence and rape can use this type of porn as a means of release, instead of committing violent acts. I know that this idea sounds completely disturbing to some people, but I would much rather a man view a violent video than commit a heinous crime. I also don’t think that the videos encourage men to do such things, and they don’t plant an idea that isn’t already there. Maybe I’m just trying to make the best of that type of porn, but I think it’s important to note that there could be some benefits to it.

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