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Pornography

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

by Frank Jacob (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 384 Pages

Summary

Pornography can tell us many things about a society, when it is seriously considered as a topic for scientific research. The present volume offers interdisciplinary perspectives on the subject and shows how pornography can be studied and what we can learn from such studies, e.g., about the construction of gender roles and their representation in pornographic media. Specialists from different fields provide insight into their approach towards the scientific study of pornography and thereby highlight that serious research on pornographic content from different time periods offers valuable findings about older and modern societies alike.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction: What Pornography Can Tell Us About Society and Why It Should Be Studied (Frank Jacob)
  • Section I: Art or Pornography?
  • 2. Porne, graphein and Greek Stereotypes of the Macedonians (Sabine Müller)
  • 3. Sex and the Sculpture: Sexual Desire for Inanimate in Greek Art (Jorge Tomás García)
  • 4. Cross-contaminated Bodies: Constructing Obscenity in the Public Imaginary (Lauren S. Weingarden)
  • Section II: Stereotypes and Fetishes
  • 5. The “Mommy” Shot: Childbirth Porn and the Legitimation of Sexual Pleasure (Alexis Carreiro)
  • 6. “California Summer” in Europe: The Perception of US Gay Pornography in the 1970s-1980s (Martin Pozsgai)
  • 7. Kinky Ink or Feminist Liberation? Tattooed Female Bodies and the Porn Industry (Frank Jacob)
  • 8. Naziploitation: The Enduring Pornographic Fetish (Charlotte Mears)
  • Section III: Legal, Political, and Social Aspects of Pornography
  • 9. The Politics of Pornography and the Pornography of Politics (Dafna Rachok)
  • 10. Where Porndom Meets Stardom (Bruno Surace)
  • 11. Child Pornography in the Digital Age: A Conceptual Muddle (Claire Benn)
  • 12. “What Kind of a Library Are You Running?” Pornography and the Librarian (Richard Espley / Laurence Byrne / Leila Kassir / Andrea Meyer Ludowisy)
  • Section IV: Domination, Liberation, and Exploitation
  • 13. Sex and/as Liberation: (Porno)Graphic Lesbian Love in Blue Is the Warmest Color (Tatiana Prorokova)
  • 14. Rape Myths in Internet- Based MSM Pornography: Men Who Are With Men Are Still Men (Gene Kelly)
  • 15. Czech Hunter: Dominance and Racism in the Urban Jungle (Ami Pomerants)
  • 16. Contributors
  • 17. Index

Frank Jacob (ed.)

Pornography

Interdisciplinary Perspectives

About the editor

Frank Jacob is Professor of Global History at Nord Universitet, Norway, where he began to work in 2018, after having served as Assistant Professor at the City University of New York (QCC). He received his MA in History and Japanese Studies from the University of Würzburg and his PhD in Japanese Studies from Erlangen University. His main research foci are Japanese History, Transnational Anarchism, and Film History.

About the book

Pornography can tell us many things about a society, when it is seriously considered as a topic for scientific research. The present volume offers interdisciplinary perspectives on the subject and shows how pornography can be studied and what we can learn from such studies, e.g., about the construction of gender roles and their representation in pornographic media. Specialists from different fields provide insight into their approach towards the scientific study of pornography and thereby highlight that serious research on pornographic content from different time periods offers valuable findings about older and modern societies alike.

This eBook can be cited

This edition of the eBook can be cited. To enable this we have marked the start and end of a page. In cases where a word straddles a page break, the marker is placed inside the word at exactly the same position as in the physical book. This means that occasionally a word might be bifurcated by this marker.

Contents

Frank Jacob

1. Introduction: What Pornography Can Tell Us About Society and Why It Should Be Studied

Section I: Art or Pornography?

Sabine Müller

2. Porne, graphein and Greek Stereotypes of the Macedonians

Jorge Tomás García

3. Sex and the Sculpture: Sexual Desire for Inanimate in Greek Art

Lauren S. Weingarden

4. Cross-contaminated Bodies: Constructing Obscenity in the Public Imaginary

Section II: Stereotypes and Fetishes

Alexis Carreiro

5. The “Mommy” Shot: Childbirth Porn and the Legitimation of Sexual Pleasure

Martin Pozsgai

6. “California Summer” in Europe: The Perception of US Gay Pornography in the 1970s-1980s

Frank Jacob

7. Kinky Ink or Feminist Liberation? Tattooed Female Bodies and the Porn Industry

Charlotte Mears

8. Naziploitation: The Enduring Pornographic Fetish←5 | 6→

Section III: Legal, Political, and Social Aspects of Pornography

Dafna Rachok

9. The Politics of Pornography and the Pornography of Politics

Bruno Surace

10. Where Porndom Meets Stardom

Claire Benn

11. Child Pornography in the Digital Age: A Conceptual Muddle

Richard Espley, Laurence Byrne, Leila Kassir and Andrea Meyer Ludowisy

12. “What Kind of a Library Are You Running?” Pornography and the Librarian

Section IV: Domination, Liberation, and Exploitation

Tatiana Prorokova

13. Sex and/as Liberation: (Porno)Graphic Lesbian Love in Blue Is the Warmest Color

Gene Kelly

14. Rape Myths in Internet- Based MSM Pornography: Men Who Are With Men Are Still Men

Ami Pomerants

15. Czech Hunter: Dominance and Racism in the Urban Jungle

16. Contributors

17. Index←6 | 7→

Frank Jacob

1. Introduction

What Pornography Can Tell Us About Society and Why It Should Be Studied

Sexuality was carefully confined; it moved into the home.

The conjugal family took custody of it and absorbed it

into the serious function of reproduction.

On the subject of sex, silence became the rule.

The legitimate and procreative couple laid down the law.

The couple imposed itself as a model, enforced the norm,

safeguarded the truth, and reserved the right to speak

while retaining the principle of secrecy.

A single locus of sexuality was acknowledged in social space

as well as at the heart of every household,

but it was a utilitarian and fertile one:

the parents’ bedroom.1

In these words, the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984) described how the Victorian generation had deemed sex as something not to be publicly displayed or talked about. He further argued that “modern puritanism imposed its triple edict of taboo, nonexistence, and silence,”2 on sex and therefore limited human sexuality. Foucault consequently emphasized that its repression would establish a “sexual cause—the demand for sexual freedom, but also for the knowledge to be gained from sex and the right to speak about it” that “becomes legitimately associated with the honor of a political cause.”3 Regardless of the demands for sexual freedom and the protests against the social repression of human sexuality, modern society still, as sexologist Marlene Wasserman correctly states, “conveniently treats sex in one of three ways: as a problem, as a biological fact or as a guilty secret.”4 Therefore it is not surprising that porn scholars Feona Attwood, Giovanna←7 | 8→ Maina, and Clarissa Smith also confirm that “sex remains a problematic area of study.”5 For the case of pornography, this statement “is particularly true,” as it “is often positioned in terms of a battle between the extremes of pro and anti standpoints which ‘ordinary’ people must then judge.”6

Pornography as such is not a new phenomenon and has existed in different forms—drawings, literature, films, etc.—since the human mind has been able to create images related to its sexual desire.7 While there are many studies related to the topic, most of them “have been works of advocacy rather than inquiry,” which is why it is not wrong to follow John Ellis’ claim that pornography remains “one of the urgent and unanswered questions that our culture presents to itself.”8 Due to a “combination of vagueness and moralism,”9 definitions of the term have always been difficult. According to Ellis, it is “[t]he conjunction of sexual activity and representation,” which specifies “the area of particular taboos and [consequently] the traditional area of pornography.”10 One could therefore argue that the sexual act as such is not pornographic, but its public display can be considered to be, depending on the perspective and interpretation of the audience or the viewer. Pornography in a way is a representation of human sexuality, created by humans—although mostly males—for oneself or for others. It therefore, however, also stimulates, or better provokes, debates about what is considered to be “normal” or “natural.”11 Pornography can therefore be many things. It can be, as French scholar Patrick Baudry remarks, “annoying, embarrassing, amusing or arousing”12 and one has to agree with philosopher Mari Mikkola that “[p]ornographic recordings are used as multi-purpose recordings,13 and can therefore very often hardly be identified only as such.←8 | 9→

Pornography can usually be identified in all time periods, and even the bourgeoisie of the Victorian age that Foucault made responsible for the suppression of human sexuality shared pornographic images in gentleman’s drawing rooms.14 Usually, one can identify three general attitudes towards pornographic media or content, namely “pornography as a means of sexual enhancement, pornography as a moral issue, and social climate.”15 Especially with regard to moral issues, to quote art historian Eleanor Heartney, “pornography has emerged as a major battleground in the war for the control of culture.”16 First and foremost in the US it seems to cause uneasiness, as “[i]t encapsulates … unresolved conflicts over the nature of liberty, democracy, social consensus, and community.”17 It not surprisingly remains, therefore, a controversial issue, because basic but important questions, like how to define pornography or how to deal with it within a society, have not been answered yet. Pornography consequently, as legal scholar Jamila Badat correctly highlights, “has evoked, and continues to evoke, passionate, indeed acrimonious debates amongst feminists and non-feminists alike.”18 When scholars argued about the topic until the 2000s they mostly focused on the legal aspect or the effects pornography could have on society, with the latter mainly focusing on two models, summed up by political scientist Ted G. Jelen (1952–2017) in his article “Fundamentalism, Feminism, and Attitudes toward Pornography” (1986):

[T]he catharsis model seems to consist of the claim that viewing sexually explicit materials is unlikely to affect behavior, as the act of viewing provides an outlet for previously repressed impulses. Conversely, the imitation model contains the assertion that exposure to “pornographic” materials will lead the viewer to commit acts depicted in the material which he/she would not otherwise commit.19

Considering the corpus of literature until the early 2000s, before porn studies began to diversify with regard to intent and scope, the perspectives on the topic seemed rather limited, as highlighted by the philosopher and porn scholar Mar←9 | 10→gret Grebowicz: “There is certainly no shortage of feminist legal and sociological literature about the effects of pornography on women’s lives and psyches and on the production of gender.”20 While these works present a wide “spectrum of positions,” they were mostly limited to normative questions, but within the last decade “the emerging field of porn theory has successfully motivated the study of pornography as a form of culture.”21 In this introduction I will shortly provide a survey of different definitions and approaches to the study of pornography before introducing the contributions to the present volume, which are supposed to provide an insight into the variety of possibilities to study the subject. The aim of the present book is therefore relatively simple: it is supposed to stimulate further discussion and research related to pornography as a social phenomenon.

The Definitory Problem

Pornography is often used to mean obscenity, yet not everything that is obscene is automatically pornographic and vice versa. It is true, to quote American professor of law James Lindgren, that “pornography is so difficult to define that some pornography theories can’t meet even this standard.”22 Talking about obscenity and pornography, one can first use a rough distinction, also proposed by Lindgren: “Roughly, obscenity is dirty sexual material that lacks value, while pornography is explicit sexual material that harms women. Typically, pornography is a much broader category that includes some currently constitutionally protected works with literary or social value.”23 It seems to be clear that the depiction of sex as such is not always pornographic, but it is rather the context of it that decides the categorization. In addition, the perspective of the audience and the timely context of the medium presented are important to judge if it is pornographic or not, or, in other words, what is considered pornographic or not depends on a conglomerate of factors, including personal opinion, chronological context, and existent social norms.24

However, these considerations were not usually made when pornography was defined by the feminist anti-pornography movement and its representatives, who were rather focusing on the question of “whether or not the availability of por←10 | 11→nographic material is responsible for violence against women, or for promoting a de-personalized attitude toward sexual relationships.”25 The sexual content of pornography was usually used as an argument by the feminist anti-pornography movement to argue that women’s social and sexual oppression by men is especially stimulated by the existence and almost unlimited availability of pornographic material.26 Regardless of the fact that female degradation is often depicted in pornographic media to match the fantasies and desires of the consumer group, which very often is men, it is not that easy to use this as a label for all forms of pornography.27 The anti-pornographic feminist movement has been demanding further legal regulations to ban pornography, however technological developments made it even more accessible at the same time, producing a crux for the anti-pornographic movement as such.

Feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon described pornography in the Minneapolis ordinance in 1983 as follows:

Pornography is a systematic practice of exploitation and subordination based on sex which differentially harms women. The bigotry and contempt it promotes, with the acts of aggression it fosters, harm women’s opportunities for equality of rights in employment, education, property rights, public accommodations and public services; create public harassment and private denigration; promote injury and degradation such as rape, battery and prostitution and inhibit just enforcement of laws against these acts; contribute significantly to restricting women from full exercise of citizenship and participation in public life, including in neighborhoods; damage relations between the sexes; and undermine women’s equal exercise of rights to speech and action guaranteed to all citizens under the constitutions and laws of the United States and the State of Minnesota.28

According to this description, pornographic material and its availability are considered to be responsible for “giv[ing] people ideas” and therefore cause “actions that result from those ideas,” although such a dependency could never be scientifically proven.29 Dworkin’s earlier work Pornography: Men Possessing Women←11 | 12→ (1981)30 also counts as one of the “most strident of the voices demanding the banning of pornography in the name of women’s freedom,”31 and consequently represents the “uncompromising tone of moral fundamentalism,” but at the same time “a famously categorical tone.”32

According to Dworkin, pornography always depicts the male violation of female freedom, because “[t]he woman is acted on; the man acts and through action expresses sexual power, the power of masculinity,” which is why “[m]ale power is the raison d’etre of pornography; the degradation of the female is the means of achieving this power.”33 Considering that there is, of course, some legitimacy for such claims, Dworkin’s position is an extreme one within a “black-and-white universe,” in which pornography can never achieve any other meaning, form, or position.34 Her view on pornography has therefore been criticized, especially by other feminists, but still holds currency within the feminist anti-pornography movement.

MacKinnon also claims that pornography is causing the subordination of women35 and therefore demands a “particularly strong condemnation of pornography: if pornography is subordination, then there is little room for an opponent of subordination to defend pornography; further, one can argue that pornography itself infringes women’s right to equality.”36 Regardless of such positions, it should be noted, according to philosopher Jennifer Saul, that “works of pornography are interpreted very differently by different audiences, even amongst feminists.”37 American scholar Ann Snitow, for example, warned in 1983 that “man-hating was a good idea for a time,” but to get “outraged on sexual issues is not the best way for women to work for change.”38 American philosophy professor Alisa L. Carse further emphasizes this point when she states that “[t]he strategy of conceptualizing ‘pornography’ narrowly, as a morally loaded term, is fundamental to the radical←12 | 13→ feminist case against pornography.”39 She has consequently and not surprisingly called the dominant legal focus “both wrong-headed and perilous.”40 One has to be careful with regard to the feminist positions towards pornography as well, since not all feminists directly oppose pornography or are interested in banning it from the public space.41 The dominant anti-pornographic view can also only be explained when it is embedded in the broader context of its impact on the “character of sexual relationships in sexist societies.”42 The danger of feminist anti-pornography criticism lies, as journalist Barbara Norden has pointed out, within the establishment of alliances with the antifeminist right, whose representatives, although for other reasons, might have an interest in a ban of pornographic materials as well. At the same time, pornography as well as societies have changed a lot in recent decades, and it is hard to ignore that more and more women also began to consume, and thereby change, the format of pornography.43 While the British feminist and political scientist Sheila Jeffreys does not make a distinction between different pornography genres, like gay/lesbian or SM porn,44 one has to be careful to consider the transformation of pornographic content in the last few years, especially when it comes to alternatives by feminist porn directors like Erika Lust.45

It becomes obvious that pornography is much more than the display of sex. It is by itself, as feminist Consuelo M. Concepcion remarks, a “form of sexual expression that, although it has been a traditionally male domain, is not the institution that defines women’s position in a patriarchical society.”46 That means women need to be able to decide by themselves how sex is depicted, in order to create a female, even feminist version of pornography. Erika Lust explains exactly this necessity for such a change of perspective when she states that:←13 | 14→

If people hold the idea that sex on camera is always inherently sexist… well, I don’t think women will really get anywhere if we’re not allowed to create our own stories about sex, and that includes having a voice in pornography as active decision-makers and story-tellers. Just because some porn is extremely sexist doesn’t mean all porn has to be.47

In a similar way, feminist porn icon Stoya expresses her demand for what she calls “good porn” and also warns against overemphasizing the impact and forgetting about the limits of pornography, which in the end is a medium of sexual entertainment:

Sex and sexual fantasies are complicated. So much of emotionally safer sex is dependent on knowing and paying attention to your partner. We in the industry can add context to our work, but I don’t know that it’s possible, at the end of the day, for what is meant to be an entertainment medium to regularly demonstrate concepts as intangible as these. We cannot rely on pornography to teach empathy, the ability to read body language, or how to discuss sexual boundaries—especially when we’re talking about young people who have never had sex. Porn will never be a replacement for sex education.48

What is obviously necessary is a dialogue about pornography and how it should display sex, although the different pornographic media already offer myriad ways in which sex is presented to consumers who, nevertheless, are still able to re-define their own reading of these presentations. Concepcion, like Erika Lust and Stoya, therefore correctly points to a specific necessity of female influence on the production and distribution of pornographic content: “To deny any women any form of sexual expression, including the enjoyment and production of pornography and, thereby, stunt the development of our sexuality, forces women to question our intuition and police our desires.”49

There is no argument about the fact that pornography very often “eroticizes an institutionalized inequality between men and women, but only, or for the most part, in a way that appeals to men,”50 but at the same time there is no reason why it has to stay this way. There are, however, categories of pornography, e.g. so-called victim pornography, that need to be further discussed, in particular with regard to the image that is transported and displayed by such pornographic media. The feminist Judith M. Hill defined victim pornography as←14 | 15→

the graphic depiction of situations in which women are degraded by sexual activity, viz., (a) situations in which a woman is treated by a man (or by another woman) as a means of obtaining sexual pleasure, while he shows no consideration for her pleasure or desires or well-being, and (b) situations in which a woman is not only subjected to such treatment, but suggests it to the man in the first place.51

One could, of course, argue here that such depictions resemble male fantasies about domination and power over a female subordinate other, and in how far such depictions really impact on anti-female sentiments or actions by men, but the line between extreme sexual pleasure and extreme anti-female depictions is very thin—one could probably not ask the same questions about anti-male depictions within femdom pornography, since the majority of the consumers would be male as well.

The arguments about the legal restrictions of pornography will probably continue, with defenders of the right to access such media pointing to civil rights, and opponents pointing to negative impacts of pornography, which can actually not really be scientifically proven.52 That legal measures must be carefully drawn up and define what is actually banned is shown by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (2008) and the Criminal Justice and Courts Act (2015) in the United Kingdom. According to these recent laws, the “the possession of obscene and explicit depictions of the following [material is banned]: nonconsensual sexual penetration; acts that appear to threaten a person’s life; acts that inflict serious harm on the breasts, genitalia, or anus; and acts of necrophilia and bestiality.”53 This definition seems to be quite clear at first look, but there are nevertheless liberal concerns about it, because

[w]hile many images falling under this definition offend and disturb people, liberal opponents are concerned that the prohibition includes fictional representations, in particular, depictions of common sexual fantasy scenarios as well as a range of sex acts that may appear subjectively dangerous or degrading, but are safe and frequently enjoyed when practiced between informed, consenting adults.54

In particular, “sexual minorities, including individuals with a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender orientation, and practitioners of bondage, domination and sadomasochism”55 fear that their erotic and sexual fantasies could be too easily←15 | 16→ subsumed under such a ban. As said before, the line is very thin and pornography therefore needs a more open discussion in order to be successfully changed by the society it exists in and is produced for. Before discussing the social role of pornography I would, however, like to have a short look at more “neutral” approaches to define the phenomenon per se.

Biographical notes

Frank Jacob (Volume editor)

Frank Jacob is Professor of Global History at Nord Universitet, Norway, where he began to work in 2018, after having served as Assistant Professor at the City University of New York (QCC). He received his MA in History and Japanese Studies from the University of Würzburg and his PhD in Japanese Studies from Erlangen University. His main research foci are Japanese History, Transnational Anarchism, and Film History.

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