Antip.o.r.n forces continually pontificate about p.o.r.n viewers and the p.o.r.n viewing experience. They tell us p.o.r.n viewers are addicted, immature, antiwoman, intimacy-fearing, selfish, gullible, and of course, dangerous to children.
Perhaps these are the qualities nonviewers would have if they viewed p.o.r.n.
But characterizing America's 50 million p.o.r.n consumers this way is just nuts.
What's even crazier is the way this has become accepted as truth.
THE TRUTHS THAT p.o.r.n TELLS.
p.o.r.nography is not a love story, but it does tell some some truths. Not literal truths-few of us look like p.o.r.n actors-but more philosophical, eternal truths. Politically relevant truths. That's why p.o.r.n is ultimately subversive, a key reason that it's under siege. truths. Not literal truths-few of us look like p.o.r.n actors-but more philosophical, eternal truths. Politically relevant truths. That's why p.o.r.n is ultimately subversive, a key reason that it's under siege.
Although American media and culture obsess about s.e.x, most of us live with simplistic, superst.i.tious, anhedonic, fear- and danger-based concepts of eroticism. Many obvious s.e.xual facts are denied, tabooed, and distorted. Examples include: virtually all children m.a.s.t.u.r.b.a.t.e, virtually everyone has s.e.xual interests, most people fantasize s.e.xually, primarily about "inappropriate" partners or activities, and most people are curious about others' bodies and s.e.x lives.
p.o.r.nography tells a variety of truths about s.e.x and gender to viewers who decipher what they're seeing (that is, the vast majority of consumers). These truths are far more important than the surgically enhanced b.r.e.a.s.t.s, abnor- Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 137 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 137 mally big p.e.n.i.ses, and casual group s.e.x that are staples of the genre (which, when taken literally, are misleading). These truths include: * Anyone can feel (and thus be) s.e.xy.
* Nothing is inherently nons.e.xual or non-erotic.
* The only rules in s.e.x are arbitrary.
* Many, many people love s.e.x.
* The erotically "nasty" can be life-affirming.
* Even "nice" people enjoy "nasty" fantasies and games.
* Neither intercourse nor o.r.g.a.s.m are the center of s.e.xuality.
* Focusing on s.e.xuality for its own sake is legitimate.
* Women and men who feel secure in their dignity and admit that they love s.e.x can enthusiastically submit erotically, because they don't fear judgment (others' or their own).
These truths, of course, defy America's dominant paradigm about s.e.xuality.
In the traditional view external rules are important; body parts are clearly either s.e.xual or nons.e.xual; "nice" and "nasty" eroticism are clearly distinguishable from each other; different, non-overlapping groups of people indulge in each; and eroticism is dangerous if people don't control their arousal.
Consumers of p.o.r.nography regularly visit an erotic world quite different than this.
The truth that p.o.r.n tells is that all people have the option of conceptualizing their s.e.xuality any way they like. Social norms regarding age and beauty, religious norms about G.o.dly and unG.o.dly s.e.x, personal fears about acceptance, cultural myths about the human body, all of these are ignorable; none are inevitable. Each of us can triumph over the ways social inst.i.tutions attempt to control our s.e.xual experience.
Ironically, this paradigm of p.o.r.nography's truths is what s.e.x therapists try to get couples to understand and install in their own lives. These professionals know that the keys to satisfying s.e.xual relationships are self-acceptance and self-empowerment, not losing a few pounds, buying flowers, going away on vacation, or wild positions.
p.o.r.n's subtexts of abundance and validation are as responsible for contemporary cultural resistance-that is, the war on p.o.r.n-as its explicit presentations of s.e.xual activity.
AMATEUR p.o.r.nOGRAPHY AS TRUTH.
A new way in which p.o.r.nography tells the truth even more radically is amateur p.o.r.n, which has exploded via the democratic frenzy of the Internet. Several million people across the globe are now photographing themselves during various s.e.xual activities, uploading these photos onto personal and commercial Web sites, and inviting the entire computerized world to enjoy them.23 138.
In contrast to most commercial p.o.r.nography, common features of amateur p.o.r.n include: * a wide range of bodies, including ordinary and even conventional y unattractive ones; * a wide range of ages, including adults conventionally considered way past the prime of their attractiveness or s.e.xuality; * a mostly unproduced physical environment (poor lighting, composi-tion, etc); * a heightened sense of mundane reality (shots with unkempt kitchens or kids' toys in the background, scenes filmed in Motel 6, etc.); * a sense of humor and even parody.
Conventional criticism of p.o.r.nography would not predict amateur p.o.r.n's meteoric popularity. These criticisms a.s.sert that the supernatural beauty of actresses is central, that the desultory domination of actress by actor is crucial, that spectacular genital friction is what viewers most envy and desire.
Amateur p.o.r.nography turns these a.s.sumptions upside down. There are no actresses, only real women. These women aren't pretending to be excited, they are are excited. They aren't flaunting impossibly perfect bodies, they are enjoying their bodies as they are-some of them gorgeous, most of them imperfect and attractive, some appealing only insofar as they are enthusiastic. Virtually all the women in amateur p.o.r.n share that quality-enthusiasm. They are actually enjoying themselves: the activities, the violation of taboos, the exhibitionism. excited. They aren't flaunting impossibly perfect bodies, they are enjoying their bodies as they are-some of them gorgeous, most of them imperfect and attractive, some appealing only insofar as they are enthusiastic. Virtually all the women in amateur p.o.r.n share that quality-enthusiasm. They are actually enjoying themselves: the activities, the violation of taboos, the exhibitionism.
Clearly, there's no coercion here.
In contrast to the typically grim, ideological antip.o.r.n critique, our a.n.a.lysis of p.o.r.n's attraction and value would would predict and predict and can can explain why amateur p.o.r.n is such a rapidly growing genre. If the keys to p.o.r.n's popularity are validation of the viewer's vision of erotic abundance, female l.u.s.t, and the reasonableness of erotic focus, a viewer can experience those even more intensely when this validation comes not from actors but from real people. Rather than actors explain why amateur p.o.r.n is such a rapidly growing genre. If the keys to p.o.r.n's popularity are validation of the viewer's vision of erotic abundance, female l.u.s.t, and the reasonableness of erotic focus, a viewer can experience those even more intensely when this validation comes not from actors but from real people. Rather than actors implying implying that the viewer isn't alone, amateur photos and video show real people that the viewer isn't alone, amateur photos and video show real people proving proving the viewer isn't alone. the viewer isn't alone.
So what does the viewer of amateur p.o.r.n see? Everyday folks being l.u.s.ty, exhibiting themselves, and partic.i.p.ating in an erotic community. It's a community where s.e.xuality is understood as wholesome even when it's expressed in taboo ways.
p.o.r.nOGRAPHY'S TRUTHS AS SUBVERSIVE And why does our culture resist these truths? Because the revolutionary implications of empowering people s.e.xually challenge the cultural status quo.
p.o.r.nography does this without even portraying s.e.x exactly as most people experience it.
Battleground: The War on "p.o.r.nography" 139 The War on "p.o.r.nography" 139 p.o.r.nography is an admission that human beings feel, imagine, and do what they do. In a culture committed to both hiding and pathologizing (and therefore shaming) s.e.x as it real y is, this admission isn't polite. It's subversive.
Ultimately, p.o.r.nography's truths are subversive because they claim that we can empower ourselves and create our own erotic norms. Political structures just hate when ideas or cultural products empower people. This is the recurring lesson of Copernicus, Guttenberg, Margaret Sanger, Lenny Bruce, Timothy Leary, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the conventional fear/danger model, the genders are adversaries.
p.o.r.nography shows a reconciliation of the war of the s.e.xes, as it contains no adversaries. In most of it, everyone shares the same interests: pa.s.sion, unselfconsciousness, self-acceptance, pleasure, and mutuality. p.o.r.n undermines the conventional scarcity-themed s.e.xual economy and gender hierarchy; this is one of its most radical features, and is a big reason it attracts political opposition.
The ma.s.sive popularity of p.o.r.nography, and its consistent themes of female l.u.s.t and male-female mutuality, testify to our pain about the conventional s.e.xual economy. Taking p.o.r.n on its own terms would require society to acknowledge this pain; such a cultural challenge makes p.o.r.nography subversive.
p.o.r.n is subversive because it says that s.e.x is not dangerous.
AMERICA'S CONVERSATION ABOUT p.o.r.n: ONE HAND CLAPPING.
The format of America's cultural conversation about p.o.r.nography reveals a great deal.
* It focuses almost exclusively on negativity.
* It depends on misinformation and mythology.
* Critics claim they don't use the product, but claim expertise on the product's content (and its effects on users and the community).
* Almost no one will stand up for mainstream p.o.r.nography.
* People who do stand up for it are perceived as immoral, antifamily, antichild, and antiwoman.
What does this mean? Doesn't anyone notice that there is an activity done by 50 million people that practically no one will stand up and defend? And that anyone who does defend it is personally attacked? Gun ownership is contro-versial, but its pract.i.tioners defend it pa.s.sionately-they actually proselytize, hoping to convert nonowners. Drinking alcohol is demonstrably harmful for a percentage of drinkers and for innocent bystanders, yet alcohol distributors extol their product enthusiastically, no one ever suggests banning it for adults, and all but the most destructive drinkers are considered normal or even cool.
So what does the current one-sided "dialogue" mean? mean? What does it mean when one part of society discusses the behavior (and consciousness) of the other, and the voice of that other is missing? What does it mean when one part of society discusses the behavior (and consciousness) of the other, and the voice of that other is missing?
It means that we hear only about p.o.r.n's "victims." It means antip.o.r.n activists can maintain the illusion that p.o.r.n is a pathetic activity for marginalized people. This isn't healthy for our Republic's integrity.
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Every antip.o.r.n fundraising appeal, every government hearing, every op-ed piece shouts that p.o.r.n is everywhere, that it's taken over, that it's a multi-billion dollar industry. Then they say p.o.r.n is "attempting" to be mainstream-as if it isn't. They say p.o.r.n is on the margins of our culture trying to get in and infect "normal" society. They say we have to stop it.
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