Will's Coffee House

John Dryden, Dramatist, Critic, Poet Laureate, and my ancestor, frequented a coffee house called Will's almost daily, where he would hold forth on sundry subjects with great wit and aplomb. Same deal here, only without the wit or aplomb.

Location: Large Midwestern City, Midwestern State, United States

I am a stranger in a sane land...

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Well, That's Just Filthy

The great, great Tom Lehrer once introduced a song by telling his audience: "I do have a cause. It is Obscenity. (Pause) I'm for it." The song, "Smut," then went on to revel in the harmless pleasures of erotica: "Some have a hobby / Like tennis, or philately; / I've got a hobby: / Re-reading Lady Chatterley!" Good man, Mr. Lehrer, not simply because his lyrics are the finest example of satiric wit since the death of W.S. Gilbert, but because the moral stance--and it is a moral stance--in favor of pornography is one that has to be taken. Not just because of that whole "First Amendment Freedom of Expression" thing, but because--call it what you will: porn, smut, adult entertainment--erotica is very much part of the warp and woof of human nature and American culture, and seeking to deny it--or worse, suppress it to the point of outright censorship--is a disturbing and frightening agenda that's never quite going to go away from our public discourse.

The only recently died-down brouhaha about Ms. Janet's "wardrobe malfunction" (yeah, I know, you just haven't heard enough of this endlessly fascinating subject) reminds us that this country is profoundly disturbed by the existence, much less the exposure/discussion of sexuality. I mean, we have the world in uproar over the two-second partial exposure of a breast (something that nursing mothers are free to whip out in any public forum, it seems) during the half-time show of a game in which we are cheerfully free to see events like Joe Theisman's leg getting snapped in two like a bread stick. The MPAA, as Troy Parker and Matt Stone, among others, have pointed out, is perfectly fine with scenes of evisceration, beheading, maiming, vaporizing, torture, slashes, gouges, every Tarantino-esque permutation of Sadean excess imaginable--these things will only get you an "R" rating. Puppets having sex? "NC-17." Call me wacky, but I find it an ugly and disturbing facet of our culture that human butchery is more permissable than, say, soft-core Cinemax porn, which is basically just a montage of naked people dry-humping, with nary a penis nor a money-shot in sight. (Not that I ever watch those films. Ever. At all.) (Oh, please--of course I do--why else would I be writing this?) Violence is acceptable, sex is not. Representations of violence are acceptable, representations of sex are not. It's OK to kill a woman on camera--hell, flay her alive and dip her in acid if you want--but just don't f--k her--that's a no-no. John Kerry, let us recall, engaged in acts of near-massacre in Vietnam, a fact that came out at an inopportune time a few years back. He recovered nicely, to the point where he had no problem getting the nomination of a major political party for president. Imagine if it had turned out that instead of killing a bunch of people, he'd taken part in an orgy. He'd've been dead in the water, folks. We hate sex. Or, at the least, we're ambivalent about it. Men love to brag about their conquests. Women love to watch "Sex and the City" and dream, oh, dream about such a life, such sophistication, such freedom to be a total slut and for this to be the mark of a strong, independent woman--which, come to think of it, it may well be. So we're not too ashamed of having sex. But we are ashamed of watching it. Nobody watches porn. Ask around. Nobody does it. Nobody. Never. No, never. Really. "I don't need it," boast the men. "I just think it's gross/stupid," say the women. Pornography is the red-headed stepchild of American culture--shameful, embarassing, only engaged in furtively by seedy men in soiled trenchcoats.

And yet pornography is a $12 billion a year industry in the U.S. alone. ($57 billion world-wide.) Pornography makes more money than all professional sports income, combined. Pornography makes more than all three major television networks, combined. Clearly, we're being very Victorian about the erotic--condemning/ignoring it in public, indulging in it wildly in private. Strange that pornography has so few public boosters, then--I mean, the only people who openly defend it are people in the industry. Is that because it's still seen as something only used by people who can't get laid? (I imagine every guy out there is flashing back right now to the moments of agony he's faced in the video store trying to summon up the courage to take the naughty title off the shelf and bring it up to the front--always in line behind mothers with small children renting "The Lion King" and "Shrek"--and hand it to the clerk who's invariably a young, attractive woman with an expressionless face that we just know is covering a combination of revulsion and mockery.) Shouldn't we start to defend the use of porn? Shouldn't we admit that we like porn and we're not going to shrink from admitting it? Shouldn't we say, boldly and--dare I say--proudly, that porn is a pleasurable and significant part of our lives? Shouldn't we?

I mean, I won't, God knows, but shouldn't you? Come on, go ahead--take one for the team!

Well, all right, let me try to do this much--I will join with Mr. Lehrer in my defense of erotica. Of adult entertainment. Of pornography. (I'm going to swap terms around interchangeably--some are judgmental, some approving in tone, some neutral--but a rose by any other name, etc.) I for one am glad it exists. I think it's a healthy facet of our culture. And I don't buy the attempts of various social watchdogs to persuade me otherwise.

N.B.: A word at the outset--and we may come back to this subject later--there's porn and there's porn. I am obviously not attempting a defense of child pornography--a $3 billion a year industry, I'm horrified to report--or of pornography that is the result of force/coercion--though I still think that Linda Lovelace was exaggerating with her "gun-to-the-head-just-off-camera" tales of horror--not saying she made it all up, but, hey, when we tell stories about ourselves, we all make things more interesting to make ourselves seem less guilty/more important. It would have helped if there'd been, say, one person to corroborate her scandalous version of events. There's no such thing as a marketed, distributed snuff film, according to the Feds and all reliable sources--the only thing that comes close is the work of serial killers who create videos of victims as 'trophies'--but if there were, I wouldn't defend that. I'm not crazy about porn that centers around violence and rape, but I loathe even more the use of such porn by odious people like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin as examples of 'typical' porn. Such porn I defend grudgingly and with the strict proviso that I defend it only as a visual experience in vicarious pleasure, not as a 'how-to' guide on gender relations. And so forth--you can probably think of some form of pornography that's so cruel or harmful that it shouldn't be defended--though simply being 'gross' won't cut it; I couldn't watch filmed scat or felching without losing my lunch, but as long as it's performed by consenting adults for consenting adults, I can't not defend it. All forms of pleasure are subject to being turned into vile abuse--I'm here to defend the category of porn, rather than those who turn it into something evil. End of caveat.

Seems to me the objections to porn are threefold:

1. Religious.

2. Feminist.

3. (for lack of a better term) Sociological.

Let's take them in order, shall we?

1. Religious. Well, where to begin? I suppose we might start with the fact that erotica is largely used for self-gratification--I know Playboy has tried to sell its video and TV products as something that 'couples' can share for their 'mutual pleasure,' but come on, folks, let's recognize that for the wishful thinking it is. And so we go all the way back to Genesis 38:7-9. Onan is younger brother to Er (whose parents were apparently so stuck for a name that they went with the noise of hesitation they made when asked by the Rabbi), and when Er dies, Onan is ordered by his father to marry Tamar, Er's widow. But because, according to cutural tradition, the children of this new union would be considered Er's, and not his, Onan chooses instead to "spill his seed on the ground," in violation of his duty as a son, a husband, a tribal leader, and basically as a decent human being. And because he did, well, we'll let the King James finish the story, shall we? "And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore He slew him." So, naturally, this passage has been read as a condemnation of masturbation, a.k.a. "onanism." I mean, makes sense, right? It's not that Onan was being a general pr--k to his family, his community, his wife, to his role as a member of the Lord's chosen flock who therefore had a profound moral obligation to allow that flock to flourish and continue. No, he was beating off, and God killed him for it. Is anybody out there buying this? I thought not. Even most modern religious exegesists read this passage as, at best, a condemnation of marital coitus interruptus. So much for masturbation being a sin. There's no real doctrinal law against it--it is mentioned nowhere in the endless catalogue of "Do"s and "Don't"s that make up the latter 2/5 of the Pentateuch--so to hell with that. It's not morally wrong--not by Biblical standards, anyway. (You non-Judeo-Christians will have to excuse my ignorance.) For a truly hilarious rebuttal to my reading, please read the work of Brian Harrison at http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt67.html. I've rarely seen worse logic outside of an Ann Coulter column.

So much for the, um, application to which erotica is put. But that's not the only religious objection to the filthy stuff, of course. Where it really comes in for a moral spanking (heh) is in the work of that coldest of Biblical authors, Paul--probably the sourest joy-killer in the whole Bible, guaranteed to rob Christianity of any sense of spiritual fulfillment or warmth. Here's how it boils down: Paul, though he never admits as much, is a Platonist. Plato, for those of you unfamiliar with his works, viewed the material world as an inadequate imitation of the world of ideas--the ability for humans to recognize an essential similarity between disparate objects (one bed looks like another looks like another looks like another) means that what links these disparate objects in our minds is an ideal--a 'perfect' version of the bed from which all these other beds are derived. It is this 'perfect' bed, the 'true' bed, the 'real' bed, which is to be preferred before all other lesser imitators--the beds we perceive with our inadequate, corruptible senses. Hence, the world of the senses--and those things that appeal to the senses (like sex) are to be deplored, rejected, controlled. So a love between minds is infinitely better than a love between bodies, and sexual desire, which "lowers" us from the abstract thought of philosophy, which distracts us from the pursuit of immaterial truth, is bad. Hence, "Platonic relationship," which these days generally refers to one in which the guy wants it really bad and the girl "just wants to be friends."

One can easily see how this thinking translates into Paul's Christian ideology, which turns our natural readings of the 'real' and the 'unreal' topsy-turvy. For Paul, the things of this world, the solid, physical material world we experience with our senses, the things we perceive and experience as "real," are, in fact, the illusion--what is really real is the meta-physical, the ideal, the spiritual--that which eludes our senses and which leads us to the knowledge of that most transcendant ideal: the will and love of God. In this inversion, our senses exist largely to delude and to ensnare us, to tempt us to devote ourselve to the lie of the material, and therefore sex--even sex within marriage, mind you--is a bad thing. From 1 Corinthians: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" The end times are coming, says Paul, and so there's really no need for the only purpose of sex--procreation--because this generation will see the second coming of Christ, and the translation of the imperfect, material world into the perfect world of God. Chastity--all rejection of fleshly appetite--is therefore to be preferred above all other bodily conduct, as Paul points out by modestly using himself as a model of ideal conduct: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." If you must bump uglies, you weak, filthy little infants, you better do it to a wife/husband, or else. If all the material world is a lie, then all bodies are bad, all sex is bad--basically everything you've ever seen, felt, smelled, tasted, heard, and enjoyed--is bad. And so erotica is bad. QED.

Well, if you believe this line of reasoning, I can't argue with you. I mean, I can, first because Paul mistimed the end of the world by at least two millenia, which means that sex became a necessity so that mankind could, you know, be around for this important event, which means that it can't just be a necessary evil, since nothing that leads mankind to the fulfillment of God's divine plan can be anything other than good, right? Also, Paul's argument conveniently ignores the fact that if the material world is all lies, then his own existence is a lie, and everything he says--existing either as material words on a page or material waves of sound--is only perceivable through our senses, which he tells us are constantly lying to us--well, basically, if we take Paul at his own word, we can't take Paul at his own word. Certainly it ignores the possibility that the pleasures of this world, taken in responsible moderation, are quite probably God's compensation for the fact that life generally sucks quite a lot. Lord knows, that's always been my view. Regardless, if you're a Pauline Christian, then the body is filthy and all non-marital, non-procreative sexuality is damning, porn included, and that's that. Obviously, I think this line of thinking is crap. Sexuality can be a vice, just as any activity that, uncontrolled, can be when it causes harm, physical or emotional, to others. But that does not automatically make it sinful. Neither is chastity automatically virtuous. It's simply a morally neutral choice, no more significant than any other bodily denial unless it leads you, somehow, to a more virtuous frame of mind/conduct. A pedophile who practices chastity because he is aware of the devastating consequences of acting on his desires is being virtuous, because to act on his sexuality would cause unspeakable harm to another. A homosexual who practices chastity because he is too cowardly to acknowledge his own desires or to face their consequences is not being virtuous because he is living a lie that supports the idea that who he is is evil--at best, he's choosing one form of self-interest over another--not a virtue, that. And a guy/gal who makes use of porn is no better/worse than one who doesn't--imagine a guy who watches porn, sees what he likes, goes to his girlfriend and decribes what he's seen, and she's up for it too, and they recreate it themselves, and it's the greatest ever, and they fall even more deeply in love. This versus a guy who shuns porn because he doesn't need to be told how to have sex with his wife, who he's sure is perfectly content but who in fact is dying a little each day in total sexual misery. See the difference? One guy uses porn, and he's a good guy for doing so, one guy doesn't, and he's a d--k.

Look, obviously my argument here is secular; I can't argue with people who condemn erotica on doctrinal grounds--who view the making or viewing of sexual imagery or narrative as inherently sinful because the Bible says so--one can't argue with belief, because belief transcends logic, and all argument is based in logic. I can, therefore, only defend the existence and availability of pornography in American society to these people thusly: Inasmuch as your condemnation of erotica is based on your religious beliefs, that condemnation falls under the rubric of "freedom of religion"--that is, you are free to condemn it--but you cannot ban or otherwise forbid its dissemination for precisely the same reason--"freedom of religion" also protects those whose spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) permit the production or enjoyment of erotica. You may ban it on other grounds, to be sure--and we'll get to those grounds in a moment--but you cannot ban it solely on religious grounds, just as we cannot ban murder, theft, and other obviously socially destructive behavior solely on religious grounds. There must be additional justification--a logically defensible reason that the consequence to the behavior in question that proves that it must be forbidden in a social environment. Clearly, murder and society can't mix--if we cannot be sure of our right to life, we cannot co-exist without assuming that our lives are in danger 24/7, and we must, therefore, resort to violence at the slightest provocation to defend our lives. No social order can survive this state. Scratch most laws, and you'll find a pretty good reason behind most of them (prohibition of drugs and prostitution to the contrary.) But in a society that divides Church and State, that reason cannot be religious. We must, therefore, seek elsewhere for our objection to pornography. Religious condemnation of the erotic is an illogical objection, and therefore, argumentatively speaking, no objection at all. Since I can't defend it on such grounds, I don't have to. Convenient, no?

2. Feminist. Now we're getting somewhere. Feminism and the fact that 99.999% of "adult entertainment" means "stuff that guys can get their rocks off watching" is a fertile ground for ideological--and, indeed, logical--dissent. (Though a quick scan of the internet suggests that literary erotica has a wide female readership--and, let's be honest, Harlequin Romances and their ilk are just big-budget porn movie adaptations with plots, and I don't know any men who read those. But nor do I know of any substantial feminist objection to romance novels--I mean, I'm sure the humorless brigade of "can't see the forest for the trees" feminists have published reams on the subject, I've just not been subjected to them--and inasmuch as such condemnation is disseminated from the pulpit to the choir, I don't really credit it with much signficance.)

Now, as far as I can tell, feminist condemnation of porn boils down to two objections, the first of which is deeply insulting to men, the second of which is deeply insulting to women. (Frankly, my firm belief is that hard-core feminists--not the ones who believe quite sensibly that men and women are of equal value and ability in terms of their mental and emotional faculties and that they therefore deserve to be, say, paid equal salaries for doing the same job--I mean the ones who view anything less than a fanatic hatred of men and an equally fanatic worship of feminity as vicious bigotry akin to Klan membership--are simply closeted misanthropes who can't come to terms with the fact that they're people who function largely on the driving force of hate and who therefore find refuge for their consciences in their delusional politics. This also goes for PETA members and anti-abortion loons--you know these are people who hate people because the objects of their passion and sympathy are beings who are unable to disappoint them emotionally--cute little kitties and itty bitty babies can't question or challenge them, so they're perfectly safe to "love," the equivalent of pet rocks in terms of models of emotionally one-sided 'relationships.' But I digress.)

The first objection is pretty simple: Men watch Porn, and as a Result, Men A. Objectify Women and B. Think That Women Are All C-m Crazed Sluts Who Want It And Want It Bad And Yes Means No And It's OK To Slap Them Around A Little To Bring Them To This Realization. OK, as to A., well, yes, it's a fair point that pornography does encourage us to look at women as objects. Not that we need much help in this area--I mean, we come into the porn experience pretty much primed to objectify women. We do it, roughly, approximately, as a general rule, all the time. All the time we're awake, that is. But--and this is the part that lunatic feminists can't quite wrap their heads around--this objectification does not define our entire attitude towards/ interaction with these women. We can--brace yourself, womyn of the world--objectify a woman while still respecting her as a person, a mind, a feeling human being. Really. We can. Is your paranoia on this subject derived from the fact that you can't do this? Just askin'.

So, so much for the issue of objectification in general: 1. It's gonna happen anyway, and 2. That's not really a problem since we're socially equipped to handle it. Now, as to the objectification prompted by porn, which, admittedly, is a wee bit more extreme than your everyday, garden-variety, checking-someone-out-in-the-condiment-aisle-at-Costco objectification. So, admittedly, porn prompts us to objectify women. True. Unarguable. But which women, specifically? All women? Oh, I think not. Is it really the feminist contention that we watch porn, swing by the retirement community, and immediately begin sizing up the octogenerian ladies: "Yeah, check out them support hose! You know she's got in goin' on under them babies! She rides that walker real fine, umm-hmmm..." Clearly not. Perhaps--and I don't want to propose anything too radical--the only women we objectify when watching porn are, in fact, only the women we're watching in porn. Maybe? Possibly? Yes, we do objectify women as a result of watching porn--we objectify porn stars. Oh, I know what you're thinking--we're men, we objectify women outside of porn (and again, it's true, we do), and so we automatically transfer our objectification of the porn stars onto our comparatively benign objectification of other women until the world is just one big badly-lit porn set filled with bicurious, ravenous whores. There's only one thing wrong with this hypothesis: it pretty much depends on the notion that Men Are Freaking Morons. That we cannot distinguish between 'fantasy' and 'reality,' and--more to the point--that we have no sense of decorum. That we cannot recognize that the conduct and the attitude towards women displayed in the context of porn does not translate into, say, the context of the workplace or the church social. Which is like saying that we can't distinguish between relating to a stripper, a co-worker, a nun, and our grandmother. Guess what? We can!

Alas for the feminists, porn does not, in fact, teach us that "all women are sluts." First, porn doesn't teach us anything, anymore than watching cartoons "teaches" us that if you hit someone in the head with a frying pan, his head will assume the shape of that frying pan, only to pop back into shape a moment later. We have, strange to say, the ability to distinguish between the pleasing illusion of porn, between what may be appealing but which we know to be impossible and unreal, and the truth. We don't walk out of Superman believing that such a man exists--and you know what? We don't walk away from porn thinking that such women exist. We just don't. At best, if there is a 'message' we take away from porn, it's that women in porn have fake sex the way we'd like to have real sex. But--brace yourself, Andrea, Catherine, we know it's fake. We know they're acting. Trust me--we have to sit through the dialogue portions of filmed porn, so we know it's fiction, since the level of writing acting is only slightly less stilted than a 1st grader's Christmas pageant. And despite its presence as a consistent motif in every skin mag out there, none of us--but none of us--have ever seen a naked woman spread-eagled on the hood of a sports car. Such things do not happen in real life, and we know this. So, yeah, we suspend our disbelief long enough to become aroused and attain release, but our brains really are capable of distinguishing between the objectification of the pornographic experience and that of, oh, I don't know, flirting over after-dinner drinks with our dates. And you know what, it's insulting to suggest otherwise. Sure, some men choose not to make this distinction. Some boors tell themselves that the women they see in porn are what all women are really like underneath, and all it takes is a little forceful coaxing/Spanish fly to get them to 'open up and admit it.' But you know what? Such a--holes would be a--holes without porn. Admittedly, porn might confirm their prejudices, but without it, they'd still be abusive, hateful people who don't care who they hurt in pursuit of their feeble little orgasms. Banning porn because of such men is like banning white sales because some women choose to make the bargain bin the site of a bloody arena where only those with the will to shed blood are fit to make it to out alive with their prizes in hand--check out that thread count! Only had to kill two soccer moms to get it, too! So, let me say this to the proponents of Objection 1: Bite me--I'm not a moron, and I'm insulted by your sexist bigotry and I refuse to concede that the worst behavior of my gender is 'typical' of the gender as a whole. Porn stays--we know how to use it responsibily, thank you very much.

So, Objection 2--pretty much a natural corollary to Objection A--Inasmuch as Porn Objectifies Women, All Women Who Participate In Its Production Are Either Dupes Of The Repressive Male Ideology Or, Worse, Unwilling Victims Of What Amounts To White Slavery. Again, see Linda Lovelace's autobiographies Ordeal and Out of Bondage (hint to the late, lamented Linda--if you're going to name a book decrying pornography, try not to give it a name that makes it sound like a porn flick), or better yet, read Joe Bob Brigg's obituary of her: http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-briggs042502.asp. I'll address the White Slavery thing in a moment, but let me say this about the "Dupe" part of the objection: just how seriously frigging insulting is that? Why is it that when a woman wants to have freedom over her body in order to have an abortion or to kill enemy combatants, she's defended and admired, but if she wants to f--k on film, she's a traitor to her sex and/or a victim of the--what?--abusive phallocentric power structure. (Again, why is it that destruction/death are good things to do, but clapping the erasers is not? What the hell?) I'm sorry, but on this point, the conservatives are right: these people are in favor of people making the Right Decision (i.e. a decision they agree with) not the freedom to simply make a choice. It's just shudder-inducing, the more so because it's a recreation of the sexist villainy against which they're theoretically fighting. Is a woman who works in porn living up to her full potential as a human being? Well--first, I've seen many porn actors interviewed, male and female, and my overall answer would be, "Wellllll..." and then I'd politely change the subject. But all right, suppose the answer is no. Let me respond by asking, which of us is living up to his/her full potential? I know I'm not. I know the janitorial staff where I work is not. I was taught high school physics by a man who had to flee Iran under the Ayatollah, where he'd been the Head of Physics at a university in Tehran--was he living up to his full potential? Answer: maybe not, but I'm still damned grateful for his presence in my life; hell, he was the reason I nearly majored in Physics at UCLA! Likewise, I'm grateful for the women of porn, who may not be reaching to the utmost of their grasp, but who are filling a deep, serious social need. The ugly truth is, virtually none of us live up to our "full" potential, and it's not just because most of us are lazy, but because the world demands that we fulfill roles that stifle our potential greatness. Such is life. So women who do porn aren't at Fermalab studying the fundamental principles of physical existence. Neither are angry feminists--and let me add, as one inside the Ivory Tower, it's really incredibly easy to be an academic bitcher-and-moaner--if I can do it, anyone can. If women choose to do porn, that is their choice, and though--like the religious objectors--you are free to dissuade and complain, you do not get to forbid. The End.

"Well, would you want your daughter to be a porn star?" A fair point, though it does beg the question of my having a daughter, a thought that's more than a little giggle-worthy. (On the other hand, I'd be precisely the kind of awful, dysfunctional parent who'd produce the stereotypically emotionally crippled young woman who runs away from home and finds herself in the Big City, drawn inexorably into the vortex of drugs and porn. Regardless--) An honest answer would be "No, but I would recognize that the choice was hers to make, and if she sat down with me and explained that choice in rational terms, I'd allow myself to be convinced, and in any event, I'd still want her to call on weekends and visit during the holidays." So, that.

And what about the "mutilation" (read, radical plastic surgery--folks, mutilation is what happens to young women in Africa--let's pick our terms carefully, shall we?) that women undergo? Well, I'm not really in favor of it, frankly. I think it's a shame that women feel the need to subject themselves to it--and I disapprove of producers who "encourage"--i.e., professionally force--women to have these procedures. So you won't get arguments from me here. We agree. Shocking, I know. But wait--I will solve the problem of coerced surgery momentarily!

Now, as to the White Slavery issue. Well, I suppose in world as full of evil as this one, there must be women who do porn against their will. But then, there are women who stay in marriages against their will, and we're not going to ban marriage. See, it's the underlying problem of violent coercion that needs to be addressed, not the fact that the coercion is focused on getting the women to do porn. Because--and I think we can all agree on this one--most porn stars are doing this because they want to; whether or not their choice is erronious or self-destructive, it is a choice. But the environment of porn does, I admit, allow for abuse of greater or lesser severity to occur with some frequency. Alas, porn is an unregulated industry, and as any student of 19th century labor practices--and aren't there just millions of you out there?--can tell you, unregulated industries are breeding grounds for often horrific mistreatment of employees. Alas again, porn's lack of regulation does much to vindicate the MacDworkin view of porn as sexual slavery; granted, it's one of the few professional venues in which female performers generally make more than their male couterparts--did I say "generally"? I meant "invariably." But let's not kid ourselves--the producers have all the power--they do the casting, they sign the checks, and they decide who gets promoted and who does not--that means, at the end of the day, they've got all the power. And any business in which management has all the power is not going to be worker friendly. And so porn stars--male and female--get screwed over on a regular basis. Sad, but true. For a bleak portrait of this state of affairs, see the documentary Sex: The Annabel Chong Story (1999) --be warned: this is not a date movie, as, after viewing it, your girlfriend will never want to have sex again--and really, neither will you, gents. Also recommended, though hard to get ahold of is the English documentary Hardcore (2001). Both films support the MacDworkinite notion that many porn actors are in fact the walking wounded, serious messed-up individuals in a degrading life, working under horrible conditions. But I would argue that, much like the stories of violent coercion, such films reveal not that it is porn itself that is degrading to women, but the conditions under which it is produced. I would further argue that porn needs to come out of the shadows of the San Fernando Valley--where, perversely enough, it's been forced by the social disapproval it receives from, among others, the feminist community. It needs to be regulated--supervised--subject to minimal conditions of fair treatment and fair pay. Its performers need to be unionized and be able to file grievances, just like members of SAG and Equity. Porn, in other words, needs to become an open business--available to official scrutiny for equitable treatment of employees by management. When that happens, trust me, the horror stories will evaporate--not die away completely--there are self-destructive, self-loathing loons in every walk of life (hell, stand-up comedy is staffed by nothing but)--but when contracts are mandatory, and when actors can shut down a production for a violation of those contracts, I assure you, people will no longer be able to screw over sex workers just because what they do is 'dirty.' Legal recourse is a wonderful thing, and it's time the porn industry had some--like, say, women having it put into their long term contracts that they will not submit to so-called 'surgical enhancements'--that they'll either be hired as they are and kept that way, or they'll take a walk across the street and sign with someone else. And when that happens, why, porn production will no longer be a feminist issue--it'll be a labor issue, attracting the scurrilous attention of angry Marxist academics. Much better...

3. (for lack of a better term) Sociological. This one's harder to nail down--it's really the category that people in categories #1 and #2 turn to when they need 'scientific' proof of the social damage caused by pornography production/consumption. An example would be the phenomenon of--what's it called?--"porn creep"?--where a man who indulges repeatedly and exclusively with pornography as a sexual outlet loses the ability to relate to real women sexually. Which may well be the case--heck, Rousseau complained about a similar problem in his own sex life--but the problem with such objections--the ones that are based on what porn 'does' to people--people who make it, people who read/watch it, people who become addicted or numbed to it--is that such objections are an attempt to render normative the world of sexuality, which is about as individualistic as taste in ice cream. Sure, there are one or two really popular flavors--chocolate, vanilla, large breasts, strawberry, sustained erections, pistachio, lots of foreplay, giving a rat's ass if your partner comes, chocolate chip--but even these do not meet with universal approval. Arguments that "porn does harm" or "porn encourages violence towards women" address a highly personal thing--what turns you, just you, on--like it's a universal given. Yes, sex, as a drive, as an instinct, is hard-wired into almost all of us. But that's about as universal as it gets. After that, sex starts to get real specific--varying case by case, person by person. In a world in which dressing up in plush animal costumes for sexual roleplaying is enough of a wide-spread phenomenon to merit conventions, I don't think we need to be making any hard-and-fast rules on the nature of human sexuality. Some of us can be categorized, some can't. Some of us are trained by abuse, or worse, pre-programmed to want and to do horrible things--but not many. Not enough to merit the kind of paranoia created by the anti-porn forces. Because what seems to unite these people more than anything else is a hatred of the body--a hatred of its desires, and a hatred of the fact that those desires are very often needs. Porn is, I hate to say it, one of those needs.

The need to fantasize--to fantasize viscerally--is really quite indispensable to what we are as creatures of intellect and instinct. And that's what porn is. You may not like what it says about people--you may like to think of people as motivated solely by 'higher' thoughts; you may like to think of women as simply minds without bodies. But you'd be kidding yourself. Porn is simply the material expression of who we are--it's an outlet for what we desire with our less intellectual but no less significant part of ourselves. And we need it. We need it. Because without it, we lose the ability to know ourselves in that intimate, sticky, vital way that helps us move towards genuine happiness--happiness that isn't entirely physical, of course--but which doesn't exclude the physical just because the Forces of Moral Condemnation don't like it. So: Cruise the net. Stop into your local Adult Video/DVD retailer. Snoop around that section of the news-stand where all the magazines have to shrink-wrapped and placed out of the reach of children (something I'm in favor of, by the way). Find your porn. Enjoy it. And don't be ashamed--because your porn is an important key to who you are. And that's always a good thing to know.

But I repeat: I never, ever touch the stuff myself.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you meant to end with:
"But I repeat: I never, ever touch myself."

10:15 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home