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Karen Boyle is Senior Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow. She works from a feminist perspective and has previously published a book on Media and Violence: Gendering the Debates. In this collection of 13 papers, she has brought together a collection of scholars from the UK, the USA and Australia who focus on the negative side of pornography. This is an interdiscriplinary collection with researchers based in departments of media studies, English, sociology, journalism, law, political science, and philosophy. These papers use a variety of methodologies in their investigations of porn, but they are not very theoretical. This book will be a very useful resource for those thinking about porn and its place in modern society, although readers will want to be selective about which papers they focus on.
The first chapter is an interview by Boyle with Gail Dines and Rebecca Whisnant, who created the Stop Porn Culture website and slideshows, along with Linda Thompson, another anti-porn worker. (Dines is also author of Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality.) They discuss the creation of the slideshow, how they show it, and how people react to it. However, the main use of the interview is as scene-setting for the Stop Porn Culture slideshows. One theme in the slideshow and the interview is echoed in several papers: how pornography has become far more extreme in the last 20 years.
Meagan Tyler examines how the porn industry describes itself in "'Now, that's pornography!': violence and domination in Adult Video News." She points out that the industry itself valorizes violence, pain and humiliation in porn. This is in tension with academic defenses of porn that characterize it essentially non-violent and sexually freeing, or at least inoffensive. She explains how mainstream porn is in fact largely about degradation, hurt, dirt, and close-to forbidden action. Moore and Weissbein explore similar themes in "Cocktail parties: fetishizing semen in pornography beyond bukkake." They argue that modern men are experiencing a crisis of masculinity in a post-feminist and HIV/AIDS culture, and the fantasy of powerful semen is a reaction to this: ejaculate can in porn "produce stigma, claim ownership, humiliate subjects or satisfy a desire." Ejaculating on women is a way of exerting control over them, either as discipline or making them overcome with desire. As a piece of hermeneutics, this paper makes plausible general claims, although inevitably the interpretations can be subject to dispute, and the authors do not do much to provide strong evidence for their suggestion.
One of the most didactic pieces comes from Robert Jensen, author of Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. He argues that, as the title of his piece says, "Pornography is what the end of the world looks like." He argues that it represents the logical outcome of" the pathological course that we are on in patriarchal, white-supremacist, predatory, corporrate-capitalist societies." Not all readers will share Jensen's assumptions, but his piece is largely in the form of a memoir about what he has done and who he has talked to, and it provides plenty of interesting details, especially about his encounters with people in the porn industry.
Many of the other papers in the collection ask how people, and especially young men, get drawn into using porn and are encouraged to accept the ideologies underlying porn. Karan Black examines how porn is treated as normal and healthy in the popular media while those who object to porn are marginalized. In a short paper she is hardly able to give an exhaustive survey of all the representations of porn in popular culture, and so she is hardly in a position to be drawing any general conclusions. Nevertheless, her discussion of some examples, including the movie American Pie, raise worthwhile points that establish that her ideas are at least worth pursuing.
Michael Flood surveys the use of porn by young men and its possible effects on them. He cites data that indicate that roughly half of young men use porn, far fewer young women view it. He argues that the porn has a significant impact on their beliefs about sex and sexuality, having both positive and negative effects. Some studies suggest that it can reduce shame about one's body and body processes, while others indicate that it can make males more self-conscious about their body and genitals. There is also some indication that viewing porn has an effect on what sexual activities men want to engage in and what they believe counts as normal. Flood spells out four particular concerns about porn's effects: the female partners of male porn users may experience it as a betrayal, the men's use may be addictive, the porn may make the males more sexist, and finally, the porn could be a form of rape training. He finds evidence for all these concerns. He finishes with some suggestions about how to counter the negative effects of porn use on males, and he is especially encouraged by the existence of resistance to porn among some young men.
Other papers in the collection address methodological issues in researching porn, the role of porn in the massive multiplayer online world Second Life, the media reaction to academics studying porn, the role in public debates about regulating pornography, and more. Nearly all the papers are easily comprehensible, avoiding excessive jargon and not assuming familiarity with a particular body of research. Readers who were already suspicious of porn will find a great deal here to confirm their opinion. Those who are more open to porn will be challenged by many of the arguments in these papers; defenders of porn will find the onus is now on them to show that at least some portion of the porn industry is not as bad as depicted in Everyday Pornography and can be separated out from the problematic side.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York