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Porn: How to Think with Kink is part of a series titled "Philosophy for Everyone" which started in 2007, edited by Fritz Allhoff. The series is part of one of the many that address popular culture in philosophical ways. They are collections of papers aimed at a general readership rather than professional philosophers. This collection has been put together by Dave Monroe, who is an assistant professor of philosophy at St. Petersburg College, Florida. It has 19 main chapters split into 7 sections, and most of them have catchy titles with a jokey flavor to them. sicj as"The Jizz Biz and Quality of Life by Dylan Ryder and Dave Monroe, "Yes. Yes! Yes!! What Do Mona's Moans Reveal About Her Sexual Pleasure?" by Anne Gordon and Shane Kraus, and "Something for Everyone: Busty Latin Anal Nurses in Leather and Glasses" by Roger Pipe. Most of the authors are teachers in small philosophy departments, although there are some in psychology and English. There's a real question of who will want to read this book. Not professional philosophers, because this isn't a peer reviewed set of papers. Maybe amateur philosophers, although if they are capable of reading the papers here, then they would do better to read peer reviewed philosophy papers published in journals and other books. It's not really clear what the point is of publishing a collection of papers written by people who seem to have a passing interest in the topic.
Nevertheless, there are some good papers here, and I'll be assigning a couple of them in my undergraduate class on the philosophy of sex and love. Many of the papers here are in favor of pornography in some way, or are critical of anti-pornography arguments. Ryder and Monroe argue that porn stars can have good quality lives; Tait Szabo argues that we should stop worrying and just enjoy pornography; Fiona Wollard argues that using pornography is very different from cheating on a partner; David Ross criticizes anti-porn arguments, and there's an interview with a dominatrix. There are papers critical of pornography: Anne Gordon and Shane Kraus argue that porn may make men bad lovers; Mimi Marrinucci argues that porn is narrow and gives a decontextualized representation of sex; and J.K. Miles argues that sexual expression is different from political expression, and the argument for permitting pornography on the grounds of political free speech does not work. A number of other papers are not obviously pro- or anti- porn, but rather address some of the complexities of the debate; Andrew Aberdein sets out some of the philosophical background to the debate over porn; Theodore Bach brings in some of the tools of cognitive psychology in suggesting that porn consumption can be understood using simulation theory; Darci Doll examines the phenomenon of celebrity sex tapes; Jacob Held surveys some of the legal debate over the nature of obscenity; both Christopher Bartel and Lawrence Howe examine the distinction between porn and erotica; Matthew Brophy discusses how porn has changed in the era of the Internet and the increased temptation it will present; Chad Parkhill uses some psychoanalytic ideas to discuss why men might enjoy watching lesbian porn; and Ummi Khan emphasizes the difference between sadomasochism and real violence.
So this is an eclectic collection of articles that makes only sporadic attempts to address the existing literature in feminist theory, philosophy, and psychology about pornography and its effects. Is this a problem? That will depend on what the reader is looking for. The book never pretends to be presenting a survey of the existing literature, and not all readers will be looking for that. It would be quite a different project if it were attempting to give an outline of the debates so far. On the other hand, the papers here do react to the current state of the debate, and especially react to what they tend to oversimplify as the feminist view, failing to recognize the diversity of ideas in feminist theories. So the lack of coverage of the existing debate is only a problem for those who are under the impression that they will learn about the philosophical debate about porn from reading this book.
These are mostly short papers of about 10 pages each, and so they don't space time to develop their arguments at great length. Some of the papers have a very minimal bibliography with just a few footnotes, while other provide more extensive references. The arguments they present are often interesting and would be worth developing further. A few of the papers seem idiosyncratic and of interest to a smaller readership, but it would be difficult to find a collection of papers that will appeal to everyone.
I liked several of the papers, such as Woollard's "Cheating with Jenna," which draws useful distinctions between cheating on one's partner and getting sexual enjoyment from porn, which makes a worthwhile point, and Roger Pipe's "Something for Everyone," which provides a useful history of porn. Both of these articles, as many others in the book, could be useful in an undergraduate course.
If there's an obvious fault to the book, it is that it does not address porn as it exists in the current world. It takes a jokey attitude to porn in its language, and does not deal with the close connection between modern porn and the degradation and dehumanization of women. This connection has been emphasized in other academic work such as the recent collection Everyday Pornography, but it is also obvious just from browsing a few porn websites. Arguably this has always been the case, but if so, it was more subtle in the past than it is now. Some of the papers make reference to this perspective, but given that it is such a central feature of current pornography, it is a blatant gap in the book that it does not make this one of the main issues. In avoiding this issue, the book gives the impression that it is missing the point, and only really addressing the theoretical question of sexual images. Still, this is useful addition to the literature for some purposes, and it shows to a more general readership the possibility of writing philosophically on the topic of pornography.
© 2011 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York