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Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship by Jeff Sparrow takes a critical look at censorship in Australia as it pertains to the porn industry. As such, the book raises many questions about the role of choice, freedom, harm, pornification, the classification system, computer filters, neoliberalism, empowerment and paternalism.
From the very beginning Sparrow acknowledges that he is wary of censorship in general (which certainly includes the porn industry), therefore in some ways setting the scene for an intense debate about the freedom of pornographers and porn stars. But, throughout the book Sparrow also discussed the unease he feels when being confronted with pornographic movies and clips that are rife with sexism, homophobia and racism. At the heart of the book is however not only the two sides (perhaps it is better to describe views about pornography on a continuum rather than two points, but the book focuses more on the complete removal of censorship, and those who feel censorship is necessary) of the censorship debate, but how pornography is classified and most certainly distributed as much pornography is now available for free on the Internet. The technological advances of the Internet help making classification issues difficult, while proliferating the spread of violent pornography, and making almost complete privacy possible.
To discuss and analyze the various aspects of pornography and censorship, Sparrow interviews porn stars, those who work with classifying various material, to feminists who work to censor various forms of pornography. In doing so, Sparrow provides interesting thought and viewpoints concerning pornography and censorship. In some areas though, especially when interviewing feminist writers and activists, Sparrow could benefit from digging deeper into some of the fundamental feminist issues associated with pornography and censorship, such as the notion of choice, freedom, harm, and the definition and extent of pornification and sexual norms. These notions are tied more to gender inequality and misogyny, patterns that for many feminists are inherent to pornography. As Sparrow might focus less on such issues, he does include neoliberal notions of commodity and economics to discuss pornography. Perhaps this is because he does not view choice, harm and the notion of fantasy in ways that many feminists do.
To explain, as Sparrow discusses the more liberal left position and the (often religious based) right position concerning pornography he uses the notion of people being either pro-sex or pro-porn. Religious views concerning sexuality overall is often framed as sex within marriage only, whereas liberal opinions are based more on an acceptance of sexuality, and sexual orientation. But anyone who opposes violent or degrading forms of pornography is not necessarily anti-sex because they are anti-porn, even though this is a common misconception. Someone who opposes sexism and violence in porn is not automatically anti-sex, but more likely is anti-discriminatory-sex if anything. Similarly to the discussion of "anti-sex" and "anti-porn" Sparrow uses the word "vanilla sex" to distinguish between the more "traditional" forms of intercourse (the norm continues to be heterosexual) and the more "edgy" and increasingly common sex scenes in porn that includes "double penetration", anal penetration, choking, gagging and multiple sex partners along with other forms of sexual activity. Again, the picture might not be so clear. If in many ways pornographers and pornographic material set the bar for what is deemed appropriate and progressive sex, and if porn is getting increasingly violent, then double penetration might be considered "vanilla sex" over the next few years. It will be interesting to see whether or not Sparrow would agree.
Another distinction that feminists often make includes the notions of choice, harm and fantasy. Those in the porn industry, and proponents of pornography (among others) often point to pornography as a played out fantasy. Feminists often point to there being a distinction between fantasy and reality. Since there are real life actors engaged in recorded sexual acts, they are playing a part and getting paid for their time, one might question the notion of porn as fantasy. Feminists, such as Melinda Tankard Reist and Meagan Tyler that Sparrow discusses, frame pornography as sexist, as reality rather than fantasy, and they point to the escalating rate of violent and degrading pornography (I have read and reviewed both Big Porn Inc. edited by Tankard Reist and Selling Sex Short by Meagan Tyler for Metapsychology Online Reviews), whereas Sparrow tends to frame pornography as fantasy, and points to the choice to engage in porn, even though he acknowledges that, as I mentioned, much of pornography is misogynist.
No matter what "side" of the porn wars one identifies with, most of us can acknowledge that with the spread of technology and online porn, along with the constant struggle and push for greater monetary profit, and with the pornification of culture, pornography will be a hot topic for decades to come. Therefore, Money Shot provides an interesting and critical look at pornography as it stands today. Sparrow writes in a manner that is sometimes provocative, but also entertaining and sincere. He provides a multifaceted look at political, social and cultural notions of pornography, interviewing key figures along the way. The book provides descriptions of sexual acts, and uses some explicit language. Therefore, the book might not be suitable for a younger audience, even though Sparrow might disagree. He states that it is important to empower adolescence through discussions about sexuality that inevitably include porn, since pornography is more or less everywhere.
© 2013 Hennie Weiss
Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.