Jul 022010
 

I think David Mitchell must have a slight obsession with the concept of novelty – certainly his stuff causes ME to have all kinds of thoughts about novelty.

He says about novelty in general what I say about novelty in sex:

“Yeah, people don’t like totally new things. They like things they like already.”

(There’s a technical difference between men and women on this one – men like new iterations of the things they like already, while women also like what they like already, but are capable of learning to like nearly anything. No one likes the truly novel.)

I say this because The Sexist has been posting about the anti-porn folks, who are right about a few things, but so convolutedly wrong about others that I don’t know where to start in addressing their views.

But novelty is an important piece of the puzzle, so let’s start with that, and with Mr Mitchell. Benign but appealing, like a flightless bird or a kruller and coffee. Deeply unpornographic, despite the anime eyes. The perfect foil, you see, to Gail Dines.

I saw Gail Dines speak last year. She succeeds with audiences because she rapidly escalates from the cover of mainstream magazines to the most violent, degrading, and feculent pornography available. She doesn’t give you time to think about it, she just overwhelms you with shock, horror, and disgust – disgust at the media and disgust with yourself for experiencing arousal, because she doesn’t explain that arousal is not desire, and she seems uninterested in that distinction.

Since I know that arousal isn’t the same as desire and I know that in the general run of things even the worst porn doesn’t physically disgust me, the fact that I felt physically disgusted (seriously, I was nauseated) during her talk was a “bullshit!” alarm for me.

She was trying to make it easy to slide from objectification to putrefaction. She put images you can see in a grocery store check-out line so close to images you don’t want ever want to see anywhere that you couldn’t help going, “THEY’RE THE SAME THEY’RE THE SAME!!!”

And they kind of are. Gagging porn might be the penguin-y bear of objectifying images. Extreme penetration might be the kiwi fruit that wakes up. These examples from Mr Mitchell (and let’s not forget Mr John Finnemore) are funny because they describe a similarity we can all see – gerbils ARE kind of like kiwi fruits, now you point it out – but they’re absurd, ridiculous, silly similarities. Yet benign as a kakapo or a kruller.

Dr. Dines’s parallels are neither silly nor benign, but I would argue that they are just as absurd. Gagging porn ISN’T the same as a sexy magazine cover – it may share some genetic material and it may have some surface similarities too, but that doesn’t mean that people who like sexy magazine covers will also like pictures of a girl with mascara streaming down her face from the force of her own choking.

I can kind of see what’s sexy about a magazine cover. Indeed, I can see what might hypothetically seem sexy about making a woman gag. But what makes the first sexy is not the same thing that makes the second sexy. I wouldn’t actually want a gerbil for the same purposes that I’d want a kiwi fruit, ya know?

It is, however, a clever choice on Dr Dines’s part to spend lots of time on gagging porn, because empathic listeners will themselves gag a little when they listen. (I did.) And they’ll feel bad for the women who choke. (I did.) And they’ll forget that MOST porn is just what it has always been – images of naked people having sex with each other. (I didn’t.)

(Charlie Glickman offers a nice summary of some of the problems with how research on porn and violence gets discussed.)

People like what they like already. They can be persuaded to try new variations on what they already like. Escalation happens as a result – women get less hairy and men get bigger penises etc.

But there’s a category shift that happens eventually. Violent porn is the giraffe of sexually explicit media – neither camel nor leopard, however much it is an even-toed ungulate with massive spots.

And I’m going to spend the rest of the day worrying that I’ve equated an animal with a 6-foot neck to gagging porn.

Ah well.

emily nagoski

  9 Responses to “extreme porn: the giraffe of the sexually explicit media world”

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  1. Dines’ strategy sounds like a paraphrase of “straightening camp” that I heard on an episode of HOUSE a few weeks ago. Probably described so just for the provocation, the episode characterized one “straightening” strategy as exposing the homosexual to gay porn after giving said person some strong emetics. Sort of a Clockwork Orange approach to physical/visual conditioning. Because the show is, you know, a show, however, I don’t necessarily believe that straightening camps use this strategy. Nonetheless, the description of Dines’ talk here reminded me of it. “Make porn disgusting and people will believe it.” One of my objections to this is that the environment of porn consumption has been changed; nobody watches porn in an auditorium while a speaker proceeds (well, unless said speaker is Carol Queen, maybe). So the environment and content are specifically designed for gross-out, and then we’re supposed to believe that the TEXT itself is what causes this reaction. Pffft. Sorry lady, I’ve read and seen too much Eisenstein (Soviet propaganda from the 20s and seminal film theory) for that to work.

    • VERY clockwork orange – and more likely to kink than straighten, if you will.

      Having been in a room while Dr Queen read porn, I can say it was a VERY different experience from hearing Dr Dines speak. However, that setting was not a conference but an art gallery full of erotic art. So. We’d have to hear Dines speak in such a gallery before we could really compare….

      • A talk about gross-out porn in a gallery full of erotic art? Now that’d be an interesting experiment as to whether environment or speaker is the dominant context…

  2. I come from the camp that maintains that all human-systems research is political, that even so-called objective, positivist, scientific research on social systems of humans must necessarily be subjective, and hence, is also political. Thus, one must consider and surface the political motivations that contextualize the research as surely as one must make explicit the sampling strategies for the participants, the investigatory protocols, and so forth.

    In this context, Glickman suggests an important point: that that motivations behind the hearings, and I suspect the motivations behind Dines’s work, come from within. In the same way that Andrea Dworkin’s seminal work in this particular direction clearly arises from her personal history, it is quite reasonable that anti-porn crusaders – be they legislatively or academically based – stem from their own issues, be they explicitly acknowledged or not.

    We have seen countless examples of the most reactionary anti-homosexual, anti-porn, anti-child-abuse advocates who themselves struggle with their own, personal proclivities. Being anti-whatever is a way to sublimate the desires about which they are most ashamed, or to act out against abuses perpetrated against them at an earlier age. Whatever the political motivations behind these individuals’ strident advocacy, they must be surfaced and used to contextualize their stridency, and call into question the objective validity of their work.

  3. Emily it is extremely disturbing that you said you can see how a woman gagging is sexy! And that you really believe that most pornography is only about nude people having sex!

    And what Mark said about anti-porn true feminists educating on the injustices and harms of pornography is also disturbing and inaccurate,and the fact that you can’t see what the true issue really is,is even more disturbing.

    [edit]

  4. I found this post incredibly salient, and so I thought I’d let you know, Emily, that I linked to it from various other comments I’ve left around the web. Notably here, and here.

    Also, jee-freakin’-sus, whateverthehellyournameis, do you have anything original to say at all or do you just go around the web leaving identical comments on any post about Dines you can find?? You’ve already left this same comment here, here, here, and you tried to leave it on my site, too.

    • For everyone’s reference, I deleted the bulk whateverthehellyounameis’s very long, numerous, and unoriginal comments, for your comfort and convenience. I kept the bit that was directed to me, in the name of, I don’t know, free expression or whatever. Everyone’s entitled to a point of view. Feel free to read them elsewhere.

  5. “And that you really believe that most pornography is only about nude people having sex!”

    What I watch *is* mostly just nude people having sex. And I really don’t think what I watch is that atypical of porn.

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