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.

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