October 28, 2008

Book Spotlight: Getting Off

Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity by Robert Jensen should be placed at the top of your reading list.  Second wave feminists, namely the women associated with W.A.P (Women Against Pornography), have been painted as outmoded, “anti-sex” shrews and a new generation of Pro-Sex feminists have emerged.  I understand the critique and I appreciate the efforts that have been made to expand the dialogue regarding sexuality. With that said, we can’t dismiss the fact that the rules of pornography have changed. Situations change.  Arguments change.

I embrace sex, sexuality and sexual freedom.  With that said, I have noticed a remarkable change in the proliferation, availability and representation of “normative” sexuality in pornography over the last 15 years.  Mainstream, normative pornography has become increasinly aggressive and violent portraying a sexual norm and it makes me uncomfortable and concerned.

Posted on Alternet on October 21, 2008, Robert Jensen, explains why pornography has become more boring and more brutal:

Whatever the number, theoretical or routine, the discussion reminds us that pornography is relentlessly intense, pushing our sexual boundaries both physically and psychically. And, pornography also is incredibly repetitive and boring.

Pornographers know all this, of course, and it keeps them on edge.

These days there are about 13,000 pornographic films released each year, compared with about 600 from Hollywood. Not surprisingly, a common concern at the Adult Entertainment Expo each time I attended (in 2005, 2006, and 2008) was that the desperate struggle by directors to distinguish their films from all the others was leading to a kind of “sexual gymnastics.” Lexington Steele, one of the most successful contemporary pornography performers and producers, put it bluntly: “A lot of gonzo is becoming circus acts.”

“Gonzo” is the pornographic genre that rejects plot, character, or dialogue, offering straightforward explicit sex. Gonzo films are distinguished from “features,” which to some degree mimic the structure of a traditional Hollywood film. According to the top trade magazine: “Gonzo, non-feature fare is the overwhelmingly dominant porn genre since it’s less expensive to produce than plot-oriented features, but just as importantly, is the fare of choice for the solo stroking consumer who merely wants to cut to the chase, get off on the good stuff, then, if they really wanna catch some acting, plot and dialog, pop in the latest Netflix disc.” ["The Directors," Adult Video News, August 2005, p. 54.]…

Pornographers deliver graphic sexually explicit material that does the job, but to do so they must continuously increase the cruelty and degradation to maintain profits.

Gonzo producers test the limits with new practices that eroticize men’s domination of women. Less intense forms of those sexual practices migrate into the tamer feature pornography, and from there in muted form into mainstream pop culture. Pornography gets more openly misogynist, and pop culture becomes more pornographic — many Hollywood movies and cable TV shows today look much like soft-core pornography of a few decades ago, and the common objectification of women in advertising has become more overtly sexualized.

Where will all this lead? How far will pornographers go to ensure their profits, especially as the proliferation of free pornography on the internet adds a new competition? How much eroticized misogyny will the culture be willing to tolerate?

When I ask that question of pornography producers, most say they don’t know. An industry leader such as Lexington Steele acknowledged he has no crystal ball: “Gonzo really always pushes the envelope. The thing about it is, there’s only but so many holes, only but so many different types of penetration that can be executed upon a woman. So it’s really hard to say what’s next within gonzo.”

What’s next? What comes after DPs and double anals? What is beyond a “10 Man Cum Slam” and “50 Guy Cream Pie”? I can’t claim to know either. But after 20 years of researching the pornography industry as a scholar and critiquing it as part of the feminist anti-pornography movement, I know that we should be concerned. We should be afraid that there may be no limit on men’s cruelty toward women. In a patriarchal society driven by the predatory values of capitalism, we should be very afraid.