Make Porn Not War

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The subject of pornography has always been shrouded in taboo, surprising really considering the trade dates back to ancient Greek times, where the first realistic nude was produced in the image of Praxiteles highly ambiguous ‘lover’ Phryne, which is admittedly only 10% as filthy as your average spank-mag and several million times more expensive.

The origin of the word “pornography” is derived from the Greek words “porne” and “grapho”, the latter meaning to depict. In a society that saw prostitution as common practice, high classed esteemed gentlemen were treated to high caliber, slightly costly booty-calls and the average Joes got an entirely affordable servicing from the “porne”, prozzy’s for the proletariat. So in essence the term equates to meaning “the depiction of common prostitutes”.

Arguments have been raised for what is classed as “art” and what breaches the realm of “obscene”; in a study of culture Graham Dixon compared Egon Schieles’ “Girl Kneeling” with an image from “Men Only Magazine”, stating that whilst the images are remarkably similar, the two connote entirely different things; and as such one becomes iconic in its symbolism of fertility and sexuality, the other a passive, contemptuous presence confined to bottom drawers and top shelves.

But this does open up a massive paradox in the world of porn, with the argument that pornography has its artistic merits (yes mum, that’s why you found those magazines under my bed). Like Hollywood has its Oscar, so does the world of ‘sleaze’, with artistic flair being recognised and prestigious awards for best directors/acting/screen-writing. In recent years, Cannes film festival has incorporated pornographic film to showcase the artistic merit of restricted movies. Even Lancaster University let me do my dissertation on the subject, can you believe it? Disgusting… That’s not to say that the world of porn is entirely borne of artistic endeavour, not by a long stretch… few would stoop so low as to claim they watched “Norks Alordi 4” for it’s mise-en-scene.

Historically though, porn has obviously been subject to a massive amount of censorship, with Victorian authorities reputedly hiding away “indecent” images on discovered artefacts through shame of their sexually liberated heritage in order not to “corrupt the sensibilities of women, children and the working class”. They then instigated the “Obscene Publications Act of 1857” which disallowed the public to view anything “immoral” or “corruptive”. This landed porno-pioneers like De Sade in a whole load of shit with the authorities for publishing sexually explicit material, and ultimately the field has evolved to a multi-billion dollar trade, albeit heavily regulated.

During the 1970’s the first wave of a new set of Western ideals towards pornography hit, with specialised sex shops and top shelf “lads mags” being gradually legitimised. By the 80’s, porn became a full blown popular institution within itself; Andy Warhol produced “Couch”, a 24 hour long film of people getting their rocks off on a sofa and music artists like Madonna cashed in, producing sexually fuelled videos to sell their otherwise horrendous music. Pornographic films became more widely accessible, as Russ Meyer’s “Vixens” series sold in the millions. and the availability of hardcore much less restricted through a more liberated society. It’s been said that the success of VHS over Sony’s Betamax was down to the availability of explicit material not restricted by VHS, where Sony saw it as a corporate responsibility not to allow their products to be used for pornography. Upon the release of 70’s hardcore films to home video, the releases made millions in revenue over night becoming the multi-billion pound industry we have today. Last year there were 7000 new pornographic releases on DVD and the industry is estimated to have made $3.6 billion in adult film, $2.8 billion in online revenue and $1.7 billion through satellite and cable television channels. In America alone, $10 billion was spent on adult entertainment. According to a national study, one sixth of all internet users frequent porn at least once a day, 40% of all internet users view porn once a week.

The common taboo aimed at the world of porn is that women are exploited, which has often been the case in uncontrolled, more amateur productions. Hang on a second, Jennifer Jameson earns double the wage of Jennifer Anniston, and isn’t it the first industry to create a reverse gender pay gap? Arguably pornography serves as a double edged sword, doing as much for the liberation movements as it does damage. And often the brutal sadomachostic acts that have been so heavily objected to have been argued to be an integral part of female sexuality by feminist porn-trepenuers and theorists. On a similar point, men are often used as mere props to the predominantly female protagonist in these films with significantly less screen time and an almost entirely passive status to their counterparts.

There are those however, that object to the industry altogether. Feminist objections to pornography have been at the forefront of the battle against indecency, with Catherine McKinnon arguing that it creates a culture in which violence towards women is becoming acceptable. This is something that sadly has been proven true in the past; Linda Lovelace, star of films such as “Deep Throat”, gave up her career to pursue a life of activism against the porn industry after her brutal mistreatment during shooting.

But the next natural progression towards a more legitimate, acceptable and financially prosperous industry became to adapt to these objections and I was lucky enough to catch up with the first ever UK feminist porn director Anna Span a few months ago, who talked about her involvement in a more progressive state of hardcore production through a female perspective. In feminist pornography, women are presented as in control rather than dominated and stylistically differ in their abundance of “derogatory shots of women” that male centric porn is often marketed on, but still serve as merely a niche in the market rather than being the dominant genre. Anna’s DVD series sell in the millions through Ann Summers.

Religious objections lie in the act itself, with sex regarded as purely means for procreation and the exploitation of un-modest sex-oriented entertainment forbidden. One argument used by religious groups is that pornography is addictive, and can lead to violent, irrational behaviour. However, studies show that the effects on sex-related crime in relation to the availability of pornography is actually an  inverse relationship, with a lower crime per capita rate in countries where pornography is readily available. In Japan, home of rape-fantasy comics and highly available pornography, the country charts the lowest number of reported rape cases in the world (whilst having the highest percentage of arrests and convictions in any developed nation). Coincidence? I think not….

When it comes down to it, your choice to embrace or chastise porn will always come down to your own personal politics on the matter, it’s true that it’s an industry embroiled in controversy and sexual degradation, but one also ideologically revolutionary and vastly becoming more encompassing for criticisms aired towards it. So while many will argue to the death on whether pornography should be accepted, culturally its becoming closer and closer to being entirely a  social norm. Don’t like it? Don’t watch it!