Why Porn Critics Got It All Wrong

Porn critics love to say that pornography speaks so much about the misogynistic society we really live in. What they do not know is that by saying this they are masturbating harder (plus-de-jouir) than the simple innocent guys who fap (jouir) in front of their computer screens at home. Is not this “misogyny of the Other” — not the sexual act in porn itself — the ultimate fantasy offered by pornography today?

For whom is this violence staged?

For whom is sexual violence staged?

I get tired of all the sex-negative, porn-negative views that my intellectual colleagues like to prattle on, about society’s true misogyny, and so on. Frankly speaking, I have not met a single person who both watches porn and is a misogyny. All the porn consumers I know (myself included), respect women, supports feminism, is more open to the various ways women think and feel, and so on, while all the misogynists I know hates porn and constantly complains about the degradation of our society. What is going on here?

I remember telling a couple of friends a while ago that I do not believe a single bit the thesis that “porn is the theory, rape is the practice,” telling them that it is essentially a bad name that comes out of the mouths of irresponsible assaulters who are so chicken they need to put the blame on other objects for their actions that the conservative media are only too keen to appropriate for their anti-porn propaganda. Being good young adults, they argued otherwise, although they do watch porn themselves. I asked them whether they have had a single intention at all to rape a women after watching porn, and of course their answer was no.

“Then why do you still believe the theory?” I asked. One gave a perfect answer: “Well, of course, if it is us educated, well brought-up people, it is OK. But imagine how those uneducated people who have never known about sex! No doubt they would go on a raping spree!” It was an a-ha! moment for me. I realized it was not about misogyny after all. The ultimate fantasy in porn turns out to be not a sexual fantasy, but that of class struggle. It was that ancient notion of civilized people versus barbarians all over again.

(A disclaimer before we go on: first, I acknowledge the existence of cases where people gang rape young teens after watching porn, but only as much as I acknowledge young teens go on school shooting sprees after watching war movies. They are exceptional cases and I perceive the excuses as retroactive constructions. Second, I am not talking about extreme fetishes of the long tail market variation.)

Case example. So we watch a porn video of this young girl being degraded, humiliated, violated, and so on. And, to a certain extent, even female-respecting guys enjoy it — why? Precisely because we know perfectly that it is just an act, because the porn stars are getting paid well, and so on. If that fact is obvious, to whom, then, is the drama staged? To none other than he who the porn stars are looking at when they stare straight at the camera — not you or I miserable, individual guys, but the abstraction of our collective being, the Imaginary Other.

The porn critics are wrong when they criticize violence as though it is staged for the enjoyment of the empirical audience. Violence in porn is instead staged for the Other to act as an empty fantasy screen in which the audience can project their true surplus-enjoyment beyond sex (that there exists someone out there who degrades women, is a racist, and so on). This is why, even when we know a “reality porn” is fake, scripted, etc, we not only tolerate but expect the producers to claim authenticity. Appearance is all the more crucial, because when we are no longer allowed to engage ourselves in sexist, racist, etc enjoyments, we need an Other to enjoy for us.

We need an Other to enjoy, like the snowman

We need an Other to enjoy, like the snowman

We come to a paradoxical conclusion: the existence of the (staged) degradation of women in pornography reduces the degradation of women in real life. The libido is already invested out there, in pornography and all its fantasmatic space, so that we can in turn, in real life, be more open towards women.

Thus, the porn critics actually did not get it all wrong: there indeed is a repressed sexism in society (along with racism), of which pornography is a symptom in which it returns. However, precisely qua symptom, its function is to keep at bay its true, traumatic form — raw, unrepressed hatred for the Other. I would even go as far to say that violent pornography is the price we have to pay for political correctness, as the true violence that sustains it. (This is also why it is absurdly easy to find racial stereotypes in pornography, such as “monster black cocks” and “submissive asian sluts”.) To say it in another way: when we have political correctness, we face a longing for violence at its purest.

Then, my obscene advice to countries with high misogyny rates that we think ought to have a better sense of political correctness would be: make more violent porn!

7 Responses to “Why Porn Critics Got It All Wrong”

  1. “We come to a paradoxical conclusion: the existence of the (staged) degradation of women in pornography reduces the degradation of women in real life. The libido is already invested out there, in pornography and all its fantasmatic space, so that we can in turn, in real life, be more open towards women.”

    I think this is too easy, as well as it is too easy to say: all people watching porn go and rape or disrespect women.
    I think one really has to look at empirical cases here, of young people (who haven’t had sex) watching porn. I am unable to cite some unfortunately. But, my thesis is that a lot of young people watch porn just for fun, including girls, not in order to get aroused. I watched this documentary where this kid told his mom: “I wanna have sex now, just like they do on screen” and he was about 12 or 13 years old.

    And even though a humiliating porn scene might be watched as art, it is still misogyny. And I also think one has to make a difference between watching a movie and doing something in real life (these can be two completely different things), porn is not used as a cathartic “tool” (as Freud might have thought) and as you say.

    Porn merely symbolises the way in which women are treated in society and in that sense one could call porn an “enlightenment project”, because it shows inequality, violence, etc. in this radicalism and makes people realise in what kind of society we live. Although not many people do realise it, I am afraid. :)

  2. While I have some similar thoughts to Jacob, you may find the figures in this interesting also:

    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2009/05/japanese-politicians-contend-adult-game-cause-sex-crimes/

  3. Bonni Rambatan Says:

    Sorry for the late reply; I meant to give another post on a similar matter but never got around to it yet.

    @Mike, thanks for the statistics. I’m aware of it, actually; I mentioned it on this post.

    @Jacob, sorry, I don’t see anything wrong with people watching porn then wanting to go have sex. Even, or especially, those who has never had sex. Age limit is a curious thing. The aforelinked post talks about my take on it.

    On the other hand I see it very wrong if people go “I wanna rape someone right now like they do on screen.” I am rather in touch with the porn world and even their most avid fans keep saying that “Rape should never leave the screen!” or “Underage schoolgirl sex should only happen in 2D!”, and they use these words to condemn harshly the criminals who make their name bad. It’s a curious world indeed.

    I would maintain the function of porn is mainly cathartic. Of course it’s misogyny, the same way that on-screen violence is violence nonetheless. Like you said, it’s differentiating fantasy and reality that’s the problem. But I believe most of us are quite apt at that. What we are not apt at is being aware of how fantasy is never “mere fantasy”, but one that structures the way we see the world — which is what? Legimitizing class struggle; the fantasy that there is someone out there who enjoys, leading to all kinds of even more violent prejudices of Otherness…

  4. Although I agree to a lot/most of that you have written, I think time and generation needs to be taken into account.

    There is a very large difference between being a part of the generation that grows a demand and gets fed something, and being a part of the generation that grows up with that feed from the start. (Escalation of themes & cultural evolution – just because something is evolving doesn’t mean it’s necessarily heading in a good direction)

    Secondly, there will always be people who won’t understand that it is a play they are watching, and will mimic it – life imitating art.

    Just like “gangstas” trying to live the fabricated life of their rap idols (who are not actually running around slapping hoes and shootin’ niggas, but are actually married with kids and most likely pretty swell guys), there will come to be people who mistake porn for “oh, this is publically accepted now” and act from there – Looking at how much amateur porn online has grown, it will be interesting to see where it will head to.

    Just a sidenote.

  5. “and they use these words to condemn harshly the criminals who make their name bad. It’s a curious world indeed.”
    True, these people probably only have a strong super-ego that prevents them from doing these things to women in real life (compared to other people).

    Regarding your linked post about child porn: I don’t get your point. What will change if child pornography was to be legal? Plus, there is some contradiction there, you have to explain as well, because you say that you are against paedophilia, etc. So why allow child pornography?

    As far as your hentai example is concerned, I think parts of hentai featuring children are just a breach in the legal system and I just cant’ help myself but to really wonder about the japanese legal system in that case. Take a look at this recent case in the US:
    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/05/27/manga-collector-face.html#comments
    I quote from one comment:
    “In Japan, where I live, there is a lot of this stuff and it creates an incredibly large subculture of people who think it is OK and even normal to have desires for children as long as they don’t act on it. These people sometimes become the ones stalking teenagers. I’ve walked into some of these stores and seen live-action videos playing of 40-year old men giving preteens shoulder rubs as the preteen squirms in discomfort. This is incredibly disturbing.”
    Disturbing indeed. I think the only explanation to why Japan has low rates of rape is, again: the super ego. Plus I think its quite difficult to compare the US and Japan in number of its citizens.
    I claim that the possibility for these people to actually go and rape a girl is higher when they watch it on screen, compared to when they haven’t seen such footage.

    To speak in a Zizek’ian anti-tolerance way: there is something very wrong indeed with parts of Japanese subculture..

  6. So you get off on watching women degraded because it is fantasy? Seems to me that if you found the reality of the degradation of women offensive, then you would not be capable of enjoying a simulation of such acts. Be honest if you can. These are not professional actors. Many women in pornography are abused within legal limits and because asinine grey areas exist concerning consent.

    How many people talk about how evil and sick pedophiles are and how they should be burned at the stake after their genitals are forcibly removed and bla, bla, bla? How many of these people tolerate and even defend the exploitation of children in productions they see as ‘Art’? How many people really care about the so-called ‘innocence’ of children as they allow sites like YouTube to test pornographic images on these developing minds and treat them as guinea pigs for some errant social experiment in free expression?

    You, like all of us who watch this stuff, get off on things that are unhealthy. You just haven’t gotten to the place where the awareness sinks in yet. Wake up and stop preaching.

    Fucking sheep in a vacuum, is what we are. Why doesn’t anyone who watches porn have the balls to admit that pornography is a dislocated distortion of a natural process (sexual intercourse) and a reactionary, and socially unhealthy financial enterprise, not some wonder drug of catharsis for would be rapists or anything other than superficial bullshit to get off on and profit by?

    Assuming that we are accidental creatures, why can’t our desires be detrimental even as they please us? Pornography is a disease of the mind. Love it or leave it. Just don’t pretend that it is socially healthy while giving off airs of honest contempt. Of course truth is just a joke at this point in human desperation, id est: progress.

    Cheers.

    • Bonni Rambatan Says:

      Wow, my post was taken as an anti-porn-critic reality-unaware preach? You could not have misread me more, my friend. You’re mistaking me for one of those guys. I never once claimed that pornography is all sunshine and daffodils, in fact the whole point of the post is the exact opposite. If I said that porn critics got it all wrong, it’s not because pornography is a sweet innocent little thing with smiling women who are never actually abused, etc — it is because porn critics criticize porn for all the wrong reasons, while the truth is much darker: they are already part of the game.

      “Why can’t our desires be detrimental even as they please us?” My friend, you are speaking to a psychoanalytic theorist, I know that single rule better than most people. Most of your comments are on the same page as my thoughts — although I would take the liberty of a detour and defend the few progressive pornographies I have been fortunate enough to come across.

      What we are not on the same page on, as I take it, are our takes on “honesty” and “reality” and “waking up” and “admitting”. You seem to believe them. I don’t.

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