Archive for pornography

Why Porn Critics Got It All Wrong

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

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!

Pornography Between Pedophilia and Rape

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Airi and Meiri, Japanese pornstar twins famous for their underage look.

Airi and Meiri, Japanese legal pornstar twins famous for their deceivingly underage appeal.

Is it possible that the ban against child pornography condones violent, aggressive, and degrading behavior towards women? Surprising as this may seem, the answer may be a resounding yes.

I have never met anybody in my entire country who is as libertarian, porn-loving, and sexually-positive as myself. That being said, one may find it hard that there are some aspects of pornography that I do not agree with. For one usually accuses me of being incredibly libertarian — so libertarian, in fact, that I am ready to challenge the ban against child pornography.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, by all means I am against pedophilia. I am even ready to go as far as supporting death penalties for sexual assaults towards children. What I challenge in the ban against child pornography is instead its disuse of logic: are we not today, practically, taking the flimsy age line of 18 to decide whether we can enjoy sex or not? Of course, there are all the standard claims: there is logic behind this, it has been deeply researched, and whatnot, but is it not rather more true that we are taking this rule more as a take-it-for-granted societal taboo which does not necessitate logical reasoning? Is it not rather a rule we follow almost religiously and unquestionably in this so-called age of sexual freedom?

Disuse of logic is always harmful. Its apparent protection always serves more as a symbolic gesture with nothing more than structural usages that we do not like to admit or question — more like a neurotic symptom than clear thinking. Furthermore, as the Lacanian lesson, the fundamental promise of the law is not one that bans but one that allows (“If God exists, everything is permitted!”). What, then, does the ban against child pornography allow?

There is no better site to illustrate this than the famous TamedTeens.com (totally NSFW) website, who picture dozens of 18-year-old girls in all sorts of possible sexual degradation imaginable. The tagline says it all — “Teen initiations into porn,” and later, “by having the roughest sex they will ever have.” Another basic question gonzo pornographers today ask is of course the obvious one that tries to figure out how many dicks can go down a woman’s body at a single time, or how to make the next innovation after some hundred continuous insertions (with penises as well as bizarre foreign objects), or several dozen creampies by several dozen men — basically, how to do a better obscenely degrading circus act.

What does this have to do with the ban against child pornography? As the above mentioned website suggests, the ban does not at all say, “Do not harm children and teenagers under 18 since they are too fragile!” Instead, it promises, “Let us make a deal and pretend that we are good people who care about children, and in return you are allowed to degrade and be violent towards women over 18 in any way you like!” Is this not why child pornography is elevated as the ultimate crime in the Western culture today: because we want to continue degrading women, but we disturbingly need to continue to pretend to be an innocent nation with this flimsy, almost religious number of 18?

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (probably NSFW)

There is a porn sphere in which child pornography is highly popular and tolerated: hentai. Some hentai (from games to anime to manga) are satisfied with portraying underage-looking characters (as most of the live pornography), but some, such as Gorgeous Takarada’s Canon Sensei Tobashisugi (cover pictured right) are ready to go as far as to explicitly state that the age of the main girl character is as young as 12. (Perhaps unsurprisingly, hentai tolerates so much more of what the West — fetishist long tail notwithstanding — does not, such as incest and love). What do statistics say about the rates of rape in such free nation? Well, Japan has 20 times less rape than does the United States.

The ban against child pornography has always been a very suspicious one, but it is almost a sacred taboo today that very few dare to question it. Of course, it may be structurally impossible to live in a society without taboo, as Freud was already well aware. But when we feel better about seeing a 21-year-old getting force-penetrated by six dicks in a double-anal, double-vaginal, and double-oral scene (not to mention the bukkake and forced semen-swallow afterwards) than a 15-year-old having sex lovingly with her partner, we clearly have something wrong in our sexual libertinism. Perhaps we are censoring the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

Hentai and the Perverse Core of Japanese Censorship

Posted in Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Hentai Manga by Fuuga Utsura in TSK

Hentai Manga by Fuuga Utsura in TSK

The Japanese law of censorship has always been a source of fascination to us porn researchers. Clearly, it does not in the least prevent the Japs to be perverts (but by all means I have no Illusions; I am not doing cheap stereotyping to the Japanese since it just applies to those few, most of which I love). One may even say that it takes Japanese porn producers to create such things as zenra Kung Fu (probably NSFW) or the seemingly mechanistic orgy of the famous 500 People Sex (totally NSFW) video.

Some people have discussed how the censorship law of not allowing the genitalia to be completely shown gives birth to such things as tentacle hentai. Although further research show that the Japanese have been making tentacle hentai as early as 1820, I would claim that this thesis is not totally wrong. Rather, however, I prefer to read it in the opposite direction: the Japanese have long realized that the phallus could not be adequately symbolized by the genitals alone, so fully showing the genitals would paradoxically reduce the sexuality of sex itself (recalling the Baudrillardian desperation). Is this not the reason many US porn filmmakers today are urged to learn from their Japanese counterparts how to film the non-genital, non-breast parts (lips, hair, back, etc.) in a way not less titillating?

Among the most interesting appropriation of Japanese censorship could be found in hentai manga. The censors are very scanty to such extent that it seems insignificant, only in the form of lines hiding virtually nothing. What catches my attention in particular is how the very texture of the censors above the genitals literally seem to function more to cross out rather than cover up — instead of covered because of some taboo, the genitals are barred, as it were, to prevent them from becoming full signifiers of the phallus.

The Japanese censorship law is already in itself a promise to enable this crossing-out of the real genitals in order to strengthen the imaginary phallus. The law does not at all say, ” You can draw anything but the genitalia because it is harmful!” Instead, it serves as a reminder, “Remember that your sexual potency is much larger than what it looks outside, do not fall into the illusion that the penis is all there is!” The crossing-out of real genitals thus paradoxically strengthens the imaginary phallus. The perverse censorship law does not castrate — it performs merely privation, thus putting pornographic art into the realm of pure fantasy in which castration does not happen (which is why underage-looking porn, rape, and incest is all the more popular theme in hentai manga).

Properly speaking, this makes hentai essentially a psychosis. For its Western counterpart, on the other hand, castration is implied and acknowledged but at the same time denied, making pornographic art in the West essentially a perversion. Literary work as a substitute of psychosis is of course the themes of Lacan’s later works of the Joycean sinthome (analogies can also be drawn between the unfamiliarity of Joycean writing to the more common writing and the strangeness of Japanese fetishes to the more common sexualities for the West), which thus makes it possible to claim that it pornography plays a crucial role in the psychosexual development of the Japanese society, which has family practices rather uncommon to their Western counterparts (the routine of bathing together, etc.). But as for a detailed analysis, I have not yet made it, and so for now I will say that this Japanese-versus-US sexuality difference idea is still questionable.

Another interesting point to note if we are to discuss hentai manga (and, in fact, manga in general) is how highly it treats the object little a, as proven by their extensive use in abstract forms to symbolize the gaze, the voice, the breasts, and the bodily fluids. Perhaps it is only by crossing-out of the genitalia, by putting bars over the real phallus, that Japanese hentai artists (and pornographers alike) can avoid falling into the trap of fetishizing the biological genitals, as the majority of Western pornographers do, and explore more on how to capture the object a in its visualizations. But on the other hand, however, this is also why the fetishistic tendencies of Japanese porn can easily fall into other, often more bizarre objects and situations.

Of Facebook and Porn

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on September 27, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Mashable

image credit: Mashable

Much debate has been going on lately surrounding the idea of whether Facebook is actually killing online porn. Although the idea has been around for almost a year and a half on Mashable, it looks like that it is just now with the recent publication of Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People do Online and Why it Matters that people debate about it. Many say no, that it is only a matter of statistics, that people still surf for porn but use other mediums to find it (e.g. UGC sites like YouPorn or P2P networks), etc. And although I tend to agree with those who say no, I still consider it nevertheless important never to underestimate the changing ways of online communication.

The question is not whether porn is dying or not — while piracy may be killing the big industries, I am sure that people will still be looking at online porn for a long time. The question is why are people so attracted to other things that are not porn at all? This is not meant to be an ironic comment — when you think about it, unless you’re serious about using them as a professional networking tool, social networking sites and MMOs barely have more productive things to generate than online porn. So why go for social networks at all?

The typical answer is of course that we wil always still need social connections. But is not the opposite rather true — we are getting more and more tired of real social connections, and we leave it up to the web to do it for us? The logic of the Žižekian interpassive subject applies all too well — with Facebook, we can just add a friend and forget about making a real connection with her/him without feeling guilty about it! Is this not why we love the social Web in first place — because talking and connecting in real life needs too much effort?

Pornography, I would claim, has the same logic. Recall the standard implicit moral disclaimer that real-life sex will never be as good as pornography (it is much more awkward, has so much more bad sounds and smells and unpleasant tactile sensations, we have to constantly negotiate our partner(s)’s bad taste remarks, etc…). Is this not why we can enjoy watching pornography without feeling jealous to the people behind the screen — because we know perfectly well that, if we are in their place, having the real experience, things may not turn out as good as our fantasies? Cybersex is much less tiring than real sex, but nevertheless fantasy can be sustained just as well. The computer already reach orgasms for us.

How, then, should we read the correlation between the rise of Facebook and the decline of porn into the mainstream Web? It is not the usual one that maintains how the Internet is finally put into better use by having less LOLcats and porn. Nor it is the other usual skeptic one that argues that porn is not declining at all, but moving into another realm of the Web, as it were, as mentioned above. My thesis here is much more pessimistic: I would claim that this only proves that we are not only satisfied with externalizing sex so that we do not have to do it (and whenever we do it we need more and more enhancements to keep up with our fantasies and be able to forget the dirty, tiring, awkward parts — dildos, cocaine, viagra, anal beads… — to such extent that there are no longer “real” sex), but that we now find more and more an injunction to externalize our human connections — to “map out [online] every possible human connection” we have, as Mark Zuckerberg famously put it.

I should warn once again, however, that all this is not even meant to be a criticism of the social Web, but a pointing out of its strength. If anything, I will be the first person in any room of skeptic intellectuals who would shamelessly say out loud that he loves technology outright — I am far from being a technophobe; one could even call me a Promethean. Let us just not have too much illusions about it — but neither too much illusions of what the subject essentially is.

Pornography Bill: Obscenities

Posted in Political Focus with tags , , , , , on September 24, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

People have been asking me what I think of the Pornography Bill — me not only being a cultural critic but also a passionate researcher of pornography. For me and my personal enjoyment, I think it is a wonderful idea and I love it: I would still be able to enjoy all the pornography (with proxies, P2P, etc. — I’m good at them) while others are busy stupidly hiding all their porn stashes and killing each other in Bali. It adds the sense of pride and thrill of being a winning criminal — who does not like enjoying their sexual pleasures with an added sense of sin, crime, victory, and the last laugh?

The Bill is by now already over-discussed that it seems embarrassing to do it further. But let’s get more serious and take one obscene point of the Bill not many notice: the Bill has very strong potentials of condoning sexual harassments. When one regulates the object instead of the subject, does one not precisely create a space for dramatically reducing subjective guilt by transferring it to the object? A society with free porn circulating everywhere presupposes a very strict moral restriction that maintains sex to be kept only in porn, and in a curious effect radically desexualizes social life (unless, of course, the porn watched consist of mainly bad porn that condones rape and maintains stereotypes). There may very well be an abundance of swinger parties and BDSM festivals, but not many harassments and rapes. The obvious is also true: is not the rape statistics of Amish tribes and pedophilia statistics in priesthoods our ultimate proof?

Reading in a purely Žižekian turn, the bill is thus not at all restrictive: on the outside, it is saying, “We should stop the sins and restore moral order by eradicating all pornographies!” Secretly, it promises, “Let us stop all the porn so we can enjoy real women on the streets (because it will be their fault to dress like that, because we can always provide an excuse that we hate pornography, etc)!”

I’ll leave you with this interesting video (still good, though it has early-2007 statistics):

NOTE: One very depressingly laughable aspect of the Bill is its categorization of oral sex as an obscene perverse act on the same plane as zoophilia and necrophilia (others on the same list include anal sex and homosexuality). Speaks volumes of how sexually uneducated the Indonesian government is… And to think that they are even debating this while I am supposed to be attending a presentation on dildos that vibrate on earthquakes, how heartbreaking!

UPDATE (10/13): I now have a writing on The Jakarta Post regarding the Pornography Bill.

The Censorship of Love

Posted in Posthuman Perversion with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 4, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Another Žižek-inspired post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now. I could not agree more when, in many occasions, he mentioned that in this age of so-called non-censorship, where everything is practically visible, we become more and more afraid of showing love. Basically, all kinds of sex is OK, as long as it remains detached and emotionless — which is why we have all those stupid narratives which is necessary to every feature porn movie and those strict non-narrative aspect of gonzo. Ever notice how saying “I love you” to a loved one has to be said more and more with a distance as years go by? Either we tend to say it in metaphors, foreign languages, text messages, under the pretext of special occasions… Practically, it’s not only the use of pleasure that’s controlling the society, but also the use of compassion. Obviously, the society of control takes into account how we internalize social hierarchies into our personal emotions, but at certain points it just gets blatant and ironic when critically viewed upon, with taboos surrounding our very personal, microlevel emotions.

Another thing I find interesting: notice how much sex and porn just gets harder to separate as years pass by? I am of course talking about teledildonics and all the discourse and technology surrounding it. So at the same time, we get sex more and more separated from love, and more and more integrated with porn, and at the same time porn gets more and more pervasive and becomes another leisure ideology, casual and daily. On the other hand, marriage becomes more and more of a horrific thing as bad sex leads to bad love. Now here is an irony: sexual revolution was a thing of the sixties with all the “free love” agenda. Sadly, we only took one aspect of the legacy and forgot the rest. We took the practices alone yet enjoyed ideological dominance all the same, if not even more.

Perhaps that is why we tend to find animals, monsters, and robots sexier and sexier by the day. I am seriously suspicious that at least one of the reasons is that they cannot love (yes, I know people who marry those non-human others, but I won’t develop a discussion on that now). They are purely sexual, non-emotional others — cyborg others, if we are to take the Macy Conferences on Cybernetics as any indication of how the cyborg came to be, as Katherine Hayles noted. Cybernetic organisms cannot love. They can only enjoy. As the society of discipline represses sexuality as an animal-like excess of the human, the society of control represses love as a human-like excess of the cyborg.

Let’s admit it, there’s always a weird exhibitionist dimension in social network profile pictures flaunting love that is different from and exceeds those of online porn. It is because our non-loving avatars have become us. The geek typing in front of the monitor is his avatar.