Pornography- Should it Exist?

I am responding to our chat with Ms. Taormino, the big question being: should pornography, of any sort, exist? There are, as I see it, two major arguments for the negative stance: that pornography of any sort is norm-generating and therefore destructive.

I say this because there is an unavoidable choice associated with the content of porn. My worry here is that this element of choice automatically, unavoidably, inherently makes a normative statement, at the expense of unrepresented sexualities and sex acts. I don’t mean that each specific porn is doing potentially harmful norm-generating work (though that could be argued), but that the entire body of porn probably does NOT represent some forms of sex and sexuality, and that this misrepresentation is why porn is possibly inherently bad. Each porn, furthermore, relies on the assumptions the pornographer him or herself relies one in their life.

I think this concern is analogous to that expressed by Judith Butler in her essay “Is Kinship Always Already Heterosexual?” Confusing title aside (it deals in Levi-Straussian anthropology, hence the title), one of the core arguments in this essay is that the gay marriage activism campaign buys into a heterosexual system, at the expense of acceptance of even more alternative conceptions of love and marriage. This is similar to my concern with porn and especially “feminist porn”… simply altering an existing institution to make it more palatable might not deal with the very real problems inherent to the institution.

But this may be an improper analogy. Be that as it may, I just don’t want us to proceed as if porn is automatically good and acceptable in any mode.

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One Response to Pornography- Should it Exist?

  1. While I don’t agree entirely, I think there’s some merit in this analogy. Certainly there’s always a struggle to work against a normative system within that system. Homonormativity is the perfect example of this, and yes, it goes against all of the hopes of queer theorists that, as outsiders, queer-identified individuals might hold a unique transformative potential for society.

    But, let’s take a moment to remember that the use of “queer” is, itself, an example of the struggle to work against a system while remaining in that system. “Queer” is a painful word, with a painful history as a derogative. It was reclaimed because of that painful history. There’s power in the reclaiming. It’s an example of Foucauldian reverse discourse.

    I’d argue that feminist pornography can work in the same way. Yes, traditional pornography is guilty of misrepresentation and exclusion. Feminist pornography aims to re-center desire and destabilize the traditional sexuality script. There’s power in this. Transformative power. These films challenge the norms, the industry, and people’s misconceptions in a valuable and meaningful way.

    Norms aren’t easy to navigate. We’ve seen that media objects that we assume defy norms, such as The L Word, really reify them (Chambers). This means that feminist pornography does not automatically become “good” pornography, just by labeling itself as “feminist.” But labeling all pornography as bad is just as simplistic as suggesting that all (feminist) pornography is good. Such simple demarcations are poor analytics. Rather, while there is a tendency in pornography to reinforce norms, there is also a potential to challenge them.

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