It’s impossible to review *Robert Jensen’s Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity without also reviewing the anti-porn film The Price of Pleasure. Jensen makes constant mention of it in his book, explaining that he and one other person conducted the interviews during the Adult Entertainment Expo in 2005. Many excerpts from the film can be found in the book, so they are, in my mind, intertwined.
Maybe a healthy conversation about sex, porn and our culture can be had someday, but we have to do away with things that don’t make sense. I believe Robert Jensen makes some interesting points in his book Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity–even if it does largely read like Gail Dines’ Pornland. Nonetheless, it attempts to make some of the usual, weird points. If pornographers prove through their product that they don’t really like women too much, anti-pornographers prove that they just as equally dislike information.
I’ve been sympathetic to anti-porn sentiment–being an ex-sex worker who’s dealt with misogynists on set and on my blog. I’ve also gone the other way: very certain that anti-pornographers are the performers of their own textual and visual sex shows—books, lectures and film; illustrating their porn addiction while emphatically condemning it; making themselves the great martyr/authority of their own product, and therefore, the star. Anti-porn stars, if you will.
The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle, but it’s hard to filter past the fine layer of un-logic with which they wrap their arguments.
The last sentence of the very first excerpt from Getting Off under Our First Glance in the Mirror: The Rowdy Boys, reads:
“This is an expression of the dominant masculinity in the United States today. It is the masculinity of a mob, ready to rape.”
He’s referring to the Adult Entertainment Expo visit where he interviewed performers, producers and fans for The Price of Pleasure. Jensen’s scene describes a porn performer, “Tiffany”, inviting an ever gathering crowd to watch her as she simulates masturbation on the showroom floor.
In this sentence we find the book immediately introducing us to rape without rape. It’s an oft-used anti-porn tactic, but my retort can’t beat **Penn Jillette’s. He and Raymond Teller’s show Bullshit! engaged pro-porn and anti-porn voices in 2008. This is Jillette responding to Gail Dines’ porn/rape argument in Season 6, Episode 1: War on Porn.
“Gail Dines: Is it okay to become aroused by images of sexual torture which is what pornography is. [Screen shows performers kissing and lightly fondling each other ] The female body in pornography knows no limits. You have three men, one woman. She’s being orally, vaginally, anally penetrated at the same time. It makes men think that women are basically whores by nature; that anything men want to do, women are willing to do. And it gives men a sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. I mean, what is rape if not a sense that men are entitled to women’s bodies?
[Cut to Penn Jillette]
PJ: Let’s make this very clear. Rape is not a sense, or an attitude, or an idea. Rape is not sexy, and rape is not sex. It’s a crime. Rape is not a word you can just throw in to automatically win an argument. [Gail Dines] offered us no proof at all. She said “porn”, then she said “rape”. That’s not even an argument, that’s bullshit! And here’s another argument.
The U.S. Department of Justice figures for Rape and Attempted Rape declined 85% between 1980 and 2004. Why? Consider this:
The four states with the highest per capita access to the internet saw a 27% decrease in rape, while the four states with the lowest per capita access to the internet–over the same period–saw a 53% increase in rape. And what is the most popular thing to do on the internet? Absolutely correct. Buying useless shit on eBay. But right after eBay, porn.”
Jillette goes on to add:
“Let’s make this really clear. Our argument is bullshit, too. Correlation is not causation. It could easily be just a coincidence.”
Sounds logical. And it concedes that there are no definitive studies.
Whether we like it or not, the fact is, if there are going to be predatory pornographers out there–literal self-loahting individuals who must make visual product demonstrating their hate, there will inevitably be these kinds of extreme critics. I have argued with pornographers, negotiated my work against their lack of conscience, been employed by a few that were sincerely only interested in my discomfort, and I don’t like them. I genuinely dislike both sides of the extreme fence. The worst pornographers will use any means of rationalization to cause harm, and anti-pornographers will use any means of rationalization to abolish all porn; drive it underground; make it more dangerous for everyone involved. Both throw nonsense about to justify their views, and neither provide a platform for female sex worker’s voices unless those voices agree.
Consider this gem from The Price of Pleasure, after Jensen asks an “industry executive” about the appeal of anal sex:
“Essentially, it comes from every man who’s unhappily married, and he looks at his wife who just nagged at him about this or that or whatnot, and he says, “I’d like to fuck you in the ass.” He’s angry at her right? And he can’t, so he would rather watch some other girl taking it up the ass and fantasize at that point he’s doing whatever girl happened to be mean to him that particular day, and that is the attraction, because when people watch anal, nobody wants to watch a girl enjoying anal.”
I feel very, very sorry for that guy’s wife.
Fortunately, that’s not true. Anal sex can be pleasurable for women, and many men only enjoy sex if the woman is enjoying herself, too. It’s a self-loathing projection by one person. Still, it illustrates the kind of obnoxiousness present on the violent, niche porn side of things, which is why books like Jensen’s are written. It’s an important point to make.
Now, back to violent, niche porn’s equal and opposite rival–anti-porn.
On page 84 of Getting Off, Jensen writes:
“Hard-core pornography, whether ultra or otherwise, raises a question: Why do so many pornographic movies include scenes in which the women appear to be in pain?
To explore that question, it is not necessary to reach definitive conclusions about the degree of pain women actually experience in such scenes. My focus here is not on the women in the movie, but on the producers and consumers. In these scenes, the women appear to the viewer to be in pain.”
So, we’re not going to hear from sex workers right now, but in the next chapter–merely pages later–dedicated to women who perform on-camera sex entitled It’s What Women Are Good For, he goes on to speak about a performer’s mother; including a child/daughter shame tactic anti-pornographers use because they have no intellectual or emotional respect for the difference between childhood and adulthood.
Jensen asks performer, Cytherea’s, mother how she feels about Cytherea’s career. She says that she is proud of her daughter. Unfulfilled with that answer, he then attempts to trap her conscience by asking if she had imagined her daughter as a porn performer while she was still a little girl. Her mother, appropriately answers, “My god, no. Who would?”
Interestingly enough, though Jensen expresses regret from having asked the question, he lets us know his apology doesn’t stem from his intellectual immaturity and over-emotional need to shame this woman in order to make an illogical point; his apology lies in what he projects he must surely have uncovered in the mother’s psyche (and therefore ours–the reader) by her answering the question the way that she did. It never occurred to him that her answer may be speaking to anything other than his childish assumption, because he goes on to express he’s a parent to, and sympathizes, and so on.
This is the lovely ‘I know what she must surely feel deep down’ mumbo jumbo lazy people rely on when they don’t have the gumption to interview and get to know actual sex workers whose voices might ultimately render their work useless. Does a passing question on the red carpet of an event with a performer’s mother, with no follow-up or explanation for the answer, qualify as research? If so, it’s depressing.
I mentioned this during my After Porn Ends review (here), but I’ll begin a fresh lesson in adulthood and open sexuality.
In kinships we do not want to see our relatives have sex. Not monogamously, not with multiple partners. None of us want to see people we are related to have sex with themselves or anybody else. I can’t speak to the exceptions, but in the sane world most of us live in, there’s only one appropriate answer to a question like that. “My god, no. Who would?”
But Cytheria is not a child anymore. Her mother began by saying she is proud of her daughter, so Jensen chose a question he thought challenged that idea and ran with her practical, no-nonsense response. It shows a real lack of credibility that he bypassed the opportunity for an interesting conversation in favor of a self-sensationalized reaction.
Mingling childhood with adulthood–two completely different human stages–as a shame tactic is shameful only of the person originating the sexually twisted thought process. In fact, the sinister elements of that kind of thinking make me really uncomfortable; like “pedophile” uncomfortable (which I’ll have to circle back around to thanks to The Price of Pleasure). If you cannot respect the difference between childhood and adulthood, it’s quite possible you should not be talking about sex among adults as some kind of authority figure. Maybe someone should be talking to you about sex. In this case one should be very careful about the lines they’re crossing as a PhD and what they are actually qualified to discuss, and with whom, and on what platform.
For instance, The Price of Pleasure attempts to marry the 2002 Ashcroft vs. Free Speech Coalition case with legal adult industry porn producer’s favoring child pornography. Consider the perverted twisting of facts from this excerpt:
“The Free Speech Coalition has repeatedly won important legal battles. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on virtual child pornography [begin flash cuts to animated child porn] granting the pornography industry the right to produce images which simulate child pornography using computer generated technology, and youthful-looking adults.”
I’ll refer here to ***Ernest Greene’s response to that bit of film propaganda:
“I have never in my entire life, both before and after entering the X-rated vid business, been shown any kind of child pornography by anyone other than an anti-porn crusader. … It happened the first time when I was a talk-show host back in Denver and it’s happened to me several times since. Where do these porn-busters lay hands on this genuinely revolting visual offal? Oddly, none has ever told me. I guess we just don’t hang out in the same places, but that’s something the gang from [The Price of Pleasure] wouldn’t want you to think, based on the very carefully chosen juxtaposition of these pictures with those of the daily activities of the F.S.C.. That the F.S.C. has also been involved in numerous other court cases, including the challenge to the current iteration of 18 U.S.C. 2257 by which any dubious right to exhibit this film tenuously hangs, is not evident in TPoP.”
In short, not only did the producers find and exhibit animated images simulating the sexual abuse of minors, they also broke federal law by not using the appropriate 18 U.S. § 2257 record-keeping labeling all producers–even if you are only reproducing the content–are bound by law to place on hardcore content; even if you blur or crop the still or moving image. It shows an utter lack of respect and regard for the law, as well as their confidence in the porn producers having only used legal-age performers in their actual human sexual depictions.
And this isn’t the only example of predatory behavior and irresponsibility anti-pornographers exhibit while putting down all pornographers for predatory and irresponsible behavior. I was privy to an interview with an adult veteran in 2010 who claimed her very first introduction to pornography happened on a street in New York. Anti-porn demonstrators had a kiosk exhibiting images of “bound and gagged” women. She said she was around five years old at the time. She also said it didn’t have the effect on her that was intended.
It is this kind of negligence that makes it impossible to get past the anti-porn agenda for an intelligent conversation. You have to care about information and correct information to have an intelligent conversation. Conflating legal adult sex work with child pornography is predatory in and of itself. And Ernest asks a good question. Where did they get their simulated depictions of the sexual abuse of minors? I’ve never gone looking for any kind of visual depiction of child sexual abuse, and I was never presented with them while in the adult industry, yet minutes into the film animated child porn images flash upon the screen along with commentary that the Free Speech Coalition and legal porn producers somehow wanted it to exist; fought to make it so, and then solidified the visual by transitioning back to legal-age product of a performer pretending to be a babysitter. It’s a twisted, sick point to attempt to make. This was not a win in favor of abusing children. There are people who still remember being arrested for ‘pandering’ not so long ago. The provisions were seen as overbroad by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed with that ruling, and Free Speech Coalition has lost a fair share of “important legal battles.”
What this kind of propaganda-laced content illustrates is that adequate basic education is our flaw. When the State of Texas can choose to omit Thomas Jefferson from its curriculum for religious reasons, education is to blame for misinforming our children. When people like this can conflate legal industries with illegal industries and spread lies while touting a degree, education is to blame for misinforming our college-age young people. Sex education should not begin with pornography anymore than instruction on being physically fit should begin with pictures from fashion magazines.
Commenter, Dale, wrote a few days ago under After Porn Ends:
“I myself have issues with the state of adult films these days, mostly with the way I perceive women are treated. My wife will no longer watch with me after seeing the umpteenth “Southern trespass” (I’m sure you know what that is). And the cartoonish way that most black portray themselves in IR scenes.”
I agree. There is plenty to criticize without twisted logic and perpetuated stereotypes. But I think Dale’s comment shows conscience, and that is what ends harmful habits. It’s no different from stopping drug use if it is truly having a harmful effect on your life. We must maintain our conscience and common sense in all that we do. Are you uncomfortable with something you are seeing? It could be because it doesn’t appeal to your personal tastes, or it could mean there is a disturbing unspoken element to the film that truly exists. Is porn an addiction for you? Then definitely seek help. There is no shame in admitting something is beyond your control. Convincing yourself to enjoy something against your better judgment because it’s supposed to be fake does not mean it is fake. We have to stay in tune with our core feelings. We have to be aware of everything we are seeing and judge these things based on whether or not it enhances our life. If it doesn’t enhance your life, do yourself a favor and drop it forever.
Jensen writes of “choice”:
“But Cytherea chose a career in pornography. And her mother chose to support her daughter. So, what does choice mean?”
He goes on to make an example by explaining that he gives his 150 – 300 students multiple-choice exams to determine their grades. The he writes:
“None of this, of course, fools the students; few of them believe that such exams are an accurate or meaningful way to measure their learning. Despite this understanding of the adequacy of multiple-choice exams, all my students “choose” to take a test they know to be virtually useless.”
Interesting example, and the “choice” point is an excellent one. I’m an ex-sex worker with a voice. Did I really “choose” to read this book? If I want to understand those who judge me without talking to me; if I really want to be seen as a human being and reject misinformation and stereotypes, I suppose I don’t really have a choice.
Unfortunately, it’s a complicated discussion reduced to less than 200 pages, and reads very much like Gail Dines’ Pornland–review here (albeit less angry-emotional and more sad-emotional). And while I sympathize with Jensen’s perspective in many respects, porn is not rape; childhood is not adulthood; mainstream porn production is not human sex trafficking or prostitution. Rape is rape. Childhood is childhood. Human sex trafficking is human sex trafficking. Prostitution is prostitution. There’s no way to address the better, subtler points without bypassing–and validating–these irresponsible, larger points.
*Thank you ‘Iamcuriousblue’ for recommending Jensen’s book.
***If you are interested in the perspective of someone angry about the way their voice was used in the anti-porn film, you’ll find Ernest Greene’s modest four-part critique of The Price of Pleasure here, here, here and here. I can’t speak for most of the other pornographers featured in the film, but Ernest is a highly respected producer and published author, often credited in interviewers with helping ex-performer, Chloe, with her sobriety. (Chloe is the performer in The Price of Pleasure’s featured clip from Ernest’s movie, Dresden Diaries #24.)
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