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Interview

Seeking porn pleasure

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In the flesh: Known as the 'High Priestess of Porn', Jenna Jameson has crossed over into the pop culture, with roles in mainstream films and TV shows. Her voice can be heard on megahit video game 'Grand Theft Auto: Vice City' and her 2004 autobiography, 'How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale', spent six weeks on The New York Times best-seller list.

Gail Dines, American anti-porn activist and professor of sociology, exchanges notes with TOI-Crest's Arghya Ganguly about her new book, 'Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality' and how the multibillion-dollar industry is shaping people's lives, sexuality and relationships.

Pornography had started influencing us long before it came out of the underground and crept into Wall Street boardrooms a couple of decades ago. But now, with porn stars bagging the status of 'crossover artistes', XXX has seeped into our very sexual identities, convincing obsessive users that the art of lovemaking begins and ends like the way it is shown on screen. Gail Dines, American anti-porn activist and professor of sociology, exchanges notes with TOI-Crest's Arghya Ganguly about her new book, 'Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality' and how the multibillion-dollar industry is shaping people's lives, sexuality and relationships

In your book, you say that in American society, porn is probably the most articulate teller of sexual stories for men. In your land of vibrant literature, it's a bold statement to make. . .

Yes. It is bold, but it's a statement I stand by. Boys are not going to great works of literature or art to learn about sex;they are going to porn. They first learn about sex in a culture steeped in porn imagery, so they develop a pornographic way of looking at women's bodies at a young age. Just watching TV, going to the movies, or playing video games introduces boys to images that reduce women to sex objects. With this pornographic gaze well established by adolescence, boys graduate to actual porn. Most porn on the internet is hardcore, and boys are catapulted into a world of body-punishing sex that is based on the dehumanisation of women. We have no alternative images in the culture that counter this way of looking at women, so this one becomes dominant.

The message porn sends to men is that they are entitled to access women's bodies. In porn, the man makes hate to the woman, as each sex act is designed to deliver the maximum amount of degradation. Whether it be choking her or brutal intercourse, the goal of porn is to illustrate how much power he has over her. The narrative about women is that they are all whores by nature, ready and willing to do whatever men want. In this world, women are never concerned about pregnancy, STDs, or damage to the body, and are astonishingly indifferent to being called whores. This is an uncomplicated world where women don't need equal pay, healthcare, retirement plans, or good schools for their children. It is a world filled with one-dimensional women, who are nothing more than a collection of holes.

The story pornography tells about men is much simpler than the one about women, since men in porn are depicted as nothing more than soulless, amoral life-support systems for erect penises who are entitled to use women in any way they want. No matter how uncomfortable or in pain the woman looks, these men are utterly oblivious to her as a person. She is to them just a set of orifices. These stories get delivered to men's brains via the penis. The younger the boy is when he first views porn - the average age of first viewing is 11 - the more likely these stories are going to form the core of his sexual identity.

You also talk about how women have internalised the men's gaze and they spend hours in front of the mirror due to it. 'Porn penises' have also become the standard against which men judge themselves. Do you suppose it will be a good idea to rehabilitate the youth by showing Renaissance art - for instance, Michelangelo's 'David' - which mostly feature modestly endowed men?


Unfortunately, we live in a world in which culture is commercialised through the mass media, so there is little room for fine art. A better idea would be for men to stop using porn. They do measure themselves against male porn performers, and many feel like sexual losers. Their penises are not as big, nor can they perform the same way as the Viagra-fortified penises in porn. Many feel let down by actual sex, because they get used to masturbating to industrial-strength sex that is supposed to give their partners screaming orgasms. Next to this, real sex looks and feels bland and boring. I don't think we need to 'rehabilitate' men; rather we need to raise their consciousness as to the harm of porn. I believe that the more men learn about the ways in which porn affects their sexual identity, the more they will think before clicking on a porn site. Girls and women have indeed internalised men's gaze, and they are increasingly turning themselves into objects. This makes absolute sense when you think about the images that they are bombarded with. Flip through the pages of popular women's magazines and you'll see slight variations on a theme: a heavily made-up, young, attractive, technologically perfected woman devoid of body hair, cellulite, age lines or physical disabilities. She's minimally clothed, with a seductive look plastered on her face. Whether it be an almostnaked Britney Spears writhing around on stage or a Victoria's Secret model clad in a plunging bra and thong, women and girls today are overwhelmed by images of themselves as sex objects whose worth is measured only by their 'hotness.'

Do you agree with the historical argument that if the Great Depression and WW II didn't occur then Playboy wouldn't have been able to successfully advertise its anti-woman ideology?


Yes. It was no accident that Playboy became so successful in the 1950s. The obvious question here is how a porn magazine became a best seller in what was one of the most conservative decades of the second half of the twentieth century. To understand this, it is pivotal to map out some of the economic and cultural themes that marked this era. The post-World War II America required a consumer population that would spend money to build the economy. However, the targeted group - the emerging white suburban middle class - was born during a depression and raised during a war, circumstances that lead to frugality. To nurture consumerism, businesses adopted a number of techniques, not the least of which was a massive marketing campaign, to turn frugal people into spenders. The expansion of television helped spread the ideology of consumerism through advertisements and sit-coms, which were often thirty-minute ads for how to furnish a suburban home. However, women were typically targeted by television, so there were few avenues for luring men into buying products they did not need.
Enter Hugh Hefner, a failed cartoonist who - by design or accident - hit on an idea that meshed beautifully with the needs of capitalism. He created a lifestyle magazine for men that placed consumerism at the centre of the new identity of the upwardly mobile male. Playboy spent much of its early years crafting a magazine that taught men what clothes to wear, what furniture to buy for the office, what food to cook, and, most important, how to consume to a level that would attract women, whose goal was to marry out of the working class. Playboy promised men that if they bought the products they would get the real prize: lots of women, just like the ones in the centerfolds. Playboy thus not only commodified sexuality, it also sexualised commodities.

Why has the US government been insouciant with respect to porn? Is it because 'Pornland' is a capitalist's dream?


Porn is indeed a capitalist's dream, since it is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year machine with ties to other major industries. This is a business with considerable political clout, with the capacity to lobby politicians, engage in expensive legal battles, and use public relations to influence debate. The porn industry sells the idea that women who enter the industry do so because they love sex and enjoy what they are doing. What we don't hear about are their economic circumstances. Jenna Jameson is a major recruitment tool for the porn industry. She is a walking ad for what a woman can supposedly achieve by doing porn. I don't think the solution to porn will come through the government. In a capitalist society, the role of the government is to protect the rights of corporations, not the people. If we are going to tackle this problem, it has to be through a mass movement.

Is it fair to conclude that dinners, vanilla sex and post-coital affection are passê due to capitalism and its tag team partner, porn?


I would say what we are witnessing is a move away from relationships toward a hook-up culture where sex, rather than an ongoing relationship, is the expectation. The increasing pornification of our society has been instrumental in shifting heterosexual relationships. Given its lack of commitment and intimate connection, hookup sex is a lot like porn sex, and it is being played out in the real world. If porn and women's media are to be believed, these women are having as good a time as the men. But research is finding that women do hope for more than just sex from a hook-up - many express a desire for the encounter to evolve into a relationship. Sociologist Kathleen Bogle, for example, found in her study of college-age students that many of the women 'were interested in turning hook-up partners into boyfriends', while the men preferred it 'with no strings attached'.

Do you approve of film schools having porn in their curriculum?


I don't think educational institutions should support the porn industry in any way. I do, however, believe courses on porn are appropriate for a college classroom as long as they critically explore different ways of thinking about porn, not just ones that celebrate it. Showing movies or stills can be tricky, given the effect it may have on students. In my classes, I show stills, but only after much discussion and the establishment of a clear set of guidelines that allow students to not attend or to leave if they feel uncomfortable or upset. I also worry about students who have a history of abuse, since such images can trigger memories. Given that we live in a porn culture, we should be providing our students with media literacy skills.

Do you reckon that feminists fighting for sexual liberation in the '60s and '70s erred somewhere, because all they got is sexuality that has its roots in porn?


Feminism fought for a sexuality based on equality and respect, and what we got was a pornified, plasticised, formulaic sexuality that is an industrial product rather than a reflection of women's authentic desires. This is not the fault of the feminist movement, but the result of a predatory porn industry that has become the main producer and disseminator of sexual images, ideologies, and messages. I have been doing work in this area for over twenty years, and I never expected porn to get so mainstream or cruel and brutal so quickly. Remember also that the feminism of the '60s and '70s was not just about sex, but about radical economic, political, and social change. This feminism understood that without equal access to material resources, women would always be oppressed. Today, feminism talks a lot about sex, but not much about the economic and social conditions of women's lives.

arghya.ganguly@timesgroup.com

THE XXX EFFECT


The global porn industry was estimated to be worth around $96 billion in 2006 with the US market worth around $13 billion. Each year, over 13, 000 porn films are released and, despite their modest budgets, pornography revenues rival those of all the major Hollywood studios

A key factor driving the growth of the porn market has been the development of technologies. There are 420 million internet porn pages, 4. 2 million porn web sites and 68 million search engine requests for porn daily. However, officials estimate DVD sales were down by 50 per cent in the last year due to a weak economy, piracy and free or cheap porn on the Internet

Reader's opinion (1)

Mario PintoDec 1st, 2011 at 23:19 PM

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