File spoon-archives/marxism-thaxis.archive/marxism-thaxis_1998/marxism-thaxis.9804, message 35

Date: Wed, 1 Apr 1998 08:45:20 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Re: M-TH: Porn and Sex Debates

Mark wrote:

> Doug reminded us that works of art wander off and live lives of their own, 
> and there is much truth in this too, but I don't think it gainsays my point, 
> actually. But the cumulative, insidious effect of our enforced, conscripted 
> complicity with (dehumanising) pornographic imagery  is actually one of the 
> ways in which "Art" on a mass scale has come to live its social life, inside 
> ours. It is therefore problematic, and invites us to reconsider the 
> relationship of observer and observed, and the ways in which
> the observer (spectator) is her/himself pre-emptively, and cynically,
> observed by those who wish to profit from it. 

But does not the same apply to images of "romantic love", which is exploited
commercially just as much as the pornographic?  I am curious what your feeling
is about opening the paper and seeing full-page spreads of people gazing
into each other's eyes just before that passionate kiss that will seal their
fates forever, in one way or another (but we know it will seal).  Do you feel
that the profit-directed observation that leads to our being bombarded 
with _these_ images (many of which are directed at women) is any less cynical
than in the case of pornography?

> Pornography humiliates, as Malgosia says, but it does so not accidentally, 
> as a side-effect, but with deliberation and forethought.  Without that 
> tendency to crush and overawe us, its tendency to produce boredom might 
> really be overwhelming. The mass nature of porn production means that it 
> has no choice but to form the cultural soup we have to swim in, a discharge 
> of effluents, no choice but to engender ennui and tedium, therefore no
> choice but to humiliate us like soldiers on parade, to enforce our attentive
> complicity in its parodic strutting and squawking facsimiles of what is or 
> ought to be most truly human, particular, loving and decent. This is 
> another reason why militant hatred of porn that is mass-produced by 
> the sex industry ought to be a normal response among us.

But the cultural soup is not just composed of pornography proper, it is also
composed of the stuff whose purpose is to sell things to women, children
and families.  This stuff, too, consists of facsimiles of what, you might
say, ought to be most truly human, particular, loving and decent.  In fact
this very "ought to" participates quite complicitously in the selling game.
It is never just life insurance, or soap, or underwear that is being sold,
but a whole way of thinking that, by the iron -- or perhaps vinyl -- logic of
a system of "ought tos" is supposed to lead you unavoidably into life insurance,
soap and underwear.  

> (People mocked my citation of a charming episode from War & Peace, but 
> it does show what a gulf, a real chasm exists between what is arousing 
> for us and what was arousing 140 years ago, and that was also part of my 
> point: the constant spectacle of porn does inure us, habituate us, make 
> us cynical, covered in scar-tissue, does it not? 

I would say the same about the constant spectacle of "romantic love".
And I am not in fact sure how you can disregard the analogy you yourself
make between the two: "romantic love" is what was arousing, and being sold,
140 years ago (and is still being sold, mostly to women, now), whereas
now we are also, in addition, innundated with pornography.  I am not sure how
you can blithely pitch one against the other as more intrinsically "human". 


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