There was a panel at…

There was a panel at WisCon on porn and the patriarchy. For the most part, it was a bunch of pro-sex, pro-porn people saying porn is good, women writing about sex is good, rah, rah. Which, yes, I pretty much agree with. But I felt like someone had to play devil's advocate, or the panel would have been a complete bore, so I ended up trying to argue that sometimes porn is bad. Weird, huh?

The thing is, I kind of believe it. Or rather, I believe the following, as Ben and Jed and I hammered out in a long car discussion on the way home from WisCon:

  1. If we acknowledge that writing can be a powerful force for good (i.e., women learning to write about their own sexual desires can change the way they, and their readers, interact with their own sexuality in freeing ways)...
  2. ...then surely we must also acknowledge that writing can be a powerful force for evil.
  3. So the question becomes, what writing leads to evil?
  4. Generally we might argue that all writing that is true and honest about human nature, human desire is good art. Writing that promulgates sexist, racist, etc. stereotypes, is bad writing, in the sense of being a poor representation of the truth. It is bad art.
  5. But in some sense, the axis of good/bad art isn't really the axis we're concerned about here.
  6. Whether art in general (or writing in specific) is good as art is largely irrelevant to the question...
  7. ...of whether that art promotes evil.
  8. So we come to: what kinds of art promote evil? One set might be art that depersonalizes human beings. Women reduced to fuck toys, for example. War portrayed as a glorious endeavor, ignoring the human cost. What else?
  9. Such art (whether well or poorly-executed), can be dangerous. Can be seductive. Can be arousing and exciting and get your blood pumping.
  10. In fact, some of the most effective porn is probably some of the most dangerous, in that regard, since it functions by stripping people and situations down to stereotypes (or, perhaps, archetypes?).
  11. In the end, I don't think that that danger is the writer's responsibility. The writer's responsibility is to aim for creating good art -- or at least, effective writing.
  12. The reader's responsibility, on the other hand, is to consider the effects of such art on themselves, and as needed, moderate its effects -- through rational analysis, perhaps, or simply through abstaining from exposure to such art until one is ready to enjoy and appreciate it, without being consumed by it.
  13. Just as we limit children's exposure to certain materials until we judge their maturity level is equal to handling it, sometimes, as adults, we [should?] make the same judgements for ourselves.
  14. Example: I don't watch horror movies, because the last time I watched one, as an adult, I had nightmares all night long, and ended up sleeping on the living room floor because I was scared of my bed.
  15. Example: Kevin asked me to not read romance novels for a while when we lived together in Philadelphia, because he had noticed that every time I finished one, I picked a big fight with him within the next day.
  16. Example: I enjoy reading male-dom porn, including some terribly written pieces, such as "The Humiliation of Jane." It gets me off. Yet I wish it didn't, am deeply suspicious of the gender dynamics in our society that have led to my enjoying this material, and would rather Kavi grew up without that particular kink to her soul.
  17. Example: We watched a movie together once, a good movie, whose name I have blocked out of my mind. In the last scenes, a rich and lonely geek has sex with a prostitute whom he had briefly seen as a person, and then deliberately chose to treat as a thing again (because she would not say she loved him). That scene made me cry so hard I couldn't see. I made Kevin turn off the movie before the ending because I couldn't bear to watch anymore. (This is perhaps not actually an example of the premise. I'm not sure.)

Ben/Jed -- did I represent the conversation fairly?

8 thoughts on “There was a panel at…”

  1. For whatever it is worth, here is a link to an entry with comments from my blog, along with a url of an entry in Nalo’s blog with much more discussion. These relate to visual art and photographs, but they may be of interest here.

  2. Yes, it is by my name. I entered it on the line labelled URL in the comment. I have not figured out how to post active links in comments otherwise. My main blog address is on this entry; you can scroll down to “Maiden Goddess…” or click directly from my first entry. Sorry for the confusion.

  3. Interesting argument. Interesting that you spiced things up a bit. Good for you.

    In #4, you ponder if “writing that promulgates sexist, racist, etc. stereotypes, is bad writing…is bad art.” I think this is fluid. What may be considered genius today, was most likely thought to be bad art say, 30 or 40 years ago. At the same time, what may be considered racist or sexist today, might have been thought to be genius 30 or 40 years ago.

  4. I think that represents the conversation pretty fairly… I’m not sure I am entirely in agreement with your position on points 5-6 (I think that much of the depersonalizing art you object to in point 8 really is also bad art, by virtue of its being a lie, and if it’s not bad art then despite-or-because-of its glorifications, if may be able to do more good than harm); 11 (I think the writer always has some responsibility, just as any worker has a responsibility for their work… that doesn’t mean writers must silence themselves, nor is it as simple as “don’t advocate bad things” since readers are generally more powerful and sophisticated than we give them credit for); and perhaps 16 (I would wish, not for a society where that kink didn’t exist but rather for a society in which it was soley a kink without an ugly, ubiquitous, nonconsenual corresponding reality).

  5. To post an active link in comments, use the standard code for HTML links:

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    Sorry the syntax is weird/complicated; that’s just the way HTML does links. If you run into problems with it, be sure you’re typing all the parts exactly right; if you make any mistakes, the link is likely to not appear properly.

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