This is a long essay divided into six parts, the next three of which we'll post over the next week or two. Part one is entitled "Pornography and Obscenity", Part three, "Left-Wing Pornography in Late Capitalism: Autonomy, Liberation and Authenticity", Part Four, "Pornographic Idealism: The Cock made Mind", Part Five, "Sensation: The Pornographic Hell, Pornography and the Avant-Garde/ Pornography and the Entertainment Industry" and Part Six "Can anything be done?".
Notes and Warnings:
1. Some fairly unpleasant things are described in these posts, especially at the end of this part. We thought about leaving them out but, on balance felt including the descriptions and quotes was necessary.
2. This essay doesn't claim to be exhaustive, there are a number of important areas that have been excluded or treated in less detail than they deserve, these include racism in pornography, violence in gay pornography and the movement between material and immaterial labour and the economics of "free" pornography within post-Fordism.
3. In the Marx and Adorno quotes, we've let "men", "mankind" and "his" pass without comment. It should be obvious that, in most cases, what Marx and Adorno argue about men applies even more strongly to women. Further, as Hobsbawm writes of Marx's "men make their own history...", "the German word means men and women."
Left-Wing Pornography and Ideology Critique: Part Two, An Aesthetics of Spectatorship or A Politics of Production?
The law on “extreme” pornography defines a pornographic image as of “a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal”.
In a true identity of opposites, the law on extreme pornography and its opponents on the left, by discounting the pornography as produced and pornography as a political practice collapse pornography and obscenity. It is only by collapsing pornography and obscenity that the images Walsh possessed could be described as pornographic. For both sides, pornography becomes a merely moral or aesthetic question, for social conservatives obscenity is sufficient to demand possession of the images be prosecuted. Liberals, accepting the conservative collapsing of obscenity and pornography, failing to see it as produced and political, can only treat all critiques of pornography as oppressive invasions of the privacy of adults and their right to make autonomous moral and aesthetic decisions. It is only on this basis that the triteness of framing the problem of pornography as one of spectators being offended by the images and the solution “is not to possess them.”
The liberals are correct to argue that the law on “extreme” pornography is problematic, but it is not problematic for the reasons they stress. The law is underpinned- and here there are certain affinities with the sporadically useful but unsatisfactory debates over the sexualisation of children- by a wide range of positions, some of which are profoundly regressive, some of which are not. Firstly, the law (and in many ways its use to prosecute Walsh) responds to right-wing moralizing, as with the liberals who they claim to oppose, the problem of pornography is elided with the question of obscenity. However, right-wing moralizing does not exhaust the law even less than it exhausts the possible objections to pornography. The law is also underpinned by more general worries about the harmful effects on both the individuals who use pornography and society as a whole of pornography. The trigger for the law was the murder of Jane Longhurst by a habitual user of necrophiliac and especially violent (it’s important to note, following MacKinnon and Dworkin’s definitions that all pornography is violence) pornography. Finally, the law responds, confusedly and limitedly, to feminist concerns both about the effects of the consumption of pornography and the violence inherent in the production of the pornography covered by the law (and, indeed, feminist concerns about the production of all pornography).
The Bashful Camorra of Consumers
Walter Benjamin writes of Proust the perceptive but vicious social critic and detective,
“white men…wrote [the constitution] to guarantee to their freedom to keep something they felt at risk of losing”“speech is silenced prior to the law, prior to any operation of the state’s prohibition” (p. 207). MacKinnon’s argument is extended to show precisely the law’s structure and exclusions which underpin silencing prior to the law, “from the feminist standpoint because women are oppressed socially, prior to law, without state acts, often in intimate contexts. For women this means that those domains in which women are distinctively subordinated are assumed by the Constitution to be the domain of freedom” (p. 207) For pornography’s defenders (and indeed those who criticize it arguing that there are limits to speech) the domain in which pornography is produced and the domain where most of its most harmful consequences occur is banished from the concern of law or politics.
"Every Time Someone watches that Film they are watching me being raped"
The law bans “extreme” pornography, which, in addition, to being pornographic, “grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character” and also depict an act which falls into one of four categories:
A Politics of Production
The shift to a politics, of production (politics, as MacKinnon puts it being a question of power and powerlessness,) is required to break this deadlock. Firstly, it displaces defences of the user of pornography through privacy by introducing the privacy of women in pornography (and the uses made of the possibility to exposure of secrets to intimidate women into continuing in pornography). The ease of reproduction of images and videos over the Internet has intensified this process. In How to Make Love like a Pornstar, Jenna Jameson writes (and we’re dealing here with a book described as a “major recruitment tool for the industry” not works by Dworkin, MacKinnon or Dines or Marchiano’s Ordeal, which for some bleak reason Google books describes as fiction, also the porny cover and attribution to "Linda Lovelace" is stunningly off), “most girls get their first experience in gonzo films—in which they’re taken to a crappy studio apartment in Mission Hills andpenetrated in every hole possible by some abusive asshole who thinks her name is Bitch. And these girls . . . go home afterward and pledge never to do it again because it was such a terrible experience. But, unfortunately, theycan’t take that experience back, so they live the rest of their days in fearthat their relatives, their co-workers, or their children will find out, whichthey inevitably do.”
Secondly, as has been suggested, a shift to a politics of production demands a shift in focus from, as the title of another of MacKinnon’s books suggests Men’s Laws (or indeed Men’s Speech) to Women’s Lives. This asymmetry is structured as much by capitalism as it is by male supremacy, Alain Badiou in The Rebirth of History, writes of, “what Marx regarded as the principal alienation of capitalism: the primacy of things over existence, of commodities over life” (p. 20). This inversion, of course, does not treat all existence as equal, reflected back onto existences is that those with many things enjoy primacy over those with no things. Badiou merges this description of alienation with the murder of Mark Duggan and the looting in the riots, “the destruction or theft of a few goods in the frenzy of a riot is infinitely more culpable than the police assassination of a young man…And here is the vicious idea spread by all this: the death of the young man – a ‘black hooligan’, no doubt…is nothing compared with all these additional costs.” (p. 19-20) We might note another comparison that the most repulsive lies can be spread without accountability about both Duggan and the women in pornography.
With pornography the shift entails replacing the shrill defence of the rights of the thing (the pornography) and its consumers with attention to what happens to women in the production of pornography. This attention, further, problematises the distinction made in the current legislation between “extreme” pornography- the suffering of women in whose productions is ignored by much of the Left- and, perhaps, “moderate”, “legitimate” pornography- the suffering of women in whose production is, a fortiori, ignored by much of the Left. Max Hardcore, quoted by Dines, boasts of his innovations, “Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera, was unknown before I came along. I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down…[I] developed many other unique maneuvers, most notably, vigorous throat fucking, creating gallons of throat slime over a girl’s upside down face, and even causing them to puke. A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.” It seems unclear whether the current legislation would necessarily cover any of this. The only acting in this kind of pornography is the woman’s enjoyment and freedom, MacKinnon suggests, “perhaps because this is a bourgeois culture the victim must look free, must appear to be freely acting.” (p. 172) Against capitalism’s inversion, the point cannot made enough, all these things are being done to a real woman. Capital’s inversions and bashful concealments of production underpin the argument that the thing (the pornographic image, speech) must be protected even, or rather especially, against the existence destroyed to produce it, as with Duggan, the women in pornography exist outside the law, able to be killed with impunity.