Tuesday, March 18, 2014

But Is the Internet For Porn?

Well, this is going to seem like an extreme leap, seeing as I just discussed asexuality not that long about but, realistically, it's not that extreme. Today, I am going to discuss porn.

But first I have to tell you a story.

http://johnturnerworld.blogspot.com
When I was in high school, my friend Kevin, for reasons I no longer remember, was discussing something and said porn. Except that he didn't say it as one would normal speech, he said it in a faint, terrified whisper, in which I can only express in print as *porn*. It was ridiculously hilarious at the time and my friends and I teased poor Kevin about it mercilessly, so that every time the word came up, we said in the same tone and timbre he had. Little did I know that Kevin's own discomfort with the word would later become a metaphor for how our culture deals with porn's existence.

This post has been circulating around Tumblr and I got interested in it. Give it a read, as I won't copy its contents over here and, because it's important, I'm linking to the actual Tumblr blog. But, as it warns you from the beginning, it's highly full of triggers. It's on the porn industries and misconceptions (to utterly understate the issues) surrounding it. What got me really interested in it was when someone I follow on Tumblr reblogged it, along with her reactions as she occasionally posts graphic/pornographic posts. To get the real affect, one would have to follow her posts as she worked through her thoughts on Tumblr, but I won't link to her blog as I've never actually interacted with her and that would feel like using some moment of personal rethinking and analysis for my own blogging benefit. So she will remain anonymous.

http://images.smh.com.au/
However, her reaction was really powerful and important. As the user embraces feminism and sexual positivity on her blog, I had initially though of the Tumblr user when I saw the post as I don't see porn on Tumblr save for her blog and a few others (which, when I occasionally tell people I have a Tumblr, shocks them, because as I am continually reminded "the Internet is for porn." Right. Strangely, it took me until I was actually 22 years old and following random fan blogs until I actually saw anything pornographic, and this is merely because I don't use any filters or Tumblr Savior or whatnot and I, unlike some, did not go looking for porn). Between her occasional sexual postings and writing smut, her blog had become, through her followers and her recognition of this, a sort of haven in which young women could talk about sex. Running a blog with a fandom aspect but a distinct sexual edge to it, the user appeared to feel guilt, confusion, and responsibility for her postings in light of the information about the porn industry and recognizing the ways in which it is misogynistic, racist, and highly problematic given her posting of gifs not knowing the sources they came from while supporting a healthy sexual attitude, recovering from an abusive relationship, and juggling how to feel when some porn is enjoyable for her but knowing its consequences. In the end, she decided to remove most of the pornographic material from her blog, feeling responsibility for herself and to her followers, and do some reconsideration of what it means to watch porn and how it affected her own relationships with men.

I think this blogger's experiences are highly important. After facing shocking information, cognitive dissonance, and what she saw as past hypocrisy, she decided to make a change, instead of ignoring the information or making excuses for the porn industry. While it can probably be said that not all porn is the way in which the post describes, but clearly it cannot be overlooked or downplayed. While there may be porn out there that is safe and consensual, a great deal of porn doesn't look this way and isn't acted out this way.

But now's the part where I have to admit that, until about six months ago, I had no idea that porn actually required actors to have sex. I had believed before then that it was staged and faked, perhaps more along the lines of how sex scenes are filmed in movies (but maybe we need to back up and talk about how sex scenes in movies are filmed so I can stop feeling like a baffled child because I don't understand how that works). Porn is acted, it's inacted and this is why that Tumblr post is so important - it illuminates how porn is actually made. Because do people really think about this when they watch/see it? I've thought about it when those gifs come my way because when I see what is occurring, often my reaction is, "Shit, I didn't know the human body could do that." In some ways, sex becomes educational tool, filling in what sexual education classes don't, about how the body works, how sex works, and how it can be enacted. However, given what porn portrays, this is terribly dangerous and warped. If young men watch porn seeing men dominate and beat women and believe that this is how sex is supposed to work, they are being taught that misogyny is okay. And this is terrifying.

I wish I could have seen the film Don John so that I'd have another perspective with this post, as it deals with the issues of a man who is addicted to porn trying to have a relationship with a woman. I'd be interested to see what sort of statement that film makes about the porn industry and, as the commentary I've heard about it is seems to be more feminist, how it discusses porn watching as something more than release or gratification, but in a way that shows how these acts and images matter.

There is a deep difference between fantasy and reality, between roleplay and inacting in sex. The problem with porn is that it totally obscures and blurs these differences. This works to pivot our perception of sex from a male-dominated view and ideologically states the roles and acts that should be and can be performed, consent or no consent. It causes women to think that this is what they should want, even if they don't. I have nothing against porn as a broad concept - I get why people watch it, though dependence and addiction to it is a far different and harmful matter. But what we need is feminist porn, racially conscious porn, but porn isn't made with these thoughts in mind. Porn is shoved under the rug as a industry that is mocked and ridiculed, shamed and derided, and yet it is a thriving, highly watched industry. Not all companies have regulations and safety standards for their stars - as can be shown from the data given in the post - and it appears to be only about making money and capturing footage for people's gratification, no matter how it affects its stars. And that is terrible. Perhaps if our society were more likely to discuss the porn industry and its problems, if we were more willing to say porn rather than *porn*, if we were willing to accept that our watching of this material may be harmful in ways that are not as overt as it seems, we would be one step closer to understanding and changing the problems that occur here.

I wish now I had taken the Gender and Women's Studies class on porn that was offered at my university because, given the department, it would have been a highly critical and interesting class. But I backed out of it when I had heard that students just used it as an excuse to watch porn. And I did not want to be surrounded by a bunch of young men feeling uncomfortable about trying to talk about porn and feminism. I think this shows how comfortable I've become out here, being willing to talk about these issues and not being concerned about it, because the issues it deals with are too important to overlook. That's what I admire so much about the blogger on Tumblr who decided to go through the "messy" process (as she described it) of editing her blog and changing her views. She did it because "it had to be done" which I think is admirable and important. We have to be willing to change our views, to open up and recognize that issues are right before us in ways we didn't recognize until different information is provided. We have to deal with what we like being problematic and what we've seen being more powerful than it seemed.

I think that, under different circumstances, porn can be positive. It can be educational, pleasurable, supportive of healthy, consensual sex lives. However, I warrant that little porn out there supports this. Because porn has often not been taken seriously and is sort of a "black market" product, it's not often considered how it affects us beyond the ideas of "Sex is good!" or "Sex is bad!". Maybe if we were willing to gauge the issue in less shallow, colorless views, we might be able to have a better idea of what exactly is going on in gender, media, and culture right now. We've got to be willing to open our minds and ears and hear things we don't want to hear if we want to pursue change. It won't be easy, but if a fine, clever blogger such as the woman I've discussed above can do it, than we certainly can as well.

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