Porn and prejudice

If you didn’t catch last week’s Observer feature on the launch of a new academic journal called Porn Studies and the controversy it’s causing, it’s worth a read. Not only because of the way it highlights the polarisation of attitudes within the academic sphere as well as the public one, but also because of how it steers towards exposing the writer’s personal discomfort as it progresses.

Author Carole Cadwalladr does a fair job of giving traction to those of both sides of the fence, namely the editors of Porn Studies, Clarissa Smith and Feona Attwood and their opponents, Pornland author and academic Gail Dines, and Professor Clare Mcglynn. But as the piece progresses, her own journey into the internet porn hinterland takes precedence:

“After reading the Mail article, I type “rape porn” into Google to find more articles on the subject. But “rape porn” doesn’t bring up articles on the subject. It brings up videos of women being raped.

All but one of the top five results on Google are for mainstream porn sites that host videos – click, click, and you’re there – of women being raped by men. There’s vaginal rape, oral rape, anal rape, often all three together. Some of the videos are “simulated”, acted, and some of them aren’t. They show actual women being actually raped.

Maybe you already knew that. I use the internet every day but I didn’t. Does that make me naive? A prude? Possibly both.”

What Cadwalladr does is more than purely reporting what her investigation has uncovered. Instead, she takes the piece in a completely different direction – uses evidence of her own ignorance about porn to imply that the issue with something like Porn Studies is that it cannot affect the everyday attitudes of everyone else. The implication is that high mindedness is all very well but it will not keep our society safe from the nefarious affects of much pornography.

I would argue that what it will do is keep us safe from misinformation about the porn that’s out there. It will help us make better decisions about how we prosecute those that produce non-consensual and abusive material. And it will help develop our cultural understanding of porn, and its place in society, which is crucial if we are to begin with the seemingly inexorable force that is internet porn.

Cadwalladr should have taken more time to explain the likely content of the journal, rather than wading into an argument about its seemingly futile role in combating domestic violence, for example.

From labelling Jeremy Forrest a ‘paedophile’ to telling us that schools want to teach our primary schoolers about anal penetration, the tabloid media is awash with misinformed and fear-mongering sex reporting. The Observer didn’t quite do that. But it still allowed for a story that should have engaged with the theoretical debate to become an overly personalised and tangential response.

 

 

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