Monday, July 28, 2008
Don't ban this filth posted by Richard Seymour
It is one thing to say that pornography should not be banned, that the state cannot intervene in such matters, not least because it would involve them in a necessarily authoritarian logic (in which they get to determine what might be a good, healthy representation of sex or nudity). And one should certainly contextualise pornography in terms of the sex industry as a whole, which entails looking at sex workers as active producers of their own conditions and not mere victims - that means supporting efforts at organising sex workers and resisting the very prurient/puritanical logic that justifies their repression and marginalisation. By all means let us also avoid prudishness, especially on this site. It is the farthest thing from my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable about their sexuality, or to interrupt anyone's fantasies with stern moralising. But Chomsky's argument has drawn an odd chorus of defensive boos on the internet and in the comments to the post below - how dare he draw attention to the material conditions, the fact that wage labour is not free labour, that choice is not liberty, that the symbolic violence against women is part of a war on women that isn't less bestial because it is eroticised? Where does he get off? Evidently not in the pages of Hustler, the abnormal bastard.
But let's depart from the world of work for a second and stick with the symbolism. Andrea Dworkin, (boo hiss), once noted the curious propensity for all of the ordinarily repellent evils of capitalist society to somehow be magically transformed in the wonderland of pornography. Somehow, what would be obviously disgusting and offensive in ordinary discourse is defensible if there is a heavy libidinal investment in it. Aside from the clearly violent acts (slapping around, hair-pulling, name-calling, face-drenching, all of it framed by an established relationship of male dominance), there are the transparently racist tropes that sustain a lot of pornographic production, the myths about slovenly working class women, the use of subordinates (maids, secretaries, pupils) for sex, etc etc. Isn't it reasonable to suppose that there is a relationship between the crude and direct expression of misogynistic ideology in 90% of pornography, as well as in its gross overvaluation of the numinous penis, and the way in which women are rewarded and punished in capitalist society according to certain paradigms of behaviour? I don't mean that pornography causes these things, or that - as one famous formulation has it - "pornography is rape". I mean that the aspects of pornography that some argue are dispensable, incidental, unfortunate and so on are integral to it. The conventions that predominate and constitute the vast majority of pornographic productions are not accidental, any more than is the fact that they are seamlessly imported into other areas of ideological production such as advertising, lads mags, teledrama, Hollywood and so on.
Side-stepping all this is especially implausible you want to stop the state from outlawing something called 'extreme pornography'. In defense of the right of people to possess and distribute images appearing to depict violent sex, for example, it would make no sense to say that 'normal pornography' is just fine and dandy, perfectly serene, only incidentally imbalanced by some nastier elements. That merely gives the state carte blanche to determine that some ordinary sexist pornography is acceptable and the 'extreme' (sometimes not remotely sexist) manifestations of it are not. If you want the libertarian argument to work, you can't avoid a radical critique of pornography even at the risk of a temporary psychosomatic deflation.