Porn Porn Porn

This week, I tried to watch the new film by Alexandra Pelosi, the Trials of Ted Haggard, but thanks to the slack efforts of American bittorrent uppers I’ll have to wait a while before I can have a look at it. Having seen Haggard’s appearances in Jesus Camp and Richard Dawkins’ The Root of All Evil I am very keen to see whether the formerly arrogant evangelical has softened at all since confessing to gay prostitution and drug problems, but that will have to wait for another time.

Instead of some satisfying schadenfreude at the expense of a troubled man, I have been indulging in what I thought would be the simpler pleasures of pornography. Porn has become a major part of our media intake, while escaping much of the scrutiny applied to all of its competitors for our time. For something so widely consumed, we rarely enter the debate about the ideas that pornography promotes in the same way we would a book, film or television programme. This is chiefly due to being drowned out by the noise from the great battle of the modern age of erotica, ‘extreme’ pornography. The debate is coloured by the death of Jane Longhurst, who was murdered in 2003 by a man whose penchant for asphyxiation was said to be exacerbated to the point of murder by his visits to websites hosting images of strangulation. Since then, Longhurst’s mother has campaigned to clamp down on what she believes may have contributed to the death of her daughter. Clauses dealing with extreme pornography formed part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, criminalising images or video in which someone engages in an act “which results, or is likely to result, in serious injury”, which was met with a furious response from organizations whose members consider such activities a charming weekend diversion.

The problem with all this is that by focusing on the acts shown in the films we forget about the context, which can turn a scene on its head. Two people can whip each other in a loving, safe environment, or could have conventional sexual intercourse in an atmosphere of misogynistic savagery, towards which mainstream porn, the sort of thing regularly viewed by a large part of the population, jokingly alluded to in best men’s speeches and wryly tolerated by headmasters, has been creeping over the last few decades, in the drive towards ‘edginess’.

The first porn films to appear slightly edgy were the ones in which the male actors would perform acts many women would not enjoy, such as rough anal sex, under the guise that these particular women were unusual in their keenness to be on the receiving end. The ‘horny porn star myth’ suffered as high profile abuse allegations came out from Linda Lovelace among others, and was soon replaced by the ‘indifference’ model of porn production. This would feature an acknowledgement that the female performer would not be subjecting herself to the attentions of the males without payment, and was characterised by a triumphal inattention to her wellbeing, the theme being male satisfaction at the expense of female comfort.

Since then we have moved into a newer, more unpleasant sphere, where the pretence that the female discomfort is somehow a byproduct of the male’s sexual satisfaction is dispensed with, and acts are performed on the female performer for no possible benefit to the male other than the degradation of the female. Productions like the horrible ‘pinkeye sluts’, in which men ejaculate directly onto a woman’s eyeball, an unsafe practice risking infection and other unpleasantness, exemplify this trend, and have even begun a trend of their own- shortly after pinkeye sluts’ debut the internet welcomed the arrival of ‘pinkeye surprise.’ Is there a risk that by focusing too much on the more obviously hardcore stuff we are risking the center ground to some pretty unpleasant people?

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