`Porno,' Violence in Media Targeted Opposition Is Growing to Presentations That Depict Demeaning, Sadistic Treatment of Women

Article excerpt

LAST week, MTV canceled Madonna's latest video, "Justify My Love," which contained a variety of fantasies including a degree of sadomasochism.

Three weeks ago Simon & Schuster dropped publication of Bret Easton Ellis's novel, "American Psycho," which contained 40 pages of scenes so gruesome that women editors reportedly objected. And Geffen Records refused in August to distribute a new release by the rap group Geto Boys because of its violent and sexual lyrics.

These cancellations may indicate that the media are starting to say "enough" to depictions of sexual violence against women. But Simon & Schuster decided against the book only after negative publicity came out in Spy and Time magazines. The book found another home - in Knopf's Vintage imprint.

The Geto Boys now are distributed by Warner Bros., which will also release Madonna's video single.

But Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and specialist in the media and popular culture, says: "Some taste lines are being drawn. ... I'm surmising there might be some fear of legal repercussions. Not that anybody will ban books, but there might be a consumer boycott, or simply unanticipated repercussions."

Such hints come at a time when two New York youths charged with participating in a Central Park gang rape and beating in April 1989 await a jury's verdict on charges of rape and attempted murder; and eight youths have been charged with the Halloween night murder, aggravated rape, and robbery of a young woman in Boston's Franklin Park. Then there are the unsolved cases of so-called serial murders of women in New Bedford, Mass.; Seattle, Wash.; and Gainesville, Fla. A growing `genre'

Observers say that the book and video cancellations have focused attention on the volume of violent and graphic images in all phases of the communications media. While the scenes of torture and mutilation found in "American Psycho" may be rare in a mainstream book aimed at the best-seller list, they are common in other sectors of publishing.

New York literary agent Richard Curtis says that so-called "splatter" books used to be occasional, but now there are so many that they constitute their own genre. Mysteries, too, have a small but growing subset characterized by extremely brutal treatment of women.

In recent years, such major-release films as "Blue Velvet," "9 1/2 Weeks," "Jagged Edge," and "Casualties of War" have portrayed a level of sexual violence, shown or implied, that goes beyond what mainstream audiences have seen in the past.

Ms. magazine estimates that one out of every eight Hollywood movies depicts a rape theme. And the amount of such content is not only rising, says Professor Gitlin: "It's becoming more grotesque, more cruel."

Some observers say that is because pornography has moved from the fringes to the mainstream. Once confined to downtown red-light districts, pornography has entered the home through videocassettes, cable TV, "dial-a-porn" numbers, and even network television. …