Pornography and Sexual Representation: A Reference Guide - Vol. 1

By Joseph W. Slade | Go to book overview

Introduction: Tracking Pornography Through History and Theory

Ick.

Overheard in the Premiere Video Store in Athens, Ohio, from a college
student whose girlfriend had eagerly pulled him into the adult section

Given the premises announced in the Preface to this Guide that pornography enriches culture and that it constitutes our principal means of speaking about sex and gender, a couple of caveats are in order.

First, even charitable assessments of pornography conclude that much of it is garbage. To be sure, we often say the same about mainstream movies, books, recordings, television, and so on. Gresham's law operates in most markets; cheap products drive out better products. One difference, perhaps, is that pornography has traditionally made a place for, even a fetish of, representations of low quality. Pornographers can hardly be faulted for employing words and images that will arouse, and if the tawdrier varieties do the job more efficiently, then such products will naturally be prized by producers and consumers. Moreover, the need to outrage morality and to affront taste and, beyond those goals, the desire to mock the order and structure of society itself are also perverse, but legitimate, missions of pornography. The impulse that leads the pornographer to encroach upon taboo and obscenity is part of a recognizable social dynamic, but neither that impulse nor the pornographer's equally understandable contempt for “standards” fully explains the romanticizing of “dirty” perspectives. Rightly or wrongly, many consumers apparently assume that the sleazier the example, the more authentic it is, as if ugliness depicted as unskillfully as possible will free audiences from lies told by older generations—a view that characterizes pornography as a species of cultural adolescence. Since later generations routinely

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