Academic journal article New Formations

Beyond the Entrepreneurial Voyeur? Sex, Porn and Cultural Politics

Academic journal article New Formations

Beyond the Entrepreneurial Voyeur? Sex, Porn and Cultural Politics

Article excerpt

What forms of sex are fostered by neoliberal ideologies? And in what kinds of social relations do these forms of sex take place? The ongoing popularity of pornography as a subject for academic study is in part related to its status as a barometer of the changing conditions of sex in cultural politics, where the richness of its materiality lends weight to its indicative status, and helps us adjudicate practices enshrined in layers of privacy. Pornographic commodities, their content, modes and relations of production, aesthetics, affective properties, and financial value, all provide evidence of the shifting terms under which sexual intimacies are conducted, and the cultural and historical circumstances that bear upon those intimacies. Naturally, porn's barometer status is hugely problematic, as nearly three generations of feminist activism demonstrates; and yet, the continuing strength of academic porn studies attests to its significance, which has been enhanced by the intensification of work on network cultures and on theories of the relationship between bodies and sensation.

In this essay I want to consider the relationship between sex and neoliberalism, using porn as a marker of the contemporary cultural conjuncture. I hope to explore several overlapping concerns. Firstly I want to point to an impasse of constrained optimism that characterises recent work in porn studies, which has become preoccupied with the question of alternative pornographies (altporn). This is significant because it points to a residual investment in a notion of agency, as I shall demonstrate; such a notion has been politically significant for feminist and queer analysis of popular culture, but tends to collapse the possibility of a critique of the relations of capital. As a critical concept, agency allows us to access the entitlements gained by women and queers, for instance in the context of post-feminism and homonormativity, but potentially forecloses analysis of the neoliberal conditions that determine the limits of that agency. Professional gay men and childless professional women have prospered under neoliberalism (albeit in complex and uneven ways), in terms of improving social and economic opportunities, cultural choices and economic advancement. But such entitlements, as commentators such as Rosalind Gill have pointed out, have entailed new responsibilities, (1) along with, I would suggest, new constraints associated with cultural and social assimilation. So-called 'sexualisation' may have offered a degree of what has been described as 'democratisation' in relation to access to sexual culture and visibility for minorities and women, but the terms of that 'democratisation' are at best problematic, and have been highly contested. (2) Secondly, following Lazzarato's work on immaterial labour, and work that has emerged following the publication of Foucault's lectures from the College de France, I want to introduce and develop two new concepts that potentially allow us to elaborate on the forms of sex fostered by neoliberalism; these are: immaterial sex and the entrepreneurial voyeur. Immaterial sex may help us to describe the creative and affective energies commodified in porn production, whilst the idea of the entrepreneurial voyeur may help us to account for the ways in which porn consumption, sexual subjectification, and the enterprise culture mutually reinforce one another. If an analysis of neoliberal governmentality and the enterprise culture leads us towards a scepticism about the transformative potential of individual agency and autonomy, this poses significant, and as yet unconsidered, problems for the frameworks in which we have tended to consider sexuality, and porn consumption in particular. And finally, I want to consider how we might identify terms for moving beyond the entrepreneurial voyeur and towards a less alienated and competitive mode of sexuality. Here I will offer an analysis of the independent film Made in Secret which seems to pattern a mode of porn production/consumption, and a way of thinking about porn, that is communal and confederate, rooted in reciprocal social relations and not in privatised exchange. …

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