April
3rd 2009
Friday follies: April Fools?

Posted under: class, Gender, students, the body

The University of Maryland has shut down plans to screen a pornographic movie in the student union Saturday night.  Duh.  How did it ever get on the schedule?

In the past few months, the XXX-rated film has been screened with administrative approval at the University of California at Los Angeles, Northwestern University and Carnegie Mellon University. Most of these screenings, however, have incorporated outside groups to provide what some call an “educational setting” for the adult film. At the UCLA screening, for instance, stars of the film answered critical and comical questions about the role of the adult entertainment industry.

Christopher Ruth, spokesman for Digital Playground, said the production company adopted a college-specific marketing technique after the original film generated so much buzz on campuses. He said a number of students groups at institutions around the country, including Carnegie Mellon, preemptively asked the company for copies of the film before they began offering it up for free to others.

An “educational setting!”  What a joke.  Are there any adults in charge at universities any more?  (Roxie, I’m dying to hear your views on this one.)

Maybe this generation of undergraduates are so accustomed to being subjected to marketing campaigns that they think it’s perfectly acceptable to be used to promote a trashy for-profit film, but you’d think that some faculty and administrators might object.  What a shame that it took a Maryland state legislator to notice this and threaten the university’s funding before an administrator pulled the plug:

Earlier in the day, The Baltimore Sun reported that a state legislator threatened to amend Maryland’s annual budget to deny funding to any institution that allowed a public screening of a XXX-rated film. Those screened as part of a class, however, would have been given leniency. Coincidentally, The Sun also reported that discussion on the matter had to be delayed on the Senate floor because groups of elementary school-age students were in the viewing galley at the time the matter was brought forth.

Give the state legistlators more credit than the people at the university:  they recognize the difference between legitimate viewings and discussions of pornographic images in a classroom versus movies screened purely for prurient interest.   Ariel Levy is right–or maybe even she didn’t realize how right she is about the reach of ”raunch culture”:  Pr0n is mainstream, it’s not limited to the under-30 crowd, and too many women as well as men think this is A-OK.  Empowering, even!  I can’t decide which is more disgusting:  the obliviousness to the sexual politics of these images and their objectification of women, or the obliviousness to being used as part of a marketing strategy.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.

41 Comments »

41 Responses to “Friday follies: April Fools?”

  1. squadratomagico on 03 Apr 2009 at 8:46 am #

    Just to be contrary: Is it absolutely clear that the film degrades women? (I haven’t seen a description of it beyond that it’s a spoof on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, and presumably that it includes a lot of money shots.) Clearly, a large proportion of p0rn is misogynist, but there certainly exists a genre of it that is explicit, but not necessarily degrading or particularly sexist. Indeed, some of it may actually be less sexist than your average blockbuster from Hollywood, which never would raise an eyebrow. I don’t think we can assume that this film is necessarily anti-woman based on the fact of explicit sexual content alone; it may simply show Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly lookalikes having a threesome.

    Which, come to think of it, doesn’t sound half bad to me.

  2. Roxie on 03 Apr 2009 at 8:58 am #

    I am honored to be called upon to weigh in on an incendiary local issue, Historiann, and, believe me, there are no porn fans in Roxie’s World, but the state legislator whose wisdom you praise here is a right-wing home-schoolin’ homophobe who pulled a huge political stunt that didn’t actually influence QTU’s decision to pull the plug on the film (at least according to what’s reported further down in the Inside Higher Ed story you cite). I don’t have your confidence that Senator Harris respects the difference between legitimate and illegitimate screenings of porn on a university campus. If he thinks using the power of the purse can blackmail the university into compliance with his incredibly conservative world view, then why stop at porn in the student union? Why not go after Tongues Untied in LGBT lit courses? Indeed, why not go after the LGBT Studies Program? Yikes — I have to go now. My typist seems to be having a panic attack!

  3. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 9:29 am #

    Sq.–opinions differ about Pr0n, that is true. I’m not in favor of outlawing it–I just think universities shouldn’t provide a privileged forum for it, just as they shouldn’t allow the Jose Cuervo guy to pass out free shots of tequila on campus, or let Joe Camel pass out smokes on the plaza. If that’s how students like to spend their leisure time, that’s fine so long as everyone is a consenting adult and they don’t harm anyone else. I just don’t think that falling for a marketing stunt like this speaks well of the students or the universities who have fallen for this stunt.

    Roxie–I’m not endorsing all of the guy’s opinions, but even right-wing ‘phobes can be right on my issues once in a while (like a stopped clock!)

  4. GayProf on 03 Apr 2009 at 10:14 am #

    I actually disagree — If pornography can’t be viewed on college campuses, where should it be viewed? As long as pornography remains taboo and off limits, it will be immune from critical engagement. Instead of censoring such images (which I think maintains sex and sexuality as a source of inequitable power relations), we should welcome them as points of serious engagement. Lots of college campuses show films that are misogynistic or homophobic or racist (not to mention violent), but legislatures rarely care. So, is it just that this film involves sex that makes it objectionable?

  5. squadratomagico on 03 Apr 2009 at 10:17 am #

    I think Gayprof articulated the point I was trying to make somewhat far more eloquently. I agree wholeheartedly with his comment in every respect.

  6. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 10:23 am #

    Pr0n in classrooms–fine with me. Pr0n as entertainment? No way. That’s the key difference for me–this movie was to be shown at midnight Saturday night, not as part of a sexual violence or sexual exploitation awareness week, when faculty and others would be on hand to facilitate critical discussions. The fact that someone from Planned Parenthood was going to be on hand to make the case for safe sex in my opinion normalizes rather than challenges pr0n and pr0n consumption.

    I take GayProf’s point that other movies are objectionable in the Saturday night movie lineup. But my bet is that when the student union shows the latest Hollywood blockbuster, they pay for it–it’s not distributed for free as part of a clever marketing scheme.

  7. guez on 03 Apr 2009 at 12:00 pm #

    The film was not a University marketing stunt. It was a student-initiated event, funded by student fees, not tuition or tax revenues. The proposed Maryland law, which banned state funding to universities that allowed a certain category of speech (XXX films) was possibly unconstitutional, and certainly nonsensical (XXX isn’t even a rating category).

    Historians (and others) can disagree about pornography, but surely facts matter.

  8. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    guez: I never claimed it was a “university marketing stunt.” It’s a stunt to market the movie. According to the linked article, ““Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” was slated to be screened at midnight Saturday at the 550-seat movie theater in Maryland’s student union. The theater’s programming committee, which consists entirely of students, approved the adult film for screening after having received a free copy from its production company, Digital Playground. The film, a pornographic homage to Disney’s popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy, has been distributed to a number of campuses around the country in an effort to generate publicity. ”

    Smells like a marketing stunt to me, but I’ll let others be the judge.

  9. guez on 03 Apr 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    I stand corrected. So it’s a marketing stunt. So what? My point was that this was a student initiative, paid for with student money, and that I’m wary of any attempt—by a state legislature or right-thinking professors—to save the students from themselves (or from their purportedly unhealthy sexuality, or from their willing exploitation by corporations).

    And, by the way, I find it ironic that someone who studies the history of sexuality would adopt the patronizing rhetoric of “adult supervision” while proposing that we regulate the sexuality of college students.

  10. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 2:47 pm #

    guez–you’re welcome to comment here, but please take a more respectful tone. I’m taking your contributions very seriously–I’m not sneering at you or making assumptions about you.

    I’m not “trying to regulate” anyone’s sexuality. I’m suggesting that films that are exploitative of at least half of the student population at most universities shouldn’t be considered normal. Historians of sexuality are very much all about analyzing and understanding the power that is frequently expressed through sexuality–so questioning the value of pr0n offered as good, clean fun for college students is very much the kind of assertion that historians of sexuality would question. Whose interests does this point of view serve? That’s the kind of question we ask.

    Your comments suggest that you see pr0nography as a mainstream form of entertainment, a suggestion that I think is disturbing whether it’s coming from a male or a female person. I think if you knew more about the history of the pr0n industry in the U.S., and especially its history of exploiting its performers, that you might have a different view of it.

  11. guez on 03 Apr 2009 at 3:07 pm #

    Historiann,

    I don’t know where to start. I never suggested or even intimated that porn was mainstream, although you, oddly enough did. (“Pr0n is mainstream.”) Nor did I disagree (or agree) with your questioning of porn as “good, clean fun for college students.” I am deeply certainly of the way in which power expresses itself through sexual norms. I’m just not so sure that *you* are. When it comes to sexuality, in fact, you seem to be quite comfortable about generalizing about what’s normal and what isn’t. (Do I have to remind anyone that sexual repression often starts with tacit understandings about what is mainstream and what isn’t, and therefore needs to be repressed?)

    I don’t claim to know what is “normal” sexuality and what it isn’t. But I sure don’t want to put state legislatures in charge (or alternatively, as you suggest in a later posting, faculty such as yourself, who will make sure that students don’t get the “wrong” idea).

  12. guez on 03 Apr 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Sorry, I got a little excited there. “I am deeply certainly” should be “I am certainly aware.” “Sexual repression” should probably be “sexual oppression” or something like that.

  13. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 3:23 pm #

    I’m not supposing that anything is normal sexually. I think that a university screening pr0n as entertainment plays a role in normalizing the sexual objectification of women, something I find deeply, deeply troubling, especially given college women’s vulnerability to rape and sexual assault. Films are not screened into a cultural void–there is a context that must be considered here. For example, see Nicholas L. Syrett’s new book, The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities (2009). Syrett demonstrates that in the twentieth century, fraternial masculinity is increasingly defined by men’s sexual exploitation of women. Given this context, I think it’s inappropriate to give university sanction to pr0n consumption for entertainment purposes. Just as given the discrimination that non-white students have experienced in the past century at historically white institutions, it would be inappropriate for a university to screen a racially exploitative movie for entertainment purposes.

    Controversial films screened in class are excepted, of course. And, I would argue that showing a pr0n film in daylight when faculty and student groups could perhaps lead discussions after the screening might serve an educational purpose. But midnight movies–not so much.

  14. guez on 03 Apr 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    We could argue about this all day. I now understand your position, though I think that you confuse matters by your own use of the terms “normal” and “mainstream,” which seem to be ambiguously both descriptive and prescriptive (aren’t they always?). Not to mention the fact that neither of us has seen the film (at least I assume that you haven’t)…

  15. Moria on 03 Apr 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    Hey, Historiann? Would you consider outlining briefly, either in comments or in a separate post, your views on pornography? Thus far, you’ve left the statement implicit – using “exploitation” as a substitute for “pornography” and so on. I think I am reading correctly when I understand your statements to mean that you oppose pornography in all forms, and that you believe the genre itself to be inherently oppressive, anti-feminist, and possibly violent, as well as that “feminist porn” cannot exist. Is this the case?

    These are not views I myself hold — I, too, am on board with GayProf’s statement, and would add that normalizing porn, eroding the stigma attached to it, might be a big step toward resisting at least some of its objectifying, exploitative strains. If public events at universities include pornography, to my mind, that is all to the good: fetishizing sexuality by pushing it out of view can only lead to its being warped once it finds itself on the margins. Non?

    But please do let us know what you think — I was surprised to find that you take (what I think is) such a strong anti-porn line, and would like better to understand why you do so.

  16. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 5:52 pm #

    guez, thanks for the conversation. I have re-read my comments, and I see why you were concerned about my evocation of “normal.” I should have been more precise: I’m concerned that the exploitation of women has become normalized in the past 20 years, and I think the mainstreaming of pr0n is part of this.

    I will admit that my assumption is that pr0n objectifies and exploits women–it’s intrinsic to the genre as I see it, and that’s what makes it sexy for many viewers (male and female). I realize that many women and even many feminists will object to this, but that’s where I stand. You are correct that I haven’t seen the movie, and while it’s possible that it’s a non-exploitative fun profeminist, pro-sex romp, my guess is that it isn’t.

  17. Historiann on 03 Apr 2009 at 6:02 pm #

    Moira–thanks for your comment. Maybe my comment above answers your question. I hold no brief against whatever people want to look at or enjoy in private, and as disgusting and exploitative as I find most pr0n, I completely object to attempts to censor people’s private use of it. Seriously–so long as everyone’s a consenting adult and no one gets hurt, then neither the state nor I certainly have a right to any opinion about whatever other people enjoy. (I do have strong concerns about the people who work in the pr0n industry, and the women in particular, which is why I have a hard time enjoying it myself, but–we’re all different!)

    My problem with the U of Maryland’s screening of this movie is that 1) it’s clearly for entertainment and not educational purposes, given the day and time of the screening, and 2) women at the U of Maryland already don’t have equal rights and equal access to their campus the way men do. Women at the U of Maryland have to assume the burden of preserving their own safety and bodily integrity, and they’re held to a different standard than the men are. (This is true of the vast majority of college campuses–I don’t mean to single out the U. of Maryland.)

  18. Digger on 03 Apr 2009 at 6:48 pm #

    So, I went to Digital Playground’s website. Looks like standard pr0n fare, just from the main page. Oh look! They have “free tours” of the site and membership access! And Novelties! Based on the cover for this particular offering, it’s going to be heavy on “lesbian” pr0n (not a boy in sight, at least on the cover…). And it’s $70.

    I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the female student body is not their target market. This is not an art film. It’s a real problem that the university is showing a film that doesn’t just “not interest” half of their students, but objectifies them. As a woman, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere NEAR that theater after midnight when all the pr0n-goers are left to their own devices. They won’t be looking to deconstruct the various power relationships and feminist subtexts (ha?)…

    You want to watch it? Knock yourself out. But for a university to support this kind of presentation (unmoderated, after midnight, from a commercial business who is blatantly using it as marketing, and which excludes/objectifies/arguably endangers half of the student body) is outrageous. Even though it’s a student-run committee, it is still university resources.

    The commercialism of it is a problem all on its own, even though university students are marketed-at to death these days.

    In a classroom, in moderated discussion, I have no issues with this. It’s not about it being shown on a campus; it is how and why it is being shown on a campus.

  19. Digger on 03 Apr 2009 at 6:52 pm #

    PS: They’re getting their marketing money worth, too. From their website (which I won’t paste here, so as not to further market their wares), “DIGITAL PLAYGROUND’S “PIRATES II: STAGNETTI’S REVENGE” HEADLINES CNN NEWS & TOP MEDIA OUTLETS AROUND THE WORLD ” “Director of Marketing Adella Discusses 1st Amendment Violations Towards Canceled “Pirates II” Screening at University of Maryland!”

    Public pr0n / pr0n in schools as First Amendment Right? Lol wut?

  20. Shazone on 03 Apr 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    Mom and Dad of a PhD candidate need some advice: she’s in the final throes of her research and dissertation – any advice on what a mom and dad can do to make sure that she doesn’t go off the deep in with stress?

    Any suggestions on things that we can do to treat her well during this time?

    Many thanks.

  21. Historiann on 04 Apr 2009 at 7:40 am #

    Digger, thanks for doing that research–that pretty much confirms my suspicions. For people who are interested in modern “pr0n culture” and how it’s being mainstreamed, I can’t recommend Ariel Levy’s Female Chauvinist Pigs highly enough.

    Shazone–your question is very off-topic, but I’d just say that if you’re nearby your daughter, invite her over for dinner once a week and give her a chance to be cared for and away from her writing. If you’re at a distance, send her a CARE package every other week, and call her up to let her know that you’re cheering for her. If she’s not in a writing group, you might encourage her to join one or create one with other advanced grad students. There’s a limit to what others can do for someone finishing a Ph.D.–the work is up to her, and learning to manage the stress of deadlines is part of the process.

  22. guez on 04 Apr 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    After reading the latest comments, I do have something to add, though not directly regarding the porn issue, but rather a larger theoretical question. I am very suspicious of the idea of any kind of a priori ontology of genre (novel, tragedy, history, porn, free verse, whatever) or form (print, internet, manuscript codex, tv). (I’m thinking of statements like “exploitation of women… is intrinsic to the genre [of porn]” or “print lends itself to standardization” or “the internet is a democratizing force.”) It seem that if history has taught us anything, it is that forms and genres lend themselves to a wide range of often unforeseen and unexpected uses and practices. This it seem to me, is what makes history *interesting*.

  23. Shazone on 04 Apr 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    Thank you – sorry to have been so off topic but I really needed to “talk”.

    Your advice is, as always, so correct.

  24. Indyanna on 04 Apr 2009 at 6:21 pm #

    To put a somewhat Triassic spin on this question, I can remember going up on the main street of a small midwestern college town to see David Hemmings and (whoever else?) in _Blow Up_, which allegedly contained a .73 second scene of what was then quaintly called “full frontal nudity.” And which may even have had a slow-motion sequence of the same events that ran to 1.73 seconds. We left pretty confused as to what we had seen, but pretty sure we had seen something amazing and shocking. Some years later everyone took the bus downtown to see _Deep Throat_. We left pretty amazed that you could spend a whole hour plus looking at essentially one single thing. [By the standards then emerging, the Blow Up stuff was little less exploitative than the more overtly coercive stuff of which Linda Lovelace later rightly complained].

    I’m sort of amazed that there would even be any “market” for this sort of stuff now, given what the students can presumably find on their computers for the asking. Maybe the opportunity to be part of the public spectacle, which was pretty much what was at stake in 1966 and 1973?

    Having been hatched in the dying “in loco parentis” era, I’d on balance fall somewhat on the libertarian side of this debate, although fully in agreement with Historiann’s fundamental objections. The events would suggest that a long generation (or two?) experiment of calling off the regime of prying dorm counselors, open-door rules, and the like, haven’t made a dent in post-adolescent repressionor confusion, in the collegiate demographic at any rate.

  25. guez on 05 Apr 2009 at 5:45 am #

    UPDATE: Porn Flick Screening at U-Md. Still On, as Is Funding Threat

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/04/AR2009040402590.html?hpid=moreheadlines

    Highlights:
    -Defiant student leaders have scheduled a showing for Monday.
    -”It’s not about porn at all,” said Kenton Stalder, a junior helping to arrange the screening. “The content doesn’t matter. It’s the precedent of a legislator pulling funding for an entire university based on an issue of morality.”
    -State Senator Harris: “University officials “should stop any showing of it right now until a clear policy is developed by the university regarding the conditions under which a triple-X-rated, hard-core pornography movie will be shown on campus.”
    -State Senator Raskin: “University officials “should stop any showing of it right now until a clear policy is developed by the university regarding the conditions under which a triple-X-rated, hard-core pornography movie will be shown on campus.”

  26. Historiann on 05 Apr 2009 at 6:54 am #

    Thanks for the update, Guez. I understand the students’ anger at the State Legistlators. On the other hand, this stand is about as inspiring as the Beer Riots at Miami University in 1998, or the protest against having classes there in the fall semester.

    Don’t they have the internets at the University of Maryland? Are the students there really so pr0n challenged that they need the University to obtain and screen it for them?

  27. Roxie on 05 Apr 2009 at 1:04 pm #

    Here is what State Senator Jamie Raskin, a constitutional law prof at American University, actually said (his remarks seem to have gotten lost in a cut-and-paste mistake in Guez’s comment above): “Pornographers and censors thrive on one another,” Raskin said. “I would hope that Sen. Harris would be content with having gotten the pornographers hundreds of thousands of dollars in free publicity for the movie and would leave well enough alone. They could not have paid for the publicity they got on TV and in newspapers.”

    Historiann, I’m sorry to see the swipes taken at the students who are determined to screen the film anyway and to see their action compared to Beer Riots. We know these students. They are serious, thoughtful, dedicated leaders (with pretty sophisticated sex/gender politics) justifiably outraged at an effort to use the state budgeting process to limit speech on campus. They are legitimately concerned about the film series they have organized for Pride month. What if Senator Harris decides John Cameron Mitchell’s Short Bus is porn?

    The plan now is to (try to) show Pirates II — in a lecture room — prefaced by a panel discussion on free speech. Given that Senator Harris has renewed his threat to punish the university financially, we think the students should be commended for their bravery. This ain’t no beer riot, and at this point it has very little to do with porn. We stand with the students. Stay tuned.

  28. Digger on 05 Apr 2009 at 1:08 pm #

    Historiann,

    The internets pr0n is probably blocked on the university intrawebs.

    Re: the bit about “It’s not about porn at all,” said Kenton Stalder, a junior helping to arrange the screening. “The content doesn’t matter. It’s the precedent of a legislator pulling funding for an entire university based on an issue of morality.””

    - Yes, it is about porn. It’s a PORN FILM.

    - Yes, the content does so matter. (If it was gay male porn, would the student government wanted to show it? Even if it was free?)

    - And, object lesson about the perils of taking a heavy hand in “protesting” something (did concerned peoples actually call the University to inquire about WTF? or did they just call their publicist/the local paper, hop a loudspeaker, and start screaming about pulling university funding?).

    - So far, the only winners I see in all of this are the Pornmongers who made the video. You cannot PAY for this kind of advertising.

  29. Digger on 05 Apr 2009 at 1:24 pm #

    Roxie,

    Thanks for the update (yours posted just before mine)…

    Given, as you say, “They are serious, thoughtful, dedicated leaders (with pretty sophisticated sex/gender politics)” then their decision to screen it at midnight on a Saturday was silly.

    “They are legitimately concerned about the film series they have organized for Pride month.” They should be concerned; I’d put money on it becoming a target. However, if they wish to argue academic freedom, the Pirates thing was shortsighted. Unfortunately, when the Pride month series comes up, the U. will already have been in hot water over pirates, and it will be a “here they go again” situation.

    “The plan now is to (try to) show Pirates II — in a lecture room — prefaced by a panel discussion on free speech.” Some sort of context should have been planned for this from the beginning, imo. Context matters.

  30. Roxie on 05 Apr 2009 at 1:54 pm #

    Digger,

    Point of clarification: The students who are trying to screen the movie now are NOT the ones who originally scheduled it for midnight on a Saturday night. That decision was made by the programming director of the theater in the student union. (See http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/02/AR2009040203816_pf.html.)

  31. guez on 05 Apr 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    Digger,

    Two thoughts and a question:

    1) Saying “Yes, it is about porn. It’s a PORN FILM” doesn’t really get us anywhere. It’s sort of like saying “Abortion is about killing babies, because abortion KILLS FETUSES and FETUSES become BABIES.” It’s not false, exactly, but it oversimplifies a complicated question.

    2) You suggest that the bringing this film to UMD may jeopardize other, implicitly more legitimate, events. The libertarian (and more broadly liberal) response to this argument is that when you *don’t* defend speech that you find offensive, you jeopardize *all* potentially controversial speech.

    3) You bring up gay porn. So what *do* you make of gay porn (or bi porn, for that matter)? Is it as exploitative as hetero porn? (This is for Historiann, too.)

  32. Historiann on 05 Apr 2009 at 5:01 pm #

    Roxie–thanks for the additional information. I didn’t realize that a different group of students was involved in the decision to press forward with the showing. I think it’s perfectly fine to screen the film in daylight and make it a “teaching moment,” as I have said all along. My objection was porno for entertainment purposes.

    I agree with Digger’s point that the big winners in all of this are the pr0nmongers–not the First Amendment, not the conservative state legislators who are up in arms, not the students demanding their right to University-furnished pr0n.

    As for Guez’s question about gay porn: I don’t know. I know even less about gay pr0n than I do about heteropr0n, so I don’t think I can comment authoritatively. My main concern about the trashy heteropr0n movie in question had more to do with the fact that women on college campuses don’t have equal rights to their own safety and security to begin with, so that showing pr0n movies that portray women as sex objects seems like throwing gasoline on glowing embers. But gay men too are the objects of violence by straight men.

    In the end, defending a college student’s “right” to university-provided pr0n is about as attractive as defending Ward Churchill. (Perhaps even less so, from my perspective.) I don’t think that either case is clear cut, and there don’t seem to be any heroes on either side.

    I’m not a prohibitionist–like I asked earlier, don’t they get the internets at Maryland? Are the students there such incredible porndogs that they really must spend their student fees that way? Whose interests are really being served by showing this movie at midnight on a Saturday night just for “fun?” (Beyond just the financial interests of the pornographers, that is.)

  33. guez on 05 Apr 2009 at 6:01 pm #

    Historiann,

    The gay porn issue is an important one, because it goes to the question of genre, which I discuss above. If gay porn is not intrinsically exploitative—that is, if it is possible for men to get aroused watching other, attractive men having sex without contributing to the exploitation of the individual actors, or gay men, or men in general, then you have to at least entertain the possibility that heterosexual porn (in which straight men and women get aroused watching men and women having sex) is not *intrinsically* exploitative of women (or men, for that matter). (Saying that heterosexual porn is not intrinsically exploitative is not the same as saying that it is not often or usually exploitative.) Otherwise, you’re essentializing gender. (“Men watching men”=ok; “Men and/or women watching men and women”=not ok.)

    As for your other point, the interest served by showing this movie for fun is the principle of student (and more generally human) autonomy. Students are adults, and for all intents and purposes, the campus *is* their world. As individuals, it could be argued, they have a right to make decisions regarding their lives (including their leisure), however unattractive and distasteful those decisions might be (as long as they remain within the law).

    (BTW, I don’t have any problem *whatsoever* defending Ward Churchill’s right to a fair hearing regarding his tenure—not because I like due process, but because I like fairness [and tenure].)

    I agree that women do not have an equal expectation (which is not quite the same thing as right) of safety on campus, and this is something we should deal with. I just don’t think we can regulate legal student expression, for purposes of fun or otherwise (in a public university, that is).

    And this is my last word on the subject. I promise.

  34. Digger on 05 Apr 2009 at 8:15 pm #

    Roxie: Thanks for clarifying. Like Historiann, I didn’t realize the two groups were separate. I still think the first group were being silly. I applaud the second group for contextualizing it (yay, context!), and pushing back.

    There is a big difference in my mind between showing porn because its free and its porn and WOO! Saturday-midnight-at-the-U and showing a porn film at a U. as part of a larger discussion about exploitation/human rights/sexuality/media/etc., in a setting that is explicitly (no pun?) academic. The second instance should not result in threats of fund-pulling (though, really? Pick a film that isn’t part of a national/international publicity campaign freebie stunt).

    Guez, to your questions/comments:

    1) To dismiss the discussion as not being about porn, as the student rep did, is disingenuous. And, the public won’t buy it. It IS about porn, because it’s a porn film (same way abortion, at a very basic level, is about killing fetuses). Instead of denying it, articulate why its being shown (yeah, I know, context again…). Porn is a big, complicated issue, I agree… but a big part of the discussion will remain, particularly in the press, about showing porn on campus. The film showings may have slipped by unnoticed at other schools, but this one is headed right for the trenches of The Culture War (and the producers couldn’t be happier).

    2) I hope that within the U., there is no jeopardy to other events, like Pride week. However, the Senator has sex, movies, and the U. on his radar, and I firmly expect the U. to be on the receiving end of a mighty big load of pressure to “sanitize” their educational programming. (I am not counting the Saturday-Night-Special as educational). I do defend people’s right to say things I find offensive, but free speech doesn’t mean saying anything, anywhere; it doesn’t give anyone the right to yell fire in a crowded movie theatre. “The existence of free speech zones is based on U.S. court decisions stipulating that the government may regulate the time, place, and manner—but not content—of expression.” (from Wiki). Re: the campus being students’ world… yes, but not to do with as they please. Even on campus, there is a huge difference between a public showing of porn in a theatre and watching porn on a personal dvd player in the privacy of your room.

    3) My argument wasn’t specifically about the exploitation factor of the various flavors of porn, but rather towards the motivation of the group who thought this was a good idea in the first place (the free showing on Saturday at midnight). If someone had offered them free porn with gay male content to screen, would they have? I suspect what the answer to that would likely be, but can’t know for sure. That said,I think the porn industry all around is extremely exploitative. Hetero more/less so than gay/lesbian/bi porn? I haven’t specifically thought about it, so I dunno.

  35. anotherhist on 05 Apr 2009 at 11:43 pm #

    I have no scholarly or, really, even political opinions about porn, gay or otherwise, but I do remember, thirty years ago, going to the University of Maryland one night to see the most disgusting film I’d ever seen — okay, even imagined — and then watching John Waters come out onto the stage to describe what he considered his outrageous battles with the Maryland Board of Censors (every movie shown in the state’s theaters then began with its stamp; we always booed loudly).

    Broadened my suburban high school horizons considerably.

  36. Chap on 07 Apr 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    Hello, I found your site by chance and I go to UMD. Honestly, I’m not sure if many students even knew about the screening of this movie. I found out about it when I wanted to see a screening of “Observe and Report,” and, while I had heard about the movie before, had no interest in seeing it. I can’t imagine many students would, but even with all the press it received lately only 200 or so people went to see it on Monday, and the Hoff (our movie theater) holds 550. My point being only half of the theater would have been filled at most without the scandal, so the only people who win big in the end is the producers. Free publicity and for what the ~200 students who would rather be in a sticky, smelly movie theater than bars on a Saturday night? Is it that big of a deal?

    Yes, we have a fairly high speed internet connection here, but if someone wanted to get the movie via torrents, they wouldn’t be able to since those are, for the most part, blocked.

    I’m neither here nor there on allowing porn to be viewed at public universities since I really don’t care. I think it has a pretty niche audience, and those who wish to see it would have done so already… in private. However, the argument that this is a promotional tool for the movie only is lost on me. Film makers do this all the time. As stated earlier, I knew about the porn showing because I wanted to see a screening of another movie. What’s the difference between the two? One may have hardcore sex and the other Seth Rogen, but “Observe and Report” may objectify women more than the latest dirty movie. Is it ok in one because it’s supposed to be humorous and not ok in the other since its intent is to arouse you? Either way, both films were at the Hoff with the intent to entertain and promote, definitely not for educational purposes.

    Now I would probably watch it to get a good laugh at the absurdity of this whole situation. I’m sure the script is *fantastic*.

  37. rea on 10 Apr 2009 at 7:55 am #

    Coming late to the conversation…

    I would have liked to have a film like this screened on my campus, by a student organization, with the Q&A afterwards about pr0n and culture and exploitation.

    And *cough* I haven’t seen this film (a sequel), but I did see the first one in the series and I’m under the impression that it’s not typical pr0n. There’s plot, and character development, strong male and female characters. It’s actually been released with the pr0n scenes cut out as an R rated film, in which instance it’s probably more like your typical b-movie action flick made by SciFi…

  38. Digger on 10 Apr 2009 at 11:55 am #

    From Feminist Law Professors:
    http://feministlawprofessors.com/?p=9885

    “The way filmmakers Chyng Sun and Miguel Picker see it, the cure for bad speech is more speech. That’s exactly why they’ve come up with a plan to get their hard-hitting documentary film about the porn industry screened on as many college campuses as possible.

    In response to the national controversy surrounding the screening of a hardcore porn film at the University of Maryland this week, Sun and Picker have cut a deal with their distributor to do exactly what Digital Playground, the makers of the porn film in question, are doing with their film: make it available at no charge to any campus that wants to show it.”

  39. Historiann on 10 Apr 2009 at 12:06 pm #

    Excellent–thanks for the link, Digger. Here’s the website for educators interested in a free copy of a movie that raises tough (and feminist) questions about pr0n, The Price of Pleasure:

    The Price of Pleasure intervenes in the mainstream debates that often surround pornography by moving beyond them. It takes a comprehensive and often disturbing look at pornography and its impact on the wider culture, placing the voices of producers, performers, industry critics, and anti-porn activists alongside candid observations from men and women about the role pornography has played in their lives.”

    I remember seeing a movie similar to this in college–I think it was called Not a Pretty Picture, and it focused on the production of pr0n and the toll it takes on the performers. It was probably made in the early or mid-1980s, but I can’t find a movie of this description with that title–maybe someone else will remember it?

  40. Kenton Stalder on 01 Jun 2009 at 9:18 pm #

    I’m sorry I’m coming so late to the discussion, I’m sure most people have entirely forgotten about this wonderful dialogue by now. A friend emailed me about the existence of this post saying it was an interesting discussion about the protest. After reading through the posts, I agree, but I also feel compelled to respond to a few things. The discussion that precedes me is so large in scope; I’m just going to try to make a comprehensive statement instead of a point-by-point response.

    First, as always, the media truncates interviews into the smallest and most convenient slices, context be damned. So when I said, “It’s not about porn at all” they left out the rest, which was, more or less along the lines of:
    “This protest screening, it’s not about porn at all, it’s about first amendment rights, it’s about a senator legislating morality in a publicity stunt, it’s about examining the process by which these decisions can be made. We are aware that there is a moral question revolving around the pornography itself, and we are dedicated to engaging that question at a time and place that allows for the level of elevated discourse such a complicated topic deserves”.

    We felt like tacking both the moral questions of pornography and first amendment rights in a generative manner was more than could be expected of a single two-hour event. Furthermore, because of the way in which Senator Harris had positioned himself politically, we needed to make it clear that we weren’t going to engage in the screening in the way he had outlined in his amendment so that he would be forced to put it forward again and bring it to a vote.

    This wasn’t to be obstinate or childish, we were legitimately concerned with the precedent that a senator could decide what was “educational” or not. We were concerned with the idea that a college education starts or stops at the classroom door; a notion that we found not only misguided but a legitimate threat to wonderful programs such as pride month, the tunnel of oppression, and various public readings/speeches by controversial authors/figures.

    A lot of people think of this entire issue as ridiculous because the amendment itself was so ridiculous. Threatening almost half a billion dollars of funding from the university because of the perfectly legal actions of about 60 students seemed to be a non-threat. However, President Mote himself told me that the soft count on passage of the bill was 45-2 in favor after the floor debate on Thursday. The day after the showing, when Harris brought the amendment again, The President of the Assembly, Mike Miller, called Senator Harris out of order and it was shot down 35-12. So there was a real danger to the university, and a real effect on the senate’s position after the facts of the case were brought to light by the protest.

    Outside of all of that, we caught a lot of heat from various individuals and the public for what they claimed was dodging the porn issue. A lot of this seemed to be rooted in the conception that it was an uncomplicated issue. President Mote himself asked me why we “couldn’t just say that we were against porn, just so everybody knew”. I told him that we weren’t against porn, necessarily, and that it was a more complicated issue than people gave it credit for. He countered by saying that there was strong statistical evidence that showed that pornography increased sexual violence in communities.

    I said that is a very fair and important point, but there is also a lot to be said about the dangers of sexual repression and that before we jump to any conclusions we ought to be sure about what exactly we are damning and what we are defending. I think it is clear that there are un-mistakably immoral facets of the porn industry. I would even be willing to concede that the majority of the porn industry has an unacceptably negative impact on society.

    However, while damning these examples of exploitation and sexism it is important to notice where positive forms of empowerment and agency are also manifest. For instance, the company in question is owned by a woman, the film was written and produced by a woman, and by far the most financial gain from the film was received by women. Couple this with the idea that pornography is an addiction (something that is also, I would argue, an oversimplification) and that the DVD sells for $80 a pop, economically speaking, which gender is being exploited?

    Another complication of the narrative of exploitation was illustrated during an “interview” we had with CNN. One of the members of our group was (without warning) placed into a conference call with a Conservative Christian woman. Quickly the interview turned into a heated debate, which reached its climax when the woman shouted into the phone, “These women, these women in these movies are being raped, they are crying, and they are no longer usable”. Think about that for a second, — “No longer usable” –

    In three small words she not only turned women into a commodity, she indicated that a woman’s value is entirely contingent upon whether or not anything has been inserted into her vagina on camera. Where is the exploitation in this cycle located? Is it entirely internal to the pornography industry? Or, is a major component the deep-seated cultural narrative of virginity and purity, which strips women of the agency to make choices about their own bodies? How much of the negative social impact contingent with being a porn start is based off of cultural biases that have no basis in the real physical and psychological impacts on the women involved?

    This is not to mention the double standard implicit in her statement. Why aren’t the men “no longer usable”? Why is there no discussion about the male actors in pornography at any level? The lack of critical judgment and the lack of concern for their psychological well being implies that a great deal of the removal of agency comes from the biases of our culture and not anything intrinsic to pornography itself.

    Because of this, it’s important that they are examined with a scope appropriate to the locations of power, shame, and exploitation, that we are aware of our biases and where they come from and why, and that we approach the problems of pornography with a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer. To try to do this, we are going to have a panel discussion with four speakers two from each side, hopefully with someone from within the industry as well. I feel like we spend a lot of time talking about these women and then hardly ever include them in the discussion. I’m also hoping to get Roxie to moderate it, but she doesn’t know that yet ;) .

    P.S. I’m also glad to read about the documentary posted by Digger and even though it seems they have ended their offer for free screenings, I’ll try to get my hands on it and create a dialogue around a screening of that movie as well.

    P.P.S. I’m aware that I am no expert on pornography (hence, the need for a panel), and am willing to cede almost any point I’ve made with convincing enough evidence to the contrary. I am going to try to read some of the books brought up in previous posts, I just wanted to complicate the discussion a little bit and point out things that don’t make sense to me, or that I feel aren’t being mentioned enough.

  41. I just went gay all of a sudden! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 23 Jun 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    [...] the language that other gays and lesbians use to write about or talk about their own experiences.  We sometimes disagree, but they don’t feel the need to lecture me about daring to writing about queerness or [...]

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