Comments on: Friday follies: April Fools? History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Fri, 19 Sep 2014 13:41:03 +0000 hourly 1 By: I just went gay all of a sudden! : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Thu, 23 Jun 2011 23:57:38 +0000 [...] 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 [...]

By: Kenton Stalder Tue, 02 Jun 2009 03:18:05 +0000 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.

By: Historiann Fri, 10 Apr 2009 18:06:49 +0000 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?

By: Digger Fri, 10 Apr 2009 17:55:40 +0000 From Feminist Law Professors:

“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.”

By: rea Fri, 10 Apr 2009 13:55:19 +0000 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…

By: Chap Wed, 08 Apr 2009 00:12:11 +0000 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*.

By: anotherhist Mon, 06 Apr 2009 05:43:20 +0000 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.

By: Digger Mon, 06 Apr 2009 02:15:06 +0000 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.

By: guez Mon, 06 Apr 2009 00:01:22 +0000 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.

By: Historiann Sun, 05 Apr 2009 23:01:52 +0000 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.)