Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On porn

There is a post up today at The Vanity Press about the issue of porn that I think raises an important point about the nature of pornography in an interesting and forceful manner. It is worth looking at.

I really don't have anything else to add, since the post is so well-written, but if I had some of my A.C. Grayling books handy I'd quote the bits from Grayling about how cultures that are low in prudery almost never have pornography (but do have erotica). That will make more sense once you read the linked post.

Actually, when I get a chance later I'll update this post with the bit from the Grayling essay I'm thinking of.

Update: The essay I was thinking of from Grayling, aptly titled, "Sex," is located in Life, Sex, and Ideas: The Good Life without God. It's a ranging essay covering various aspects of human's sexual nature, but there is a section in the middle which deals with the distinction between art and pornography. After mentioning film censors in Britain towards the end of the 20th century began to allow explicit sex scenes to pass uncut, Grayling notes that the censors:

began to signal the crumbling of important taboos against public visual representation of such objects and activities as erect penises and oral sex. The significance of allowing these things to appear in mainstream cinema, rather than leaving them to the bracketed off realm of pornography, is that it allows them to be incorporated more fully into debate about life’s natural experiences. The best kinds of art include among their other purposes the encountering and exploration of what happens in ordinary life, and so long as certain things are kept out of view by obscenity laws and prudery, art is prevented from doing so – is prevented, in short, from telling the truth. Pornography cannot supply the lack, because its erections and frictions of body parts, the sole point; whereas in real life they are always component of a larger and richer debate about love, needs, passions and sorrows, as real art almost always, and powerfully, shows.
Furthermore, Grayling ponders

But why are erect penises and oral sex taboo anyway? And when did they become so? Astonishingly, the removal from public view of erections and sexually various activities, relegating them to dark places of whispering and anxiety, is a very recent phenomenon, and one restricted almost exclusively to cultural traditions stemming from the ‘religions of the Book’ – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Every other culture, historically and contemporaneously, which has escaped their attitudes to sex and the body has two notable features: a widespread celebration of sexuality in art and religion, and a complete absence of pornography (which is not, note, the same thing as erotica.)
At which point he goes on to survey and give examples of cultures that have celebrated human sexuality. A bit earlier in the piece, Grayling notes that sexually repressive cultures (which he again links to religious tradition) that seek to make procreation the only purpose of sex and to deny all other aspects of it usually end up creating a dual backlash of 1. sexual decadence expressed in unhealthy ways, and 2. ignorance about human sexuality that leads to misfortune (think abstinence only sex ed).

In The Vanity Press entry, the author asked the thought provoking question of whether or not the image given is porn. Most would say no (but as I noted in the comments there, John Ashcroft would be looking to prosecute the artist for child pornography.) So now I'll attempt to ask one myself ... if the same exact artist had been using the same exact situation and model, but instead of painting a picture had taken a photograph, would that be porn? If so, why?

My guess is that most people would say yes in this instance. And I believe that the yes would have to do with the visceral feel that the picture is more tantalizing as it is less abstracted and more realistic. Yet it's the same figure and same artistic goal (a realistic rendering of the subject) ... the only difference is the artist in one instance is using a paintbrush and in the other a camera. Food for thought.

2 comments:

Chester N. Scoville said...

Thanks for the link!

Hume's Ghost said...

Your welcome. I hope all six of my regular readers visit it.