As the debate over pornography and its place in society grows hotter
every day, several authors in particular shed a new light on the
subject. Both their intuition and insight involving their beliefs can
help the reader a great deal in seeing aspects of this debate that might
have otherwise gone without the consideration that they so deserve.
I believe that pornography is not only okay, but is allowing our
country to take a step back and ask ourselves how far we are willing to
go and what we are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve free speech
and our rights to personal choice.
The argument over pornography is not merely the debate over right
or wrong, but also involves the theory that its existence requires, or
possibly even causes, an inequality between men and women.
I ask you, how could something like pornography cause an in-equality
between men and women when women are the major contributors to the
industry? Who is going to watch a porn without women in it? Therefore,
at least at first glance, it would seem that since women are actively
contributing to the business of pornography maybe they should be
criticized at least equally if not more so than the men who watch it.
According to author J.M. Coetzee and his article "The Harms of
Pornography", the real questions here are, "what is the difference
between obscenity and pornography", and even more importantly, "where do
we draw the line between the two"? Coetzee brings up a good point here.
A point on which the entire debate over pornography hinges. What is the
defenition of "obscenity"? An excerpt from a speech by Mike Godwin,
Online Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gives a good
definition of obscenity in his on-line article: "Fear of Freedom: The
Backlash Against Free Speech on the 'Net'".
Everybody more or less knows something about what qualifies as
You know it has something to do with "community standards," right? And
with appealing to the "prurient interest." A work has to be a patently
offensive depiction of materials banned by state statute and appeal to
prurient interest to be obscene and it also has to meet one other
requirement. It also has to lack serious literary, artistic, social,
political or scientific value. That's how something is classified as
Godwin states that one of the criteria for decency or absence of
obscenity is that something must contain social political or scientific
value. Is it possible that pornography is an outlet for people that
prevents ideas that start out as fantasies or desires from becoming
real? If so, then it's possible that the porn industry is doing us a
bigger favor than we know. In an article written by Donna A. Demac,
the history of censorship, obscenity, pornography and the rights of "the
people" are conveyed with a decidedly liberal attitude. Demac's article
gives an intelligent overview as to the actions of various political
parties, groups and activists that have fought either for or against
some of the issues regarding pornography, and his article can be
effectively used to defend free speech.
The most opinionated and conservative of the authors included is
Catherine MacKinnon, who touches on the thought that there is a great
deal of similarity between pornography and black slavery. In her
article "Pornography, Civil Rights and Speech" she states that "the harm
of pornography does not lie in the fact that it is offensive but that,
at least in developed societies, it is an industry that mass produces
sexual intrusion, access to, possession and use of women by men for
profit". MacKinnon approaches pornography not from a "moral" standpoint,
but strictly from the "political" point of view that says pornography is
a threat to the gender equality of our nation. I say she is wrong and
that not only is pornography okay, but in many cases could contribute to
the health of our society. I will quickly agree that pornography should
be kept away from the eyes of our children, and that there is a proper
time and place for it, but consider some of the acts that, providing
that pornogrpahy was made illegal, would not only go under ground but
might actually become real instead of acted out.
Coetzee goes to great lengths to bring to light indescrepancies
and unclarified ideas throughout MacKinnon's article. One of Coetzee's
most prominent points is that the differences between "obscenity" and
"pornography" go far beyond a difference in term based on either
political or moral argument. While at times Coetzee seems to generally
disagree with or at least greatly challenge MacKinnon's ideas, there are
times at which the two authors trains of thought almost seem to
coincide. One such issue would be that MacKinnon is not necessarily
looking to hunt out all occurrences of pornography in today's literature
and media, but to snuff out the commercial end of it. The end that makes
billions based on women being "used" by men, and does nothing at all to
improve their social standing in our society. But why must everything be
used to bolster the social position of women? It is this topic
specifically that seems to have gone un-argued by Coetzee.
Coetzee's stand on this issue of pornography and obscenity as a
part of today's culture is never quite addressed may very well remain a
mystery to the reader. From many of the author's statements and
criticism's of MacKinnon, one could gather that he takes a much more
liberal stand and yet somehow successfully avoids pressing his opinions.
He also does a wonderful job of highlighting some of the more minute
intricacies related to MacKinnon's writing which may have otherwise gone
If you read Demac's article you may find that "Sex", throughout
history has been more than merely a method of procreation. In Demac's
article it is also stated that the editorial and news press at times
found sexual content the only way to keep the political news
interesting. Based on Demac's article, sex has always been sort of a
"mystery" or something dark that nobody liked to talk about, and yet
everybody was interested in. Maybe this is the reason that our society
today has such a hard time talking to there children about sex and the
prevention of such things as pregnancy and sexually transmitted
diseases. I am often amazed that people have such a hard time talking
about sex and sex related topics when it rates second in priority among
human drives. Second only to the drive to eat.
Pornography is nothing new, in fact prostitution is sometimes called
"the world's oldest profession". All that has changed is the degree in
which it is used. People become numb to what once was erotic or
dangerous and eventually want more. Demac's article illustrates this
extremely well as he gives a general overview of the history of
pornography. His view is very helpful in seeing how pornography has
progressed and where it is now, relative to where it has been.
Unfortunately as all of our authors have, in their own way stated,
sex is not the real issue at hand here. The issue is "Obscenity".
Pornography in these writers eyes seems to be a mixture of sex which is
completely natural and nearly every person enjoys at one time or another
and obscenity which is the element that MacKinnon says "keeps sex
interesting for men". It seems that if things (sex and pornography) were
less extravagantly portrayed on the television, print and even the
radio, that less would be needed to fulfill one's "appetite" for
eroticism. If there actually were some "line" that were drawn, unable to
be crossed, would that given amount of "danger" be enough? I doubt it.
The thing that keeps men (the major supporters of the pornography
industry) so interested in women according to MacKinnon is the idea of
having the power over a woman. It's this power that breeds obscenity as
men want more and more of this "power". Sometimes it's taken much to
far, but where can you draw the line? When is too much too much?
Coetzee brings up a good point when he quotes Mackinnon:
"In visual media it takes a real person doing each act to make what you
see; pornography models are real women to whom something real is being
Coetzee challenges this argument by asking the reader about violence in
movies. He asks, "Are knife thrusts and gunshots not just as real?"
According to Coetzee, the acts of sex portrayed on a television screen
are happening to real people, yet one of the greatest attributes of sex,
and one of the things that make it sacred are the feelings involved
between the two people. Therefore, if there are no feelings between the
two actors, isn't it merely acting? The models are being paid and have
most likely been made aware of what will happen and therefore given
their consent. What about the possibility that the problem not only lies
in the hands of the men who watch these acts on a video tape, but the
women who make them. Without the availability of women who were willing
to produce this kind of material the pornography industry would come to
a screeching halt. What's there to watch without women? Maybe it all
comes down to; "If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the
The lines between right and wrong are often much more gray than
black and white, which is most likely where most people live. No one can
say to another what is right and wrong, or what should or shouldn't be
done, that decision has to be left to the individuals themselves. It's
this issue of pornography having an effect on women who aren't even
involved in the industry of making or even watching it. We as a nation
and even a world stand to learn a lot from simply listening to
ourselves. We like to stand up and say what is right, and yet acting on
it rarely happens. In order for our society to come to any sort of peace
on this issue of pornography, it needs to be accepted that people need
to be allowed to make decisions for themselves without the intervention
of some government medium, but only as long as those decisions don't
effect or hinder the rights of others.
Pornography is an immense opportunity for an experiment in freedom of
and democracy. The largest scale experiment this world has ever seen.
It's up to you and it's up to me and it's up to all of us to explore
that opportunity, and it's up to all of us not to lose it. I'm not yet a
parent myself, and I may not be for some time, but I worry about my
future children and pornography all the time. Here's what I worry about.
I worry that 10 or 15 or even 20 years from now she will come to me and
say, "Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press and
speech away from us?" and I want to be able to say I was there -