Sunday, December 13, 2009

three thoughts about porn, and a video (not porn!)

1. Porn is capitalist sex. (So is prostitution, but that's another rant.)

2. Porn is to sex as kung fu movies are to fighting: a specific example may be good or bad, but the genre has little to teach us about living in the world.

3. The difference between porn and erotica is the difference between stories about sex and violence and stories about love and death—in the latter, there are implicit or explicit consequences of actions.

The following is from a TED talk. I generally don't like TED talks; they're made for the privileged and often feel like the modern equivalent of performances for princes, but some of them still manage to say important things, and this is one of those:


Bonus: How not to make love like a porn star:
You know what description you never want a woman you've slept with to apply to your sexual technique? "Baffling."

8 comments:

  1. Scott, I was even harsher in the first draft. Just sayin'.

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  2. Not to be pedantic, but prostitution predates capitalism by, oh, nearly the entire history of the species, and exists today in Communist and hunting-gathering societies. While it certainly exists in capitalistic societies and is made to fit seamlessly into their ethic and mode of exchange, it is hard for me to support a comment that prostitution is somehow inherently capitalistic in nature.

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  3. Heck, porn predates capitalism, too. But the modern versions of porn and prostitution are all about the capitalism. I think it's impossible to have a capitalist system without prostitution, because workers have to sell whatever they can to survive.

    As for what happens under communism, we don't know. But we do know that prostitution increased when Cuba became more capitalistic. And the capitalist tourists continue to appreciate that.

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  4. Good point about porn. I guess this is just my position as a historian that can't go along with this sort of thinking. Saying the modern versions of porn and prostitution are all about capitalism doesn't seem very revealing to me, since modern life is dominated by capitalism--it's like saying that medieval versions of porn and prostitution were all about feudalism; i.e., it's clearly correct but doesn't teach much about the subjects themselves. And saying that you can't have a capitalist system without prostitution (besides being a non-falsifiable statement) also doesn't strike me as too significant, since there haven't been any social systems invented by humanity thus far that didn't have prostitution. It seems more accurate to say you can't have humans without prostitution, and you can't have capitalism (or Communism or feudalism etc) without humans. Ergo. . .

    I'm not some sort of defender of capitalism, I'm just a historian and note that this thinking could be refined a good bit. I study Asia mostly and what we see is lots of prostitution in early Tibet, in feudal Tibet, and in modern Communist Tibet. Likewise, we see lots of prostitution in early Japan, in feudal Japan, in militarized Japan, and in modern capitalist Japan. [Sex] workers have always had to sell whatever they could to survive, regardless of the economic system. Capitalism is a perfectly fine target for you to swing at, as are porn and prostitution (though I can't help noting that prostitution is criminalized in uber-capitalistic America but legal here in Canada and many European societies, and we're significantly more Socialized than the USA). I'm just, for whatever dumb reason, seeking more nuance from throwaway blog comments. Feel free to ignore this idiosyncrasy.

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  5. Oh, do I understand the desire to quibble! But if you wanted to research the fall and rise of prostitution in Cuba, it could be interesting. (Or I could be wrong....) I'm also wondering about its history in Russia now. My understanding is that the shift to capitalism resulted in an enormous surge of both porn and prostitution.

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  6. Russia is well outside my field of expertise, but I too note what seems to be a huge increase in porn and prostitution. Not being an expert, I am unsure that we can pin this on capitalism per se. For example, Russia has also experienced a gigantic increase in personal freedom, freedom of the media, and freedom of the means of production, which also coincided with the period wherein new media tools brought the ability for amateurs to mass produce and market porn. Is it that Communism was replaced by capitalism and thus we got porn and hookers, or is it that absolute control of expression, movement, thought, and production was replaced with relative freedom of such things, and thus we got porn and hookers? Or simply that we got the Internet, and thus we got a) porn, b) an easier way to market prostitution, and c) vastly improved access to those of us on the other side of the world to learn about the presence of porn and prostitution in other societies? Heck, we could even note that the period of the apparent rise in porn/prostitution also exactly correlates with the return of religion to public prominence in Russia--maybe Jesus gave us hookers and dirty books?

    I'm not saying that it wasn't capitalism, or capitalism plus some combination of the above--my point is only that we can't pin it on capitalism without a deeper investigation. One that I, frankly, am not qualified to perform. But I'd love to read the Russian Studies expert who does perform such a study. Even though it would only relate to a single society, I suspect it might have some insights we could spin out into more generalized theories for thinking about these issues.

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  7. I did a quick google on Cuba, Russia, and prostitution, and I found general agreement that prostitution increased as the societies became more capitalistic, but I found no hard numbers to confirm or deny that.

    But what seems clear so far is that under capitalism, there's less protection for the poor, and therefore women suffer disproportionately, and are often driven into prostitution to support their family or themselves.

    Religion does seem to grow with capitalism--it's a way for the poor to comfort themselves. (Others have pointed out that Marx's "opium" comment was made in an age when opium was a medicine, not a recreational drug.)

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  8. P.S. I should add that if you believe prostitution is just something people in general or women in particular do, it's reasonable to conclude that the economic system doesn't affect it. I think under an economic system that cared for everyone, sex would only be an activity of people who wished to have sex with each other.

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