I’ve been reading Ernest Green’s Pro-Porn Activism blog lately and I really like his take on the anti-porn documentary propaganda that I also blogged about recently. I also highly recommend checking out his extensive posts about Stop Porn Culture, including how they misrepresented what many of their porn industry interviewees said, since they contradicted the message that SPC was trying send about porn.
Note: a documentary reports what actually happens. Propaganda looks for anything that reinforces the message that has already been decided on. That’s how you can tell that SPC is all about the propaganda.
One of the things that anti-porn folks have a long history of is trying to get people to feel disgust for porn. Disgust is a really strong motivator because it’s really visceral. According to Silvan Tomkins, we evolved disgust as a way to avoid things that taste bad. Anyone who has ever bitten into something gross knows how quickly you spit it out- even before you’ve fully registered the taste. That’s the root of disgust.
Since it’s such an automatic response, if someone can get you to link that sense of disgust with something else, it becomes really hard for you to think clearly about the issue anymore. Our emotions are great motivators, which is why the two words have the same root. So when you link disgust with sex, you’ve created a motivation to stay away from it. That’s also why many household cleaning products are designed to taste bad- it keeps kids from drinking them.
One of the ways that disgust for porn can be created is through presenting selective facts. For example, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve seen some internet porn that really does look to me as if the women involved are not having fun. They may look unhappy and in one or two cases, they’ve looked really triggered by the experience. It’s not common and it generally seems to happen with women who are new to the business, which makes them more vulnerable to being taken advantage of. So yes, there is some of that out there and I personally feel disgust when I see it.
Usually, the very same website has another scene with very similar sexual acts, but the woman involved is clearly having fun. Plus, when I see her on several sites doing much the same acts, or when I read interviews with her in which she makes it clear that they’re doing the same things on camera as she does in her personal lives, I feel pretty safe in assuming that my interpretation of what I see is accurate.
Unfortunately, that means that we need a certain amount of discernment to try to figure out when someone is having fun and when someone isn’t. It’s not always easy to tell, and it’s even harder when an emotion like disgust is in the way. So when someone talks about porn in an inflammatory way, makes sweeping statements about it, and focuses almost entirely on the types of porn that trigger feelings of disgust, our ability to look for the more subtle nuances evaporates. The same thing happens with anger, but disgust is such a deep physical response that it’s especially prone to being manipulated.
The main reason I find this so troubling is that there are some really problematic aspects of the porn biz and some people’s use of porn. But rather than inspiring people to look at them and ask what we can do to make the industry better or help people deal with their personal issues, the anti-porn folks try to get everybody else to feel the same disgust that they do. And that sort of either-or approach almost always gets in the way of finding a real solution.
So here’s a message to the folks at Stop Porn Culture, as well as anyone else who is anti-porn. If you genuinely want to make the world a better place, stop trying to make everyone feel like you do. Take a moment to actually listen to what other people say. And when there is a genuine problem, ask them what you can do to help. Then do it. See how simple that is?