I Know It When I See It

Here’s how I imagine mi amigo John Shore’s personal workspace:There’s a computer, there’s some standard tools of the writing trade (pens, note pads, etc.)…

…and there are dozens and dozens of open cans of worms.

John loves opening cans of worms, but he doesn’t always get around to re-canning ‘em before opening the next can.

As a result his blog has got oodles and oodles of fascinating topics, but just as you’re settling in to go through one thread in depth, John’s already opening a brand new can.

One of the most recent cans is this one.

The topic: Porn.

It’s a topic with a number of facets to it, and as I don’t think I could even begin to do justice to it in a single post (no matter how lengthy!), I’m going to use this as a kick-off / touchstone for further posts on the matter.

In a nutshell: Anti-porn speaker Dawn Hawkins recently flew on a flight where a male passenger sitting slightly ahead of her was watching what she considered to be pornographic images (she is unclear but I gather the man was either across the aisle or else his activities could be viewed through the gap in the seats ahead of Ms Hawkins).

While she identifies the images at first as child porn, she then walks that statement back, saying the Asian models looked as if they could be 14 – 18 years of age.  She doesn’t describe in detail what they were / were not wearing, but from her description of them wielding whips against one another it sounds pretty clear this was not an “all ages” video.

Let it be stipulated that I am a first amendment fundamentalist: Unless it can be demonstrated in a court of law that something presents a clear and present danger to innocent parties, no artistic, literary, or verbal speech should be banned.

Let it be further stipulated that I also think Ms Hawkins was absolutely in the right here to be offended under the conditions described and absolutely within her first amendment rights as a traveler within U.S. airspace to protest the man’s choice of public viewing.

She would have absolutely been within her rights to protest anything he was viewing that she would find offensive.  I can’t speak for Ms Hawkins, but if I was sharing a crowded public space with someone who wanted to enjoy pictures of infectious wounds, animal cruelty, bodily wastes, racist slurs, or other edgy material that reasonable people might find offensive purely on aesthetic reasons alone, I would suggest they show a little more discretion.[1]

But none of those things are necessarily illegal to view or possess within the U.S.[2]

As I posted above, from Ms Hawkins’ description I can’t be 100% sure the images in question were bonafide porn, but it sure sounds like they could be.  The man in question has exactly as much right to watch porn in public without criticism as Ms Hawkins has to travel in public without being exposed to porn.[3]

Which leads us to the central point of this particular post:  How do we define porn?

As a former professional pornographer[4], allow me to offer this working definition:

Pornography is any artistic expression created and/or shared with the specific intent of generating sexual arousal in its target audience.

Artistic expression includes live spoken or sung performances, all forms of visual arts including photography, music including dance, drama including pantomime, and literature.

Specific intent means the person/s creating and/or sharing it deliberately wanted somebody to get sexually aroused when they heard / saw / read / experienced it.

Creators and distributors are not responsible for the pathology of their audiences, however, and a work of art created / shared with innocent and/or non-sexual intent might still inadvertently arouse some members of its audience.

An unintentionally arousing work of art that is shared by someone for the specific intent of creating arousal in a third party becomes pornography when it is shared for that intent even though it remains non-pornographic when someone shares it for non-sexual purposes.

Sexual arousal differs from titillation in this manner: If a viewer sees an ad for pizza and thinks, “That looks yummy”, it’s titillation; if a viewer sees an ad for pizza and picks up the phone to order one, that’s arousal.

A pornographer doesn’t need to know exactly who his audience niche is in order to create pornography; just the intent of creating something with the desire to stir arousal in somebody is enough.

We’ll leave it at that for today & pick up this can of worms again at a later date…

Image above is what got people all hot & bothered back in 1929. Hey, vintage porn fans, ever stop to wonder if that might be grandma you're jerkin' off to...?

[1]  “Reasonable” being a loaded term.  I have vegan friends, and if we were sitting next to someone watching actual footage of some goober hacking a kitten to death, our outrage would be identically high.  If we’re sitting next to someone watching a detailed documentary on the operations of a slaughter house, my vegan friends might keep their high level of outrage, but mine would drop considerably; I’d think it was tasteless to watch something like that in public but I wouldn’t see anything legally wrong with it.  Conversely, documentary footage of wild animals preying on one another might also get a similar negative response from me, while my vegan friends may be more tolerant since it was showing animals in their natural settings and behavior.  Finally, a cooking show on preparing beef might still rank as high on the outrage scale to my vegan friends while I’d probably regard it as perfectly acceptable.

[2]  I’m allowing myself some wiggle room considering age of audience, whether actual crimes were being recorded, etc.

[3] Think about it, people...

[4]  Penthouse Comix, 1995

On Air & In Print

The Worst Kind Of Biblical Literalist...