The Internet is for Porn… Porn Flamewars with @JuzzyTribune and @BenPobjie

Imagine you really like blackface minstrel shows.  You have a few non-white friends who don’t talk to you about your private collection of DVDs, or maybe you just don’t mention your collection around them so the topic never comes up.

One day, you flick on the television to find a person of colour arguing that minstrel shows are offensive.  How would you respond?

This situation seems to be analogous to the current debate about pornography.  A group of people affected by porn’s affect on society are complaining about it.

To be honest, I’m not sure what my position on pornography is.  I’m a conservative male so I have an inherent disinclination towards pornography, but I recognise that there’s a social need to encourage sex positive attitudes.  At the same time, I’m not sure that pornography is encouraging the sort of sex positive attitudes that we need.  Maybe this paragraph is too vulgar and blunt: maybe porn lives on a spectrum between between healthy, sex positive stuff and the nasty, misogynistic sex-as-commodity stuff on the other.

I don’t know.

Is it obvious that minstrel shows are offensive in a way that pornography isn’t?  I don’t know.

What I do know is that other people are a lot more qualified to talk about these issues than I am.  I quite enjoy listening to Gail Dines and Melinda Tankard Reist not because I always agree with what they say but because they present intellectually interesting and engaging points of view.  If I want to affirm that porn is wonderful and healthy, I have to find fairly convincing rebuttals to their views.

Clearly, not everybody agrees.  The King’s Tribune published two vitriolic pro-porn articles — one by co-editor Justin Shaw and the other by Ben Pobjie — both of which were more interested in marginalising and ridiculing anti-porn campaigners than in presenting any reason to acknowledge the wonders of the porn industry.

Says Pobjie:

There are many reasons a person might be weird enough to not like pornography. For example, that person may be suffering from nervous hysteria and just need a good finger massage or fire-hose-induced orgasm to set things right.

Shaw’s shies away from misogynistic Ancient Greek medicine to outright personal attacks:

Gail Dines gave a series of hysterical screeches when she visited Australia last year, the best of which was her appearance on Q&A. Not that she brought anything rational to the discussion, peppered as her pronouncements were with epithets such as “Oh, yes, I’ve dealt with men like you before”, but she did manage to burn “gag on my cock dot com” into my memory for, it seems, all time.

Melinda Tankard-Reist sees “pornification” in everything from actual porn to K-mart catalogues, making it difficult to determine if she’s actually motivated by concern for women or is simply enacting the Madonna/whore obsession of her Taliban/Catholic religious beliefs.

Let’s bring back the minstrel show analogy.  If somebody responded to criticism by claiming that they were uppity killjoys who didn’t know their place, there would be a riot.  If somebody responded with, ‘Don’t they have some cotton to pick?’, it seems unlikely that the rage would be sated by ‘Oh, I was just being ironic and funny.  I’m the Internet’s Greatest Satirist!’

Shaw and Pobjie demonstrate that we have a diseased public discussion about porn and sexuality in society, and it’s not completely the fault of the anti-sex league.  There’s no engagement with ideas because the pro-porn crowd do not believe opponents have anything meaningful or worthwhile to say.  Thus, derision which would be obscene in other discussions.

Where Pobjie’s article lacks both rhyme and reason, Shaw’s curly logic leaves me a bit baffled:

On specific examples of gonzo porn, I cannot help but agree with them. But they are women. They’re watching porn through a woman’s eyes, feeling somewhere between mildly offended and utterly horrified, then extrapolating those female reactions into what they imagine is the male brain and ranting endlessly about what they know men think.

Beneath the unfortunate ‘They’re wrong because they’re women’ phrasing is a perplexing argument.  A woman can’t comment on whether porn is healthy for guys because the masculine mystique is unknowable to women.  Bringing back the minstrel show analogy, ‘Non-whites can’t tell whites about how offensive minstrel shows are because they’re not white.  They don’t know what it’s like to be white and watching blackface.’

How do we have a better discussion about porn?  Again, I don’t know.  Perhaps it has something to do with our tendency to give megaphones only to people who have really definite opinions on everything.  Most opinion writers in Australian media seem to be Professors of Everythingology, so nuanced arguments based on more than bellyfeel and truthiness get drowned out.  Shaw and Pobjie have no interest in engaging in the ideas of people who disagree with them; then again, the same is true of Dines and Tankard Reist.

Perhaps what’s needed in the Porn War is for opinion writers affirm their unwavering resolutions of gospel truth in a way which creates intellectual space for dissent.  ‘I think porn is great for these reasons, but I can understand why people might think it’s bad for those reasons.’  Nurturing healthy public discussions about important issues like sex and misogyny can hardly be a bad thing.  ‘Porn is great and anybody who disagrees is a screeching, Talibanesque WOMAN whose wandering womb can only be cured by orgasms’ doesn’t seem nurturing or helpful.

21 thoughts on “The Internet is for Porn… Porn Flamewars with @JuzzyTribune and @BenPobjie

  1. Okay, I’ll bite.
    Firstly, I will not comment at all on Ben’s piece, it’s his, I just published it, knowing it would get a fair bit of heat; if he wants to argue with you he’s perfectly able.

    You know how this all started? Over etymology. A couple of people pointed out the origins of “hysterical” and I said over and over (check my tweetstream) that that was NOT how I intended its use, it was merely as a synonym for “feverish/Over The Top” or similar; how it’s used in a non gender-specific way all the time these days.
    I conceded, however, that it has baggage as a put-down of women and many women find it offensive, and for that I have apologised (over and over).

    I had a crack at Dines and MTR and yes my attack on Dines was personal, because on Q&A she was appalling in her treatment of other guests, men in particular. My attack on MTR was similar for her ludicrous position.
    I’ll continue your black & White Minstrel analogy:
    Imagine a campaigner against racism put the song “baa baa black sheep” (which is about sheep and the rarity of black ones) on a par with a KKK gathering and then screamed “shutup whitey, you’re just a racist bastard” at anyone who attempted to disagree.
    This is how Dines in particular behaves: she shuts down any opposition by resorting to accusations of misogyny.

    The second part of my article you quoted and your response:
    “A woman can’t comment on whether porn is healthy for guys because the masculine mystique is unknowable to women.”
    Are you saying, then, that the feminine “mystique” IS knowable to men? I have a right to say, without asking, how a woman or women will think about or respond to one thing or another? Um, no.
    In the context of viewing porn (at risk of generalising, but for the sake of argument we’ll go with the statistical majorities of both genders), men and women watch it differently and Dines’/MTR’s make assumptions about men based on their own ideology.

    You can agree or disagree with Dines and MTR if you like. My point is that their arguments are not for the most part cogent and their approach is combative and filled with strawmen. In Dines’ case in particular, there is a reliance on data being the plural of anecdote, and put-down being a substitute for argument.

    “There’s no engagement with ideas because the pro-porn crowd do not believe opponents have anything meaningful or worthwhile to say.”

    I said a few times in my article that there is nasty porn out there and that I hate it and I wish it were not so,a point on which I and Dines/MTR agree, which renders your sentence above both wrong and inflammatory. You do concede that Dines/MTR have no interest in engaging with opposing points of view which is appreciated, however putting them in the same sentence with Ben and I is a bit…. ick. 😉

    I argued with my editor (a woman, BTW) that the title should have been “Porn Is Baaaaad” (ha ha, see the Animal Farm reference?), because my point (grasped by many but not all, for which I bear some responsibility) is that the anti- lobby refuse to hear anything from us, the pro-‘s.

    I do not resile from the fact that a significant part of the piece was about ridiculing Dines and MTR. I do not like them, I laugh at their “porn is everywhere” stance, and I dismantle their cherry-picked push-polling “data”.

    If you read my article as a one-eyed attack which refuses to accept another point of view, then that is a shame. I am open to all points of view if they are backed by evidence and/or a decent argument and perhaps that didn’t come through strongly enough for you and some others.

    Thanks for reading anyway. It was a long snarky night on Twitter and I’ve woken up to more of it…

    • I stayed away from the ‘hysterical’ discussion not because I don’t have a view (I do), but because I wasn’t going to add anything new or intelligent to the discussion.

      I’m a guy and I didn’t find Dines’ treatment of other people to be dreadful. Nor do I find MTR’s point about pornification to be obviously wrongheaded. So, if I’m reading this fresh, I have a guy dumping on a woman with whom he disagrees with by calling her argument ‘hysterical screeching’ and who then goes on to say that women can’t object to porn because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a guy.

      If you are genuinely open to all points of view, I couldn’t detect that in the article. This might be a problem with me. For all I know, I was so confronted with the harshness of your attack on people I haven’t found to be ludicrous that I couldn’t read the rest of your article fairly.

      Then again, your jump to ‘But they’re women’ just really looked bad.

      Thanks for your comment. I hope you don’t feel I misrepresented your argument too much.

      • “So, if I’m reading this fresh, I have a guy dumping on a woman with whom he disagrees with by calling her argument ‘hysterical screeching’ and who then goes on to say that women can’t object to porn because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a guy.”

        nowhere and never did I say women can’t object to porn because they don’t understand what it’s like to be a guy. I said that those particular women cannot interpret what porn (and what kind of, or how much porn?) does to every man’s brain, which is what they do regularly.
        A lot of what I wrote is open to interpretation, but *that* particular take is just completely, utterly wrong.

        You’re entitled to your opinion on what I wrote and largely you seem to have got what I said or was trying to say and you’re welcome to disagree and critique my method of argument. But the par I cited above, I can’t accept.

        • I must be misreading the following:

          ‘But they are women. They’re watching porn through a woman’s eyes, feeling somewhere between mildly offended and utterly horrified, then extrapolating those female reactions into what they imagine is the male brain and ranting endlessly about what they know men think.’

          I guess, indirectly, we have the ‘hysteria’ debate again. The words I’m seeing here don’t seem to convey to me your intention. This is probably because I’m sleep deprived.

          I’m not entitled to opinions on what you wrote. My opinions might be stupid and I’d hate anybody to think that I was entitled to stupidity.

  2. There actually is plenty of intelligent, nuanced and calm discussion of p*** – one just needs to actually look for it. Ben Pobjie is a personal friend of mine and I love him and his writing, but I go to a Pobjie satire piece for a laugh, not for a careful, research-based discussion of an issue. Similar, Twitter flame wars, Q&A, etc – none of these are forums designed for or or conducive to serious discussion. If you’re interested in that discussion I’d recommend checking out Charlie Glickman’s blog (www.charlieglickman.com) and his very intelligent, thoughtful pieces on Dines, Jensen (a prominent male anti-porn academic) etc. Even though I disagree with her strongly on this issue, I’d also cite Cordelia Fine’s article in The Monthly as an example of less hyperbolic and more rigorous anti-porn perspective.
    I would also add that many in the notionally “pro-porn” camp, including Glickman, self-described feminist and queer pornographers, and myself, are actually opposed to certain types of porn and practices in porn production, and acknowledge that -as the research amply demonstrates – for *some* people porn-viewing has detrimental effects. Most of us believe that it is problematic for adolescents to learn about sex from porn in the absence of good, comprehensive, sex & relationships education that covers topics like pleasure, consent, etc., and hence we are strong advocates for that kind of education.

    • Kind of disappointed that you have engaged with other commenters but have no response to my comment which points you to some of the respectful, serious discussion (from both sides) that you were lamenting the lack of… :/
      ??

      • I’m sorry to disappoint. I bought a copy of the Monthly and I’m reading through the other items you cited. I usually only reply if I have something intelligent with which to respond…

  3. The black and white minstrels argument doesn’t hold up. The porn debate isn’t that black and white. For a start, there are many many women who enjoy porn, an important point anti porn activists ignore. They ignore it because it derails their reductionist “male perpetrator woman victim” platform from which they launch their entire critique. There’s lesbian porn and there’s gay porn, both of which also derail anti porn male perp/female victim arguments, though in the case of gay pro they argue “feminised” men. I have no idea how they deal with lesbian porn, as far as I’m aware they refuse to acknowledge its existence.

    They also make the assumption that anyone not entirely committed to their definition of porn is therefore supportive of the degradation and exploitation of women. All porn is indeed bad to them, as Shaw claims. There is no possibility of rational debate with these people and their followers, and I speak from personal experience. Every attempt I have made has been met with at times quite vile ad hominem abuse, appalling suggestions about my children and myself, that make anything Shaw or Pobjie said look very moderate indeed.

    We have laws in this country, some of them extremely strict, that make many of the more undesirable pornographic practices illegal. They also forbid the importation of material that contains certain images. It is already a criminal offense to rape, hold hostage, perpetrate torture and murder, and it is also against the law to have sex with animals. So it is difficult to see just what the agitation is all about, except in the case of the internet which is something of a rogue beast in terms of content control, though there are safeguards available. It is no coincidence that some of the anti porn activists, notably Clive Hamilton, are also rabid supporters of Conroy’s proposed filter.

    If you read the chapter by Robi Sonderegger in the Tankard Reist edited Big Porn Inc you will see just how ludicrous the statistical claims made by these people about the accessing of internet porn are.

    The anti porn movement is powered in part by fundamentalist Christians, of whom Melinda Tankard Reist is one Australian example. Are you aware that she was Brian Harradine’s Bio Ethics advisor when he negotiated a deal that prevented AusAid from distributing reproductive educational material to recipient countries? And when Harradine prevented access by Australian women to the morning after pill? Are you aware that she is fervently anti abortion and would see us women go back to using coat hangers?

    Here you see the not quite so publicised agendas of two Australian anti porn activists: an internet filter and no safe abortion. It is from these positions that they make their stand on pornography.

    • ‘The porn debate isn’t that black and white.’

      Perhaps it should be. Is it just that our society is still overwhelmingly misogynistic that we fail to understand that it’s a black and white issue? I don’t know. Genuinely and sincerely, I really don’t.

      ‘For a start, there are many many women who enjoy porn’

      I’m sure there were many people of colour who enjoyed blackface. Or who said that they did. After all, it was funny songs and funny faces. Nobody was really being exploited, were they?

      If anti-porn advocates are correct, what you’ve said is: ‘Porn and blackface are different. For a start, there are many many women who enjoy the exploitation of other women.’

      But all that’s a bit beside the point. I think my post was more about the state of the dialogue rather than whether or not porn is good. I’m not advancing a pro- or anti-porn stance because, frankly, I don’t have one. I’m a conservative white male. I should be listening to arguments more than advancing them.

      ‘Are you aware that she was Brian Harradine’s Bio Ethics advisor’

      Yeah, I know MTR’s background, but I’m not sure how that affects the accuracy of her arguments. She could be correct about porn and incorrect about distributing family planning material. I’m not sure what your ad hominem (in the strict sense of the phrase) was trying to establish. If I agree with MTR about pornography, does it entail I agree with her about abortion?

  4. “If anti-porn advocates are correct, what you’ve said is: ‘Porn and blackface are different. For a start, there are many many women who enjoy the exploitation of other women.'”

    You are saying here that porn inevitably exploits women, which is certainly the assumption of anti porn activists. Their position is that women who produce, perform in, and consume porn are ignorant of their own exploitation. I suppose this is the same argument you seem to be making about people of colour being too ignorant to know when they are being exploited in blackface. I don’t accept arguments based on an assumption of ignorance based on gender and race.

    I think that the very last way to engage with either dumb people of colour who don’t know they are being exploited, or dumb women who don’t know they are being exploited, is to marginalize and shame them for what they consider to be their choices. There needs to be a bit of respect for people’s lived experiences, before judging them as exploited and not smart enough to know it or care about it. Exploitation certainly exists, but the contempt of the morally enlightened for those they consider less so is not helpful.

    I’m wary of any situation being reduced to “black and white,” and wary of those who frame events in those terms. We do live in an extremely misogynist society, but that is no excuse for reducing anything to “black and white.” Quite the opposite.

    The point about MTR’s background is that her views are formed by her Christian belief system. Sex is for married heterosexual couples, and its primary purpose is reproduction. As all feminists learn, whenever someone takes a publicly prescriptive role in society, the first question that should be asked of them is “where are you coming from?” I agree that objecting to criminal pornographic acts is not limited to Christians. However, fundamentalist Christian views on sexual morality should not be the criteria for determining what is and isn’t acceptable sexual behaviour, and acceptable representation of female sexuality.

    There are some aspects of her critique of porn that I agree with, because porn isn’t black and white. However, there would be absolutely nothing in my critique of porn that MTR would even listen to, let alone engage in dialogue with me about. Gail Dines has once publicly responded to a piece I wrote.

    I have no idea as to your agreements or disagreements with MTR, I assume you pick and choose. There are some aspects of her campaign against abortion that I am in agreement with. Her campaign against child beauty pageants and the use of young children as sexual objects in fashion magazines is another area in which I am in agreement with her. One would imagine that so much agreement would infer enough common ground for dialogue, however ideology, especially religious, is not conducive to dialogue in my experience. Which is why her background matters.

    • ‘You are saying here that porn inevitably exploits women’

      I’m not advancing an argument either way. I’m only discussing the dialogue.

      ‘The point about MTR’s background is that her views are formed by her Christian belief system’

      Sure, but she expresses a lot of those views in mutually enjoyable contexts. I don’t have to be a Christian to agree with her (I’m an atheist, btw). I don’t need to know her opinions on the UK joining the Euro either.

  5. Difficult to have a nuanced position about things that polarise folk so: especially with the hinterlands of religion and gender politics that inform this particular debate.

    As someone of a limited pro-porn position, and who would like to see porn non-exploitative and just good dirty fun of a consensual kind, I find I agree with your overall point-of-view: it is difficult to commit to an opinion when both sides appear, from the rhetoric they spout, to be equally awful.

    When it comes to journalists’ and writers’ descent into mysogynistic language, my opinion is that if it lacks the quality of wit of, for example, Auberon Waugh, it is probably merely vulgar and offensive without being in any way amusing: and therefore has no justification whatsoever.

    Is “jude” a family member? I wouldn’t cast you out for a single example of sloppy sub-editing; I have been known to be at fault there myself; and, according to tradition, even Homer nodded. Maybe, after many years of grammatical consistancy and perfection, your family will allow you a prodigal’s return, and slay a fatted calf or two for you.

    [Tips hat and tugs forelock.]

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