Pornification

The sex war debates still prickle feminists, and I’m predictably on the fence about porn. The title of the book Pleasure and Danger remains relevant because porn is both those things, a crucial point about sex that we should always remember. For example, recently on WMST-L, the Women’s Studies discussion list, someone posted a call for papers about porn culture. The call was clearly anti-porn, and the posting provoked a brief but rapid pro-/anti-porn debate before the moderator shut it down for being inappropriate to the mission of the list.

The pornification of consumer culture, which is not the same thing as porn culture, is incredibly troublesome. Porn culture refers to how advertising borrows heavily from porn’s visual tropes, and how porn itself has infiltrated every aspect of popular culture. I’m using pornification to discuss how has become “this porn” and “that porn.” Maybe it’s the same thing in the end, though.

An article recently called filmmaker Nancy Meyers’s highly stylized and carefully designed sets “architecture porn.” This linguistic construction occurs a lot in pop culture. There’s food porn, travel porn, horror porn.. you get the picture.

On the one hand, the phrase names our visually-oriented hyper-consumption for what it is. Indeed, we’ve pornified our lives through media, reducing experience to captured images as we live vicariously, removed from the real thing. The analogy works. And the imagery does often poach from porn’s visual tropes to represent whatever the subject is. Everything is mediated today. (Of course it always was, but that’s another discussion.)

On the other hand, reducing architecture, food, and travel imagery to porn is entirely bothersome. This flattening, hollowing out of “porn” simply suggests how commonplace the objectification of women is.  In other words, in this framework pornography is no different from travel pictures in an airplane magazine or an office building spread in Architectural Digest.

The abuse of the porn metaphor is similar to the casual use of “rape” to signify a betrayal or unfairness: “That test raped me.” Those words are grating because they are steeped so heavily in sexual politics, the ongoing battles to end violence against women, and the hard-won gains for women through the women’s movement.

Yes, pleasure and danger is a lesson none of us should forget.

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