Don’t Take Porn Lying Down (hehehe) NY Magazine!

I’m going to do a quick and dirty response to this week’s issue of NY Magazine here, so once again, folks, if you haven’t read it: do so. Now. Click on that link. It’s fascinating stuff. I’m excited to say that the magazine’s coverage of porn–from its online pioneers to its effect on the male sexual experience to how teenage girls are handling its effect on themselves and their boyfriends–isn’t, as so many other articles have recently been, purely negative. It’s a nuanced look at what porn is doing these days, to us and to itself, not really flinging criticism or bemoaning its mere existence or falling all over itself to be PC or cite the latest studies and numbers. NY Magazine was wise to avoid the pitfalls that the Atlantic recently stumbled into and that many other publications have been tiptoeing around for months, but it brought to light an almost unavoidable suspicion that’s been plaguing mainstream culture’s ever-closer relationship to the world of porn for some time: we’re almost at a breaking point and something’s gotta give.

Davy Rothbart’s insightful and thankfully not-too-sweeping article, which mercifully avoided sweeping generalizations in favor of personal accounts, brought up the idea that how we deal with the online porn juggernaut that is such a staple of many of our lives these days isn’t necessarily something we all have to figure out together or legislate about: it’s something each of us needs to figure out for ourselves. Similarly, Alex Morris–a reporter after my own heart–bit the taboo bullet and actually spent some time talking to teenagers about how porn culture is affecting their lives, and came away with the idea that today’s porn-soaked teens are both more aware of what porn is doing to them than we may have thought, and also just as awkward and uncertain about what they think of it as I’d suspected. Neither article vilifies nor martyrs pornography, and I’m happy that’s the case.

But they both are the result of our country’s increasing discomfort with our seemingly helpless descent into pornography’s smutty hands. Over the past five years, journalists and commentators, along with pornographers themselves, have been trumpeting the idea that porn is getting more “mainstream,” that “everyone uses online porn now,” and generally making light of the fact that we are basically having our faces smashed up against porn’s smooth, shiny glass surface and made to look inside by our own depravity. With the media ever more willing to talk about the issues porn is bringing to our collective table, and with more of us than ever willing to talk about our own experiences with it, articles like those in NY Mag seem to point to the fact that we’re all kind of freaked out right now. We’re not sure what’s going to happen or what we should do in the face of this new sexual superpower that’s co-opting our youth, sex lives, and relationships. The amazing thing to me about all this media hysteria, and something I’m hoping to bring up in some magazines very shortly, is that most mainstream commentators on our crash-course with ubiquitous porn seem to portray us mainstream consumers as completely helpless against the tide of smut. As if the porn industry, or what’s left of it, or what’s becoming it through amateur porn, tube sites, cam shows, and indie film companies, is not open to changing to suit what we, as consumers, decide we want.

For years now, it’s true, the landed aristocracy of the porn industry, sitting pretty in porn mansions (or so we all like to think; at least I know I do) somewhere in Chatsworth, California or thereabouts, have handed down to us, the slobbering masses, their own personal visions of what it is we want to see in our blue films. Tan, hairless bodies, blondes with fake breasts and blue eyes, cleaned-up sexual encounters with nary an awkward position or funny sound, starlets with no desires of their own except an overwhelming need to live up to every male fantasy their costars and directors think their buyers want to see played out: heteronormative sexual fantasy, pure and simple. And as the internet allowed porn online to explode, the motto seemed to be, “Make what you know will sell,” which has largely proved to be more and more extreme interpretations of what the Porn Valley moguls had been making all along. Heterosexual male fantasy became the order of the day in DVDs and online, in multifaceted clips, pay-per-view videos, amateur movies, and every other type of porn you can imagine, with new bells and whistles occasionally joining the usual repertoire. But one thing has remained largely the same, at least as far as the mainstream media is concerned: it’s all what men want to see, and it’s affecting all of us in largely negative ways. And oh my god, what will we ever do against such an impossibly huge behemoth of boners?

The answer provided by most seems to be… well… nothing. There’s nothing we can do. Porn is like a tidal wave, and all we can hope to do is save ourselves and our loved ones, or try to get Congress to pass some kind of restrictive law that nobody will listen to anyway.

But I call bullshit. That’s ridiculous. Porn is possibly the most malleable industry on the planet; it’s nothing more than the reflection of what those who make it think those who watch it want to see. And as the porn-consuming public, all we have to do is realize this is the case in order to change the onslaught of too-violent, too-sexist, too-whatever content out there, and get a little vocal about it. Porn isn’t a monolith of unbending rules; it’s a writhing, seething, ever-evolving mass of bodies who want to do what feels good and make other people feel good watching it. It’s changeable, and since profits are dropping in most sectors like the panties of its Barely Legal starlets, it’s open to suggestion. Whatever happened to “The customer is always right”? When did we, as the consuming public, lose the power to complain about not getting what we want? Rather than shaking our fists at some smut-streaked sky like cavemen, why not give the porn community some feedback about more female-positive scenes? Why not spend some time (and money–money really helps) on porn that shows women taking power, taking the camera, taking their sexuality… taking over? Why not say we want to see more porn where both partners are respectful and enjoying what they’re doing? Why not boycott companies and sites that show the things we don’t think are healthy for us to watch?

The point is, porn isn’t going anywhere, and it’s probably not going to veer off course suddenly and decide it doesn’t want all of us to watch it anymore. But porn isn’t some invading species of beetle that can only respond to drastic measures; it’s a collection of people who want to make what we want to watch, and the only way it will know we want things to change is if we TELL those people. Quit bitching about it, mainstream media, and do something about it. It’s so, SO doable.

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