I’ve been thinking a lot about how derivative porn is. No, really. For numerous reasons, I’ve been pondering how porn as art object is nearly an impossibility, and yet in the same way that it cannot be considered as simply “art,” it also can’t NOT be art.
Ok, stick with me here. This is convoluted.
So I was thinking about how one could pretty much never take pornography of either the still kind (photos, paintings, etc) or the moving kind (video, animation, etc) and display it in an art gallery and just let it be “art” because the thing about porn is that it CAN’T be viewed objectively. Not only is modern porn very purposefully designed and presented with the goal of arousing its viewer, but our brains are also actually wired to mistake sexual imagery for real sex, meaning that when we see porn, we are programmed to get turned on, whether we want to or not. Of course, we can build up certain immunities by getting used to it or by focusing as hard as possible on the sociopolitical implications of what we’re seeing, but some part of us will still–almost always–be going, “Ooooooh boooooobs!”
So porn can never just be displayed as art. People might be able to overcome their initial arousal and walk away stimulated intellectually, but they’ll damn well have also been stimulated in another way. Not always a positive way. The thing about something as viscerally reaction-provoking as porn is that, in the same moment it travels from our eyes to our groins, it seems to bypass most of our upper-level reasoning and analytical processes. It elicits strong physical reactions in us, ones that are more easily compensated for or explained by emotional justifications. We skip the “am-I-making-sense-right-now?” series of events and go right into the “that’s disgusting!” or “that’s hot” or “I hate it” or “I love it” line of thought. It’s a lot more difficult to come up with a well-reasoned look at one’s genitals becoming engorged than it is to explain why one feels a certain way about what should be done with the national debt ceiling. The impetus to think, explain, talk about it comes from a very different location than the swift shame reaction and the emotional compensation.
And so porn becomes this polarizing thing, this issue we can’t be rational about. We don’t know how. It’s not in our DNA. It can’t just be and be aesthetically pleasing, and it has a tough time getting us to think about it on a level that might move us forward in how we react in the first place. And for the most part, it’s not trying to. It’s trying to get us off. So in that way, no, porn can never be art.
But at the same time, I wonder, isn’t that what art IS? It’s not, after all, a well-written and -reasoned treatise. The Persistence of Memory isn’t The Communist Manifesto, and for good reason–Dali wasn’t trying to explain himself when he painted the former. He didn’t want you to nod and go, “Oh he’s so RIGHT” like Marx did. He wanted to hit you in a non-rational center, a place where your reaction was pure and un-thought-out. He wanted to present you with something you couldn’t make sense of until it had already gotten under your skin. Great art doesn’t reason with us, and it only lets us think about it after we’ve taken it in and already made a snap judgment about it. We like it or we don’t, and then we think about it. And in that way, porn is undeniably art. Perhaps art that bears with it a lot more in the way of emotional and moral baggage than most art does, but what good art doesn’t offend or stimulate us? The point is to move things forward, to elicit a reaction. Both porn and art do that, and splendidly. It’s just whether we allow ourselves to think about those reactions in a way that will bring about any great realizations or reflections or movement forward as a species that sets them apart, and that’s a shame. Porn could do a lot for us if we’d spend a bit more time looking at it with our thinking caps on… after we’d gotten the arousal part out of the way. And given that porn lets us masturbate to it in a rather less embarrassed way than, say Nude Descending a Staircase, really, porn’s got one hell of an advantage.
Ok, so anyway, then I started thinking about other ways in which porn is or is not art and came around to the question of derivative-ness. Is that a word? Derivance? Derivitancy? Whatever. The point is that most art is highly derivative, whether it will ever admit it or not, because very few artist work in a void. Actually virtually zero artists can even claim to, because whether someone sits alone in a white room for a year before creating something is irrelevant–she damn well saw something man-made before that year started and whatever she makes will damn well be inspired by what she saw whether she knows it or not. The brain is a tricky thing. And so all art is derivative–some purposefully and some trying very hard not to be.
But can the same be said of porn? I think the same difficult, paradoxical answer applies here. Emphatically yes, but undeniably no. In some ways porn is more derivative than any other medium because it’s based so heavily on sets of tried-and-true formulas. As a money-making endeavor before an artistic one, adult film will reuse any trope that has worked once… over and over and over again, even after it stops appealing to people, just on the hope that it will come back around. Whole genres have sprung up from single scenes. If one company does it, every company does it. And porn doesn’t just reference itself, either–porn parodies of mainstream movies and TV shows are popping up every day, some of them scene-for-scene ripoffs of the originals, using the same clothes, hair, makeup, props. Porn mimics and mocks everything from mainstream titles to performer names to fashion trends to soundtracks. It is hyper-aware of its surroundings and its origins.
And yet porn could be said to be the only form of entertainment that, ostensibly, doesn’t have to have ANY idea what it’s doing or what’s been done. Porn speaks the most universal language in the world–far more ubiquitous than music. Sex can be had by anyone, anywhere, and understood instantly by the rest of us, and, hell, animals, too. It doesn’t have to be dressed up to look like anything in particular or follow a certain progression to arouse us, startle us, make us understand it. It might be the most original art form there is.
….and my brain just stopped. That’s where we get off the ride for the night kiddos. This new job (just landed a full-time gig unexpectedly, hence the scarcity of me on the interwebz) is sucking the energy right outta me! More later, my lovelies…