18
Oct 04

PORN STUDIES, Linda Williams, ed.

The Brown Wedge4 comments • 5,988 views

PORN STUDIES
Linda Williams, ed.

I never took any courses from Linda Williams while she taught at UCI, but this is no surprise — I was in grad school for English lit while she was over in film studies, and though there can be and is some crossover at points the opportunity never came up. It’s a pity I missed out, though, since by all accounts she was a very good teacher, and more specifically has turned almost by default into the leading academic commentator on film and video pornography. For some this may seem like a dubious distinction to hold, but Williams’ matter-of-fact justification of the need to study the subject, above and beyond the question of interest in the topic, is sound. Porn is popular, wildly popular, it is an awesomely-scaled mass market worldwide entertainment business, and to not study it would be to ignore an elephant in the room of popular culture as such. So therefore, why not a collection called simply Porn Studies?

Williams edited this rather than wrote it all, so this isn’t the sequel to her fine book on cinematic pornography Hard Core except in a conceptual sense. Rather it’s a collection of essays from a variety of writers and academics on subjects ranging from the general to the hyperspecific, covering pornography in print, onscreen and online, and as is often the case with much modern academic writing, it can be deathly dull and not very exciting to read. My own experiences with the field have taught me that there’s a danger in stereotyping all writing done for academic fields in the cultural sphere — there’s as much flashes of creative brilliance there as anywhere else (Derrida’s passing serves as a reminder of someone who treated academic work AS creative work at his best).

But it’s all too easy to make my eyes glaze over when I stumble across sentences like, from Zabet Patterson’s “Going On-Line,” “An interrogation of on-line pornography’s imbrication in a particular technological apparatus necessarily leads us to a particular interrogation of on-line pornography sites, sites which, however much they may share, each constitute a specific field of application.” It’s not that this sentence is impossible to understand — and god knows I love long words in my writing — but this is about as thrilling as the ‘clinical’ tab A-into-slot B porn stereotype.

With that acknowledged — Patterson’s neither the only nor the worst offender — is the book worth a read? I think so, and not because I find its attempt to academicize a subject which Williams herself notes is hard to talk about in ways, much less teach directly, to be a worthwhile effort. As she notes in her introduction discussing an undergrad class in porn taught here at UCI, “Could one ask students to analyze, historicize and theorize moving images whose very aim was to put them into the throes of sexual arousal?” Similarly you could read the book sniggering at the attempts to talk about sex in film and more in a dispassionate enough way or do so in the way that the authors intend — acknowledging that there can and will always be the chance of discomfort or defensive humor or excitement but that there’s still a subject that must be discussed. There may be some hardcore stills and images scattered throughout — for instance, a frame from the Tommy Lee/Pamela Anderson tape, in which she grants him a close personal favor, illustrates an essay on the tape as a whole — but not directly noting what exactly IS being talked about would be a failure.

And so with that, there are studies on subsections of Japanese erotic manga, lesbian pornography as it has developed over the years, American class issues as played out in porn, historical studies regarding the evolution of porn and pornographic imagery, and so forth. Perhaps the most interesting piece is Jake Gerli’s “The Gay Sex Clerk,” a study of gay filmmaker Chuck Vincent’s more ‘mainstream’ straight-themed pornography from the early eighties and the overt critiques created via his directing on both pornography and sexual power games in general. Where some would see Gerli’s thorough analysis of a scene that parallels a cat forced to act ‘properly’ in a pet commercial and a female assistant forced to pleasure her boss as an excuse to talk about filth, more accurately he is doing exactly what a critic should in any kind of analysis — and that’s the kind of necessary approach required to make the elephant a little less ignored.

Comments

  1. 1
    FFFGGG on 15 May 2007 #

    I WONT TO WOTCH PORNO

  2. 3
    Aaron on 18 May 2007 #

    Is ilxor.com offline today? i can’t get to it or the sandbox! thx.

  3. 4
    kookimebux on 1 Feb 2009 #

    Hello. And Bye. :)

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