Porn vs. Cinema

June 6, 2021 • Carolina Azevedo

‘[no title]’, Allen Jones, 1976–7

New internet technology has taken porn from cinema screens and Playboy magazines to just a few clicks away. Pornographic content has become way too accessible in the internet age, which, some may argue, has banalized sex and even our bodies as a whole. In pornography, people become body parts, women become objects and sex becomes something that it absolutely is not: a game of sexual dominance.

But it was not always that way: porn was once very close to cinema as an artistic medium, and it can still be hard to distinguish eroticism as a cinematographic art piece from simple, shallow pornography. Around the 1970s, pornography began making its way into mainstream cinema, and subsequently getting the attention of the general public. The so-called “golden age of porn” would see its beginnings with notorious New Yorker, Andy Warhol. Released in 1969, his Blue Movie was one of the first films to depict explicit sex to a wide audience in movie theaters. The purpose of the movie, according to the artist was to simply show two people having sex: “I’d always wanted to do a movie that was pure fucking, nothing else, the way Eat had been just eating and Sleep had been just sleeping. So, in October 68’, I shot a movie of Viva having sex with Louis Waldon. I called it just Fuck.”

At that time, movies of the genre had extremely low budgets and poor production techniques. It was only with Gerard Damiano’s Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones that pornographic films would begin to receive enough good reviews to render porn a matter of discussion within the public sphere, being denominated by The New York Times’ writer Ralph Blumenthal as the era of “porno chic”. Along with the greater box-office returns came technological advancements, and porn started gaining value in the film world, getting closer and closer to the power of Hollywood films.

Newspapers across America started talking about the threat pornography meant to the film industry, as it was at that time powered by the mafia. Prior to 1973, most U.S. states had laws prohibiting the creation, distribution, and consumption of obscene films. As a consequence, the business was ruled by and financed by illegal businesses and mafia money, which began haunting Hollywood producers, as the profitability of pornographic films could begin dragging the “dirty business” into the American cinematographic world.

As a response, President Nixon urged for a campaign against “obscenity”, ruled by the conservative families of the country who would disseminate information about the harmful aspects of porn, increasing the anti-porn feeling across the country. Coincidently, along with that it was established in the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography that people could consume whatever they wished to read, watch or buy, in the privacy of their own homes. As a response pornography distribution started makings its way back to the private viewing booths, and, due to the new increasing availability of videocassette players and recorders, to the comfort of people’s homes. By the 1980s, the cheaper, easily distributed medium would become the rule within the industry, meaning the end of porn’s Golden Age.

The short period, however, is not to be forgotten, as its importance across the globe signified a shift in the way people were making and consuming films, and especially, the way they perceived sex, not only on the screens but also in real life. Hollywood would begin to more frequently choose sex as the main theme in its movies, increasing the screen time of scenes involving sexual intercourse, and growing less shy about the theme previously viewed as “obscene” and taboo by the government itself.

This growth of eroticism within the film industry would lead to controversy: what actually distinguishes porn from erotic cinema as an art form? At the time, American society was becoming increasingly liberal, with movements such as sexual liberation, feminism, and free love advocating sex as a matter of human nature. As a consequence, art followed the trend, becoming more experimental and aided the distribution of sexual content all over the cultural industry. That libertarian, progressive aspect, however, is exactly where art — as cinema — differs from porn. Erotic art respects the psychological and emotional depths of the characters partaking in the televised sexual act, whereas in pornography, characters — especially women — are represented through an outdated, archaic perspective, which promotes objectification and submission as the norm. That is, art perceives sex as an elementary aspect of human life, recognising its value in society and seeing it as a way of “revealing our deepest fantasies and feelings, allowing each interpretation to be unique and personal”. Porn normalizes sex as an act of violence that degrades at least one of the involved parties, an action whose sole purpose is to arouse the viewer through the objectification of the people on screen, conveyed as one-dimensional beings whose role is to be either dominated or dominant.

Thus, it is not particularly problematic to portray sex, even explicitly, in film, but it becomes pornographic, degrading content the moment it loses its liberating aspect and becomes something whose sole intent is to objectify characters in order to stimulate the audience and sell the movie. A movie becomes porn when sex has nothing to add to the story or the characters’ development, as it is clear that it is only included in the script to gain the attention of the predominantly male audience — and way too many Hollywood films have been doing that in the past few years. Some of the top-grossing films of the last decades, such as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), Battleship (2012) and We’re the Millers (2013) can be seen as pornographic, as their use of sex is only an attempt to make more money through the use of the demeaning male gaze.

Since the 1970s, both cinema and pornography have changed quite a bit as the internet has been responsible for making the creation and access to pornography easier than ever, whereas cinema has seen little change, remaining in the hands of large Hollywoodian production companies. Pornography has gone from actual film productions to short clips of explicit, violent, and above all, unrealistic sex scenes that can be accessed by anyone anywhere.

The annual $15 billion industry has gained surreal power over the American people, as, every second, 28,258 users are watching pornography on the internet. Every day, 37 pornographic videos are created in the United States, 2.5 billion emails containing porn are sent or received, and 116,000 queries related to child pornography are received. Also alarmingly but not at all surprisingly, about 200,000 Americans are classified as “porn addicts”, and 40 million American people regularly visit porn sites.

The damage that has been done to society falls upon everyone: women, men, and society as a whole, but the most affected are still women. Despite representing one-third of pornography consumers, women pay the price for what is depicted and televised everywhere, all the time, to everyone and from too young of an age. Scholar Catherine Mackinnon argues that “women lived in a state of subordination with pornography, sexual harassment, prostitution, child sexual abuse, domestic violence and rape as core elements in male domination.” That is, pornography lies at the center of the perpetuation of male dominance as we see it today, as it puts women in the most degrading of all positions: she is sex, nothing more.

Featuring synthetic women doing things they would never enjoy doing in real life and being treated as nothing beyond a piece of meat for men to shove their phallus into, porn simulates the dynamics of sexual slavery and portrays it as though it were what sex is supposed to be. It teaches young people what sex is through the lenses of male dominance, entrenching the law of male over female through the imposition of necessary male sexual pulsion over female pleasure. It legitimizes sexual violence by reserving to women to a social place that silences them in order to give a voice solely to male pleasure. Furthermore, this perspective equally affects young men who acquire frustrated expectations and a perverse sexual appetite from watching men do anything they wish to plastic women who look nothing like women do in real life.

Some may argue that “good porn” has gained power in the last few years, especially porn companies ruled by women and made from women, which try and capture sex as it is. But whereas porn may have the power to change the way women are seen by promoting the production of this pornography by and for women, that is not what we have seen as a trend nowadays. It is true more and more websites and adult films have been made following a feminist view on sex, but they are not at all amongst the most visited or watched. Therefore, porn still works as a means of objectifying women in men’s minds from much too young of an age and consequently still contributes greatly to the way women are still seen, not only in bed but also in society as a whole. That is, due to pornography, women are still seen as objects and servants, their pleasure is still seen as secondary, as are their emotions, and their voice is still silenced when it comes to talking about sex.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with talking about sex and showing sexual imagery to the masses, as it does not have to be degrading or objectifying. Eroticism can and should be a source of power to women, it should not remain a taboo in a society in which it has such importance, but that cannot be done whilst pornography is being made in the molds it is today. In turn, cinema has the power to bring sexual imagery to the realm of the arts and televise its power, displaying what it really is, if it is done by valuing the people who partake in it and by giving voice to pleasure in unison between all parties.

Sources

https://www.roadtograce.net/current-porn-statistics/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-O1zg9ZNJI

https://fightthenewdrug.org/by-the-numbers-see-how-many-people-are-watching-porn

Written for Unpublished Zine

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Carolina Azevedo

Carolina Azevedo

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Estudante de jornalismo e mais uma partícula do pensamento revolucionário que não se conforma com a simples ilustração das aparências