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Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

The “P” Word: Final Reflections (V)

Categories: Alexia Raynal, ZiR


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Mediated Pornography:
Final Reflections (V)

You don’t get to read much about Margaret Grebowicz’s personal stand on pornography in her book Why Internet Porn MattersA committed philosopher herself, Grebowicz prefers to sit at the margins of the discussion and bring different perspectives into conflict. Her last chapter, “Pornography, Norms, and Sex Education,” is perhaps the only one to feature a strong personal and political view. In it, Grebowicz asks whether Internet pornography might, in fact, have a didactic impact:

One significant change inaugurated by Internet distribution is unprecedented anxiety about the capacity of pornography to function didactically, to teach young people, especially young men, about sex…Many [for example,] are having sex without learning proper contraception techniques because the pornography they watch does not show the use of contraceptives…One might respond that pornography does not function didactically any more than other cultural products do. In other words, if pornography teaches us about sex and gender in ways that are distorted, it is no different from other cultural products, many of which distort “reality” in various ways and may also function didactically.

She also brings the discussion of Internet pornography back to her own field. At this point, it seems as though she is asking, Wouldn’t it be more fun if we approached pornography as philosophers rhather than result-seekers?

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As important as these objections are, I am interested in a different kind of question…If pornography in fact functions didactically, perhaps the more immediately worrisome issue is that education in the democratic state is in the service of oppressive, heterosexist norms rather than transgression and intervention. In other words, the problem might not be that pornography teaches violence or particular norms of grooming and gender presentation, but that it teaches conformity and subjection to social success rather than risk and invention…To borrow from Lyotard, perhaps the problem is that today’s pornographic pedagogy is about sexual expertise, not sexual philosophy. The expert “knows what he knows and what he does not,” while the philosopher does not. Expertise is about increased perfmorativity, efficiency, communicability and ultimately, power. Philosophy is about suspending reality, patience, starting over. The expert speaks. The philosopher listens even while speaking or writing. In contrast to the expert, who concludes, Lyotard tells us, the philosopher merely questions.

In a world permeated by Internet access and social media, it seems harder and harder to focus on patience, exploration, and listening. Mostly, people want to speak, be heard and acknowledged. Online distribution, it seems, complicates a philosophical approach not just to pornography, but life.

—Alexia Raynal, Zeteo Managing Editor

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