Porn again

By ANITA DIAMANT  |  May 31, 2006

Dworkin is not primarily concerned with why so many men are attracted to a distorted and violent picture of human sexuality at the expense of women's lives (though she does hint at it in a brief discussion of the process by which boys are turned into men in this culture). Nor is she interested in exploring the complex psychological and social mechanisms by which women defend themselves against a system of images and actions that conspires to make them into trophies. Says Dworkin, "I don't make the popular distinctions ... the distinction between Playboy and other magazines, or of women who are moderately successful in their lives ... I make the important distinctions."

But there are other important distinctions to be made, and in another new book, Pornography and Silence: Culture's Revenge Against Nature, Susan Griffin attempts to explain how and why in our sexual arrangements women have become trophies and men have become hunters.

The two books share a great deal of common ground. Griffin takes for granted the system of male supremacy that Dworkin takes great pains to expound; and she goes on to build a theory of social psychology based on that very unpopular assumption.

Griffin's book is a much more pleasant reading experience, both in form and content. Her prose style is as evocative as Dworkin's is confrontive. Griffin uses the language of poetry, mythology, and psychoanalysis to expose the human costs of pornography -- the price it exacts from men as well as women, in what she calls its "choice to forget eros."

Where Dworkin lumps together behaviors and images and asks the reader to buy her insights wholesale -- for instance, "The Western preoccupation with high-heeled shoes is no less ominous (than bound feet)" -- she makes it easy for us, distinction-makers and ethical relativists that we are, to dismiss her theories altogether. But Griffin manages to explain the fundamental similarity between mass-market centerfolds -- which are now considered soft-core enough for distribution in many supermarkets -- and a novel like The Skin Flick Rapist, which graphically depicts scene atter scene of torture and abuse. Both are simply expressions, she says, of a pornographic mind in a pornographic culture.

"At the very core of the pornographic mise-en-scene is the concept of woman as object. A woman's body forms the center of a magazine," she writes. "Her hands pull apart the lips of her vagina, the same way a man might pull up the lips of a horse at an auction, so that the teeth may" be counted. She shows her goods . . .

"At each turn of her body, at each face or curvature exposed, we see nothing. For there is no person there. No character, no woman recognizable as someone we might know. For the pornographic camera performs a miracle in reverse. Looking on a living being, a person with a soul, it produces an image of a thing . . . In pornography, even when a real woman poses for the camera, she does not pose as herself. Rather she performs. She plays: the part of an object . . . This objectification of a whole being into a thing is the central metaphor of the form."

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Related: Saluting the enemy, Parody flunks out, Flashbacks: June 2, 2006, More more >
  Topics: Flashbacks , Politics, Political Policy, Harvard University,  More more >
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