RE: “Porn studies is hot. I’m bothered”, Margaret Wente, Saturday, March 29th, 2014

RE: “Porn studies is hot. I’m bothered”, Saturday, March 29th, 2014

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Margaret Wente’s article was a slight confidence booster for me. I am a Ph.D. candidate studying pornography. With the possible collapse of my university’s department, as well as many other Arts programs at Ontario universities, I feared that my studies would lead to nothing more than contract positions at post-secondary institutions in the middle of nowhere.

Yet Wente informs me that “porn is a career builder.” I will “shine in academia”, she says. I appreciate Wente’s enthusiasm for the future of pornography studies. Perhaps once “centres and institutes” for pornography studies are announced I will feel more comfortable about my career prospects. For now, I remain a skeptic – a few conferences, a couple books and courses, and one academic journal on the study of pornography will not revolutionize the university or public on the merits of its research. But we are trying (Wente included).

Wente’s article was an unintentional effort to bring pornography studies into the public sphere – this I appreciate as well. Wente has, in Linda Williams’s terms, contributed to the proliferation of pornographies on/scene (see Williams’s essay in the inaugural issue of Porn Studies on this term as well as the distinction between porn, porno, and pornography) – to criticize pornography, with or without “seriousness and rigour,” one must describe the images therein and thereby become a pornographer oneself.

But Wente was not descriptive enough for my tastes. What was the content of Noble’s course? Surely the numerous essays in Porn Studies are not reducible to “discourses” on Derrida, Foucault, and the unmentioned but implied Judith Butler. To further complicate matters, in my dissertation I study pornography but do not study porn. Is Wente aware of just how far the study of pornographic texts and images goes? Evidently not.

More importantly, I’m wondering why Wente masked her clear distaste of pornography, or porno, or porn (I’m not sure which because her examples of pornography are few). She takes aim at university administrators and “granting agencies” rather than the pornography-consuming public. That being said, one would think that a $14+ billion dollar industry would merit some study.

The bigger problems with Wente’s opinion on the state of pornography in the university begin with her lack of seriousness and rigour. Wente painted one side only of pornography studies and the new journal, namely, its proximity to Cultural Studies. The study of this billion dollar industry has produced nothing less than multi-, trans-, and interdisciplinary approaches from researchers in departments such as sociology, psychology, law, politics, philosophy, women’s studies, film studies, English and literature, to name a few. Porn Studies is a journal that will attempt to bring disparate theoretical and social scientific approaches together. The editors (Feona Attwood and Clarissa Smith) of the journal write:

With this journal we do not simply want to reach those areas
where porn studies are quite well established –for instance,
in film and media studies–we also want to reach out to those
where there is hardly any sustained publication of academic
work – for instance, business, marketing, and
human/computer interaction. By offering a space for researchers to
develop conversations across different disciplines, the study of
porn will move in new directions. This is how areas of study grow
and develop over time.

We hope that the journal will become a central space for drawing
together work from across disciplines. We also hope that the
establishment of the journal will encourage more publication on
pornography as authors interested in this area will recognize that
there is a ‘home’ for their research.

 

I agree with Wente that this is “indeed awesome.”

Contrary to my initial praise of Wente’s efforts to inform Globe readers about the legitimacy of pornography study, I’m concerned the reporter does not go far enough – had she more carefully read the essays and articles in Porn Studies, perhaps we would have had a more serious and rigorous article, an article less concerned with moralizing and masquerading as journalism. Indeed, Wente would have written a better piece had she taken Noble’s course on pornography.

Thankfully, she opines, porn studies is hot. I hope future journalists have the opportunity to take many courses on pornography and in many different departments. According to Wente, I’ll be there to teach. A warning: the readings and the lectures will be full of “academese.” Perhaps then, if there are budding journalists in the audience, those writers will be less dismissive of pornography studies, or at least more honest than Wente about their views on it.

An apology from Wente to every person mentioned in the article is now necessary, as well as a clear statement from her on pornography/porn itself. To accomplish this Wente has much research ahead of her. The first issue of Porn Studies is an excellent place to start.

 

A much more flattering article on the Porn Studies journal can be found here.

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