Today pornography is a billion dollar industry with over 72 million people that visit pornographic sites on the internet every month (www.familysafemedia.com, 2003). Even hundreds of years ago some of the first sexually explicit art images were found in art galleries in Pompeii (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). However, they were never offended by the paintings because it was considered a work of art. Regardless of historical factors, modern antagonists claim that pornography affects values in popular media because of its lewd content and want it to be outlawed and banned for good. What exactly are the values that are being threatened by this genre of entertainment and are these values really at risk of being compromised? Is mainstream media really being compromised by pornography or is it a direct reflection of the society that airs it?
While reading academic journals and watching educational documentaries on the topic, I have found that the opponents of pornography based their views on sexual preference and societal norms rather than research and optimism. According to Urie Bronfenbrenner and his Ecological Theory (1979), neighborhoods are in part products of the culture in which they exist (Witt & Mossler, 2010). Evidence has been found that even the very definition and boundaries of pornography varied from culture to culture. According to documented research, cultures, societies and/or specific jurisdictions affect the values of popular media and not pornography because sexual values and morals are created and determined by society itself. For this series on pornography, I will address the historical, psychological, and societal aspects and even present a perspective that shows how the genre is harmless and can be beneficial.
Pornography in Fine Art with the Romans and the Victorians
Moreover, in 1857, pornography was first featured in an English medical dictionary as the Greek word, pornographos, to describe the hygienic conditions of prostitutes of that time (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). Prior to this time there was no word to describe the erotic images that was at that time painted. It was simply art and its effectiveness to capture the audience was determined by the views of society. I have further researched this fact with historical occurrences with the Victorians and the Romans.
Research unveiled that the Victorians launched a campaign against obscenity around the time that pornographos was included in the English medical dictionary. Since there was now a word to describe sexually explicit art, it opened the door to create censorship and the Victorians legally made pornography as obscene and offensive for public viewing. As a result, “Obscenity Publications Act” (1857) was passed by Parliament (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Williams, & Varma, 1999). This act outlawed all forms of sexually explicit material and essentially caused the art to be locked away from public viewing.
Alison Smith (1999) talks about how the Obscene Publications Act (1857) in the English documentary “Pornography: The Secret History of Civilisation” (1999). Smith explains that in Victorian society in the mid-1800s pornography was created in fear that men would become effeminate, addicted to the images, and that the men would constantly masturbate. This is a legal structure that is still in effect today. These examples are what the researcher used to develop the claim that the controversy surrounding pornography is mainly about sexual morality as viewed by the particular society with specific beliefs.
Art historian Edward Lucie-Smith (1999) believes that the legislation with the Obscene Publications Act (1857) was created to ban looking at pornographic works in England because Parliament did not want it to get out into the public. In fact, I have notes that the Victorians at the time felt that the art work should not be made public for women, children and the working class to see simply because they wanted to keep them from seeing it (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). The wealthy and educated were the only people in Victorian society that had access to erotic art work until the printing press was created in the mid-1500s (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999).
Prior to the creation of the Obscene Publications Act (1857) pornography was erotic art that entertained its viewers. In retrospect, Lucie-Smith (1999, ep.2) mentions, “We now fail to recognize the taboo elements of classical imagery because we are blinded by its status as high art.” Ms. Jones completely agrees with Lucie-Smith's point because of the fact that before it was called pornography these sexually explicit paintings were artistic masterpieces regardless of the sexual scenes displayed.
Even though many of the sexual acts painted were taboo in Roman culture, they appreciated pornographic images as art. I have learned that the Romans considered the sexually explicit images to be comical because most of the scenes in the pictures were considered sexual taboo at that time (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). Although fellatio and cunnilingus was featured in many of the paintings, these sexual acts were considered taboo by the Romans (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). They believed the mouth was strictly oratory and that oral sex was only done by a prostitute (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999).
Again, with these facts, I stresses that pornography was defined according to a society's values. Both cultures were not sexually repressed, but they were opposite when it came to how pornography would be incorporated within their respective societies. While Rome allowed public viewing of pornographic art, they also had very strict laws on what were acceptable forms of sexual behavior (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). On the other hand, the Victorians were outraged with the public viewing of pornographic art even though it was available to be viewed in prayer books by the elite of their society (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999).
The Ecological Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) describes how the people in a particular society or culture are the determines its values and morals, even in popular media. The research has proved that the Victorians and the Romans, who are two different cultures, historically had opposing views on pornographic art and how it could be displayed. The Ecological Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) is an example of such opposing views determined by morals & values society creates. What the Victorians considered obscene for public display the Romans appreciated it as a work of art in public spaces. Additionally, while pornography has been a source of entertainment and even religious rituals for thousands of years, I have based my claim from researching the Victorians and the Romans that the people, not pornography, determine values in popular media and has been since the beginning of civilization. Research further supports this claim with modern pornography from the late nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
After watching “Taboo: The Beginning Of Erotic Cinema” (2004), it amazed me to learn that a group of filmmakers in the United States formed a board that created the Production Code (1947) regulating the nature of films. Sexually explicit scenes, erotic kissing, violence and cussing were prohibited in American films. Consequently, early American porn only featured women strip teasing and exposing their breasts. The most explicit American pornographic cinema included sadomasochism between 2 or more women while maintaining the standards set by The Production Code and lasted until the 1970s.
Alternatively, the French, who are the originators of motion picture, also are the originators of modern pornographic cinema and filmed very sexually explicit scenes in there movies (Pugliese & Christopher, 2004). In fact, compared the content of twenty-first century pornographic videos and online websites to French pornographic cinema of the 1920s and found it almost identical. According to research, the French seemed to have been ahead of their time considering they featured a strap on (like a sex toy), threesomes, homosexual activity and many other forms of sexual expression found in modern pornography.
Research further shows that under the Nixon Administration the United States Senate in the 1970s claimed that pornography is not the problem, but the views of the people are (Pugliese & Christopher, 2004). Prior to this, as already mentioned, American pornography only featured women strip teasing only to her breasts, burlesque performances, and sadomasochism performed by 2 or more women and no men. With the creation of the Production Code (1947) sex, full nudity, cussing and violence were legally banned from cinema. After the U.S. Senate made its claim in 1970, American pornographic cinema was finally on the same level as France began almost one-hundred years prior. It is fully supports the claim made by the U.S. Senate and even points out that based on her research that this is proof that the people decide the values and not the genre.
I did further research by reading the article “The Geography of Pornography: Neighborhood Feminism and the Battle against Dirty Bookstores in Minneapolis” (Hickey, 2011) for a modern perspective. The article focuses on how feminists and neighbors rallied to oust a pornographic bookstore out of the neighborhood (Hickey, 2011). It mentions how feminists believed that having a bookstore of this nature violated women's rights (Hickey, 2011). Many women and the neighbors in this particular South Minneapolis neighborhood (which happens to be across the river from my hometown) had a stigma against pornography because of moral reasons they shared. In 1979, a group of women stood inside the store to protest against it and to view the men that visited and shopped for magazines (Hickey, 2011). Reading this article, it is also noted that this outraged the community because it was against their moral values.
The pornographic bookstore in the article was simply a nuisance to the neighborhood because it sold “dirty magazines” that the residents simply did not want it there (Hickey, 2011). Furthermore, the article mentions that the people had the right to protest, but the reasons for pornography being a threat to women's rights were not made certain. After studying this article, I referred back to the claim that the people decide what is moral even in popular media. This bookstore had the right to exist, but faced opposition because the community’s values were in disagreement with it.
In my opinion, I am still trying to understand how pornography is a threat to women’s rights and even any given neighborhood. The last time I checked, regardless of intention, there are women in most of these movies and I am sure they chose to do it. Also, men, whether married or not, are going to choose to do this for one reason or another. The actors and actresses in these movies have the right to choose to be a porn star. I would have thought that the Feminist community would rally around women who choose to express their sexual selves through this medium and support them. Additionally, in regards to the neighborhood porn shop, considering the high divorce rates in our society, it makes me wonder if anyone has thought about utilizing the products they sell to spice up their love life. The only thing about pornography that I disagree with is that safe sex is not practiced which puts people at risk of disease both in and out of the industry. However, people have the right to participate or watch.
With the opposition against pornography, it makes me wonder if people have thought that pornography is a form of voyeurism considering that you are watching people having sex. Some people are turned on by watching others have sex. The only harm that this causes is based on the insecurities of those who disagree with this. I often hear from those who oppose porn that there is no reason to watch or for their partner to watch because they should be the only object of affection. I’m sorry. I hate to break the news, but your partner has attraction to other people and things. Have you thought about watching with your partner? I know some of you think that its gross to watch and I can respect that. However, when you’re behind closed doors having sex do you think what you are doing is disgusting as well? Maybe before we fight something we don’t understand lets attempt to open our minds to understand what it really is- voyeurism. Considering that this society is slowly but surely opening up to sexuality in a broader scope, I am sure that there will be more opportunities for us to revamp what is considered a "norm" and as absolutely horrible (like rape and pedophilia).
Even though there was no such word prior to 1857, pornography dates back to early civilization with paintings and even hieroglyphics (Bailey, Barbato, Rodley, Bailey, Williams, & Varma, 1999). Regardless of how it began, the views of every specific culture and society determine what is considered pornographic and inappropriate regardless of the historical period as I have researched. Even the Ecological Theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) supports that all values are determined by the macrosystem or society that you live in. Furthermore, based on data collected, I conclude that the ideas of pornography in society and media are based on the sexual preferences that a particular society, culture, religion and/or a particular jurisdiction creates for itself. Society and even the jurisdiction that smaller groups live in determines what is moral and appropriate to be seen in popular media and not the other way around.
Bailey, F., & Barbato, R. (Producers), & Rodley, C., Bailey, F., Williams, K., & Varma, D. (Directors). (1999). Pornography: A secret history of civilisation [Television series]. London, United Kingdom: Channel 4 Television.
Family Safe Media. (1998-2011). Pornography statistics. Retrieved from http://www.familysafemedia.com/pornography_statistics.html
Hickey, G. (2011). "The geography of pornography: neighborhood feminism and the battle against "dirty bookstores" in Minneapolis." Frontiers: A Journal Of Women's Studies, 32(1), 125-151. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/frontiers/v032/32.1.hickey.html
Pugliese, D.J. (Producer), Christopher, B. (Director). (9 November 2004). Taboo: the beginning of erotic cinema (Documentary). Hollywood, California: Passport International Entertainment.
Witt, G.A. & Mossler, R.A. (2010). Adult development and life assessment. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/books/AUPSY202.10.2/sections/sec2.8