On Pornography

A&O Productions will be showing Pirates 2 this quarter. All of us on exec had to screen it together about a week ago (an interesting bonding activity, to say the least) to make sure there was nothing particularly offensive in it. Pirates 2 was the biggest budgeted porn ever made. It has incredible graphic effects, impressive costumes, some sort of plot, and elaborate sets. Reading [Matthew] Kieran’s “Pornographic Art” in light of this recent experience was fascinating. He makes a distinction between the erotic, which is almost always artistic, and the pornographic, which is different than the erotic in its sexual explicitness but can also qualify as art. “Pornographic representations are characterized as having the sole aim of eliciting sexual arousal. By contrast, although erotic representations might have this aim, they can also have other aims, including artistic ones. Hence, an erotic representation can qualify as art…” I don’t know if Pirates 2 has broad moral aims, but it certainly wants to impress in manners other than just sexual.  Kieran writes, “A work produced solely in order to be sexually arousing, without any artistic intention, may yet artfully suggest an insight, view or attitude toward what is represented.” Pirates 2 is not insightful, but it does present a stunning graphic view. The animations and visual presentations are breathtaking, even when they don’t take place in a bedroom. Back the film with so much money implies that producers’ goals were loftier than just arousal—perhaps they wanted to prove that porn itself could show more of an artistic bent.

Radin asserts, “The argument against pornographic art based on the problem of purposiveness fails. Pornographic works can make imaginative use of non-standard and standard formulaic elements in order to be artistically expressive and thereby afford a qualitative high imaginative experience. Pornographic purpose does not preclude meaningful artistic aims.” Again, Pirates 2 is a perfect example of imaginative elements mixed in with sexually explicit material. Porn stars turn into skeletons, become hypnotized, and embody extreme characters. He notes “In order for sensuous thoughts and arousal to arise, far from being uninterested, we must usually be interested in the subject in some way.” We are not just watching a montage of sex acts and genital, but becoming immersed in the lives and actions of characters onscreen. This sort of imaginative exploration makes Radin’s thesis that “the possibility of pornographic art cannot be ruled out…” believable and realistic.

– Katherine Halpern

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