Dionysus or Aphrodite? THE PORN/EROTICA DISTINCTION, PRT. 3

“You should get an agent! … why sit in the dark, handling yourself?” -Scott Walker, Bish Bosch.

Now there are a plethora of such opinion polls, studies and surveys investigating America’s relationship to pornography but very little committed to erotica. This is primarily because there is very little effort made by most academics to powerfully differentiate the terms. This is a shame because it is absolutely essential to have a embedded descriptor for upward moving sexual art. If the same question would have been asked but in place of “pornography” the words “contemporary romance novels” was inserted (which can be, by and large classed as erotica) instead, I guarantee the results would be far more favorable towards the medium. For one might put a adult romance novel out of sight of ones children but in familiar company one is unlikely to blush (especially woman who make up the vast market share of the romance fiction industry) given the mediums fundamentally Aphroditic qualities. Yet these very same individuals would be aghast to have a friend walk in on them watching the Dionysian displays of “hard-core” pornography; there is a very potent distinction here which bares further elaboration, a inherent impulse, instinctual and deeply rooted understanding of what constitutes a healthy and socially conducive sexual-artistic fabric, even if it is masked by hypocrisy. What hypocrisy? You might rightly ask. We’ll tackle that in part 3. – Dionysus or Aphrodite? The Porn/Erotica Distinction, Prt 2.

We last left off in our endeavor to better grasp the interplay between civilized society, porn and erotica by contemplating hypocrisy. The hypocrisy is simply this: Most sexually mature males and females watch pornography but most will either refuse to acknowledge this or declare that they do not watch pornography at all. Moreover, most individuals now, in some capacity, participate in pornography via the transmission of nude and lascivious photos and video over the internet. As of 2011, 1-in-5 teens had sent a naked picture of themselves at least once (according to studies conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy). According to a 2013 Pew poll only 12 percent of Americans who utilize the internet ever watch pornographic videos which, when factoring all known website aggregations for pornography consumption during this time period, means that around 88 percent of Americans lied to Pew (with women lying more significantly than men).

Yet readers of scintillating erotic fiction are more than happy to express their interest in the medium; the phenomenal popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey well attests to this peculiar demarcation. What is the difference between, say,  Fifty Shades of Grey and the film, Riley Goes Gonzo 2?

 

Riley-Goes-Gonzo-2-Best-Porn-Movies-of-2017-441x625.jpg
Whilst the author was not able to subject himself to the entire running time of the film, he did watch a sufficient amount of the run-time as well as the trailer and can relay that it was much in-line with genre convention.

On the surface they appear to differ only in two primary areas: 1. nature of the sex-acts shown, 2. narrative complexity.

The nature of Riley Goes Gonzo (RGG) is contained in the name as “gonzo” refers to pornography which attempts to place the viewer directly into “the action.” The filming style was credited to pornographer and porn “actor,” John Stagliano and is generally characterized by close-up shots of dangly bits, wobbly lumps and a total lack of narrative trajectory. RGG emulates this genre convention as the film is essentially just 5 sex scenes spliced together without any narrative coherence, there are no characters, just performers and nothing is really said other than occasional pillow-talk. There is not much in the way of aesthetic style other than a constantly flashing neon-overlay effect which achieves nothing other than the further devastation of the eyes. The intensive focus in the film was upon the moaning of the primary actress and the grunting of the male performers and the hammering-jig-sawing of body parts and splattering effluvia. A purely Dionysian exercise of pleasure seeking and the mind-obliterating ecstasy of wild and uninhibited sex; a total collapse of subject and object into one linear process. Sex not as process itself but only a portion thereof, the act of insemination but never the insemination, the man taking the woman but never the steps leading up to it nor the consequences thereof. The purpose of the piece: arousal and nothing else besides. The lustful act – in reality but a portion of the total process – now the totality.

fifty-shades-of-grey-wallpaper-48753-50374-hd-wallpapers.jpg
The author has not seen the filmic adaptation of Fifty Shades but has read the first volume in the book series in its entirety.

Fifty Shades, though it received largely scathing literary reviews (Salman Rushdie famously said of the novel, “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made Twilight look like War and Peace.“) stands in stark contrast to the almost mechanical and orgiastic themes of RGG. Despite Fifty Shade’s sleazy, cheezy and all-around smultzy tenor, it has both a coherent narrative and fleshed-out characters (see what I did there) and the vaguest of “messages.” The story follows a young, shy college student by the name of Anastasia Steele who falls for a young, mysterious and wealthy magnate named Christian Grey who just also so happens to mentally troubled by his past relations and attempts to work through these problems through acting out BDSM fantasies (which are graphically described in the novel). The story is largely vacuous but has moments which touch upon the aberrant, yet exciting nature of sexual deviancy and the need to overcome past trauma.

It is this coherence of themes which primarily and markedly separates these two pieces of fiction. Both are sexually explicit (“hardcore”) but both are not thematically explicit, the latter attribute being intrinsically tied to the sense of the communal. It is difficult to say whether or not this point of demarcation constitutes the vector of divergence for social acceptability but it would be profoundly unlikely for it to have no bearing at all; clearly it does. For after all, both products are exceedingly concerned with explicit sexual acts, the primary difference, the central difference, is that Fifty Shades places the sex act within the context of a world where the act necessitates consequence outside of its own self-generative pleasure, whereas with the porn film, the self-generative pleasure is the measure of the world itself. It is then, within this framework, that shame builds itself, for the viewer instinctively knows that it is not “real sex” or “sex within the real world” and also understand that the shoring away of responsibility from the act itself necessitates a profound degree of narcissistic self-gratification (to say nothing of the time-spent in idle self-absorption), what we would posit as the focal source for the knee-jerk response to hardcore pornography usually expressed in the linguistic formulation of “tastelessness.” Taste, or aesthetic sensibility is a trajectory of being which originated and was further cultivated within civilized society and thus required a concern for the members of that very society; recall that our word “idiot” finds it origin in the Greek idiōtēs meaning, “private,” or “one’s own.” In Greek society those who refused or were unable to engage in public discourse were considered “idiotes” whereas the fruitful and engaged public were referred to as “polites.” The Latin arcanum, idiota, meaning, “layman” and then, later, “uneducated or ignorant person” as well as the French, idiote, are strikingly similar in their connotations. Both Latin and Greek societies looked upon the society in terms of gestalt, or the whole (more or less), with each component, working in tandem with their other component parts in order to form a more harmonious whole. One realized that one’s own well-being, standard of living, et-cetera, were all, largely, predicated upon their fellows upholding a similar vision and doing what was necessary to build upon and preserve it. With the passing of such societal and civilization norms and attitudes the sovereignty of the state gives way to the sovereignty of the individual and thus the sovereignty of discursive erotica gives way to anti-discursive pornography. The problem inherent in the hedonistic trajectory of pornographic consumption (other than its negative side-effects, which we will not here endeavor to elaborate upon) is the continuation of hermetic isolationism and further societal atomization which will, given sufficient time, render obsolete the very fabric, the very social essence, which gave rise to both the medium and the product as well as the ability to consume it.

We would thus submit that Dionysus’ dismemberment, by hands titanic,  is long overdue.


Sources

Pew Research Center, Online Video (2013), Kristen Purcell, Associate Director for Research, Pew Internet Project.

How much pornography are Americans consuming?

 


Footnotes

both filmic examples were chosen due to their popularity in their respective industries.

Dionysus or Aphrodite? The Porn/Erotica Distinction, Prt. 2

In part 1 of this series we firmly established a useful linguistic categorization which well encapsulates and differentiates porn from erotica. Thus, it is now crucial to examine the ways which both forms of sexual expression are treated in contemporary America. Such a investigation cannot be conducted without first mentioning the landmark court case, Jacobellis v. Ohio. The case arose when Nico Jacobellis, a manager at the Cleveland Heights Art Theatre in Ohio, was convicted under state law of possessing and exhibiting a “obscene film.” The film in question was Louis Malle’s Les Amants (The Lovers, 1958), a fairly risque flick for the time which told the story of a young woman in a passionless marriage who seeks affection outside the sacral bonds of matrimony. The two most questionable scenes from the film are, respectively: a scene where the protagonist, whilst coupling with her secret lover gasps with increasing intensity as she climaxes (the camera shows us only her face) and (what was most shocking to 50s Americans) a half-second long female nipple shot. Gasp!

Les-Amants-Los-amantes-Louis-Malle
Poster of the erotic melodrama, Les Amants

Whilst that might sound incredibly tame by today’s standards it was quite the big deal, as was evidenced by the conviction of Mr. Jacobellis. One should recall that the Motion Picture Production Code of 1930 (Hays Code), The Catholic Church and their motion-picture monitoring group, The Legion of Decency, all held considerable social capital at the time (certainly far more than they do today). The Hays Code is far too lengthy to be here included in its entirety, however a sampling of sections relevant to our inquiry will help grant a modern viewer better insight into the social mores of The Fifties.

The Hayes Code as Regards Sexuality in Film:

  • Impure love must not be presented as attractive and beautiful.
  • It must not be the subject of comedy or farce, or treated as material for laughter.
  • It must not be presented in such a way to arouse passion or morbid curiosity on the part of the audience.
  • It must not be made to seem right and permissible.
  • In general, it must not be detailed in method and manner.
  • Dances suggesting or representing sexual actions or indecent passions are forbidden.
  • Sex perversion or any inference to it is forbidden.
  • [Rape and seduction] are never the proper subject for comedy.
  • Complete nudity is never permitted. This includes nudity in fact or in silhouette, or any lecherous or licentious notice thereof by other characters in the picture.
  • Miscegenation (sex relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden
  • The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.

As one can not fail to observe, religious stricture and racial/tribal in-group loyalty are strongly at work within The Code. Curiously, these strictures failed against Jacobellis and his defender, Justice Potter Stewart who, upon finding the court opposed to censorship but failing to describe precisely why, declared,

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.”

The case was subsequently overturned, the film (and Jacobellis) unscathed by proscription and all that follows with it. It was truly a landmark case, one which put the First Amendment front and center of all such related cases proceeding above any and all other prevailing social mores. These trends would only intensify post-Sexual Revolution; that is, both extreme deference to the First Amendment in place of a broader social contextualization and the continued inability to properly define Justice Stewart’s that.

It is precisely the that which Mr. Stewart was referring to that we are here attempting to get to the bottom of. It is, broadly speaking, the point at which a ostensibly public (generally artistic) depiction of sex “goes too far” and transgresses the collective’s moral orthodoxy. The fact that, not just moral orthodoxy, but social standards generally, have fractalized markedly since the sexual revolution (though there are some rollbacks – on that another time) only intensify the confusion surrounding discussions of the subject. However, one thing is quite clear, most American do not consider pornography to be a moral good which numerous studies have shown, such as the 2016 Statistica Poll, Americans’ moral stance towards pornography in 2016. The poll (see graph below) is fascinating; only 34% of Americans find porn morally acceptable, whereas 61 % find it morally wrong with a meager 4 % making up the remaining apathetic or undecided total.

Statistic_2016_StanceOnPornographyUS
Survey from Statistica, 2016

Now there are a plethora of such opinion polls, studies and surveys investigating America’s relationship to pornography but very little committed to erotica. This is primarily because there is very little effort made by most academics to powerfully differentiate the terms. This is a shame because it is absolutely essential to have a embedded descriptor for upward moving sexual art. If the same question would have been asked but in place of “pornography” the words “contemporary romance novels” was inserted (which can be, by and large classed as erotica) instead, I guarantee the results would be far more favorable towards the medium. For one might put a adult romance novel out of sight of ones children but in familiar company one is unlikely to blush (especially woman who make up the vast market share of the romance fiction industry) given the mediums fundamentally Aphroditic qualities. Yet these very same individuals would be aghast to have a friend walk in on them watching the Dionysian displays of “hard-core” pornography; there is a very potent distinction here which bares further elaboration, a inherent impulse, instinctual and deeply rooted understanding of what constitutes a healthy and socially conducive sexual-artistic fabric, even if it is masked by hypocrisy.

What hypocrisy? You might rightly ask. We’ll tackle that in part 3.


Jacobellis v. Ohio

The Hayes Code of 1930

Reviews of Les Amants: [1][2]

America’s Moral Stance Toward’s Pornography (Statistica, 2016)

Dionysus or Aphrodite? The Porn/Erotica Distinction, Prt. 1

Observe the cover image; is it pornographic or erotic or is there no worthy distinctions to be drawn between such fickle words at all?

The argument about how human sexuality should be properly represented in the arts is a extremely old one with three broad factions splitting up the lion share of opinions. Either sexuality should be displayed as the artist pleases – no holds barred – or, there should be some kind of restrictions placed upon sexualization (whether in regard to sex acts or simply mood/lighting/setting and more numinous aesthetic parameters) or that sex and sensuality in art should be harshly suppressed if not outright banned. Regardless of which camp (if any) one falls into in this discussion, on matters of sex-in-art there is a ever present question: Is it erotica or is it porn? Let us turn our attention, briefly, to some linguistic definitions for these two words to help use in navigating the murky terrain established by these two rather nebulous terms.

pornography (n.) – 1843, “ancient obscene painting, especially in temples of Bacchus,” from French pornographie, from Greek pornographos “(one) depicting prostitutes,” from porne “prostitute,” originally “bought, purchased” (with an original notion, probably of “female slave sold for prostitution”), related to pernanai “to sell” (from PIE *perə-, variant of root “to traffic in, to sell”) + graphein “to write”. A brothel in ancient Greek was a porneion.

erotica (n.) – 1820, noun use of neuter plural of Greek erotikos “amatory” (see erotic); originally a booksellers’ catalogue heading. erotic (adj.) – 1650s, from the French érotique (16c.), from Greek erotikos “caused by passionate love/referring to love,” from eros (genitive erotos) “sexual love.”

There is then, something inherently commercial and prurient about pornography embedded within the word itself whereas erotica, definitively, is more inter-personal (booksellers’ catalog connotation aside).

Archetypally speaking, these distinct categories are perhaps best personified by the Greek gods, Dionysus and Aphrodite. Dionysus was classically represented as a young, beautiful man (in older depictions he was bearded and gaudily dressed), often nude; the deity of wine, intoxication, rituals, madness, religious ecstasy and theatre. Aphrodite, contrary to many modernistic conceptions of the goddess, was not a being of carnal delight but of love, child bearing, civic unity, the sea (from which she was born) and, in dire times, war (due her relationship with Ares, god of War). Dionysus – (or Bacchus, as he was later known) a transient being of lasciviousness, celebration and epiphany, who appeared to his followers randomly, wildly bestowing gifts of wine and joyous madness, disappearing just as suddenly as he had come – might then be seen as an embodiment or harbinger of both the brevity and bliss of carnality.

In contrast, Aphrodite was a lasting goddess, that is, she was a being of continuance, of that which lasted and withstood the test of time (births being the most notable example of this – a continuation of the species being the most potent and lasting of all human pursuits).

Sex, under the auspices of Aphrodite, was ultimately tied to love and was seen as an eminently sacred enterprise, so much so that her priests (all female) took strict vows of chastity. Bacchanalians, however, were possessed of no such sacral impulse (due to Dionysus’ affinity for transgression of all things) as Dionysus and would often congregate in orgiastic rituals where all sexes and ages would copulate with wild abandon. So disturbing were these lascivious displays of Dionysian Orgia in 186 BC the Roman Senate attempted a catch-all ban – called the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus (senatorial decree concerning the Bacchanalia) – on the Dionysian religion itself to put an end to the supposedly sexually depraved displays.

Senatus_consultum_de_bacchanalibus
Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, 186 BC

So as a linguistic dialectic, the pornographic/erotic distinction might best be seen as a distinction between these two divine aspect, that of Dionysus and Aphrodite, bliss of momentary carnal delight and the dutiful cultivation of those emotional bonds and by extension, social bonds, which foster the continued procession of humanity itself.

Pornography, thus, is generally considered “in bad taste” or “base” because it is a inherently selfish enterprise and one which has very low time-horizons. Any individual who pleasures himself or herself to the Bacchanalian displays of the thousands of porn sites across the web is elevating the senses for but a brief moment. The action can not be built upon in any meaningful way, societally speaking (and in this age to speak of the actions of people is, in no uncertain terms, to be speaking of some aspect of some society – for how common are the hermits!). In many ways the pornographic ritual of self-pleasuring is lower than the Bacchanalia, for in the latter instance one was, at the very least bonding both with his/her community and with the terrestrial aspects of Dionysus himself.

 


Sources:

http://www.etymonline.com: [1. Pornography] [2. Erotica]

Oxford Classical Dictionary, eds. S. Hornblower and A. Spawforth (Oxford, 20033 ), pp. 479-482