April 09, 2007

MacKinnon on My Mind

by PG

A friend who is choosing among several excellent law schools asked me what I thought about UChicago versus Northwestern. In favor of the latter, I pointed out its location; for the former, not only its greater prestige but one of the factors behind that, i.e. its professors. The post is lost (alas for posterity!), but I remember visiting Chicago and finding Cass Sunstein's administrative law lecture so amazing that I blogged about it at En Banc. I also mentioned Posner and MacKinnon to my friend, describing them respectively as "a 7th Circuit judge" and "notorious feminist."

MacKinnon inevitably came to mind again when I read Heart's post, "Another Gang of Boys Rapes Teenager, Films Scene and Sends Footage to School Friends," in which she pastes a Australian news story and says, "Tell me with a straight face, somebody, that this had nothing to do with pornography and its [e]ffect on these boys, and at least one of their grandfathers." (According to the article, "In angry scenes outside court yesterday, the grandfather of one of the accused said filming the alleged incident was wrong. 'Stupid, yeah, but they do it, [film] everything, they bash people, they're used to stupid things. Was she drunk? Prove it,' the man told Channel Seven.")

Heart's, MacKinnon's and other feminist anti-porn crusaders' belief that pornography causes people to reenact what they have seen -- and to film it themselves -- seems to me to be a somewhat chicken-and-egg problem. If there are societies in which pornography doesn't exist, I would be fascinated to find out what sexual practices they have. If you don't have a concept of the money shot as something you've watched others perform, then does the visual remain appealing? I tend to think it does; as impossible as it is to peel away societally-imposed ideas of what's sexy, someone had to find the idea of ejaculating on another person's face to be a good one, and enough other people had to agree, before it became a cliche. Now we read, "A third boy performed a sex act on her face," but it seems like something that could have happened even if these young men had never encountered pornography.

And I think there's something true in the grandfather's otherwise revolting outburst: this is a generation that films everything. I'd be willing to bet that plenty of the teenage girls who have filmed themselves in sexual ways, or have consented to such filming, haven't actually seen a great deal of hard core professional pornography*. But having turned on their webcams for them to speak earnestly about their Feelings, it seems less odd to keep them on to show their Doings. If your YouTube video of your band's performance didn't get many viewers, why not try to attract more attention by turning it into an underage orgy? (At least until the video gets pulled.) It's horrifying that what bothers Grandpa is this newfangled passion for filiming gang bangs rather than the gang bangs themselves, but it does seem to signal a difference between generations.

I'm not suggesting that pornography has no effect on people, especially teenagers whose concept of what is acceptable and appropriate is going to be shaped by what they see. Hell, beer ads that suggest the way to have attractive, sexually pliable women around is to buy lots of alcohol might have affected these particular young men. But it seems that you can be a vile rape apologist while finding sex films to be "stupid," so obviously a love for porn isn't the only cause of an objectifying mindset.

* From a small pop culture sample, I wonder if there's a gap between the acceptability of women's viewing pornography and their being in it. Without reflection, I can think of two popular comedies -- Sex & the City in the U.S., Coupling in the U.K. -- that featured women who were willing or eager to be part of a man's home video collection, but none in which women were consumers of pornography. I suppose that's why there are Tshirts that proclaim the wearer to be a porn star, but none that say, "I watch porn!"

April 9, 2007 02:24 AM | TrackBack
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