Pornography - Its Place in Our Society Term Paper

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As the debate over pornography and its place in society grows hotter

every day, several authors in particular shed a new light on the

subject. Both their intuition and insight involving their beliefs can

help the reader a great deal in seeing aspects of this debate that might

have otherwise gone without the consideration that they so deserve.

I believe that pornography is not only okay, but is allowing our

country to take a step back and ask ourselves how far we are willing to

go and what we are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve free speech

and our rights to personal choice.

The argument over pornography is not merely the debate over right

or wrong, but also involves the theory that its existence requires, or

possibly even causes, an inequality between men and women.

I ask you, how could something like pornography cause an in-equality

between men and women when women are the major contributors to the

industry? Who is going to watch a porn without women in it? Therefore,

at least at first glance, it would seem that since women are actively

contributing to the business of pornography maybe they should be

criticized at least equally if not more so than the men who watch it.

According to author J.M. Coetzee and his article "The Harms of

Pornography", the real questions here are, "what is the difference

between obscenity and pornography", and even more importantly, "where do

we draw the line between the two"? Coetzee brings up a good point here.

A point on which the entire debate over pornography hinges. What is the

defenition of "obscenity"? An excerpt from a speech by Mike Godwin,

Online Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gives a good

definition of obscenity in his on-line article: "Fear of Freedom: The

Backlash Against Free Speech on the 'Net'".

Everybody more or less knows something about what qualifies as


You know it has something to do with "community standards," right? And

with appealing to the "prurient interest." A work has to be a patently

offensive depiction of materials banned by state statute and appeal to


prurient interest to be obscene and it also has to meet one other

requirement. It also has to lack serious literary, artistic, social,

political or scientific value. That's how something is classified as


Godwin states that one of the criteria for decency or absence of

obscenity is that something must contain social political or scientific

value. Is it possible that pornography is an outlet for people that

prevents ideas that start out as fantasies or desires from becoming

real? If so, then it's possible that the porn industry is doing us a

bigger favor than we know. In an article written by Donna A. Demac,

the history of censorship, obscenity, pornography and the rights of "the

people" are conveyed with a decidedly liberal attitude. Demac's article

gives an intelligent overview as to the actions of various political

parties, groups and activists that have fought either for or against

some of the issues regarding pornography, and his article can be

effectively used to defend free speech.

The most opinionated and conservative of the authors included is

Catherine MacKinnon, who touches on the thought that there is a great

deal of similarity between pornography and black slavery. In her

article "Pornography, Civil Rights and Speech" she states that "the harm

of pornography does not lie in the fact that it is offensive but that,

at least in developed societies, it is an industry that mass produces

sexual intrusion, access to, possession and use of women by men for

profit". MacKinnon approaches pornography not from a "moral" standpoint,

but strictly from the "political" point of view that says pornography is

a threat to the gender equality of our nation. I say she is wrong and

that not only is pornography okay, but in many cases could contribute to

the health of our society. I will quickly agree that pornography should

be kept away from the eyes of our children, and that there is a proper

time and place for it, but consider some of the acts that, providing

that pornogrpahy was made illegal, would not only go under ground but

might actually become real instead of acted out.

Coetzee goes to great lengths to bring to light indescrepancies

and unclarified ideas throughout MacKinnon's article. One of Coetzee's

most prominent points is that the differences between "obscenity" and

"pornography" go far beyond a difference in term based on either

political or moral argument. While at times Coetzee seems to generally

disagree with or at least greatly challenge MacKinnon's ideas, there are

times at which the two authors trains of thought almost seem to

coincide. One such issue would be that MacKinnon is not necessarily

looking to hunt out all occurrences of pornography in today's literature

and media, but to snuff out the commercial end of it. The end that makes

billions based on women being "used" by men, and does nothing at all to

improve their social standing in our society. But why must everything be

used to bolster the social position of women? It is this topic

specifically that seems to have gone un-argued by Coetzee.

Coetzee's stand on this issue of pornography and obscenity as a

part of today's culture is never quite addressed may very well remain a

mystery to the reader. From many of the author's statements and

criticism's of MacKinnon, one could gather that he takes a much more

liberal stand and yet somehow successfully avoids pressing his opinions.

He also does a wonderful job of highlighting some of the more minute

intricacies related to MacKinnon's writing which may have otherwise gone


If you read Demac's article you may find that "Sex", throughout

history has been more than merely a method of procreation. In Demac's

article it is also stated that the editorial and news press at times

found sexual content the only way to keep the political news

interesting. Based on Demac's article, sex has always been sort of a

"mystery" or something dark that nobody liked to talk about, and yet

everybody was interested in. Maybe this is the reason that our society

today has such a hard time talking to there children about sex and the

prevention of such things as pregnancy and sexually transmitted

diseases. I am often amazed that people have such a hard time talking

about sex and sex related topics when it rates second in priority among

human drives. Second only to the drive to eat.

Pornography is nothing new, in fact prostitution is sometimes called

"the world's oldest profession". All that has changed is the degree in

which it is used. People become numb to what once was erotic or

dangerous and eventually want more. Demac's article illustrates this

extremely well as he gives a general overview of the history of

pornography. His view is very helpful in seeing how pornography has

progressed and where it is now, relative to where it has been.

Unfortunately as all of our authors have, in their own way stated,

sex is not the real issue at hand here. The issue is "Obscenity".

Pornography in these writers eyes seems to be a mixture of sex which is

completely natural and nearly every person enjoys at one time or another

and obscenity which is the element that MacKinnon says "keeps sex

interesting for men". It seems that if things (sex and pornography) were

less extravagantly portrayed on the television, print and even the

radio, that less would be needed to fulfill one's "appetite" for

eroticism. If there actually were some "line" that were drawn, unable to

be crossed, would that given amount of "danger" be enough? I doubt it.

The thing that keeps men (the major supporters of the pornography

industry) so interested in women according to MacKinnon is the idea of

having the power over a woman. It's this power that breeds obscenity as

men want more and more of this "power". Sometimes it's taken much to

far, but where can you draw the line? When is too much too much?

Coetzee brings up a good point when he quotes Mackinnon:

"In visual media it takes a real person doing each act to make what you

see; pornography models are real women to whom something real is being


Coetzee challenges this argument by asking the reader about violence in

movies. He asks, "Are knife thrusts and gunshots not just as real?"

According to Coetzee, the acts of sex portrayed on a television screen

are happening to real people, yet one of the greatest attributes of sex,

and one of the things that make it sacred are the feelings involved

between the two people. Therefore, if there are no feelings between the

two actors, isn't it merely acting? The models are being paid and have

most likely been made aware of what will happen and therefore given

their consent. What about the possibility that the problem not only lies

in the hands of the men who watch these acts on a video tape, but the

women who make them. Without the availability of women who were willing

to produce this kind of material the pornography industry would come to

a screeching halt. What's there to watch without women? Maybe it all

comes down to; "If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the


The lines between right and wrong are often much more gray than

black and white, which is most likely where most people live. No one can

say to another what is right and wrong, or what should or shouldn't be

done, that decision has to be left to the individuals themselves. It's

this issue of pornography having an effect on women who aren't even

involved in the industry of making or even watching it. We as a nation

and even a world stand to learn a lot from simply listening to

ourselves. We like to stand up and say what is right, and yet acting on

it rarely happens. In order for our society to come to any sort of peace

on this issue of pornography, it needs to be accepted that people need

to be allowed to make decisions for themselves without the intervention

of some government medium, but only as long as those decisions don't

effect or hinder the rights of others.

Pornography is an immense opportunity for an experiment in freedom of


and democracy. The largest scale experiment this world has ever seen.

It's up to you and it's up to me and it's up to all of us to explore

that opportunity, and it's up to all of us not to lose it. I'm not yet a

parent myself, and I may not be for some time, but I worry about my

future children and pornography all the time. Here's what I worry about.

I worry that 10 or 15 or even 20 years from now she will come to me and

say, "Daddy, where were you when they took freedom of the press and

speech away from us?" and I want to be able to say I was there -

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