“And whereas one of my students asks a visiting poet about education vaguely getting at what is worth pursuing? The poet suggests looking at whatever is/was missing in one’s life and begin there. So many nods in the room around that table they acknowledge it too. In the missing: power.
— Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (page 67)
The day Ronald Reagan died – June 5, 2004 – I absorbed the news of his death with reverie as his life was exalted by talking heads and famed acquaintances. Their rhetoric ultimately resting within that exclusive canon reserved only for legends. Crowds swarmed to pay their respects to an American actor.
In another breaking newsfeed, and still witness to a grand spectacle of publicized grief, I was transfixed as a captured tiger dangled from a helicopter high above Santa Monica, California. The majestic predator swung inside a canvas sling that looked more like a collective omen akin to a nursery-rhyme cradle.
The events were not related according to the news, yet the Overton window had widened just enough to propagate rumors into exaggerated false equivalencies. After all, time had shifted in unexplainable ways that leap year. Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” had convinced many that something had happened.
Less than a month later, the spacecraft Cassini reached Saturn (a planet associated with karmic lessons). Some speculate that Reagan’s recently released spirit had guided Cassini as it traveled the critical distance to fulfill its mission. As poetic murmurs, I gather these soft shapes into vivid memories. A gesture of truth.
I’m seven essays deep into The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure. There are new terms to embrace like “pink films” (Japanese softcore porn) and breathless realizations around phrases like “the key to mutual confidence–risk.” The essays couple academic stimulation with real-world sensations. As the infamous Betsy Dodson so aptly notes, “all forms of sex were [are] an exchange of power, whether it was [is] conscious or unconscious.”
The politics around (re)production, representation, and the permeable moral high ground of porn – “feminist” or not – are chapters of a story that pivot on domination and release. Who’s on top and who is really getting what they asked for? What lies beneath most of the antiporn rhetoric (which is intimately coupled with conservative ideas about the purpose of sex; hint: it’s not pleasure) are “sexual panics” around fluid concepts of decency, normalcy, and obscenity. All of these convictions, and more, build towards a formula that reflects standardized shots designed to maximize profit.
I like Susie Bright’s pithy assessment “porn arouses to distraction” to describe what porn actually does.
In the essay “Emotional Truths and Thrilling Slide Shows,” Smith & Attwood theorize “in making arguments for free speech, its proponents often cede the ground that some forms of pornography are indeed awful, damaging, and to be abhorred, thereby confirming the basic analysis that there is something intrinsically problematic about both the cultural forms of sexual representation and those who seek them out.” This sounds similar to the soundtrack around abortion rights and reproductive freedom in general. This ceded ground leaves the usual suspects, non-wealthy, gender non-conforming, and non-white, maintaining the space of deviance. That is until there is a reason to play with that resistance.