BY ANDREW KALLOCH
The storylines of pornography affect attitudes about sexuality, which in turn cause a wide variety of sexually destructive behavior, according to University of Texas Professor Robert Jensen, who led a discussion on pornography and its effects on Monday, April 13 in Morgan Courtroom. The discussion included clips from the 2008 documentary film The Price of Pleasure: Pornography, Sexuality, and Relationships.
Jensen, who has been researching the effects of pornography for more than twenty years, emphasized the importance of the mass media as the storytellers of the modern age. “Mass media are the dominant form of storytelling in this society. The crucial role of porn in circulating certain stories is really important.”
It would be one thing, Jensen said, if the destructive storylines depicted in pornography could be confined to the realm of fantasy. However, according to Jensen, the world of porn-one in which all women are available to all men for sex-becomes difficult to separate real world for many people. The attitudes expressed in porn spread from the California valley in which these films are shot to the bedrooms of real people in real places,” he remarked.
Jensen stated that this permeating effect of pornography is particularly harmful because racial stereotypes, which to a significant degree have been excised from broadcast television and big-budget movies, are not only expressed in porn, but are celebrated. “There would be an enormous outcry if the stereotypes depicted in pornography were in mainstream media.”
Stating that “It doesn’t take a lot of advanced analysis” to conclude that “porn is a relentlessly misogynistic and overtly racist genre,” Jensen urged people to get beyond the simplistic question of whether porn “causes” rape or sexual assault. “We don’t have the intellectual tools to connect the dots in the way we would like to,” Jensen stated, “Ideally, we’d like to know how particular materials influence particular behavior. We don’t have the capacity to answer that definitively, but we can begin to understand those connections.”
Instead, Jensen implored people to examine how storytelling shapes attitudes. “Human beings are storytelling animals,” Jensen declared, “We seek to communicate worldviews and values via the stories we tell.”
Jensen rejected the view that pornography and the aggressive depictions of sex that permeate it merely reflect images of evolutionary adaptation, stating that the idea that sexually aggressive males would prosper in a “band society” of nomadic wanderers bordered on the absurd.
When asked what students could do to fight the billion-dollar porn industry, Jensen joked about using “violent revolution” of targeted assassinations and burning porn buildings. He then turned serious, stating that students must rearticulate what feminism means. “Potential public policy solutions through the law must emerge from a base of understanding what the problem is.” Instead of using criminal obscenity laws, Jensen urged activists to take up a civil rights stance and to “create grassroots places for the discussion of pornography’s effects.”
Jensen contrasted his views on pornography, developed through a feminist critique that combines notions of white supremacy and patriarchy, with the religious/conservative analysis that, in Jensen’s words, seeks to take us back to a “golden age that never in fact existed.” “The right wing has always been very good at absorbing feminist critiques but undermining the feminist quality of them.”
Ultimately, Jensen stated that in order to tackle individual and societal harms produced by porn, we must acknowledge a moral quality to our relationships with one another and must come to a consensus on what the “limits of the sexual experience are.”