This article comes from the background research for the Freewaves Feminist Magazine Show on 3RPP Radio Port Phillip, Victoria, Thursday, 20 August 2009. On the show with me was Catherine Manning, who wrote “Would you like porn with that?” for Candobetter, who has started up an internet site focused on removing porn from children’s eye level in stores.
Before we did the show together, I did a bit of research into the nature of pornography and why it might be good, or bad. I had difficulty coming to grips with the subject at all for some strange reason. I think that, like a lot of people, I have learned to tune out from the skin-marketing all around me, so focusing on the subject and related issues required an effort. I found a lot of very interesting writing and some very funny blogs.
This is what I came up with.
What is pornography anyhow?
Pornography is not just about getting naked, or having sex, or even recording, depicting or describing it.
The word pornography is made up of the Greek word for ‘prostitute’or ‘sex slave’ – porne- and the word for ‘writing’ graphein. The word pornographos designated a person who writes about prostitutes. Women in Ancient Greek society did not have the status of citizens and slaves had no status at all.
Pornography as we know it today still contains the ingredients of body sale and slavery. Slavery, in many instances these days, is commuted to objectification rather than frank chattel status.
‘Commuted’ in the sense of being paid for. Now you are not owned as a performing slave, but you rent yourself out. The person giving their body to pornography is assumed to be doing so from freedom of choice in order to make money.
Initially the pay for pornography, as in prostitution, may be higher than for other jobs available. Or the pornography may carry, falsely or really, some acting or modelling component and may be seen as an opportunity to get into something more skilled.
Pornography offers the vendors profits where none might otherwise exist. The ability to turn the girl next door, the schoolgirls on the bus-stop, your wife, daughter or girlfriend into cash may be very hard to knock back.
In the absence of women taking more control of their own incomes, including ownership of land and assets, the only thing stopping third parties from making a living this way would be a moral code to resist assisting the exploitation of women and their public exhibition of their bodies, which is generally deemed to be demeaning and damaging, unless it is artistic, which is to say, not titillating.
Some women would say that pornographic work is only damaging because women are seen to be objects owned by men and renting their bodies out for any purpose lowers the value of the object.
Can a woman enjoy displaying her body in a provocative pose to an unknown range of anonymous magazine browsers? The associated notoriety has become more and more apparently acceptable in public mores, possibly due to the expansion of visual media and the associated expansion of profit opportunities.
Who makes the money out of pornography?
So, why don’t men do it with their bodies too? Or is their main role as agents, salesmen and owners?
Who makes the most money out of pornography – the women who pose or the men who sell it? Obviously the employer has to stand to make more than the subject of the picture or there would be no profit in it.
It is said that one of the richest men in the world, Rupert Murdoch, made a lot of his money out of his famous ‘Page 3’ girlie photos at a time when the print media were constantly expanding.
The divisions and oppositions by gender in our species are political and economic
Steve Biddulpf writes that:
“Boys have many positive impulses around sexuality. Deep down most teenage boys are deeply romantic, capable of quite spiritual feelings towards women and girls.” (Steve Biddupf, “How we turn boys into creeps.”)
But the domination driven culture of capitalism undoes them.
A man with a big car and a couple of semi-naked young women sitting on it looks rich and successful to other men, according to Ape and marketing logic.
A woman surrounded by young naked men would also look rich and successful, as if accompanied by slaves, but we don’t see this so much. This is probably because our society is dominated by men who reject the popularization of women with male slaves. Why? Because we are against male slavery and its portrayal. But not that of women.
Catherine Manning’s concern that young girls will early identify as inevitable the public sexualisation of their gender as objects has deeper significance than ‘mere’ psychological trauma. With the huge expansion in volume and exposure of pornography, the risk is of the perpetuation and exacerbation of the attitudes that underlay the slave societies of Ancient Greece and England and her colonies before the 20th century, where women had no rights to property or citizenship and could not even have custody of their children in the event of a divorce.
Does it seem too way out to imagine our society being prepared for such a future? Think of how Russia has become a source of prostitution for the world with the simultaneous arrival of the capitalist press and economic decline. And South East Asia.
Mr Murdoch as a porn hustler; more than just an industry
Consider the influence that Mr Murdoch, the man who designed the Page 3 girls to become our social norm, now has on the production of political parties and leaders in Australia and throughout the English-speaking world, and even, more and more, in Europe.
Consider his influence on our dogma of economic and population growth, commodification and privatization, his impact on food habits and acquired cultures and values.
Could this kindly old man, solid patriarch and deliverer of Boyer Lectures really be the same man who brought the English-speaking world the Page 3 soft porn? Well, if that’s the worst he can do, is it any big deal?
I wonder if, however, in his vast network empire, Murdoch ever thought about investing in something a little more sophisticated?
Well, as it happens, Newshounds Are Us at www.newshounds.us/ (an online news-site which arose with the original researchers for the film Outfoxed about Fox TV) report in 2009 that Rupert Murdoch,
“… the born-again Christian who chairs media giant News Corporation, has been secretly building a stable of wholly-owned pornographic channels for his BSkyB subsidiary. The Business has learnt that BSkyB now owns and operates its own pornographic channels – the 18+ Movies selection – after years of hosting third-party content only. The company has also been entering into partnerships with companies that broadcast pornographic television channels on BSkyB, such as Sport XXX Babes, XXX Housewive and Playboy. BSkYB has agreed retail distribution agreements with these companies. With Playboy, for instance, BSkyB now not only hosts the channel but sells its service, and collects and shares in the revenues from Playboy customers.”
They further inform us of another old man who owns newspapers and made a fortune from pornography, saying that,
“For years the Murdoch press has labelled rival newspaper baron Richard Desmond a pornographer in articles charting his business which has included pornographic magazines and TV channels.” http://www.newshounds.us/2006/02/12/rupert_murdochs_pornography_profiteering.php
Desmond owns the Daily Express and OK magazine.
Silvio Berlusconi’s personal control over Italy’s ideas is even more direct. He is the Prime Minister of Italy, in the first place, but has been estimated to have personally
[…]The hallmarks of Mediaset television are blizzards of commercials, interspersed with AC Milan soccer matches – Berlusconi is the team's owner – game shows, "reality TV" serials and vaudeville extravaganzas featuring leggy troupes of scantily-clad young women.”
“controls more than a third of all book and magazine publishing and a leading national newspaper.”
Source: Frank Viviano, CBS5, “The Resurrection Of Silvio Berlusconi.”
But wait, there’s more: A report called, “The Porn Standard, Children and Pornography on the internet”, found that the “large and lucrative internet pornography industry is flooding the Web and seeking mainstream acceptance.”
It also found that
“The online pornography industry generates $12 billion in annual revenue roughly equal to the annual revenue of ABC, NBC, and CBS combined”[…], and, that “The two largest purchasers of [internet] bandwidth [space] are companies in the adult entertainment industry.
Household names in manufacturing own these global investments in Porn:
“The report found that, already in the year 2000, “General Motors Corporation (through its subsidiary DirecTV®) was selling more pornographic films each year than Larry Flynt of Hustler®. EchoStar Communications, which is heavily backed by Rupert Murdoch, now generates more revenue from pornography than Playboy®.
Other major players in the pornography business today include AT&T®, Hilton®, Marriott International. [Source: Sean Barney, “The Porn Standard: Children and pornography on the internet,” http://www.thirdway.org/products/14]
Maybe we looking at a porn-led international economic recovery?
So is this where the banks and big corporations are investing our funds now? Are they aiming for a porn-led global financial recovery?
If this phenomenon is so pervasive, so irrestistible, and it relies so much on women’s bodies, how come we are still letting a bunch of old men run our show?
If there is so much money in pornography, shouldn’t the women and children who wear the costs at least get control of the profits – not to mention the industry? Go here for the Celebrity Bestiality report on making money out of porn. That report concludes that only the big investors get anything out of the business.
Corporations and governments in the old-fashioned role of pimps
This is where we came in: Female gender slavery and prostitution make money for the masters, not for the individuals who perform the work.
Pimps tend to be men who are able to attract a few women by fair or foul means, but who are not too fussed about renting them out for sex. Perhaps this is one of the ways in which capitalism began.
Did the case ever happen where women were able to attract men and then were not too fussed about renting them out for sex? To whom? In capitalist societies women generally did not own anything, whereas men were able to own them. It therefore seems that the tendency for many more women to be prostitutes than men probably resulted from women’s marginalization and then further marginalized them.
But are women’s bodies the only ones objectified like this? No, pornographic objectification happens to men and to children of both sexes, although in the latter case it is not yet deemed acceptable.
Male gender slavery and objectification in war
And there is another way in which men are objectified by the same kinds of commercially organized forces which is just as demeaning and destructive – and that is in war. In war young men are convinced or forced to risk their bodies, minds and lives for the sake of profits, yet told that what they are doing is honorable.
And women and children suffer in war of course as well, often in pornographic ways that are beyond ordinary imagination.
Porn and war seem to be human issues of economic and political disenfranchisement in contexts of removal of power to distant locations and persons who do not have to face the people who wear the consequences.
Another argument in favour of relocalisation.
That’s not the end of it, but here’s a good song to pause on – “JPEG Baby”. It's sung by the writer of the Celebrity Bestiality report.
Send us your thoughts in a comment.
And maybe take a look at http://www.sayno4kids.com/blog/ - Catherine Manning’s page proposing simply moving pornographic magazine displays to above children’s eye-level.