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More on porn

When the issue of pornography comes up, there are always going to be high blood pressures, it seems it’s easy to write people off as ‘leftists’, ‘conservatives’ and never shall the data be analysed.

Helen Pringle in her article “The Porn Report: A studied indifference to harm” (here is Alan McKee’s rebuttal) which is admittedly an opinion piece, takes the apparent moral, rather than evidenced based position that porn is harmful (and perhaps passively, that those who discover through research it actually isn’t harmful, are biased). The problem for me, is when it comes to this issue of porn, there is a wealth of information out there, much of it scientific and empirical, some of it done in the social sciences, which this article rightly recognises, but also dismisses as agenda driven, biased, and lacking in serious research:

A great deal of pro-pornography academic research in the social sciences is taken up with this task of masking the harms of pornography, in order to defend the lucrative global industry and guarantee a continued supply of cool pleasures to the hip consumer.

One such piece of research, The Porn Report by Alan McKee, Katherine Albury and Catharine Lumby (2008), was heralded as “the first piece of serious research” on the state of pornography in Australia. The book is widely cited in political and academic debates for its analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of pornography.

These are serious charges, and it seems to me, if you want to do unbiased, serious research, you would not commit ad hominem at the outset, without providing any actual evidence to support your claims.

As it is the author only offers one piece of evidence, and it is in fact a critique of a book that is apparently

heralded as “the first piece of serious research” on the state of pornography in Australia. The book is widely cited in political and academic debates for its analysis of the production, distribution and consumption of pornography.

The problem of course is, are we really basing our judgments on one book? This seems to be the thrust of her position:

My argument, however, is that The Porn Report is on an ideological mission to provide an apologia for the sex industry and, in particular, to shift the terms of public debate to a position consonant with that of the authors, one which supports the mainstream distribution and use of pornography.

Regardless of the book’s stature, we of course want multiple sources, from reputable journals to understand the issue of harm in the world of pornography (use, distribution, behaviours etc). The author may be right in her criticisms, what criticisms she actually offers of the book, but that reduces the entirety of porn studies to the pronouncements of one book, bring that down, and you solve the issue? In fact if her criticisms are successful it undermines her attempts, as it demonstrates the very need for multiple research efforts. I wish it were that simple.

This article contains little of actual substance, the author concludes with:

Like many academic defences of pornography, The Porn Report delights in its supposed unconventionality. In fact, its argument is tired and outdated, with little bearing on the brutal reality of popular pornography today.

The book evinces a studied indifference to the harm enacted in and by the sexual subordination and cruelty that defines modern pornography.

Again the author is discussing the pornography issue with assertions rather than an actual investigation. The reader is left to ask:”What is wrong wiuth the state of academia? Is porn brutal today? If it is, what was it before? What does ‘brutal’ mean? Where is she getting this information from? Does porn cause harm? In what sense does she mean, when she uses the word ‘harm’? Is consenting sex between willing adults ‘cruel’? Is sexual subordination intrinsic to the porn industry? If it is, how does she know this?” etc.

The author seems to assume a position (i.e.- porn is harmful) without ever making an actual case that this is so, the reader is taken through a criticism of a single piece of literature, which the author offers very few real criticisms of, with no presentation of any other researched positions (at least as far as we’d know, there are no references).

Again, as an opinion piece, we may be just left to sit with the authors opinions, and to wonder, just what is the current state of research into pornography, addiction and harm. I’ve done a prima facie investigation here, which I think, although parochial in its writing I’m sure, goes much further, and engages with the literature to an extent this author does not.

Reference

Pringle H. (2011). The Porn Report: A studied indifference to harm. ABC- religion and ethics- retrieved 6/09/2011. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/09/06/3310775.htm

Categories: News
  1. September 6, 2011 at 8:25 am

    The ABC article certainly was simplistic in its argument, but it seems clear the the report she was attacking was flawed, and had many gaps.
    But you should consider that it really was nothing more than an opinion piece, and one that was obviously reacting to the popularity of this report from pro-pornos (my abbreviation!).
    I don’t think it was intended to be a serious look at the range of studies that have been done, and summarising competing viewpoints.
    I wish it had been though as it is definitely a polarising issue, that people are very passionate about, that doesn’t often see serious, open debate.

  2. September 6, 2011 at 8:32 am

    I think you are right, for the most part. Thanks for your comments.

  1. September 26, 2011 at 10:11 am

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