Sex for Sale547
Pornography as Social Criticism
Over the course of history, pornography has sometimes
played the role of social critic. During the French
tion, pornography, like the example shown in this box,
helped incite the poor to rebel against the king and queen.
Hundreds of pamphlets were printed and circulated that
linked “degenerate” sexual activity with the material
excesses and political corruption of royalty. The illustration
shows a man of the lower classes servicing Queen Marie
Antoinette’s sexual appetites. This image challenged the
king’s ability to rule the country since he could not control
his wife’s sexual adventures (Beck, 1999).
The role of contemporary pornography in social and
political criticism is also evident. Hustler magazine some-
times fuses nudity and vulgarity with attacks on political
power, organized religion, and class privilege. For example,
stark social and political criticism was evident in a photomon-
tage titled “Farewell to
Reagan: Ronnie’s Last Bash.” The faces
of the political elite of that era were superimposed on top
of naked bodies doing “obscene” things to one another. The
accompanying text declares, “It’s been eight great years—for
the power elite, that is. . . . A radical tax plan that more than
halved taxes for the rich while doubling the working man’s
load; . . . and we’ll still get . . . sexual intimidation policies for
years to come, particularly with conservative whores posing
as Supreme Court justices” (Kipnis, 1996, pp. 152–153).
Another example is a relief sculpture erected in 2008
in a southern German town square. Five naked German
politicians, including current Chancellor Angela Merkel, are
laughing and holding one another’s genitals.
Peter Lenk, intended the sculpture to symbolize scandals
involving politicians collaborating in the misuse of public
money for political and corporate gain.
Another form of social criticism found in some por-
nography can be seen in the violation of conventional
norms regarding what is “sexy.” Sexually explicit materials
featuring old people, such as “
Promiscuous Granny,” defy
common views that older adults are asexual.
pornography wreaks havoc with standard concepts of gen-
der or sexual orientation in its portrayals of transgender
individuals with breasts and penises engaging in sexual
interaction with same-sex and other-sex partners.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of pornography’s
deance of contemporary social norms is the subgenre
of fat pornography. Large (between 200- and 500-pound)
naked women in sexual situations are featured in an array
of magazines and videos with titles such as Life in the Fat
Lane and Jumbo Jezebel. Disbelief by many people that
fat, eshy bodies could be a turn-on shows how cultural
conformity seems universally “normal.”
amount of body fat considered most sexually appealing
is historically and culturally relative. The 20th century’s
preference for thinness contrasts with the previous 400
years’ preference for hefty, rotund body types. Thinness
was not sexually attractive during those years because it
connoted lower-class poverty and ill health (Kipnis, 1996).
Pornography can be a form of political subver-
sion, linking “degenerate” sexual activities
to political corruption. This illustration shows
a man of the lower classes servicing Queen
Marie Antoinette’s sexual appetites, implying
that the king could not control his wife’s sexual
adventures or be certain of the paternity of his
children. If he could not keep his own house
in order, his ability to rule a country and its
people could be challenged (Beck, 1999).
From Porn 101: Eroticism, Pornography, and the First Amendment edited by James Elias,
Veronica Diehl Elias, Gwen Brewer, Vern L. Bullough, Jeffrey J. Douglas, and Will Jarvis
(Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books). Copyright © 1999 by James Elias, Veronica Diehl Elias,
Gwen Brewer, Vern L. Bullough, Jeffrey J. Douglas, and Will Jarvis.
The contemporary German sculp-
tor, Peter Lenk, depicts politicians
collaborating for their own ben-
efit instead of for the public good.
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