The following review was originally posted at Sex in the Public Square, the web community that I co-founded with Elizabeth Wood.
Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity
Robert Jensen • South End Press
185 pages • $12.00
It’s not immediately obvious, but Robert Jensen and I have a lot in common. We both grew up as scrawny, physically inept boys with no aptitude for athletics. We were the kind of boys who were by default identified as “faggots” by our peers and, at least in my case, sometimes by teachers. On the playground and the streets, our status as “sensitive” boys made us easy targets for insults and physical abuse.
Most importantly, we both grew into men with deep dissatisfaction with what our society told us we were supposed to be, do, and think as men, and with an appreciation for feminism as a vital tool for both men and women to break free of old, potentially lethal gender scripts. And both of us can go on at length about what sucks about porn.
It’s this last point where the differences between Jensen and I become too obvious to ignore; yes, I can go on for hours and hours about what irredeemable psychic flotsam the great mass of porn is, and could probably fill several volumes thicker than Jensen’s on the mediocrity, body fascism, poor production values, labor abuses and sexism that dominate mainstream porn. These are all things that people of good conscience should find troubling about porn as it exists today. And yet, even as I calculate all the sins of pornography to the nth degree, and catalog the ways that I find it disappointing and trivial in taxonomies so detailed that the Library of Congress would have to invent a whole new indexing system, there’s something else: I think that in porn lies our salvation. For those of us who hate the ugly gordian knot of fear and loathing that our society ties our sexualities into, porn is essential. We need a genre of literature and art devoted to sexual arousal just as much as we need those that make us laugh, cry, or cringe in fear. And at the same time, we need to develop a critical language that we can use to think and speak about pornography. Without these things, we’ve resigned ourselves to remaining forever mute about our sexual desires.