Porn and the Mediasphere

How to Cite

Burgess, J., & King, A. (2004). Editorial: Porn and the Mediasphere. M/C Journal, 7(4). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.2374
Vol. 7 No. 4 (2004): Porn
Published 2004-10-01

The history of public discourse (and in many cases, academic publishing) on pornography is, notoriously, largely polemical and polarised. There is perhaps no other media form that has been so relentlessly the centre of what boils down to little more than arguments “for” or “against”; most famously, on the basis of the oppression, dominance or liberation of sexual subjectivities. These polarised debates leave much conceptual space for researchers to explore: discussions of pornography often lack specificity (when speaking of porn, what exactly do we mean? Which genre? Which markets?); assumptions (eg. about exactly how the sexualised “white male body” functions culturally, or what the “uses” of porn actually might be) can be buried; and empirical opportunities (how porn as media industry connects to innovation and the rest of the mediasphere) are missed. In this issue, we have tried to create and populate such a space, not only for the rethinking of some of our core assumptions about pornography, but also for the treatment of pornography as a bona fide, even while contested and problematic, segment of the media and cultural industries, linked economically and symbolically to other media forms.

Our feature article, David Russell’s The Tumescent Citizen, opens up new ways of looking at issues of masculinity and power through the image of renowned porn star Ron Jeremy. In particular Russell develops Lauren Berlant’s notion of ‘surplus embodiment’, a concept used to describe so-called ‘problem citizens’, characterized traditionally as women of colour and the poor, who are seen to embody more visibly the laws that define them, to examine the hero status of Ron Jeremy – a white male citizen. Russell shows how Jeremy’s hero status – which is mythologized through, and becomes reducible to the ‘surplus embodiment’ of his penis – subjects Jeremy to excessive regulatory treatment and personal ridicule. By examining the career of the most famous male porn star, our feature article directly addresses dominant discourses that otherwise simplistically frame porn as a male dominated, privileged industry. Russell’s article strongly introduces our approach to porn, and heads an edition that explores porn as a multi-faceted, fragmentary collection of industries, intersecting various political, educational and other media discourses, to highlight how very private desires surface publicly, in quite unexpected ways.

Providing an important intervention into the ongoing moral panic around the accessibility of Internet pornography to children, Donell Holloway, Lelia Green and Robyn Quin present the results of their empirical study of the Internet in everyday Australian family life. Their article “What Porn? Children and the Family Internet” concludes that Australian parents are less concerned about pornography than they are about the Internet as a “time waster”, and that there is a serious disparity between the level of significance afforded the negative implications on families of Internet pornography and the way in which the Internet is actually consumed in the household.

In “Pornographic Pedagogies?” Susan Driver reflects upon the usefulness of integrating porn texts within educational curricula, describing, through her own teaching experiences, the unpredictable, contradictory but nevertheless engaging readings her students produce of Christine Aguilera’s Dirrty music video. Drawing upon Brian McNair’s ‘porno-chic’, which describes the recent crossover of porn motifs into contemporary mainstream media, Driver is primarily concerned with how students’ and teachers’ personal desires become vulnerably public through classroom discussion about advertising, film and televisual porn imageries. By exploring texts that are ‘chosen by, for and about students’, the article explores the inevitable, and often rewarding, challenges in asking: ‘Who is willing to risk exposure and vulnerability? What are the ethical and political limits of interrogating intimate pleasures? How do I render this intimacy culturally meaningful? When personal pleasures are questioned as part of a public dialogue are they diminished? Intensified? Transformed?’ Also concerned with the cracks in established public discourses around pornography, Linda Levitt’s “Family Business” explores the reality TV program of the same name, a “behind the scenes” look at the everyday life of the porn producer Adam Glasser. Levitt’s article draws our attention to the ways in which “porn” as in industry and as a genre, rather than remaining quarantined off as the “other” of legitimate media, can become visible to the mainstream, raising interesting questions about the boundaries of mainstream acceptance.

Richard Hand’s “Dissecting the Gash” explores the ways in which manga comics fuse both horror and pornographic conventions with the ‘purpose of transgressing and provoking the jargon of particular social norms’. The article points to how porn can be taken-up as a resistive discourse, particularly in Japan where images of pubic hair are thoroughly forbidden. Surveying the work of Suehiro Maruo in particular, Hand shows how manga’s extreme tendencies are tightly interconnected with Japan’s strict censorship laws, whilst the country’s ascension to superpower status in the mid-nineteen-eighties raises different obsessions for Japan’s involvement in the war.

Katrien Jacobs’ article “The Amateur Pornographer and the Glib Voyeur” marks a shift toward thinking about the relationships between porn producers and consumers; a shift most productively explored through a discussion of amateur pornography, based on “the changing work practices of web-based and film/video amateur porn producers and their spectators”. Jacobs frames such practices within the more general new media fields of indie media, participatory culture, and peer-to-peer production, and perhaps most interestingly, in terms of the “schooling” and “democratization” of the pornography industry. In a slightly different take on the social implications of pornographic amateurism, Shenja van der Graf addresses some new ways in which pornography continues to operate at the forefront of innovation in new media and e-business. She uses the example of SuicideGirls.com to map new relations between producers and consumers in digital contexts, discusses the role of the Suicide Girls’ (amateur) weblogs in building online communities around both shared erotic and corporate interests, and suggests the term “collaborative eroticism” to mark the industry-specific shift from centralized, top-down to decentralized, “peer-to-peer” production and marketing.

The issue closes, perhaps fittingly, with Michael C. Bolton’s “Cumming to an End”, rare in that it offers a discussion of the porn consumer’s relationship with the pornographic text. Bolton’s arguments are framed within the standard construction of the pornographic audience – the lone, mastubatory male. While Bolton does not directly challenge this definition, he does track the theme of viewer ejaculation through many of the arguments from the “classic” academic literature on porn, eventually challenging the assumption that the viewer’s physical response is somehow programmed by the structure of the pornographic text, particularly in the case of non-linear (i.e. digital) media such as the DVD.

Author Biographies

Jean Burgess


Andrew King