Review published June 22, 2010
Several years ago, when Paris Hilton was on the brink of turning her party girl celeb status into television star status, her ex-boyfriend released a sex tape featuring himself and a younger Paris. We can’t know if Hilton would have become the celebrity she is now without the release of 1 Night in Paris, but it’s undeniable that getting naked and having sex on film catapulted Hilton into the mainstream spotlight in a way that simply showing up at nightclubs had not. She’s parlayed pornography into a successful career as an actress, musician, author and brand. And we’ve let her.
Though we joke about Paris Hilton — sometimes cruelly — and few people would openly admit to seeking out the products she promotes, the fact is somebody is paying attention. The reasons for this are complex and hard to nail down, but in Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality, Gail Dines asks important questions and makes pointed observations about the ways in which porn culture has become pop culture. From changing our standards of beauty to normalizing sexual violence against women to lending credence to pseudo-scientific “facts” about “average” men and women, porn — particularly the now-mainstream genre known as “gonzo porn”— isn’t changing the social landscape, it’s already so deeply rooted in our collective cultural conscience that we hardly notice it anymore.
Most disturbing to Dines is the widely accepted notion that modern porn culture is a triumph of the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a mantra many of us have heard before, and it seems to make sense at first glance. But Dines barely scratches the surface of this claim before she reveals the ugly truth: Pornography and the mainstream culture fed by it still offer few choices to women who seek to be desired by men. Sexuality, as painted by porn culture, is still very much dictated by men. But here’s the rub: Men suffer from this culture, too. For in Pornland, all men are aggressive, misogynistic, often violent predators. As if previous notions of masculinity weren’t harmful and limiting enough to our boys.
Dines has written a treatise that is equally powerful and disturbing. She asks tough questions and makes uncomfortable observations, but the results ought to be game-changing: a world in which we have healthy attitudes about the feminine, the masculine, about sex and about ourselves. A world far-removed from Pornland.
Reviewed by Amanda Mitchell