Get Pornland


Gail Dines's new book, Pornland: How porn has hijacked our sexuality, is now available! ORDER NOW

The White Man’s Burden: Gonzo Pornography and the Construction of Black Masculinity

Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

2006   Vol. 18 No. 1.  pp. 283-297

The White Man’s Burden: Gonzo Pornography and the Construction of Black Masculinity

Gail Dines
Professor of Sociology and American Studies, Wheelock College.

SUMMARY:
… While there have been some new players added to this debate recently, specifically post-modern feminists, there are still clear divisions between those feminists who argue that pornography is, in its production and consumption, a form of violence against women, and those feminists who see pornography as having subversive and potentially liberatory consequences for women’s sexuality. … ” Although radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin did talk about the sexualization of racism in pornography, there has been limited analysis of how pornography mobilizes and assimilates racial discourses in ways that speak to white male viewers, the “assumed spectators,” according to the pornography trade journal Adult Video News (AVN). … ” It is argued in this Article that this white racist construction of black male sexuality is what drives IP and serves to heighten the sexual tension in the pornography while simultaneously making this country an increasingly hostile and dangerous place for people (especially blacks) who fall outside the markers of whiteness. … Pimp themed movies abound in IP, where the black pimp is defined as the “king of the hood” who uses the particular skill that black men “innately” have of combining sex and violence to turn black “bitches” into “hos.” … The pimp, thug/hustler black man of the “hood” with the out-of-control body is not only a favorite of white straight men, but also seems to be a popular object of desire for gay white men. …

TEXT:
[*283]

Introduction

Much has now been written about the divisive nature of the so called “porn wars” that ripped through the feminist movement in the 1980s and 1990s. n1 What was previously a somewhat agreeable alliance between radical and liberal feminists turned into the full scale battle that continues today, albeit in a somewhat muted form. While there have been some new players added to this debate recently, specifically post-modern feminists, there are still clear divisions between those feminists who argue that pornography is, in its production and consumption, a form of violence against women, and those feminists who see pornography as having subversive and potentially liberatory consequences for women’s sexuality. While I set my arguments within a broadly defined radical feminist paradigm, it is my contention that both sides have tended to assume a gender system which is race-neutral, an assumption that cannot be sustained in a country where “gender has proven to be a powerful means through which racial difference has historically been defined and coded.” n2 Although radical feminists such as Andrea Dworkin did talk about  [*284]  the sexualization of racism in pornography, n3 there has been limited analysis of how pornography mobilizes and assimilates racial discourses in ways that speak to white male viewers, the “assumed spectators,” n4 according to the pornography trade journal Adult Video News (AVN). n5

There is a long history of racial tension between black and white feminists, with black feminists arguing that much of mainstream (white) feminism excludes an analysis of how race and class mediate the material experiences of “women.” n6 I would argue that this exclusion can also be seen in much of the feminist analysis of pornography, which celebrates the pornographic text as subversive and polysemic – to the point that the preferred reading, which foregrounds women’s sexual subordination, is mocked for being essentialist. n7 Failing to locate the pornographic text in the context of the very real economic and social inequalities, that define the lives of poor whites and people of color, results in an understanding of pornography that is decontextualized from power relations, truncated, and of limited value to those who exist outside the privileged contours of academic intellectual life.

Although radical feminists have explored the links between poverty and recruitment in the pornography industry, they have tended to assume that the pornographic text works to elevate all men in similarly discursive ways. While there is little doubt that most heterosexual pornography categorically defines men as the “fuckers” and women as the “fuckees,” this has very different meanings and consequences for white men and black men. Nowhere is this made clearer than in a cartoon by Eric Decetis, a freelance cartoonist whose work appeared in Hustler in the 1980s. n8 The cartoon depicts a huge, ape-like “black” man with his arm around a small white female with a black eye and a swollen, bright red vagina hanging down to the floor. On his shirt is written “Fucker,” on hers is “Fuckee.” While all women in Hustler cartoons are constructed as “fuckees” in one way or another, it is the woman with the “black” man who is shown as brutalized, battered, and marked as victim. This cartoon, along with centuries of lynching, forced imprisonment, and media spectacles (such as the Willie Horton controversy, and the O.J. Simpson trial)  [*285]  make apparent that it is black men, not white men, who carry the legal and social burdens of being the “fucker” of white women. Indeed, black men are fast becoming, in the world of mainstream electronic pornography, the most sought after “fuckers” of white women. These images carry no more liberatory potential than Gus, the would-be rapist in what could be termed one of the first mass distributed interracial pornography movies, namely Birth of a Nation (1915). n9

Recent articles in AVN n10 have called attention to the fact that the fastest growing and most bootlegged internet pornography is “interracial pornography” (IP). While web sites advertise a multicultural mix of males and females, by far the dominant performers are black men and white women. With titles such as Black Poles in White Holes, Huge Black Cock on White Pussy, and Monster Black Penises and Tight White Holes, the male viewer knows what to expect when he punches in his credit card numbers. Although there are sites that advertise Asian and Latina women, there are very few sites with Latino and Asian men and white women. Indeed, if the heterosexual male wants to gaze at Asian or Latino men, then he has to move into a truly forbidden world for straight pornography, namely gay pornography.

Analyzing the role of racial representations in pornography is, I argue, key to understanding how pornography works as a discourse, as it explicates taken-for-granted assumptions about what makes pornography pornographic. If, as radical feminists argue, pornography is pleasurable because it sexualizes inequality between women and men, then the more degraded and abused the woman, the greater the sexual tension and thrill for the male viewer. It is hard to conceive of a better way to degrade white women, in a culture with a long and ugly history of racism, than having them penetrated again and again by a body that has been constructed, coded, and demonized as a carrier for all that is sexually debased, namely the black male.

I. Pornography and Masculinity

In order to explore the way that race functions in pornography, it is important to first examine the contemporary world of internet pornography, since the explosion of electronic pornography has had enormous implications for content as well as form. Mainstream pornography today looks nothing like the scrubbed, sanitized world of Playboy. In place of the “girl next door,” smiling suggestively at the camera with her legs partially spread, is the girl that pornography consumers wish lived next door. Mainstream movies today are  [*286]  populated with what the male performers call “cum buckets,” “sluts,” and “cunts” who love pounding anal, oral, and vaginal sex, who enjoy being smeared with semen and see their lives’ goals as breaking the record for the greatest number of “gang bangs” within a twenty four-hour period. Threaded throughout all these movies is an overt hatred for women that is evidenced in the dialogue and the fascination with body-punishing sex, such as frequent references to how much the woman can take before she breaks. Paul Little, AKA Max Hardcore, became famous (and rich) for his particular style of pornography that specializes in extremely violent and degrading sex. On his web site, he boasts, “Max wastes no time, gagging girls on his cock and pissing down their throats before he even learns their email addresses.” n11

This type of violent pornography popularized by Max Hardcore helped to define the contours of present-day gonzo pornography. n12 By far the biggest moneymaker for the industry, this type of pornography makes no attempt at a story line, but is just scene after scene of violent penetration, in which the woman’s body is literally stretched to its limit. One of the newer marketing ploys in gonzo is called ATM (ass to mouth), where the male performer anally penetrates a woman and then sticks his penis into her mouth, often joking about her having to eat shit. In this pornography the code of debasement is most stark. There is no apparent increase in male sexual pleasure by moving directly from the anus to the mouth, outside of the humiliation that the woman must endure. To argue that the pleasure of heterosexual pornography for men is not somehow wrapped up in the degradation of women is to ignore the multiple verbal and image-based cues that form the codes and conventions of mainstream pornography. n13 Moreover, failure to see pornography as a text about the elevation of men and the degradation of women also misses the role that pornography plays in the production of masculinity as both a category of material existence, and an identity that is contested, negotiated, and in need of constant reproduction. n14

It is now a given in much of academic feminism that masculinity and femininity are social constructs that work together to produce a gender system that is fused with inequality, hierarchy and violence. n15 Until recently, much of the analysis of masculinity sought to explain how hegemonic masculinity is defined in opposition to femininity, where hegemonic masculinity is  [*287]  unproblematically coded as white. However, as many black scholars have argued, n16 white hegemonic masculinity is always in negotiation with black masculinity as the two exist in what James Snead calls “a larger scheme of semiotic valuation,” n17 in that the elevation and mythification of white masculinity relies on the debasement of black men as sexual savages, Uncle Toms, and half-wits such as Stepin Fetchit. Patricia Hill Collins goes further by arguing that black masculinity is so debased by white culture that it becomes a fluid category whereby any man of color can become marked as black should he in any way fail to conform to the strict disciplinary practices of white masculinity. n18

However, what constitutes hegemonic white masculinity is itself a moving target that depends on the socioeconomic dynamics of a given time and place. In the United States, and indeed most of the Western world, there is a general consensus that a real man (read: white) works hard, puts food on the table and an SUV in the driveway, shows some interest in his children’s welfare, and exhibits a somewhat restrained set of sexual practices within state-sanctioned heterosexual marriage. On virtually every level, black men are defined by white culture as failing to meet the standards of white hegemonic masculinity. They are portrayed as shiftless, they need welfare to get food for their families, they drive pimp cars (when they can afford cars), and they engage in what Cornel West mockingly refers to as “dirty, disgusting, and funky sex.” n19 And this is the problem for white men. While they would not swap their material privileges with black men, many white men would indeed like “black” sex as it is seen in the white racist imagination, as “more intriguing and interesting.” n20 It is argued in this Article that this white racist construction of black male sexuality is what drives IP and serves to heighten the sexual tension in the pornography while simultaneously making this country an increasingly hostile and dangerous place for people (especially blacks) who fall outside the markers of whiteness.

II. Black Bodies in White Living Rooms

Academic analysis of the representation of black women and men has a long and rich history in this country. Scholars have explored images of blacks in movies, television, pornography, advertising, and music as a way to delineate the contours of the white racist imagination. While each of these genres employs specific mechanisms of representation, white-owned media has tended to bifurcate blacks into the “good” images of Uncle Tom and the  [*288]  Mammy, and the “bad” images of the Buck and the Jezebel, with each having links to the politics of slavery. n21 The role of the “good” black was to allay white fears of an uprising and to render invisible the very real commodification of humans in a country that was ostensibly founded on freedom. The “bad” black, on the other hand, served to legitimize the overt violence, lynching, and rape of blacks by positioning blacks as violent, in need of policing, and as a threat to white stability if left uncontrolled. n22

One theme that undergirds the dichotomous portrayal of blacks is the notion of the controlled versus the uncontrolled sexualized body. The Mammy and the Uncle Tom are both desexualized: him for his age, kindly gentle manner, and allegiance to whiteness; her for her enormous body, jet-black skin, and allegiance to whiteness. The “bad” blacks, in sharp contrast, display their deviance as rooted in uncontrollable sexual urges played out on the bodies of white men and women. Within the ideological discourse of slavery, black female slaves were seen as having an animalistic, smoldering sexuality which rendered the white slave owners helpless and thus not responsible for the rape of black women. This image stood in opposition to the construction of the white woman who, as reproducer of the heirs to property, was defined through the discourse of the cult of “true womanhood,” which marked white womanhood as chaste, meek, and obedient to male power. n23 What threatened to disrupt the flow of property from one (white) generation to the next was, of course, the black man with his out-of-control savage desire for white women. He had to be stopped, and any manner of violence, from lynching to castration, became legitimized as a normalized practice for the social control of black men. Reality played no role in this process, as the rape and slaughter of blacks were recoded into a discourse about racial purity and the defense of white womanhood.

Although today we have more images for blacks than Gus and Aunt Jemima, there is still a racial coding suggesting that blacks have bodies, but not minds. n24 The images of blacks that circulate in white media have rearticulated the slave ideology to fit in with the contemporary obsession with having the perfect body. Black men, whether athletes or hip-hop artists, are admired for their cool, muscular, hard bodies when they are located within the safe, contained space of a mediated image on a screen. However, as Collins points out, should these same men be seen wandering around white suburbs, their coolness soon gives way to mass white fear and calls for increased police  [*289]  presence. n25 Black women, unless they look like Halle Berry or play prostitutes on shows such as Law & Order, are largely contained within sitcoms that target young black viewers. The new crop of young actresses that grace the pages of People Magazine, US Weekly, and Cosmopolitan is blinding in its whiteness, and blondeness (for example, Jessica Simpson, Hilary Duff, Britney Spears, Scarlett Johansson, Paris Hilton, and Charlize Theron).

The one genre of media that deals clearly and unapologetically with bodies is pornography. The promise of this genre to its audiences is that, indeed, these bodies will be out-of-control. They will erupt, writhe, contort, and orgasm before the movie ends, and in pornography not defined as interracial, these bodies will be white. In a society that has historically controlled white bodies, it is quite remarkable that such a genre ever existed without foregrounding black bodies. However, as I have argued elsewhere, n26 the mainstream pornography industry has, until recently, largely ignored black bodies unless it was to demonize them as pimps, prostitutes, rapists, or gorillas.

Today, the pornography industry enjoys a level of mainstreaming that is unprecedented, with many of the major distributors having economic ties to the largest global media corporations. n27 This increase in the production and consumption of pornography has caught even the pornographers off guard, with many articles in AVN discussing how the industry is like a runaway train with no one knowing how long the profits will keep rising. What is clear, however, is that they need to keep producing movies that offer varied types of “excitement,” since there are limits to how many ways you can show a white man penetrating a white woman. The ATM subgenre mentioned above is one new variation on a theme, as is the use of bizarre “sex toys” such as speculums and the so-called reality pornography which “captures” unknowing couples having sex that looks like the “regular” sex in pornography.

According to AVN, IP is emerging as the biggest single growing category with nearly one in four new films fitting into this sub-genre. n28 A recent article quotes a producer who says “right now interracial gonzo is probably the strongest genre… . The demand for interracial far outweighs all the other formats of gonzo.” n29 While there are both black and white pornography producers and directors, the audience for IP is overwhelmingly white, according to the on-going studies conducted by Dr. Robert Jensen. n30 The  [*290]  obvious question here is: why do white men want to gaze at, and masturbate to, black penises penetrating white women’s vaginas, mouths, and anuses, given the historical coding of the black penis as defiler of white womanhood and emasculator of white masculinity?

III. Interracial Pornography: Looking for the Primitive (Black) Male

The most startling fact that jumps out at anyone who surfs these sites is the absence of men of color who are not black. A more precise term for interracial would be black men and white women, but in a society where the color line is defined by the binary black/white categorization, such precision would be redundant. This binary system has engaged many theorists who seek to interrogate how race has been constructed in American history against the backdrop of slavery. One insightful analysis is offered by James Snead, who writes, following W.E.B. Du Bois, that the “Negro” is “the metaphor … the major figure in which these power relationships of master/slave, civilized/primitive, enlightened/backward, good/evil, have been embodied in the American subconscious.” n31 This does not mean that other races don’t exist in America, but that blacks are the “idealized” other, and different racial groups float between the two poles of the color line, depending on their economic, social, and cultural status. n32 And since pornography is not a genre known for its subtlety, when it deals with race, it deals with the clear, uncomplicated racial categories that define American society, ideologically if not materially.

Since the race of the performers is the key to marketing IP, it is not surprising that the black male tends to be very dark-skinned and the white woman very blonde. While skin color can vary among blacks, blonde hair is a clear signifier of white womanhood. Although much has been written about the racial politics of black women’s hair, n33 one of the most telling incidents in American movies is the makeover that was done of Fay Wray, who played Ann in the original King Kong. n34 A natural brunette, the producers decided that since she was starring opposite “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood,” n35 she should wear a blonde wig, n36 thus emphasizing her whiteness against his blackness.

[*291]  One of the most popular series of IP movies is called Blacks on Blondes, which features blonde women with multiple black men. As in most IP, the blonde performer is “applauded” for being able to take a black penis in her white mouth, vagina, and anus. In one particular movie with “Liv Wylder” we see an example of a theme running through IP, namely the emasculation of the white man by the big black penis. The text on the site reads:

Bring out the cuckold mask again! Time for another white couple to live out their naughtiest fantasy, and thanks to Blacks On Blondes for making it happen! Liv and Hubby have been married for a few years, and she wears her ring proudly. But lately the spark has left the bedroom, if you know what I mean. A few e-mails later, and we’ve got Hubby in a cage while Boz and Mandingo work Liv over. And when I say they work her over, we mean it. She takes so much black dick it amazed even us. The best part of this whole deal was the end: after Liv has about a gallon of cum all over her face and clothes, and grabs a plastic bowl – for Hubby to beat off in. He does, and his wad was weak, and Liv lets him know that. n37

The white man’s body is literally and metaphorically contained in this movie by both his whiteness and the physical cage in which he is locked during the sex scenes. References to his poor performance in bed (“the spark has left the bedroom”) and his ineffectual semen (“his wad was weak”) stand in sharp contrast to the size of the black men’s penises, the skill of their sexual performance (“they work her over, we mean it”) and the amount of semen they produce (“a gallon of cum”). And to illustrate where the white woman’s allegiance lies, the last line lets us know that Liv is only too happy to ridicule the husband in front of the black men. Indeed, in many such movies, regular reference is made to the white woman’s distaste for white penises after she has sampled a “real man’s” penis. It is thus apparent why one popular series of IP films is called Once You Go Black … You Never Go Back. n38

In heterosexual non-interracial pornography, it is the woman’s body that is scrutinized, talked about, focused on, and visually interrogated. In IP it is the black penis that becomes the star of the show. Indeed, on one site where users post their reviews of movies, there is a debate going on about the apparent authenticity of the black penis in the movie, White Meat on Black Street. n39 Some of the viewers are clearly disturbed by what they see as the fake quality of the penis, while others express a desire to have such a penis. While the race of the users are not clear from their names (most use “anonymous”), the tone of  [*292]  the posts suggest white male readers. One particularly observant viewer, “ramjet” wrote on February 9, 2006:

If you want the best available proof of the fake penis being used, check out the 5th MPEG video in respect of Ruby at the 1:30 mark. The dick is a different color to its “owner” and, more importantly, YOU CAN SEE WHERE IT ENDS AND HIS REAL COCK FITS IN TO IT. The fake has fully come away from his body and a his real balls have fallen out underneath. Case closed. n40

This “heterosexual” viewer seems more entranced by the black penis than by the white woman’s body: his sense of betrayal at having paid to see a real black penis, and instead getting what he sees as a fake one, is palpable. Ramjet’s sense of betrayal makes sense only within the context of the goods offered to the consumer of IP. Throughout the websites, advertising texts, and movies, adjectives such as “huge,” “enormous,” “monstrous,” “gigantic,” and “unbelievable” appear with mind-numbing monotony. The camera lingers on the black penis; the female body is interesting only in terms of how much penis she can tolerate. This contrasts with an on-going theme in white-on-white pornography where questions are asked regarding the ability of the white man’s penis to satisfy the insatiable woman. Such a question would of course make no sense in IP and speaks to the taken-for-granted racist assumption about black men’s sexual prowess/savagery, which is the underlying theme in these movies.

In addition to the text which foregrounds the black penis, there are secondary themes that suggest that it is not just any black man who can perform. The black men are often described as thugs, pimps, hustlers, Hip-Hoppers, mofos, and bros who live in the “hood” and drive “pimp-mobiles.” The class markers here make apparent that it is working class black men who are sexual savages, and the most esteemed is the “black pimp,” who keeps his girls in line and has taught them all they need to know about being a “ho.” Pimp themed movies abound in IP, where the black pimp is defined as the “king of the hood” who uses the particular skill that black men “innately” have of combining sex and violence to turn black “bitches” into “hos.” Sites such as Pimp my Black Teen n41 and She got Pimped n42 focus on the supposedly unattractive nature of black women and the skill of their pimp to transform them into acceptable looking prostitutes. The Pimp my Black Teen site boasts “We find ordinary looking black teens from the ghetto and pimp them out extreme-makeover style!” n43 This site, like many others, has pictures of so-  [*293]  called “before and after makeovers” in which a teenage black woman is shown in sweat pants and jeans for the “before,” and sexy, revealing underwear for the “after.” An example of the text underneath the pictures is “Denna was just to hot to be all ghetto’d out, so she was our next project. She wasn’t that bad to begin with, but once we done her all up, she was super fine. She got all worked up when our man went down and got her pussy drenched … .” n44 Above the text are pictures of “Denna” giving oral sex to a black male.

These sites that show the “conversion” of “hood rats” to presentable “hos” trade on many long-held racist beliefs regarding black women. Although coded as less attractive than a white woman, a black woman has historically been represented in popular culture as having an overt and illicit sexuality that makes her an “ideal” whore. n45 Moreover, her manner is equally unattractive; whereas the white woman supposedly knows her place in the patriarchy, the black woman has been depicted as loud-mouthed, overbearing, and masculine in her demeanor, and thus an emasculator of black men. n46 Indeed, the racist belief is that if the black man is to have any hope of maintaining his masculinity in the face of this onslaught, then he must put his woman in her rightful place, which is, according to Pimp My Black Teen, underneath black men.

Should the black man rise above the “hood” and enter the middle class, however, he would then cease to be an “authentic” black man and would thus be rendered invisible in IP. The middle class black man is missing from these movies because his class mobility and his allegiance to a more “educated” form of masculinity render him white. In her analysis of images of black working class and middle class men in the media, Patricia Hill Collins makes a similar argument when she suggests that “less emphasis is placed on Black men’s bodies within representations of middle-class Black men than characterizes representations of working-class Black men.” n47 It would seem that any movement away from the “hood” and towards whiteness, however tenuous, contaminates black masculinity with whiteness and weakens the primitive maleness defined as “inherent” in all blacks. Interestingly, the black pimp, no matter how wealthy or respectable he becomes, is seen by the pornography industry as always holding onto his black masculinity. Ice-T, the pimp-turned-rapper-turned-actor, has certainly come a long way from his days as a pimp, but for all his “respectability” as a detective (who fights sex crimes) on the hugely successful Law & Order SVU series, he still carries weight as an authentic black man when he narrates the recent hard-core movie called Ice-T’s Pimpin’  [*294]  101, which AVN celebrates as an exciting addition to the pimp porn-movie genre. n48

The pimp, thug/hustler black man of the “hood” with the out-of-control body is not only a favorite of white straight men, but also seems to be a popular object of desire for gay white men. Titles such as Blacks on White Boys, Ebony Dicks in White Ass Holes, and Black Bros and White Twinks make clear who does what to whom in interracial gay porn. The “hood” once again figures largely on the websites where users are encouraged to become site members by clicking the mouse, which will let them “Join Our MemberHood.” n49 It seems that white gay men can buy their way into the hood for a short, and contained, time.

In his analysis of the visual and verbal clues that inform the fetishized and commodified black males in IP gay porn, Dwight A. McBride suggests that such images “presume a viewer who is other to the experience of the man represented in the films.” n50 Moreover, the racial ideologies that make these images intelligible and pleasurable are the very ideologies that underscore mainstream white racism. As McBride argues:

Here in the form of typical images of black men in the mediated context of black gay porn, the viewer can enjoy fantasies about his sexual relationship to blackness without having to account for the possibly troublesome dimensions of the brand of thinking about race that he must necessarily bring to these images for them to work their magic, so to speak. n51

These “troublesome dimensions” are what need to be explained, not only for gay IP but also straight IP, and indeed for many of the images that have circulated and continue to circulate in white-owned and white-consumed media. IP does not exist in a world of its own, but rather draws from, and contributes to, the hegemonic ideologies of race in America that have justified, legitimized, and condoned deeply-rooted systems of racial oppression. However, the way that IP articulates and rearticulates these ideologies is linked to the particular form of pleasure that it offers its readers, namely (white) masculinized sexual pleasure.

IV. Interracial Pornography as the New Minstrel Show

The pleasure that white audiences receive from consuming images of blacks is complex and rooted in the politics of whiteness as an identity that  [*295]  affords status, privileges, and a sense of belonging to some mythical (glorified) racial group. n52 The above mentioned argument articulated by James Snead, that the debasement of blacks is linked to the elevation of whites, is not hard to grasp given the vicious stereotypes of blacks as savages, Coons, half-wits, Mammies, and Jezebels. Whiteness as an identity is a meaningless concept outside of the constructed notions of blackness that whites have produced and circulated in popular culture. Thus, in this wholly mythical world, to be white is to be the opposite of black: hardworking, law abiding, intellectual, rational, and sexually restrained and controlled. These are all traits that in the everyday world have very real currency, providing status to those who operate with a clear allegiance to the culture of whiteness. However, the world of pornography is actually a parallel universe where, for at least the time it takes to get aroused and ejaculate, the currency is one that is in direct contradiction to whiteness. In this world, the traits of whiteness are indeed a burden for the white man, since restraint of any type threatens to undermine the full sexual pleasure that can be achieved with a bevy of “sluts,” “whores,” and “cum buckets” willing to do anything you want. In this world, the mythical black man who is uncontrolled, unrestrained, animalistic, and savage will always trump the uptight, contained, and penis-challenged white guy. Why, then, do white men who do not, in the real world, take kindly to seeing themselves as demasculinized by black men, buy IP?

To look for possible answers to this conundrum, I suggest we go back in time and examine another genre that poses similar questions for historians of race, namely, the Blackface minstrel shows that swept through America in the 1830s and 1840s. Much has been written about the politics of these shows, the ways in which they encoded blackness, and the pleasures they afforded the white, mostly male audiences through displays of white actors in blackface performing “blackness” by singing and dancing. n53 Gerald R. Butters suggest that once given the mask of blackness, white men could “sing, dance, speak, move, and act in ways that were considered inappropriate for white men.” n54 While there is general agreement that these shows were unapologetically racist, historians suggest that multiple and contradictory pleasures were afforded to the audiences, in that they identified both with and against the white performers in black face.

Part of the identification process was facilitated by the fact that these shows did not employ unrecognizable songs or melodies; instead, the musical  [*296]  style and structure borrowed heavily from European patterns. What was different, however, according to Deane Root, was in the style of the performance of the songs, which was “much cruder. It was … foreign. Out of the culture… . They were trying to exaggerate and make [something] (sic) exotic.” n55 In IP, the “songs or melodies” n56 are indeed similar to white-on-white porn since the sex acts between black men and white women are the recognizable anal, vaginal, and oral penetrations. However, the style is, in a sense, exaggerated and cruder in its focus on “big black dicks” pounding away at “small white orifices” that are stretched, as the Eric Decetis cartoon mentioned above so clearly illustrates, to foreign proportions. n57 The aim here, however, is not so much to make the performance exotic as it is to make it erotic, since the sexual pleasure of IP is intensified by the increased sexual abuse of the woman, and the (partial) identification of the viewer with the hypersexual black male.

The fact that black men perform black pornography, rather than white men in blackface, speaks to the ways in which white ownership of media and pornography has defined and continues to define the contours of blacks playing blacks as whites see them. When black men were eventually allowed on to the stage, they had to cork their faces and behave as the whites did in black face. n58 The reason for this, argues Mel Watkins, is that whites assumed that the minstrel shows depicted something real and essential about blacks, because the shows “were advertised as the real thing. In fact, one group was called “The Real Nigs’ … they were advertised as “Come to the theatre and get a real look into what plantation life was like’… It was advertised as a peephole view of what black people were really like.” n59 Rather than a peephole, IP porn is a peepshow for whites into what they see as the authentic black life, not on the plantation, but in the “hood” where all the conventions of white civilized society cease to exist. The “hood” in the white racist imagination is a place of pimps, hos and generally uncontrolled black bodies, and the white viewer is invited, for a fee, to slum in this world of debauchery. In the “hood,” the white man can dispense with his whiteness by identifying with the black man, and thus can become as sexually skilled and as sexually out-of-control as the black man. Here he does not have to worry about being big enough to satisfy the white woman (or man), nor does he have to concern himself with fears about  [*297]  poor performance or “weak wads” or cages like poor hubby in Blacks on Blondes. Indeed, the “hood” represents liberation from the cage, and the payoff is a satiated white woman (or man) who has been completely and utterly feminized by being well and truly turned into a “fuckee.”

But before we celebrate the IP text as subversive and liberatory, we need to put the text in the context of the material world of racist America. The body that is celebrated as uncontrolled in IP is the very same body that needs to be controlled and disciplined in the real world. Just as white suburban teenagers love to listen to hip-hop and white adult males gaze longingly at the athletic prowess of black men, the white pornography consumer enjoys his identification with (and from) black males through a safe peephole, in his own home, and in mediated form. The real, breathing, living black man, however, is to be kept as far away as possible from these living rooms, and every major institution in society marshals its forces in the defense of white society. The ideologies that white men take to the pornography text to enhance their sexual pleasure are the very ideologies that they use to legitimize the control of black men: while it may heighten arousal for the white porn user, it makes life intolerable for the real body that is (mis)represented in all forms of white controlled media.

To ignore the racist codings of black men in pornography in favor of a simplistic, decontextualized reading of the pornographic text as subversive is to operate in a world of white privilege where being a “fucker” is a status symbol with no real-world burden. This burden belongs instead to the black male and, of course, the entire black community, and as long as academic discourse continues to assume a de-racialized woman or man, then our work will have little meaning outside of the few who have access to elite academic institutions. Meanwhile, the pornography industry can continue, unencumbered by academic or cultural criticism, to produce images that make Birth of a Nation look like the good old days.

Legal Topics:

For related research and practice materials, see the following legal topics:
Computer & Internet LawCensorshipObscenity & Indecent SpeechCriminal Law & ProcedureCriminal OffensesSex CrimesSexual AssaultRapeElementsEvidenceScientific EvidenceBlood & Bodily Fluids

FOOTNOTES:

n1. For an example of the debates in feminism on pornography, see Avedon Carol, Nudes, Prudes, and Attitudes: Pornography and Censorship (1994), and Ann Russo, Feminists Confront Pornography’s Subordinating Practices, in Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality 9 (Gail Dines et al. eds., 1998).

n2. Robyn Wiegman, Feminism, “The Boyz,’ and Other Matters Regarding the Male, in Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities in Hollywood Cinema 173 (Steven Cohan & Ina Rae Hark eds., 1993).

n3. Andrea Dworkin, Pornography: Men Possessing Women (2d ed. 1989).

n4. The concept of the “assumed spectator” was developed in Media Studies to explore how the text constructs the reader within a specific subject position. When AVN talks about the viewer of interracial pornography, he is assumed to be a white male because neither whiteness nor maleness is marked as a category of existence; instead they are both normalized. When the writers of AVN talk about women and/or blacks as consumers, then they specifically mention gender and/or race.

n5. Adult Video News is the industry recognized leading trade journal, and is widely quoted in mainstream media. Testimony to its status is the AVN awards show that takes place every January in Las Vegas. Modeled after the Academy Awards, the leading pornography performers and producers compete for the awards which are then displayed on the websites of winning films and performers.

n6. For an excellent analysis of the long standing tensions between black and white feminists, see Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought (2d ed. 2000).

n7. For an example of such work, see Porn Studies (Linda Williams ed., 2004).

n8. Eric Decetis, Cartoon (on file with author).

n9. See The Birth of a Nation (David W. Griffith Corp. 1915).

n10. See, e.g., DRM Versus P2P: Point, Counterpoint (Tripp Daniels ed.), Adult Video News Mag., May 2003, http://www.avnonline.com/index.php?Primary_Navigation=Editorial&Action=print_Article&Content_ID=105809 (last visited Apr. 10, 2006).

n11. See Who the Hell is Max Hardcore?, http://www.maxhardcore.com/whoismax/index.htm (last visited Apr. 7, 2006).

n12. For a discussion of Max Hardcore’s role in making pornography sexually violent, see Max Hardcore Porn Star, http://max-hardcore.excaliburfilms.com/AVN/Max-Hardcore-Biography.htm (last visited Apr. 16, 2006).

n13. For a fuller discussion on the ways that the pornographic text constructs women as the degraded “other,” see Robert Jensen, Cruel to be Hard: Men and Pornography, Sexual Assault Report 33 (2004), available at http://uts.cc.utexas.edu/%7Erjensen/freelance/pornography&cruelty.htm.

n14. For an analysis of how pornography is implicated in the construction of hegemonic masculinity, see John Stoltenberg, Refusing to be a Man (1989).

n15. See, e.g., R. W. Connell, Masculinities (1995); Hazel Carby, Race Men (1998).

n16. See, e.g., Dwight A. McBride, Why I Hate Abercrombie and Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality in America (2005); Mark Anthony Neal, New Black Man (2005).

n17. James Snead, White Screens/Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side 4 (1994).

n18. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics 186-87 (2004).

n19. Cornel West, Race Matters 83 (1993).

n20. Id.

n21. For a historical analysis of the images of black masculinity, see Wiegman, supra note 2, at 173-93. For a historical analysis of the images of black femininity, see Collins, supra note 18.

n22. Ed Guerrero, Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film 9-16 (1993).

n23. Hazel Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American Woman Novelist 23-26 (1987).

n24. In his discussion of the black male body, Kobena Mercer examines the ways in which the racist construction of the black man as all body and no mind has informed Western photography. Kobena Mercer, Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies 131-38 (1994).

n25. Collins, supra note 18, at 153.

n26. See Gail Dines, King Kong and the White Woman: Hustler Magazine and the Demonization of Black Masculinity, 4 J. Violence Against Women 291, 291 (1998).

n27. See Gail Dines, From Fantasy to Reality: Unmasking the Pornography Industry, in Sisterhood is Forever 306 (Robin Morgan ed., 2003).

n28. Ethnic Diversity in Adult: Can’t We All Just Fuck Along?, Adult Video News Mag., May 2003, http://www.adultvideonews.com/cover/cover0905_01.html (last visited Apr. 18, 2006).

n29. Id.

n30. Telephone Interview with Dr. Robert Jensen, Professor of Journalism, University of Texas at Austin (Apr. 3, 2006).

n31. Snead, supra note 17, at 2.

n32. The study of how different racial and ethnic groups became “white” illustrates the fluid nature of “race” and identity in this country. For a particularly insightful analysis, see Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (1995).

n33. See, e.g., Ingrid Banks, Hair Matters: Beauty, Power and Black Women’s Consciousness (2000).

n34. King Kong (RKO Radio Pictures 1933).

n35. This is how the producer/director of King Kong, Merian Cooper, described King Kong to Fay Wray. Snead, supra note 17, at 20.

n36. Biography for Fay Wray, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0942039/bio (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n37. BlacksonBlondes.com, http://blacksonblondes.com/main.php?pg=6 (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n38. For a description of the content of these movies, see searchextreme.com, Once You Go Black … You Never Go Back, http://www.searchextreme.com/series/Once_You_Go_Black…_You_Never_Go_Back/97899206841 (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n39. See Sir Rodney’s Guide to Online Erotica, http://www.sirrodney.com/singlereview/White+Meat+On+Black+Street#readerreviews (last visited Apr. 3, 2006).

n40. Sir Rodney’s Guide to Online Erotica, http://www.sirrodney.com/singlereview/White+Meat+On+Black+Street#readerreviews (last visited Apr. 3, 2006).

n41. Pimp My Black Teen, http://www.pimpmyblackteen.com/ (click on “Agree/Enter” hyperlink) (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n42. She Got Pimped, http://www.shegotpimped.com/(click on “Agree/Enter” hyperlink) (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n43. Pimp My Black Teen, http://www.pimpmyblackteen.com/index.phtml?wm_login=warned&warned=y (last visited Apr. 7, 2006).

n44. Id.

n45. See Carby, supra note 23, at 30-34.

n46. For a discussion of the ways in which black women have been masculinized in white pop culture, see Collins, supra note 18.

n47. Id. at 169.

n48. Dan Miller, IVN To Release Fatt Entertainment’s Ice-T’s Pimpin’ 101, Adult Video News Mag., Dec. 2002, http://www.adultvideonews.com/bone/by1202_04.html (last visited Apr. 10, 2006).

n49. Twinks from the Hood, http://www.twinksfromthehood.com/?revid=14522&pid=51&track (last visited Apr. 2, 2006).

n50. McBride, supra note 16, at 103.

n51. Id.

n52. For a fuller discussion on how whiteness is socially constructed, see George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics (1998); Ignatiev, supra note 32; and David R. Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness (1991).

n53. For a fuller discussion of the politics of black face, see Gerald R. Butters, Jr., Black Manhood on the Silent Screen (2002); Eric Lott, Love and Theft: Black Face Minstrelsy and the American Working Class (1995); and Michael Rogin, Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (1998);

n54. Butters, supra note 53, at 10.

n55. Excerpts from the PBS program, American Experience, Stephen Foster, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/foster/sfeature/sf_minstrelsy_3.html (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).

n56. For an analysis of how pornographic films can be likened to musicals, see Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure and the “Frenzy of the Visible’ 130-52 (1989).

n57. See infra p. 284 and note 8.

n58. This is not to argue that blacks simply mimicked the whites in black face as there were some real attempts by black actors to provide a more humanized, authentic version of black life. However, there were very real limits to this. Butters, supra note 53, at 11-12.

n59. Excerpts from the PBS program, American Experience, Stephen Foster, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/foster/sfeature/sf_minstrelsy_5.html (last visited Mar. 20, 2006).


Pornography, Feminist Debates on

Gail Dines And Robert Jensen

Subject Communication Studies » Feminist and Gender Communication Studies
Gender Studies » Women’s Studies

Key-Topics feminism, pornography

The feminist pornography debates, known as the “porn wars” or the “sex wars,” began in the US, the UK, and many other countries around the world in the early 1980s. These struggles have raised questions about the nature and effects of not only pornography but also prostitution and stripping, highlighting crucial debates about women’s agency and the role of structural forms of inequality in shaping women’s lives in patriarchy.

History of Debates

There have been three major philosophical/political positions within feminism during these debates: (1) anti-pornography feminists, typically identified as “radical feminists”; (2) anti-censorship feminists who are critical of misogynistic pornography but reject the legal approach radical feminists proposed; and (3) a pro-pornography group valorizing pornography as a discourse that subverts traditional gender norms and has liberatory potential for women’s sexuality. The growing strength of the postmodernism (→ Postmodernism and Communication) underlying this third position is representative of a larger trend away from the activist-oriented second wave of feminism toward a more academic-based theorizing. Since the 1980s, these debates have caused major divisions in the global feminist movement and continue to split feminists into anti- and pro-pornography camps (→ Women’s Movement and the Media).

The second wave of western feminism, beginning in the 1960s, gave rise to a radical feminist movement that argued male violence against women was one of the central patriarchal methods of control over women. The other major strand of second wave thinking, liberal feminism, focused on women’s subordinate social and legal status in the home and workplace, and tended not to highlight physical violence and sexual exploitation. For radical feminists, violence against women was theorized as a method of sexual terrorism, central to men’s economic and cultural control of women. Radical feminists argued that until women were free from violence and the fear of violence – in private and in public – legal or economic gains would not liberate women (→ Sexual Violence in the Media).

A grassroots anti-violence movement argued that sexual assault was an expression of, rather than an exception to, patriarchy’s sexual norms, and in response women created rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters, and support groups for survivors of child sexual assault. Radical feminists exploring reasons for this violence looked at popular culture and pornography, given that in a mass-mediated society images help shape attitudes and behavior (i.e., in advertising, news, and entertainment media). Radical feminists criticized misogynistic images in all these media, as well as the underlying ideology that legitimized or celebrated violence against women (→ Women in the Media, Images of).

This led to activist groups in the US, most prominently Women against Pornography (WAP) in New York, educating and protesting the harms of the pornography industry. Anti-pornography slide shows were distributed to local feminist groups and presented in private homes, local community groups, and colleges to help build a grassroots movement of women to organize against the pornography industry. WAP also gave guided tours of the shops in New York’s infamous Times Square pornography district to raise public awareness about the sexist nature of pornography. In March 1979, WAP organized a Times Square march that drew several thousand and generated national coverage that publicized the movement.

The first major radical feminist publication was Take back the night: Women on pornography (Lederer 1980), in which key researchers of violence such as Diana Russell and prominent feminists such as Alice Walker and Robin Morgan set out a framework for understanding pornography as a form of violence against women in both its production and use by men. This was followed a year later by Pornography: Men possessing women, which established Andrea Dworkin as the best-known anti-pornography feminist in the US and then increasingly around the world. Dworkin argued that pornography was one of the major ways patriarchy disseminated woman-hating propaganda.

Divisions over the Ordinance

Although there was a flurry of this kind of anti-pornography critique and activism in the US in the late 1970s and early 1980s, radical feminists did not face organized opposition from other feminists until an anti-pornography legal strategy was developed by Dworkin and lawyer/law professor Catharine MacKinnon. Rejecting traditional criminal obscenity law, in 1983 they drafted for Minneapolis a civil rights ordinance that would allow women to pursue damages against producers and consumers. Passed by the City Council but vetoed twice by the mayor in Minneapolis, it was then passed and signed into law in Indianapolis in 1984. That ordinance, and the theory behind it, were rejected on constitutional grounds in the federal courts in 1986, though organizing efforts to pass the law in other jurisdictions continued through the early 1990s.

The ordinance proposed a shift in existing law, away from a moral framework about what kind of sex is consistent with the dominant sexual mores and toward a political one, focused on patriarchal power. Rooting the move in the radical feminist argument that women are oppressed in part through sexual subordination, Dworkin and MacKinnon identified pornography as a means of sexualizing inequality and a practice of sex discrimination. The ordinance created five causes of action women could pursue: coercion into making pornography; the forcing of pornography on unwilling people; assault resulting from pornography; defamation through pornography; and trafficking in pornography. The trafficking clause, allowing any woman to bring a case against any pornographer, was the broadest and hardest to square with contemporary interpretations of the First Amendment. The assault cause of action raised complex questions about pornography’s effects on not just attitudes but behavior.

Anti-censorship feminists were skeptical about state intervention in sexual matters, even under the umbrella of civil law that empowered women, and rejected the ordinance as a threat to women’s freedom and autonomy. The Feminist Anti-Censorship Task Force produced an argument – known as the FACT brief – that became a focus of debate between the two camps. Some of the women in FACT also articulated a pro-pornography position that became more prominent in the 1990s and 2000s, as the liberal rejection of the radical critique increasingly leaned toward the postmodern.

Much of the debate about pornography has concerned the question of effects (→ Media Effects; Sex and Pornography as Media Content, Effects of). Does pornography, particularly material that eroticizes violence and/or domination, lead to increased sexual violence against women, children, and other vulnerable people? Pro-pornography feminists and some researchers argue there is no conclusive evidence. Others find evidence for effects with some groups of men. No one argues that pornography is the sole causal factor in rape; the question is whether use of pornography can be considered a sufficient condition for triggering a sexual assault in some men, and whether repeated exposure to pornography can contribute to the normalization of sex that is coercive, violent, and degrading.

Radical feminists argue that attention to the experiences of men and women – those who use pornography and against whom pornography is used – makes the connection clear. Such accounts, in light of laboratory work from social psychology, have led radical feminists to argue that, at a minimum, pornography (1) is one important factor in shaping a male-dominant view of sexuality; (2) can contribute to a user’s difficulty in separating sexual fantasy and reality; (3) is sometimes used to initiate victims and break down resistance to sexual activity; and (4) sometimes provides a training manual for men who sexually abuse women and children.

Contemporary Debates

These camps are also divided on the nature of the pornography industry. For radical feminists, the production of pornography in patriarchy exploits women. While not denying the ability of women in the industry to make choices, the feminist anti-pornography movement focuses on the economic, social, and cultural factors that influence women’s choices to perform in pornography, such as histories of sexual abuse in childhood, the violence of pimps, and control by boyfriends and other men. Pro-pornography feminists counter this argument by insisting that women are making rational choices given the reality of employment opportunities and that some women prosper in the industry.

This is part of a much larger debate regarding the nature of work in the sex industry. Pro-pornography feminists describe prostitutes, strippers, and women in pornography as sex workers who sell their labor, much like other workers, and argue that any problems should be addressed through union organizing and/or health regulations. Radical feminists reject the term “sex worker,” arguing that women in the sex industry do not perform work as it is typically understood. Most radical feminists are anti-capitalist and supportive of labor organizing, but see pornography as a practice central to the subordination of women and as a form of violence. Radical feminists point to the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in women who are prostituted, as well as high levels of physical abuse and sexually transmitted diseases, evidence of the exploitative conditions of these women’s lives. Pro-pornography feminists argue that women in the sex industry freely enter into contractual agreements to sell their labor.

While most of the early arguments against the radical position focused on issues of free speech and the dangers of censorship in the 1980s and 1990s, such writing increasingly argues that pornography can be a subversive and libratory text, or indeed, that it has been controlled and domesticated for women’s pleasure (Juffer 1998). Many of these concepts have their origins in postmodernist theory, especially as developed by literary, art, and film scholars such as Linda Williams (2004) and Laura Kipnis (1996), focusing on the text and the power of readers to interpret meaning. The postmodern turn in the academy – a focus on the fluidity of meaning of texts with multiple meanings, depending on the subject position of the reader – has influenced feminist analysis that constructs the pornographic image as a complex text open to interpretation. This conflicts with the radical feminist argument that examines the meaning of the pornographic text in the context of the lives of the women who are used in the making and the women who will interact with the men who are the primary consumers. While pro-pornography feminists do not minimize the harm of men’s violence against women, they reject the idea that pornography is a central practice in patriarchal control of women.

One area of agreement concerns the making of child pornography, which is understood by virtually all as exploitation and an inherent violation of children. Yet while pro-pornography feminists make a sharp distinction between sexually explicit material made with children and with adults, radical feminists make connections. While not arguing that adults in pornography have the status of children, radical feminists point to how pornography using adults also eroticizes subordination. Radical feminists point to common genres of pornography such as Hustler’s “Barely Legal” films, in which the adult women performing are dressed and posed in ways that suggest a younger age.

Although the pro-porn and radical feminists continue to disagree on key issues, there was little direct political engagement between the two camps in the late 1990s and early 2000s. That is in part because there have been no legal issues to focus the debate, and also because pro-porn feminists tend to concentrate more on writing for an academic audience and radical feminists focus on activism outside the academy.

SEE ALSO: ▸ Feminist Communication EthicsFeminist and Gender StudiesGender: Representation in the MediaMedia EffectsPornography, Media Law onPornography Use across the Life-SpanPostmodernism and CommunicationSex and Pornography as Media Content, Effects ofSexual Violence in the MediaWomen in the Media, Images ofWomen’s Movement and the Media

American Booksellers Association v. William H. Hudnut. Ordinance judged invalid, 598 F.Supp. 1316 (S.D. Indiana, 1984). Judgment affirmed, 771 F.2d 323 (7th Cir. 1985). Judgment affirmed, 106 S.Ct. 1172 (1986), and petition for rehearing denied, 106 S.Ct. 1664 (1986).

Burstyn, V. (ed.) (1985). Women against censorship . New York: HarperCollins .

Cornell. D. (ed.) (2000). Feminism and pornography . New York: Oxford University Press .

Dines, G., Russo, A., & Jensen. R. (1998). Pornography: The production and consumption of inequality . New York: Routledge .

Dworkin, A. (1981). Pornography: Men possessing women . New York: Perigee .

Itzin, C. (ed.) (1992). Pornography: Women, violence and civil liberties . Oxford: Oxford University Press .

Juffer, J. (1998). At home with pornography: Women, sexuality and everyday life . New York: New York University Press .

Kipnis, L. (1996). Bound and gagged: Pornography and the politics of fantasy in America . New York: Grove Press .

Lederer, L. (ed.) (1980). Take back the night: Women on pornography . New York: William Morrow .

MacKinnon, C. (1993). Only words . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press .

Nagle, J. (ed.) (1997). Whores and other feminists . New York: Routledge .

Paul, P. (2006). Pornified: How pornography is damaging our lives, our relationships, and our families . New York: Owl Books .

Russell, D. (ed.) (1993). Making violence sexy: Feminist views on pornography . New York: Teachers College Press .

Stark, C., & Whisnant, R. (2004). Not for sale: Feminists resisting prostitution and pornography . Melbourne: Spinifex Press .

Strossen, N. (1995). Defending pornography: Free speech, sex, and the fight for women’s rights . New York: Scribner .

Williams, L. (ed.) (2004). Porn studies . Durham, NC: Duke University Press .

Cite this article

Dines, Gail and Robert Jensen. “Pornography, Feminist Debates on.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication. Donsbach, Wolfgang (ed). Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Blackwell Reference Online. 28 October 2008 <http://www.communicationencyclopedia.com/subscriber/tocnode?id=g9781405131995_chunk_g978140513199521_ss80-1>


Yale Sex Week Glosses Over Porn’s Dark Side

Hartford Courant

GAIL DINES

February 11, 2008

By Gail Dines

You know an industry has become mainstream when its representatives are invited to address the elite institutions of higher learning. On Feb 16th, as part of the Sex Week at Yale (SWAY), pornographer Steve Hirsch, founder and owner of leading porn studio Vivid Productions, will be at Yale University to talk about – what else? – his role in mainstreaming the porn industry. And indeed, pornographers like Hirsch, who represent the up-market chic end of the industry, did more than most pornographers to make the industry the multi-billion dollar a year concern it is today.

By showcasing Vivid, Yale University is accepting, even promoting, the media-generated sugar-coated image of the porn industry as glamorous, fun and cool. This image has been made popular by Howard Stern, “documentaries” on E! Entertainment and celebrity magazines such as People. The “Vivid Girls” are the elite of the porn industry, women who earn a decent, if short-lived livelihood, and somewhat protected from the much larger world of more violent and body-punishing hard-core movies called ‘gonzo’ by the industry. The (mainly white) Vivid Girls are the respectable face of the porn industry; their job is to make porn look like a wholesome route to stardom; they act as a recruitment tool for a mass production sweatshop industry that needs to keep replenishing its supply of female bodies.

One of the highlights of the SWAY week is the contest “Who Looks Most Like a Vivid Girl”, to be judged by two of the women on contract to Vivid. Women go to university for many reasons, but for most, it is to get an education and position themselves for a professional career. I dare say that few if any women at Yale are aspiring for a career track in the porn industry, as they are going to have a range of options open to them, thanks to their Ivy League degree. Those women who do go into porn are mostly women from underprivileged backgrounds, who facing a life of minimum wage labor, see porn as a way out of anonymous economic drudgery. And why not? The only image they ever get of porn is one that highlights the lucky few who actually made real money and get to mix with a few B list celebrities.  What they don’t get to see are the thousands and thousands of women who start in porn and end up, within a short time, working the brothels of Nevada for a pittance, or having to deal with substance abuse and STDs.

The real story of porn, one which looks nothing like the chic media image, will be well hidden next week at Yale. The students have invited mainly representatives from the porn industry and their supporters, with the only voice of opposition being XXX Church pastor Craig Gross. Missing are the voices of women who have left the industry after being brutalized and exploited, for whom a college education, let alone at an Ivy, is unaffordable and almost unimaginable. Also missing is the anti-pornography feminist voice, which sees pornography as sexist, violent and harmful to women. After thirty years of researching the industry, the business practices of the pornographers, and the effects on women and men, we anti-porn feminists are “disappeared” from the debate.

Two years ago I spoke on a pornography panel at Yale Law School. Of the six people invited, I was the only speaker to criticize the porn industry, with the others either being pornographers, or bar one, so pro-porn, they might as well have been industry representatives.  After the panel, some students came up to me to express their disgust with the way the panel had been organized, and how they felt cheated out of a thoughtful dialogue. Now just a couple of years later there is no attempt by the organizers of SWAY to even pay lip-service to a feminist critique; one more sign of just how acceptable and mainstream porn has become at Yale, and in our culture.

Gail Dines, a sociology professor at Wheelock College in Boston, is co-editor of Gender, Race and Class in Media. Dines is one of the producers a PowerPoint slide show on pornography that is available by writing stoppornculture@gmail.com. For more information about Dines go to http://www.gaildines.com.


The pursuit of manliness harms men — and women as well

Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2, 2006.

by Gail Dines and Robert Jensen

Men are in trouble.

On average, boys don’t perform as well as girls in school. Boys engage in higher levels of risky behavior and are more violent. And, in the end, men die about five years earlier than women in the United States.

This crisis for men — which is all over the headlines, the subject of a new book and the talk of talk shows — is actually a crisis of masculinity. The high priests of masculinity tell us, not surprisingly, that the solution is more masculinity. The conventional wisdom is that the root of the problem is feminism and the feminizing of the culture and boys.

We argue the only hope for men is feminism.

The shallow bravado of the book “Manliness” cannot cover the fact that the dominant construction of masculinity in U.S. culture (rooted in aggression and a quest for power over others) leads not only to predictable injuries to women and girls (through the discriminatory practices and violence that stems from those values) but is also toxic to men. What creates risks for women also constrains the lives of men.

In this latest pop sensation book on the subject, Harvey Mansfield concedes that the virtues of “manliness” also foster some of these negative behaviors but concludes we must accept these “accidentally bad” consequences. This adds another voice to the decades-old right-wing commentary that suggests men are naturally brutes and that the role of society and family is to tame the worst of those characteristics.

Sometimes it seems the only people who routinely stick up for men’s humanity are feminists, and typically the most radical feminists

Feminists were the first to really explain how culture shaped masculinity and femininity, and how both were connected to gender oppression. We have always argued that this toxic masculinity is not inherent or inevitable but a product of a culture that either explicitly teaches or implicitly condones a definition of what-it-means-to-be-a-man that is marked by unbridled competition, emotionally disengaged individualism, and aggression.

And feminists were the first to say that not only women, but also men, deserve better.

Instead of accepting these insights, defenders of this traditional conception of masculinity have attacked feminists as the source of the problem for creating a “gender neutral” society that robs men of the ability to be real men. That blame is misplaced.

It is not feminists who have relentlessly sold to boys and men images of male=violent. Violent media (from cartoons for the youngest boys to Hollywood movies for adolescents) come from media conglomerates, not feminists. It wasn’t feminists who came up with professional wrestling and its grotesque levels of staged violence or pushed traditional sports such as hockey to be more brutal. Feminists didn’t create the multi-billion-dollar pornography industry that fuses sex with aggression and domination, in increasingly cruel fashion.

All of these media and cultural products, which are marketed primarily to boys and men, are the invention of people hot for profit, not feminists hungry for social justice.

No feminist denies the obvious physical and hormonal differences between the sexes. But we recognize that those differences don’t condemn men to pathological behavior. Are there “natural” psychological differences in men and women? For all the human species’ scientific cleverness, we know virtually nothing definitive and don’t have the intellectual tools to figure out much. Most of the masculinists’ claims are ideology-fueled speculation.

What we do know is that human nature — men’s and women’s — is widely variable and responsive to social structures and institutions. We can build structures to promote equality and foster egalitarianism — the goal of feminism and other liberatory movements — or we can continue to bolster and reward this toxic masculinity.

It’s long past the time for a national conversation about masculinity as a public health issue. This hyper-aggressive masculinity creates a world of relentless violence, from the intimate to the global — wars for domination not liberation, rape and battery, schoolyard bullying. While women are capable of violence as well, the vast majority is perpetrated by men against other men, women, and children. Our claim is not that all men are bad and all women are good but that a system rooted in men’s attempts to dominate can only lead to these kinds of violence.

The masculinists are right to point out that men are in trouble. But for all of men’s stoic emotional repression, they do not suffer those troubles in silence but instead visit them upon the world.

This world cannot bear the troubles of men forever.

Gail Dines, an American Studies professor at Wheelock College in Boston, and Robert Jensen, a Journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, are co-authors of “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality.” They can be reached at gdines@wheelock.edu and rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.


So You Think You Know What Porn is: Q&A with Gail Dines for the Mars Society

1) If I understand your position correctly, you acknowledge that some women choose pornography — young women who want to be the next Jenna Jameson — and obviously many modern women choose to be ‘empowered women’ like the Sex and the City characters. Given that these women feel free and powerful, without appeal to either of these, how is being a radical feminist better for women?

Gag on My Cock, Altered Assholes, Human Toilet Bowls, Ebony Sluts, Oh No Theres a Negro in My Daughter, First Time with Daddy and so on. These are just some of the titles of popular porn websites and movies. Behind the soft-focus façade of porn – a façade constructed by the media in large part – lies a world of cruelty, violence and degradation. Most people I know who claim that porn is empowering for women have never actually seen what mainstream Internet porn – called gonzo by the industry – looks like. For the uninitiated, I will list some of the most common acts:

  • Vaginal, anal, and oral penetration of a woman by three or more men at the same time
  • Double anal in which a woman is penetrated anally by two men at the same time
  • Double vagina in which a woman is penetrated vaginally by two men at the same time
  • Gagging in which a woman has a penis thrust so far down her throat, she gags (or in the more extreme cases, vomits)
  • Ass-to-mouth in which a penis goes from a woman’s anus to her mouth without washing

These acts are played out on a living being who, like the rest of us, has certain bodily limits. The goal in gonzo is to push these limits to the maximum. I would bet that few of the women who enter porn know fully what is expected of them or that they have a short shelf life as the body cannot take such punishment for long. Even the industry admits that gonzo porn is hard on the woman’s body.[i] According to the Adult Industry Media Healthcare Foundation women in porn are at risk of contracting diseases that few women outside of the industry will ever experience: chlamydia of the eye and throat, gonorrhea of the eye and throat, herpes of the eye, and herpes of the nose.

Jenna Jameson was indeed a major recruitment tool for the industry since she was the first woman to move seamlessly from pornography to pop culture and back again. Her fame, together with her vast wealth, became a walking advertisement for the porn industry. Add to this that the reality of porn today is largely hidden from young women, and what you get is a steady stream of working-class women looking to become “porn stars.” In a recession, working-class jobs for women are increasingly hard to find, and they often offer a life of drudgery. Next to this porn looks very glamorous. What I hear from many women in porn is that although they consented to be in porn, they had no idea what they were actually consenting to. Jenna Jameson in her book “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” explains what a woman’s entry into porn looks like:

Most girls get their first experience in gonzo films—in which they’re taken to a crappy studio apartment in Mission Hills and penetrated in every hole possible by some abusive asshole who thinks her name is Bitch.  And these girls . . . go home aferward and pledge never to do it again because it was such a terrible experience.  But, unfortunately, they can’t take that experience back, so they live the rest of their days in fear that their relatives, their co-workers, or their children will find out, which they inevitably do.

So the question becomes just how empowering is performing in porn for women? Again Jameson provides insight when she describes her first photo shoot:
Spreading my legs was the worst.  I had no idea it would be so intimidating to sit spread-eagled under bright lights in a room full of clothed people.”  The photographer keeps shouting “wider!”  Then “show me pink!”  … Though I really wanted to please him, I couldn’t . . . exposing my insides to strangers was so daunting that, instead of spreading my lips with my fingers, I kept trying to cover them up.

This does not sound like an empowered woman taking control of her sexuality, but a frightened teenager who is out of her depth. Women in porn are also subject to verbal as well as physical abuse, where they are called not honey, love, or sweetheart – terms of endearment –  but cunt, whore, bitch, cumbucket and slut. Empowerment is not about working in an industry that demands that you are anally, vaginally and orally penetrated by men who scream in your face that you are a dirty slut. So what is real empowerment?

The place where I discovered my power was radical feminism. When I read Andrea Dworkin’s work my life was turned upside down. All of a sudden I could make sense of my life and understand why I was treated the way I was. I broke free of all the ideological myths that patriarchy delivers to women and for the first time, I felt like I could really see the world. There is nothing like feminist consciousness to make a woman feel powerful and free. This is why your question doesn’t make much sense to me as radical feminism is all about power and freedom for women.

In radical feminism we don’t talk about empowerment of the individual but rather collective liberation for women as a class. We say that as long as one woman is being oppressed then our job is to fight for her. We don’t see more sex or better orgasms as the answer to women’s oppression. What we want is the end of a system where women are the majority of the world’s poor, hungry, illiterate, overworked and raped. Our bodies are commodified to the point that you can buy and sell a woman over and over again. For radical feminists only massive structural change will do. We need to overthrow the systems of patriarchy, capitalism and racism and in their place put a world that is based on equality, justice and dignity for all people. To suggest in any way that working for a predatory industry that sees you as a “cunt” and uses your body to make money is empowerment is to be co-opted by the very systems that oppress you.

2) Do you object to pornographic images where the male actor is subservient? If not, does this mean you object to some innate part of male psychology?

As a radical feminist I object to any person being subordinated. Turning the tables and oppressing men is not my goal. This would be a total and absolute internalization of the oppressor. I don’t know what male psychology is as we have not “discovered” what percentage of behavior is nature and what is nurture. What I can say as a sociologist is that we are social beings who construct our identities from the cultural cues that come to us from parents, peer groups, schools, media and especially, for men,  porn. Masculinity and femininity are socially constructed in that they are culturally produced rather than innate behaviors. To say that men (or women for that matter) have innate desires to be subservient makes no sense in this framework.

3) You’ve written extensively on heterosexual pornography, what is your perspective on pornography aimed at women or, say, homosexual pornography?

I focus on mainstream heterosexual porn and have not delved much into gay or lesbian porn. What I will say is that most of the porn directed to lesbians uses the same visual codes and conventions of heterosexual porn.   There is very little that looks creative or counter-hegemonic.

4) You assert that heterosexual pornography is a gateway drug to child pornography, you sighted trends such as very slim models, the shaving of public hair, but also that pornography has increasingly ‘harder’ subject matters. But how does a person, in your mind, make that drastic change from the moral position that it has to be consensual, to watching real abuse. What is the casual link?

This is an excellent question and one that preoccupies me as it asks the key question of why men like gonzo porn. We need to remember, though, that in mainstream porn, no matter how cruel the act, women are depicted as loving it and wanting more, even as you see her grimace and grit her teeth. This suggests to men that porn women are unlike the women they know in the real world; they desire a certain level of abuse to get off. But even if she is says she likes it, it really doesn’t take much empathy to see that the act is painful and demeaning. So how do men get to the point that they can look past the obvious as a way to gain pleasure from porn.

One way to explain this is desensitization where men become bored with porn and have to keep upping the ante to remain interested. This makes sense as porn is inherently boring because it is so formulaic. The average gonzo has X minutes on oral, X on anal and so on. There might be small variations – anal comes before oral – but it is mind-numbing in its repetitiveness. What keeps sex interesting is connection and intimacy, the very things that are missing in porn. Indeed one ad for the porn website ImLive  says “don’t come here looking for love.” Porn is more like making hate to women, and to keep this from getting old, you need to keep increasing the hate. As an example of just how much hatered towards women there is in porn, I will quote from an ad for Jake Malone’s Fuck Slave 3:

Jaelyn Fox walks amongst us, but lets take this moment to mourn the death of her soul. It was a good soul – one filled with youthful vigor and hope. Its time of death is believed to have occurred somewhat between eating Jake Malone’s rancid asshole and having her pretty blonde head used as a toilet brush …. Fuck Slaves 3 is Malone’s latest exercise in dignity extraction. Female performers surrender mind, body and soul to participate in disturbing acts of debasement.

What’s remarkable about this text is that it so perfectly captures what porn is all about: the dehumanization and debasement of women and the more you do this to them, the better the sexual sizzle. To keep users interested the industry needs to keep inventing new acts that are more debased than the last. This partially explains why one popular sub-genre today is ATM – Ass to Mouth – where a man puts his penis in a woman’s anus and then, without washing, puts it in her mouth or the mouth of another woman. What, outside of the debasement of the woman, makes ATM hot?

How men decide where to draw the line is very interesting. I regularly read the online porn discussion boards and what you find is that the users’ lines keep shifting. There was a very interesting thread on Max Hardcore, the king of cruel and hateful porn, that illustrated this. One man wrote that when he first looked at Hardcore’s videos, he felt sickened and violated. He then goes on to say that his tastes seemed to have changed over the years and he now likes Hardcore’s movies. What actually changed was his tolerance level for violent porn as his regular use shifted his idea of what was acceptable and was unacceptable. In this way porn socializes users to want more violent stuff. Also, the more bored he became, the more he needed to see violence and utter degradation. Rather than explain what Hardcore’s films are like, I will let him describe the themes he “pioneered:”

Positions like pile driver, where I would gape the girls asses wide open, and provide a clear view for the camera, was unknown before I came along. I also created the technique of cumming in a girl’s ass, having her squeeze it out into a glass, and then chuck the load down.

He continues by boasting that he:

developed many other unique maneuvers, most notably, vigorous throat fucking, creating gallons of throat slime over a girl’s upside down face, and even causing them to puke. A little later, I started pissing down their throats several times during a scene, often causing them to vomit uncontrollably while still reaming their throats.

While Hardcore is on the extreme end of gonzo, the themes he uses in his movies are now filtering down into gonzo as a whole.

What’s left for the desensitized user fter gonzo? I was told by a porn producer in an interview that this is an industry running out of ideas. They have now done everything they can to a woman’s body, short of killing her. This is a problem because, according to porn director Jules Jordan, “Fans want to see much more extreme stuff.”[ii] We don’t have any long-term empirical studies that explore where such users go, but anecdotal evidence from psychologists and social workers, as well as my own interviews with incarcerated child molesters, suggests that increasingly men are becoming so bored with porn that they are turning to child porn, even if they do not fit the profile of a pedophile. Children are the last taboo and since porn trades in breaking taboos, what could be hotter than masturbating to that which transgresses all boundaries?

Talking about how porn affects users inevitable leads us into the most tricky of terrains. Some argue that porn has no effect while others, especially anti-porn feminists, see porn as part and parcel of a male supremacist society. In radical feminism we don’t think that pornography is the cause of women’s subordinate status. What we say is that for any system of oppression to work it needs to deliver an ideology that legitimizes the oppression. By reducing women to cunts, whores and sluts, the porn industry robs us of our humanity and delivers us up as a series of body parts to men. Porn is the most succinct and crisp deliverer of a woman-hating ideology. While we have other places that encode such an ideology, nowhere does it quite as well as porn, as this delivers messages to men’s brain via the penis – a very powerful method.

While it is ridiculous to assume that porn is THE reason for women’s subordinate status, it is equally ridiculous to assume that porn has no effect on its consumers. If men could walk away from masturbating to porn unchanged then everything we know about humans as cultural beings is wrong. We would have to believe that somehow we come into the world as fixed beings and our experiences don’t shape us. For this to be true we would have to throw out the core assumptions of sociology, psychology, philosophy, history and media studies.

To talk about what these potential effects could be, I have spoken with thousands of men across the United States about how they themselves experience porn’s effects. My research, as well as that by journalist Pamela Paul, shows that the more men use porn, the more difficult it is to form close and intimate sexual bonds with real women. Porn today is so extreme that real-world sex seems vanilla and boring by comparison. Some of the effects that men have told me include:

  • Difficulty in ejaculating without imagining porn images
  • Feeling like a sexual loser because they cannot perform like the men in porn
  • Comparing their sex partners with women in porn
  • Losing  interest in sex with real women
  • Becoming bored so there is a need to graduate to harder material
  • Developing an addiction to porn

I have been giving lectures on porn for over twenty years, and only recently have I heard stories from men about addiction to porn. These men feel scared and out of control as they increasingly seek out more extreme material – the kind of material that in the past disgusted them. I used to be very skeptical of the addiction model but more and more therapists are seeing men who are addicted. Clinicians Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz,[iii] in their book on porn addiction, say that they found that “what used to be a small problem for relatively few people [has] grown to a societal issue.” The most compelling evidence for me comes from the porn industry as it was reported in an article in Adult Video News (the trade journal of the industry) that approximately 20% of users meet the clinical definition of an addict. Of course the article then goes on to explore how website owners can “exploit the data” in ways that keep the addict on the site after he has ejaculated.

Radical feminists have been accused of saying that porn leads men to rape. We have never argued for such a simplistic approach, rather we see porn as one place that produces ideology, myths, norms and values that create a culture that is at best inhospitable to women, and at worse, dangerous.  This means that the images and stories of porn impact the way men construct their notions of identity, gender, sexuality and heterosexuality. The more men masturbate to women being treated in cruel ways, the more it chips away at men’s abilities to see women as full human beings who deserve full equality. Take, for example, racist images. Nobody ever argued that such images would lead a white person to kill a person of color, but we would see that such images have an impact on the way whites see people of color, and the way these people are treated in the real world. This is why as a society we have developed some minimal consciousness around racist images. Not so for sexist ones, as we allow a level of misogyny in porn that is breathtaking – only this hateful propaganda is sexualized thus rendering the violence invisible.

What I say to men who attend my lectures is that porn most probably won’t turn you into a rapist, but it will affect you in some way. It is impossible to say with any precision how any individual user will be affected, but what we can predict is that in some way, on some level, porn’s messages will affect the way a user thinks and/or acts in the real world. This could be anything from having trouble ejaculating when with a woman, or feeling let down by sex, or in the more extreme cases, forcing a hookup partner to go further than she wants. Whatever the effect, these images, unlike the penis, can’t be zipped up after use.

5) How do you account for the fact that cultures with high levels of female rights have greater media and pornographic access, whilst societies with greater female rights curtailment, for example Iran, have very limited access to pornography?

You can’t take one country and compare it to the next as if the same dynamics are found in both. We don’t know if there is a connection between women’s rights and porn. We know, for example, that porn is now rampant in Eastern Europe yet these countries are the worst offenders in trafficking women – women are so easily trafficked because they are legally and economically oppressed. Also what does access to porn mean in the days of the Internet? Individuals all over the world have access to porn, much of it made in LA.

6) Do you acknowledge the role freedom of speech plays in change and the danger of limiting that freedom? For example in practical terms legislation has to be worded by people who have to decide what a visual objectification of women is. How would you phrase the bill which legally enforced your views?

As someone who has been silenced from more radio and TV programs than I can count, I am a firm believer in freedom of speech. The only problem is that in a capitalist country speech is controlled by the huge corporations and it is anything but free (30 seconds of prime time TV can cost anywhere between $350,000 to $500,000). Even with the Internet the corporations still have the power as most of the news broadcasts and other programs we watch come from just a handful of companies.  Historically, the oppressed have never had access to those institutions that produce and deliver speech (the church, the state, the corporations). Their speech is rarely heard since it is rarely transmitted in ways that allow for mass audiences, and it is drowned out by the speech of the elite class. In the case of porn, how often does an anti-porn feminist get access to mass audiences? The pornographers literally control the discourse around sex as today porn equals sex in the minds of many, and hence to be anti-porn is thought to be anti-sex. What radical feminists argue is that we do not get to speak in the public domain and those who oppose us get to speak for us and thus we are seen as uptight, man hating prudes who fear sex.

The big question for anti-porn activists is what we can do about the infiltration of porn into the culture. It is way too early to talk about legal remedies as we have not yet had a national conversation on porn. Most women (and some men, especially older ones) have no idea what porn is today so before we move to the law, we need to do a grassroots educational campaign as to the nature and effects of porn. Towards this end, I co-wrote (with Rebecca Whisnant and Robert Jensen) an anti-porn slideshow that explores the contemporary porn industry. The show consists of a 50-minute script and over 100 slides. To get a copy of the show free of charge email stoppornculture@gmail.com.

While we have no plans to seek legal remedies at this time, most radical feminists support some version of the Dworkin-MacKinnon legislation that defines pornography as a violation of women’s civil rights. This way the battles take place in the civil courts so we can avoid using the forces of the state to bring criminal action. Few radical feminists have any faith that the state will work on the behalf of women but we do want to empower women to sue the porn industry if they are hurt in the production or consumption of porn. This way we can hold the industry accountable for harm, much like we hold other companies accountable should their product cause harm.

The average age of a boy seeing his first porn image is 11.5 years. We can’t say for sure what the effects are going to be on the culture as boys increasingly encode porn into their sexual DNA. We are in the midst of a massive social experiment except most people did not sign up to participate. If radical feminists are correct, then the consequences of living in a porn saturated world will be dire for women and girls. I for one do not want to take a wait and see approach, especially because I am an activist as well as an academic. For those people who feel as I do, then go to the Stop Porn Culture website and see how you can help build a movement against this predatory industry.

Gail Dines teaches sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College in Boston. She is a founding member of Stop Porn Culture and the author of the forthcoming book “PornLand: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality.”  She can be contacted at gdines@wheelock.edu.


[i] Gonzo: Taking a Toll. Erik Jay. September 10, 2007, http://xbiz.com/articles/83870

[ii] Quoted in Robert Jensen, Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. Boston: South End Press, 2007, p. 70.

[iii] Wendy Maltz and Larry Maltz. The porn Trap. New York: Collins, 2008, p. 4


So, what do you give our society’s most influential pimp?

Houston Chronicle, April 9, 2006, pp. E-1, 4

By GAIL DINES and ROBERT JENSEN

Hugh Hefner is 80 today. America, say happy birthday to our most influential pimp.

Hefner, the legendary founder of Playboy magazine, a pimp? Yes, if we told the truth about Hefner’s “contribution” to society, we would refer to him as a pimp, as someone who sells women to men for sex. While pornography has never been treated as prostitution by the law, it’s fundamentally the same exchange. The fact that the sex is mediated through a magazine or movie doesn’t change that, nor does the fact that women sometimes use pornography. The fundamentals remain: Men pay to use women for sexual pleasure.

These days Hefner is more likely to be called an entrepreneur, publisher or philanthropist. He’s the subject of endless feature stories focused on his personal life and typically is treated as an elder statesman of the so-called sexual revolution. As a CNN anchor put it last year, “He lives almost every man’s fantasy — surrounded by sex, celebrities, and a lifestyle many envy.” He stars in an E! reality show called The Girls Next Door, featuring Hefner and three girlfriends young enough to be his granddaughters.

Hefner certainly is all those things. He made his name as the risk-taking publisher of the first sex magazine to win wide distribution in the United States and Europe. Behind his public playboy image, Hefner was a tough businessman whose strategic gambles paid off. Some of those profits created the Playboy Foundation, which describes its mission at “protecting and enhancing the American principles of personal freedom and social justice.” And many men dream of “Hef’s” life of sexual freedom — defined as the freedom to access women’s sexuality based on men’s needs and rules.

All that’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that Hefner is every bit as much a pimp as the men who hustle prostituted women on the street. But Hefner is the most influential pimp in postwar U.S. history, the person who launched the mainstreaming of pornography that has led to easy availability of hardcore sexually explicit material that is overtly cruel and degrading to women.

When the first issue of Playboy hit the newsstands in 1953, it is unlikely that even in his wildest dreams Hefner had any idea that his fusion of a sex and lifestyle magazine would lay the economic, cultural and legal groundwork for a global pornography market estimated at $57 billion a year.

The risks Hefner took have led to the pornographic culture we live with today; in 2005, 13,000 new hardcore videos were released in the United States, and any genre of pornography imaginable is easily available on any media platform. Playboy Enterprises, which has evolved into a multimedia entertainment company run by daughter Christie Hefner, has a healthy share of the market. Although it posted a slight net loss in 2005 and the publishing end of the business is sinking, the company’s revenue from licensing fees is strong. Technology changes, but selling women to men remains good business.

In that market, the fastest growing segment is what the industry calls gonzo pornography — sex on tape with no pretense of plot, characters or dialogue. This low-cost/high-profit genre is where pornographers push the limits, legally and culturally. Hefner’s original images of the girl-next-door with a coy smile have been replaced by the body-punishing penetration of a woman by any number of men. Gone is any pretense — and it always was pretense — of pornography being a celebration of women’s beauty, and in its place is an industry that promotes itself as overtly cruel and sadistic to women.

This is the world that Hefner helped create. Along with other pornographers, he would have us believe it’s a new expansion of freedom. But it’s an old story about men’s domination and use of women.

As he nears the end of his life, it’s tempting to see Hefner as self-parody, a pathetic character struggling to hold onto adolescent fantasies long past the time he should have grown up. But in the pornographic world he helped create, Hefner is not alone — men of all ages hold onto those fantasies about sex and domination. And all too often those fantasies become a grim reality for the women, children, and vulnerable men who end up as targets of men’s violence.

Dines, an American Studies professor at Wheelock College in Boston, and Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, are co-authors of “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality.” They can be reached at gdines@wheelock.edu and rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.


Pornography is a left issue

by Gail Dines and Robert Jensen

This article originally appeared on ZNet in December 2005.

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=91&ItemID=9272

Anti-pornography feminists get used to insults from the left. Over and over we are told that we’re anti-sex, prudish, simplistic, politically naïve, diversionary, and narrow-minded. The cruder critics do not hesitate to suggest that the cure for these ailments lies in, how shall we say, a robust sexual experience.

In addition to the slurs, we constantly face a question: Why do we “waste” our time on the pornography issue? Since we are anti-capitalist and anti-empire leftists as well as feminists, shouldn’t we focus on the many political, economic, and ecological crises (war, poverty, global warming, etc.)? Why would we spend part of our intellectual and organizing energies over the past two decades pursuing the feminist critique of pornography and the sexual exploitation industry?

The answer is simple: We are anti-pornography precisely because we are leftists as well as feminists.

As leftists, we reject the sexism and racism that saturates contemporary mass-marketed pornography. As leftists, we reject the capitalist commodification of one of the most basic aspects of our humanity. As leftists, we reject corporate domination of media and culture. Anti-pornography feminists are not asking the left to accept a new way of looking at the world but instead are arguing for consistency in analysis and application of principles.

It has always seemed strange to us that so many on the left consistently refuse to engage in a sustained and thoughtful critique of pornography. All this is particularly unfortunate at a time when the left is flailing to find traction with the public; a critique of pornography, grounded in a radical feminist and left analysis that counters right-wing moralizing, could be part of an effective organizing strategy.

Left media analysis

Leftists examine mass media as one site where the dominant class attempts to create and impose definitions and explanations of the world. We know news is not neutral, that entertainment programs are more than just fun and games. These are places where ideology is reinforced, where the point of view of the powerful is articulated. That process is always a struggle; attempts to define the world by dominant classes can be, and are, resisted. The term “hegemony” is typically used to describe that always-contested process, the way in which the dominant class attempts to secure control over the construction of meaning.

The feminist critique of pornography is consistent with — and, for many of us, grows out of — a widely accepted analysis on the left of ideology, hegemony, and media, leading to the observation that pornography is to patriarchy what commercial television is to capitalism. Yet when pornography is the topic, many on the left seem to forget Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and accept the pornographer’s self-serving argument that pornography is mere fantasy.

Apparently the commonplace left insight that mediated images can be tools for legitimizing inequality holds true for an analysis of CBS or CNN, but evaporates when the image is of a woman having a penis thrust into her throat with such force that she gags. In that case, for unexplained reasons, we aren’t supposed to take pornographic representations seriously or view them as carefully constructed products within a wider system of gender, race, and class inequality. The valuable work conducted by media critics on the politics of production apparently holds no weight for pornography.

Pornography is fantasy, of a sort. Just as television cop shows that assert the inherent nobility of police and prosecutors as protectors of the people are fantasy. Just as the Horatio Alger stories about hard work’s rewards in capitalism are fantasy. Just as films that cast Arabs only as terrorists are fantasy.

All those media products are critiqued by leftists precisely because the fantasy world they create is a distortion of the actual world in which we live. Police and prosecutors do sometimes seek justice, but they also enforce the rule of the powerful. Individuals in capitalism do sometimes prosper as a result of their hard work, but the system does not provide everyone who works hard with a decent living. Some tiny number of Arabs are terrorists, but that obscures both the terrorism of the powerful in white America and the humanity of the vast majority of Arabs.

Such fantasies also reflect how those in power want subordinated people to feel. Images of happy blacks on the plantations made whites feels more secure and self-righteous in their oppression of slaves. Images of contented workers allay capitalists’ fears of revolution. And men deal with their complex feelings about contemporary masculinity’s toxic mix of sex and aggression by seeking images of women who enjoy pain and humiliation.

Why do so many on the left seem to assume that pornographers operate in a different universe than other capitalists? Why would pornography be the only form of representation produced and distributed by corporations that wouldn’t be a vehicle to legitimize inequality? Why would the pornographers be the only media capitalists who are rebels seeking to subvert hegemonic systems?

Why do the pornographers get a free ride from so much of the left?

After years of facing the left’s hostility in public and print, we believe the answer is obvious: Sexual desire can constrain people’s capacity for critical reason — especially in men in patriarchy, where sex is not only about pleasure but about power.

Leftists — especially left men — need to get over the obsession with getting off.

Let’s analyze pornography not as sex, but as media. Where would that lead?

Corporate media

Critiques of the power of commercial corporate media are ubiquitous on the left. Leftists with vastly different political projects can come together to decry conglomerates’ control over news and entertainment programming. Because of the structure of the system, it’s a given that these corporations create programming that meets the needs of advertisers and elites, not ordinary people.

Yet when discussing pornography, this analysis flies out the window. Listening to many on the left defend pornography, one would think the material is being made by struggling artists tirelessly working in lonely garrets to help us understand the mysteries of sexuality. Nothing could be further from the truth; the pornography industry is just that — an industry, dominated by the pornography production companies that create the material, with mainstream corporations profiting from its distribution.

It’s easy to listen in on pornographers’ conversations — they have a trade magazine, Adult Video News. The discussions there don’t tend to focus on the transgressive potential of pornography or the polysemic nature of sexually explicit texts. It’s about — what a surprise! — profits. The magazine’s stories don’t reflect a critical consciousness about much of anything, especially gender, race, and sex.

Andrew Edmond — president and CEO of Flying Crocodile, a $20 million pornography internet company — put it bluntly: “A lot of people get distracted from the business model by [the sex]. It is just as sophisticated and multilayered as any other market place. We operate just like any Fortune 500 company.”

The production companies — from big players such as Larry Flynt Productions to small fly-by-night operators — act predictably as corporations in capitalism, seeking to maximize market-share and profit. They do not consider the needs of people or the effects of their products, any more than other capitalists. Romanticizing the pornographers makes as much sense as romanticizing the executives at Viacom or Disney.

Increasingly, mainstream media corporations profit as well. Hugh Hefner and Flynt had to fight to gain respectability within the halls of capitalism, but today many of the pornography profiteers are big corporations. Through ownership of cable distribution companies and Internet services, the large companies that distribute pornography also distribute mainstream media. One example is News Corp. owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Until 2007, News Corp. was a major owner of DirecTV, which sells more pornographic films than Flynt. In 2000, the New York Times reported that nearly $200 million a year is spent by the 8.7 million subscribers to DirecTV. Among News Corp.’s other media holdings are the Fox broadcasting and cable TV networks, Twentieth Century Fox, the New York Post, and TV Guide. Welcome to synergy: Murdoch also owns HarperCollins, which published pornography star Jenna Jameson’s best-selling book How To Make Love Like A Porn Star.

When Paul Thomas accepted his best-director award at the pornography industry’s 2005 awards ceremony, he commented on the corporatization of the industry by joking: “I used to get paid in cash by Italians. Now I get paid with a check by a Jew.” Ignoring the crude ethnic references (Thomas works primarily for Vivid, whose head is Jewish), his point was that what was once largely a mob-financed business is now just another corporate enterprise.

How do leftists feel about corporate enterprises? Do we want profit-hungry corporative executives constructing our culture?

Commodification

It’s long been understood on the left that one of the most insidious aspects of capitalism is the commodification of everything. There is nothing that can’t be sold in the capitalist game of endless accumulation.

In pornography, the stakes are even higher; what is being commodified is crucial to our sense of self. Whatever a person’s sexuality or views on sexuality, virtually everyone agrees it is an important aspect of our identity. In pornography, and in the sex industry more generally, sexuality is one more product to be packaged and sold.

When these concerns are raised, pro-pornography leftists often rush to explain that the women in pornography have chosen that work. Although any discussion of choice must take into consideration the conditions under which one chooses, we don’t dispute that women do choose, and as feminists we respect that choice and try to understand it.

But, to the best of our knowledge, no one on the left defends capitalist media — or any other capitalist enterprise — by pointing out workers consented to do their jobs. The people who produce media content, or any other product, consent to work in such enterprises, under varying constraints and opportunities. So what? The critique is not of the workers, but of the owners and structure.

Look at the industry’s biggest star, Jenna Jameson, who appears to control her business life. However in her book she reports that she was raped as a teenager and describes the ways in which men in her life pimped her. Her desperation for money also comes through when she tried to get a job as a stripper but looked too young — she went into a bathroom and pulled off her braces with pliers. She also describes drug abuse and laments the many friends in the industry she lost to drugs. And this is the woman said to have the most power in the pornography industry.

As we understand left analysis, the focus isn’t on individual decisions about how to survive in a system that commodifies everything and takes from us meaningful opportunities to control our lives. It’s about fighting a system.

Racism

As the most blatant and ugly forms of racism have disappeared from mainstream media, leftists have continued to point out that subtler forms of racism endure, and that their constant reproduction through media is a problem. Race matters, and media depictions of race matter.

Pornography is the one media genre in which overt racism is still acceptable. Not subtle, coded racism, but old-fashioned U.S. racism — stereotypical representations of the black male stud, the animalistic black woman, the hot Latina, the demure Asian geisha. Pornography vendors have a special category, “interracial,” which allows consumers to pursue the various combinations of racialized characters and racist scenarios.

The racism of the industry is so pervasive that it goes largely unnoticed. In an interview with the producer of the DVD “Black Bros and Asian Ho’s,” one of us asked if he ever was criticized for the racism of such films. He said, “No, they are very popular.” We repeated the question: Popular, yes, but do people ever criticize the racism? He looked incredulous; the question apparently had never entered his mind.

Yet take a tour of a pornography shop, and it’s clear that racial justice isn’t central to the industry. Typical is the claim of “Black Attack Gang Bang” films: “My mission is to find the cutest white honeys to get Gang Banged by some hard pipe hitting niggas straight outta compton!” It would be interesting to see a pro-pornography leftist argue to a non-white audience that such films are unrelated to the politics of race and white supremacy.

Up-market producers such as Vivid use mainly white women; the official face of pornography is overwhelmingly white. However, alongside this genre there exists more aggressive material in which women of color appear more frequently. As one black woman in the industry told us, “This is a racist business,” from how she is treated by producers to pay differentials to the day-to-day conversations she overhears on the set.

Sexism

Contemporary mass-marketed heterosexual pornography — the bulk of the market for sexually explicit material — is one site where a particular meaning of sex and gender is created and circulated. Pornography’s central ideological message is not hard to discern: Women exist for the sexual pleasure of men, in whatever form men want that pleasure, no matter what the consequences for women. It’s not just that women exist for sex, but that they exist for the sex that men want.

Despite naïve (or disingenuous) claims about pornography as a vehicle for women’s sexual liberation, the bulk of mass-marketed pornography is incredibly sexist. From the ugly language used to describe women, to the positions of subordination, to the actual sexual practices themselves — pornography is relentlessly misogynistic. As the industry “matures” the most popular genre of films, called “gonzo,” continues to push the limits of degradation of, and cruelty toward, women. Directors acknowledge they aren’t sure where to take it from the current level.

This misogyny is not an idiosyncratic feature of a few fringe films. Based on three studies of the content of mainstream video/DVD pornography over the past decade, we conclude that woman-hating is central to contemporary pornography. Take away every video in which a woman is called a bitch, a cunt, a slut, or a whore, and the shelves would be nearly bare. Take away every DVD in which a woman becomes the target of a man’s contempt, and there wouldn’t be much left. Mass-marketed pornography doesn’t celebrate women and their sexuality, but instead expresses contempt for women and celebrates the charge of expressing that contempt sexually.

Leftists typically reject crude biological explanations for inequality. But the story of gender in pornography is the story of biological determinism. A major theme in pornography is that women are different from men and enjoy pain, humiliation, degradation; they don’t deserve the same humanity as men because they are a different kind of creature. In pornography, it’s not just that women want to get fucked in degrading fashion, but that they need it. Pornography ultimately tells stories about where women belong — underneath men.

Most leftists critique patriarchy and resist the system of male dominance. Gender is one of those arenas of struggle against domination, and hence an arena of ideological struggle. Put an understanding of media together with feminist arguments for sexual equality, and you get the anti-pornography argument.

The need for a consistent analysis of power

Leftists who otherwise pride themselves on analyzing systems and structures of power, can turn into extreme libertarian individualists on the subject of pornography. The sophisticated, critical thinking that underlies the best of left politics can give way to simplistic, politically naïve, and diversionary analysis that leaves far too many leftists playing cheerleader for an exploitive industry. In those analyses, we aren’t supposed to examine the culture’s ideology and how it shapes people’s perceptions of their choices, and we must ignore the conditions under which people live; it’s all about an individual’s choice.

A critique of pornography doesn’t imply that freedom rooted in an individual’s ability to choose isn’t important, but argues instead that these issues can’t be reduced to that single moment of choice of an individual. Instead, we have to ask: What is meaningful freedom within a capitalist system that is racist and sexist?

Leftists have always challenged the contention of the powerful that freedom comes in accepting one’s place in a hierarchy. Feminists have highlighted that one of the systems of power that constrains us is gender.

We contend that leftists who take feminism seriously must come to see that pornography, along with other forms of sexualized exploitation — primarily of women, girls and boys, by men — in capitalism is inconsistent with a world in which ordinary people can take control of their own destinies.

That is the promise of the left, of feminism, of critical race theory, of radical humanism — of every liberatory movement in modern history.

Gail Dines is a professor of American Studies at Wheelock College in Boston. She can be reached at gdines@wheelock.edu. Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. He can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu.


King Kong and the White Woman: Hustler Magazine and the Demonization of Black Masculinity

Published in Journal of Violence Against Women, 1998, Vol. 4 No 3, (291-307)

From the box office success of The Birth of a Nation in 1915 to the national obsession with O.J. Simpson, the image of the black male as the spoiler of white womanhood has been a staple of media representation in this country. The demonization by the media of black men as rapists and murderers has been well documented by scholars interested in film (Carby, 1993; Guerrero, 1993; Mercer, 1994; Snead, 1994; Wiegman, 1993; Winston, 1982), news (Entman, 1990; Gray, 1989) and rap music (Dyson, 1993; Rose, 1994). While this image stands in sharp contrast to the feminized “Uncle Tom” which was popular in early Hollywood films, both images serve to define black men as outside the “normal” realm of (white) masculinity by constructing them as “other” (Wiegman, 1993). Although both the “Uncle Tom” and the sexual monster continue to define the limits of black male representation in mainstream media, it is the latter image which dominates, and, according to Mercer (1994), serves to legitimize racist practices such as mass incarceration of black men, police brutality and right-wing government policy.

Recently, scholars have turned their attention to pornography (Cowan & Campbell, 1994; Forna, 1992; Mayall amd Russell, 1993; Mercer, 1994) and specifically how the codes and conventions of this genre (re)construct the black male body, especially the penis, as dangerous and a threat to white male power. The focus of this research tends to be poorly produced, hard-core pornography movies which are relegated to the shelves of “adult-only” stores because of their close-up shots of erect penises, ejaculation and vaginal, anal and oral penetration. What tends to be ignored in these studies is the content of the mass-produced, mass-circulated pornography magazines which, because they can be purchased in bookstores, news stands and airport terminals, have a much larger circulation.

Of the hundreds of mass-produced, mass-distributed pornography magazines the three best sellers are Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler (Osanka, 1989). While these three magazines are often lumped together they differ markedly in the type of world they construct. Playboy and Penthouse, in their pictorials, cartoons, advertisements and editorials depict a “whites-only” world, a world so affluent and privileged that blacks are excluded by invisible market forces. Indeed, even the white working-class is invisible in the Playboy world of expensive clothes, gourmet restaurants and well appointed homes. Hustler however, in its pictorials, beaver hunts (explicit snapshots of readers’ wives and girlfriends), advertisements and editorials, constructs a world populated by working-class whites who live in trailer homes, eat in fast-food restaurants and wear ill-fitting clothes. While blacks are absent from most sections of the magazine, they appear regularly in caricatured form in the cartoons where they are depicted as competing with white men for the few sexually available white women.  Hustler cartoons depict a world filled with seething racial tensions brought about by the black male’s alleged insatiable appetite for white women. The competition between black and white men and the ultimate victory of the black male is the source of much “humor” in Hustler cartoons and serves to visually illustrate to the mainly white, working-class male readership, what happens if black masculinity is allowed to go uncontained. Hustler is by no means the first mass-distributed media to visually depict the ultimate white fear; indeed, The Birth of A Nation and King Kong (1933) played similar roles only this time in Hustler, it is the white man who loses, as evidenced in his failure to win back the “girl.” This article will examine how Hustler draws from past regimes of racial representation and articulates a more contemporary myth where black masculinity, having been allowed to run amok because of liberal policies, has finally rendered white men impotent, both sexually and economically.

From “The Birth of A Nation” to “Black Studs”

Theorists such as Wiegman (1993) and Snead (1994) have traced the beginnings of the image of the black man as sexual monster back to the late nineteenth century, as the product of a white supremacist ideology which saw the end of slavery as bringing about an unleashing of animalistic, brute violence inherent in African-American men. D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), was, without question, the first major mass circulation of this image in film and was to become the blueprint for how contemporary mass media depicts black males.

The notion of the black male as sexual monster has been linked to the economic vulnerability that white working-class men feel in the face of a capitalist economy over which they have little power. Guerrero (1993), in his discussion of the emergence of this new stereotype in the novels of Thomas Dixon, suggests that the economic turmoil of the postbellum South served to

undermine the white southern male’s role as provider for his family;  thus he sought to inflate his depreciated sense of manhood by taking up the honorific task of protecting White Womanhood against the newly  constructed specter of the “brute Negro” (p. 12).

This encoding of the economic threat within a sexual context, is, according to Snead (1994), the principal mechanism of cinematic racism and is one of the subplots of the enormously successful King Kong movie (re-named King Kong and the White Women in Germany). Arguing that “in all Hollywood film portrayals of blacks … the political is never far from the sexual” (p. 8), Snead links the image of King-Kong rampaging through the streets of Manhattan with a defenseless white woman clutched to his body to the increasing economic emasculation of white men in the Depression years and the growing fear that black migration from the South had reduced the number of jobs available to working-class whites. King Kong’s death at the end of the movie remasculinizes the white man, not only by his conquering of the black menace but also by regaining the woman. In this way, representations of black men and white men are not isolated images working independently but rather “correlate … in a larger scheme of semiotic valuation” (Snead, 1994: 4). Thus, the image of the black male as sexual savage serves to construct white male sexuality as the protector of white womanhood, as contained and, importantly, as capable of intimacy and humanity

In her analysis of black and white masculinity in Hollywood movies, Jones

(1993), argues that although black and white actors are increasingly portrayed in terms of a violent masculinity, for white actors this violence is tempered by his sexually intimate scenes with a white woman. These scenes assure the audience that for all his violence, the white male is still capable of bonding with another human being and of forming relationships. For black actors, however, this humanizing quality is absent and thus he can only be defined in terms of his violence. The problem with these types of  representations is that, according to Jones, “they suggest that there are fundamental differences in the sexual behavior of black males and white males and are ultimately indicative of the psychic inferiority of the black male” (1993: 250), and the superiority of

white masculinity.

Hard-core pornography similarly depicts black men as more sexually dehumanized than white men. This would seem surprising since in pornography all participants, men and women, are reduced to a series of body parts and orifices. However, studies that compare the representation of white men and black men in pornography (Cowan & Campbell, 1994; Mayall amd Russell, 1993), have found that it is black male characters who are granted the least humanity and are most lacking in ability to be intimate. Moreover, in movies and magazines which feature black men, the focus of the camera and plot is often the size of his penis and his alleged insatiable sexual appetite for white women. Movies with titles such as Big Bad Black Dicks, Black Stallions on Top, Black Pricks\White Pussy, and Black Studs, draw attention to the black male body and in particular the penis, a rare occurrence in pornography targeted at heterosexual men. Movies such as The Adventures of Mr. Tootsie Pole (Bo Entertainment Groups) feature a black male and white female on the cover. The text beneath the picture says “he’s puttin his prodigious pole to the test in tight white pussy.” In Black Studs (Glitz Entertainment), three white women are shown having sex with three Black men. Above the pictures, the text reads, “These girls can’t get enough of that long black dick.” The penis becomes the defining feature of the black man and his wholeness as a human being is thus rendered invisible.

The image of the black male as sexually aggressive is a regular cartoon feature in Hustler, one of the best-selling hard-core porn magazines in the world (Osanka, 1989). Cartoons which have as their theme the sexual abuse of white women by black men began appearing in the late 1970s and by the mid-1980s, Hustler was running an average of 2-3 such cartoons an issue. Hustler was by no means the first to produce such as image but it is probably the first mass-distributed cultural product (albeit in caricatured form) to visually depict an enormous black penis actually doing severe physical damage to the vagina of a small white women.

That these types of images have been marginalized in the debate on pornography is problematic, especially in light of the international success of Hustler magazine. Much of the analysis of pornography has focused on the ways in which the text works as a regime of representation to construct femininity and masculinity as binary opposites. This type of theorizing assumes a gender system which is race-neutral, an assumption which cannot be sustained in a country where “gender has proven to be a powerful means through which racial difference has historically been defined and coded” (Wiegman, 1993: 170). From the image of the black woman as Jezebel, to the black male as savage, mainstream white representations of blacks have coded black sexuality as deviant, excessive and a threat to the white social order. In Hustler sex cartoons, this threat is articulated par excellence in caricatured form and serves to reaffirm the racist myth that failure to contain black masculinity results in a breakdown of the economic and social fabric of white society.

“F*** You if you can’t take a Joke”: Marketing the Hustler Cartoon

In the history of American mass media, cartoons have been a major form for the production and reproduction of racist myths. From the prestigious Harper’s Weekly of the late 1900s to contemporary Disney cartoons, blacks have been caricatured as savages, animals and lazy servants. Cartoons, with their claim to humor, have been especially useful vehicles for the expression of racist sentiments which might otherwise be considered unacceptable in a more serious form. Indeed, in his award-winning documentary, Ethnic Notions (1987), Marlon Riggs shows how the cartoon image of blacks has changed little from the beginning of the century to more contemporary versions while other media forms were forced, in the post-civil rights era, to encode the racist myths in a more subtle manner.

The Hustler cartoons, which have as their theme the black male as spoiler of white womanhood, are an outgrowth of the portrait caricature which originated in Italy at the end of the sixteenth century. These portrait caricatures with their distinctive technique of “the deliberate distortion of the features of a person for the purpose of mockery” (Gombrich, 1963: 189), became very popular across Europe and were adapted in the middle of the nineteenth century by cartoonists who used similar methods of distortion against anonymous members of recognizable social groups rather than well known individuals. Gombrich (1963), in his celebrated essay on caricatures, argues that the power of this visual technique is that the distorted features come to stand as symbols of the group and are thought to say something about the “essential nature” of the group as a whole. The black male cartoon character in Hustler is caricatured to the point that his penis becomes the symbol of black masculinity and his body the carrier of the essential nature of black inferiority.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the only place where blacks appear with any regularity in Hustler is the cartoon. To depict black men as reducible to their penis in the more “serious” sections of the magazine might open Hustler up to charges of racism as well as the regular criticisms it receives from women’s groups regarding the openly misogynist content. Indeed, the cartoon has become the only place where Hustler’s claim to being the most “outrageous and provocative” (Hustler, July, 1984: 9) sex and satire magazine on the shelves is realized. Although Larry Flynt (publisher and editor of Hustler) regularly criticizes Playboy and Penthouse for being too “soft” and for “masquerading the pornography as art ….” (Flynt, November, 1983: 5), Hustler’s own pictorials tend to adopt the more soft-core codes and conventions (young, big breasted women bending over to give the presumed male spectator a clear view of her genitals and breasts), than the hard-core ones which specialize in rape, torture, bondage, bestiality, defecation and incest. However, in the cartoons these hard-core themes appear regularly, together with cartoons which focus on leaking and bad-smelling vaginas, exploding penises, impotent penises, disembodied corpses, bloody body parts being used as masturbation tools, and depictions of black men raping, mutilating and pimping white women.

One of the main reasons for the hard-core content of the cartoons is that Hustler has to be careful not to alienate its mainstream distributors with pictorials or articles that might be classed as too hard-core and thus relegated to the porn-shops, a move which would severely limit its sales (Hustler’s success is mainly due to its ability to gain access to mass distribution outlets in the states and Europe). On the other hand, Hustler also has to keep its promise to its readers to be more hard-core or else it would lose its readership to the more glossy, expensively produced soft-core Playboy and Penthouse. Toward this end, Hustler relies on its cartoons to make good on its promise to its readers to be “bolder in every direction than other publications” (Flynt, July 1988: 7), while keeping the pictorials within the limits of the soft-core genre.

Flynt regularly stresses that the cartoons’ boldness is not limited to sexual themes but rather also to their political content. Indeed in his editorials, Flynt regularly stresses that, “We are a political journal as well as a sex publication” (Flynt, 1983: 5). In an editorial responding to critics of Hustler cartoons — titled, “Fuck You if You Can’t Take a Joke ” – Flynt tells his readers that his critics are not upset with the sexual content of the magazine but rather with his satire which carries “the sting of truth itself” (Flynt, July 1988: 7). Flynt continues by arguing that he will not allow his critics to censor what is in effect the political content of his magazine since “satire, both written and visual, has … been the only alternative to express political dissent” (ibid).

A strategy that Flynt has used to promote the cartoons to the readers is the elevation of the long-standing cartoon editor of Hustler, Dwaine Tinsley, to a major satirist of our day. The creator of the “Chester the Molester cartoon” (a white, middle aged pedophile who appeared monthly until Tinsley was arrested on child sexual abuse charges in 1989) and some of the most racist cartoons, Tinesley is described by Hustler editors as producing “… some of the most controversial and thought-provoking humor to appear in any magazine” (Hustler, November 1983: 7), and in some cases cartoons that are “so tasteless that even Larry Flynt has had to think twice before running them” (Hustler, November 1983: 65). We are, however, reassured by Hustler that the “tastelessness” will continue since “Larry is determined not to sell out and censor his creative artists” (Hustler, November 1983: 65) because  satire “is a necessary tool in an uptight world where people are afraid to discuss their prejudices ….” (Hustler, July, 1994: 108).

Thus Hustler does not position itself simply as a sex magazine but rather also as a magazine which is not afraid to tell the truth about politics. This linking of the sexual with the political makes Hustler cartoons a particularly powerful cultural product for the production and reproduction of racist ideology for, as Snead argues, “it is both as a political and as a sexual threat that black skin appears on screen” (Snead, 1994: 8). On the surface, these cartoons would seem to be one more example of Hustler’s outrageous”

sexual humor, the black male with the huge penis being equivalent to the other sexually deviant (white) cartoon characters. However, Hustler’s depictions of black men are actually part of a much larger regime of racial representation which, beginning with The Birth of a Nation, and continuing with Willie Horton, makes the black male’s supposed sexual misconduct a metaphor for the inferior nature of the black “race” as a whole.

Black Men and White Women: The White Man Under Siege

During the 1980s, Hustler featured the work of four cartoonists, Collins, Decetin, Tinsley and Trosley. What is surprising is that while these cartoonists had very distinct styles, they all used a similar caricatured image of a black male with an enormous muscular body, undersized head (signifying retardation), very dark skin and caricatured lips. The striking feature of this caricature is that the “man” is drawn to resemble an ape, an image which, according to Snead (1994), has historical and literary currency in this country. Pointing to King Kong as a prime example of this representation, Snead argued that “a willed misreading of Linnaean classification and Darwinian evolution helped buttress an older European conception … that blacks and apes, kindred denizens of the ‘jungle,’ are phylogenetically closer and sexually more compatible than blacks and whites” (Snead, 1994: 20). Black film critics have long argued that the King Kong movie and its sequels played a major role in the sexual demonization of black masculinity since the ape — the carrier of blackness — was depicted as out of white control; the result being the stalking and capturing of a white woman.

While the original Kong was lacking a penis, the Hustler version has as his main characteristic, a huge black penis that is often wrapped around the “man’s” neck or is sticking out of his trouser leg. The penis, whether erect or limp, visually dominates the cartoon and is the focus of humor. This huge penis is depicted as a source of great pride and as a feature which distinguishes black men from white men. For example, in one cartoon, a black and white man are walking next to a fence with the white male making a noise by dragging a stick along the fence, the black man is doing the same only he is using his large penis which is much bigger than the stick. The black male, who is walking

behind the white man, is snickering at the white male’s stick (Hustler, February 1989: 95)

Black men are depicted as being obsessed by the size of their penis which is one more example of how the dominant regime of racist representation constructs blacks as “having bodies but not minds” (Mercer, 1994: 138). In one cartoon, a large black male with an undersized head is looking at his newborn son and screaming at the white nurse “Never mind how much he weighs, bitch! How long’s my boy’s dick?” (Hustler, 1988, December: 32). Not only is the black male depicted as verbally abusive but also as lacking care and interest in his son’s health and well-being. This image fits in with the dominant representation of black men as either abusive or absent fathers who take advantage of the welfare system developed by misguided liberals (see below)

Whereas the King Kong movies left to the imagination what would happen to the white woman if Kong had his way, Hustler provides the mainly white readership with detailed images of the violence black men are seen as capable of doing to white women’s bodies. In many of the cartoons, the theme of the joke is the severely traumatized vagina of the white sexual partner. In one cartoon, a naked white woman is sitting on a bed, legs open, and her vagina has red stars around it, suggesting pain. Sitting on the end of the bed is a naked, very dark, ape-like male, his huge, erect penis dominating the image. He is on the phone asking room service to send in a shoe horn. The white woman looks terrified (Hustler, November 1988: 100). In another cartoon, a similar-looking couple are walking down the street. The black male has his arm around the white female and on his shirt is written “Fucker,” on hers is “Fuckee”  (Hustler, May 1987: 79). Although the male is clothed, the outline of his huge penis can be seen. The woman’s vagina on the other hand is clearly visible since it is hanging below her knees and is again red and sore, a marker of what black men can and will do to white women if not stopped by the white male protector of white womanhood.

In Hustler cartoons, the white male is constructed as anything but the protector of white womanhood. He is a lower working-class, middle aged male whose flabby body is no match for the muscular, enormous black body. In stark contrast to the big black penis is the small to average white penis which is rarely erect and never threatening to white women. On the contrary, the size of the white man’s penis is a source of ridicule or frustration to his sex partner (who is always white). Rather than showing empathy, the woman is constantly poking fun at his “manhood,” searching for it with magnifying glasses or binoculars. One cartoon for example has a white couple in bed with the woman under the covers gleefully shouting “Oh I found it” (Hustler, May 1992: 10). The man is clearly embarrassed and covering up his penis. Other cartoons show the white man endlessly searching pornography shops for penis enlargers (presumably the same enlargers which can be mail ordered from the ads in the back of Hustler). A cartoon which speaks to the racial differences constructed in the cartoons depicts a black man with a small penis, the joke is focused on the size since a black preacher is praying for his penis to grow. The caption reads “Sweet Jesus – heal this poor brother! Rid him of his honkie pecker” (Hustler, March 1984: 15).

The size of the black penis is the theme of a full page “interview” between Hustler editors and “The Biggest, Blackest Cock Ever!” (November 1983: 6). The page is in the same format as Hustler interviews only in place of a person is a picture of a large black penis. The subtitle reads: “A candid, explosive man-to-dick conversation with the most sought after piece of meat in the world.” Hustler editors ask “Why do women love big, black cocks?” The answer given by the “cock”, (which is of course written by the Hustler editors) is “… they love the size …. you know any white guys hung like this?” The editors continue by framing the discussion in clearly political terms by their answer to the question of why black men prefer white women, “I likes (sic) white pussy best. It’s my way of gettin back at you honkies by tearin’ up all that tight white pussy …. I fuck those bitches blind”.  Indeed, the cartoons surrounding this interview provide visual testimony” of how much damage the black penis can do to white women.

The small penis would seem one of the reasons why white male cartoon characters, in contrast to black male cartoon characters, have trouble finding willing sex partners. His sexual frustration leads him to seek female surrogates in the form of dolls, bowling balls, children, chickens and skulls. The black man, however, appears to have no problem attracting a bevy of young, white women. When the white man does find a willing sex partner, she tends to be middle-aged, overweight and very hairy. The black man’s white sexual partner is, however, usually thin, attractive and lacks body hair. This is a very unusual female image in Hustler cartoons and suggests that the black male is siphoning off the few sexually available, attractive women, leaving the white man with rejects.

The message that white women prefer black men is the theme of a spoof on Barbie, a doll which represents the all-American female with her blonde hair, tiny waist and silicone-like breasts.  The picture is of Barbie dressed in black underwear, on her knees with ejaculate around her mouth, standing next to her is a black male doll pulling a very large penis out of her mouth. The caption reads ” … in an attempt to capture the market the manufacturer has been testing some new designs …. We’re not sure, but perhaps this Slut Barbie, (with her hard nipples, a permanently wet, open pussy and sperm dripping from her mouth) goes a bit too far” (Hustler, July, 1984, p. 23). The obvious choice for Barbie’s sex partner would have been Ken, her long-term boyfriend, but the suggestion here is that Ken, with his white penis, would not have been enticing enough for this all-American girl to give up her virginal status.

Because of the lack of willing sex partners, the white man is often reduced to paying for sex. However, once again, black men have the upper hand since almost all the pimps in Hustler cartoons are black. These black men have, however, traded in their large penises for big Cadilacs, heavy gold jewelry and fur coats, riches no doubt obtained from white johns. The prostitutes are both black and white but the johns are almost always depicted as white. Many of the cartoons have as their theme the white man trying to barter down the black pimp, with the black pimp refusing to change the price. The power of the black man is now absolute – not only can he get his pick of attractive white women, he also controls white prostitutes, leaving the white man having to negotiate to buy what he once got for free.

Not only is the black man draining the white man’s access to women, he is also draining his pocket in the form of welfare. The black male is shown as deserting his family and numerous unkempt, diseased children, leaving the welfare system to pick up the tab. One cartoon features a black woman surrounded by children saying to a white interviewer, “Yes, we does (sic) believe in Welfare” (Hustler, December 1992: 47). Another example is a cartoon advertising different dolls. The first doll is called “Beach Darbie” which is a Barbie look alike in a bathing costume.  The second doll, also Barbie, is dressed in a white jacket and is called “Ski Darbie”. The third doll is an overweight white female with bedroom slippers and a cigarette hanging out of her mouth, she is called “knocked-Up Inner-City Welfare Darbie.” In each hand she has a black baby (Hustler December, 1992: 107).

In Hustler cartoons black men have precisely the two status symbols that white men lack, big penises and money. The white man’s poor sexual performance is matched by his poor economic performance. Reduced to living in trailer homes, poorly furnished apartments or tract houses, the Hustler white male cartoon character is clearly depicted as lower working-class. His beer gut, stubble, bad teeth and working man’s clothes signify his economic status and stand in sharp contrast to the signifiers of power attached to the image of the black male.

A New Ending to An Old Story

The coding of black men as sexual and economic threats takes on a contemporary twist in Hustler since this threat cannot be easily murdered as in King Kong, but rather is now uncontainable and returns month after month to wreak havoc on white women’s bodies and the white men’s pay checks. This new ending changes the relationship between the binary representations of black and white masculinity. In his analysis of the racial coding of masculinity in cinema, Snead argues that “American films … have always featured … implicit or explicit co-relations between the debasement of blacks and the elevation and mythification of whites” (1994: 142). In Hustler cartoons, both black and white men are debased, the former for being hyper-masculine, and the latter for not being masculine enough.

Since the target audience of Hustler is white men, it would seem surprising that the cartoons regularly ridicule white men for being sexually and economically impotent and for failing to contain the black menace. However, when class is factored into the analysis, it becomes apparent that it is not white men as a group who are being ridiculed. The debasement of white masculinity in Hustler cartoons is played out on the caricatured flabby, unkempt body of the lower working-class white male, a class that few whites see

themselves as belonging to, irrespective of their income. Thus, in-between the hyper-masculinity of the black male and the under-masculinized white lower working-class male, is the reader inscribed in the text, who can feel superior to both types of “deviants.” The reader is being invited to identify with what is absent in the cartoons, a “real man” (Hustler’s first issue ran an editorial which introduced the magazine as one for “real men”), who turns to Hustler because it is, according to its editors, “truly the only magazine that deals with the concerns and interests of the average American” (Hustler, 1984: 5).

The reader, constructed as the average American, is, as Hustler is careful about pointing out, not the same as the cartoon characters. In an editorial praising Tinsley, the editors wrote “Dwaine Tinsley is not a black, a jew, a wino, a child molester, or a bigot. but the characters in his cartoon are. They are everything you have nightmares about, everything you despise ….” (Nov. 1983: 65). Thus, in coded terms Hustler provides distance between the reader and the cartoon characters who are either lower-class (black, wino, child molester, bigot) or the elite (jew), by leaving open the “middle class,” the

category where most white Americans situate themselves (Jhally and Lewis, 1992).

The lower-class, sexually impotent white male in Hustler cartoons is thus not an object of identification but rather of ridicule and a pitiful example of what could happen if white men fail to assert their masculinity and allow the black male to roam the streets and bedrooms of white society. The Hustler white male cartoon character thus stands as a symbol of the devastation that blacks can cause, a devastation brought about by “bleeding heart” liberals who mistakenly allowed blacks too much freedom. Just as Gus (the black would-be rapist) in The Birth of a Nation was an example of what could happen when blacks are given their freedom from slavery (a dead white woman being the end result), the Hustler black male is an example of what could happen if black men are not contained by white institutional forces such as the police and the courts. Whereas The Birth of a Nation and King Kong were, according to Snead, the past nightmare visions of the future, Hustler’s representation of black men can be seen as the current nightmare vision of the future, since it “re-enacts what never happened, but does so in an attempt to keep it from ever happening” (Snead, 1994: 148).

By making the white male the loser, Hustler departs from the traditional racial coding of masculinity and provides a different ending to the nightmare vision of black men taking over. This ending is, however, not simply restricted to the pages of Hustler, it is rather articulated in the numerous news stories on “welfare cheats,”  “inner-city violence” and “reverse discrimination”. The “white male”, is, according to the media, fast becoming the new “minority” who has to support black families in the inner city and give up his job to an unqualified black person because of past oppression. The white male is under siege and unless he fights back, he will lose his masculine status as breadwinner. The absence in Hustler cartoons of elite whites as exploiters of poor whites firmly positions the black male as the “other” who is the source of white male discontent. Given the current economic conditions, which include falling wages, downsizing and off-shore production, the “average” white male (along with everyone else who is not a member of the economic elite), is experiencing increasing levels of discontent, and, as in previous periods of economic decline, it is the black population who are demonized and scapegoated as the cause of the economic woes.

While the racial codings of masculinity may shift depending on the socioeconomic conditions, from the feminized “Uncle Tom” to the hyper-masculinized “buck”, black masculinity continues to be represented as deviant. It is this constructed deviant status which continues to legitimize the oppression and brutality that condemns young black males to a life on the margins of society and makes them the convenient scapegoat for the economic and social upheaval brought about by global capitalism and right-wing government policies. While this article has foregrounded Hustler Cartoons, the regime of racial representation discussed continues to inform most mainstream media content and contributes to the “common sense” notion that it is black culture, not white supremacy, that is the source of racial strife in America.

References

The biggest blackest cock ever (1983, November). Hustler, p. 6.

Carby, H. (1993). Encoding White Resentment: “Grand Canyon”-A Narrative. In C. McCarthy and W. Crichlow (Eds.), Race, Identity and Representation in

Education (pp. 236-247). New York: Routledge.

Cowan, G., & Campbell, R. (1994). Racism and Sexism in Interracial Pornography:

A Content Analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 18, 323-338.

Dyson, M. (1993). Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism.

Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Entman, R.  (1990). Modern Racism and the Image of Blacks.  Critical Studies in

Mass Communication 7, 332-45.

Flynt, L. (1983, November). The Politics of Porn. Hustler, p. 5

Flynt, L. (1988, July). Fuck You if You Can’t Take a Joke. Hustler, p. 7

Forna, A. (1992). Pornography and Racism: Sexualizing Oppression and Inciting

Hatred. In C. Itzin (Ed.), Women, Violence and Civil Liberties: A Radical New

View. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Gombrich, E. (1963). Meditations on a Hobby Horse. London: Phaidon Publications

Gray, H. (1989). Television, Black Americans and the American Dream. Critical

Studies in Mass Communication 6, 376-385.

Guerrero, E. (1993). Framing Blackness: The African American Image in Film.

Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Jhally, S. & Lewis, J. (1992). Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences,

and the Myth of the American Dream. Boulder: Westview Press

Jones, J. (1993). The Construction of Black Sexuality: Towards Normalizing the

Black Cinematic Experience. In M. Diawara (Ed.), Black American Cinema (pp. 247-256). New York: Routledge.

Mayall, A., & Russell, D. (1993). Racism in Pornography. In D. Russell (Ed.),

Making Violence Sexy: Feminist Views on Pornography. New York: Teachers College

Press.

Mercer, K. (1994). Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural

Studies. New York: Routledge.

Osanka, F. (1989). Sourcebook on Pornography. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Riggs, Marlon (Producer and Director). (1987). Ethnic Notions [Documentary]. San Francisco: California Newsreel.

Rose, T. (1994). Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary

America. Hanover, NH: University of New England Press.

Snead, J. (1994). White Screen, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side. New

York: Routledge.

Wiegman, R. (1993) Feminism, ‘The Boyz,’ and Other Matters Regarding the Male.

In  S. Cohan and I.R. Hark (Eds.), Screening the Male: Exploring Masculinities

in Hollywood Cinema (pp. 173-193). New York: Routledge.

Winston, M. (1982). Racial Consciousness and the Evolution of Mass

Communication in the United States. Daedalus 4, 171-182


Pornography and Race

Published in the  Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. New York: Gale (2007).

Much of the academic analysis of pornography has focused on the ways in which the text operates as a regime of representation to construct femininity and masculinity as binary opposites. This type of theorizing assumes a gender system which is race-neutral, an assumption which cannot be sustained in a country where, as Robin Wiegman argues, “gender has proven to be a powerful means through which racial difference has historically been defined and coded” (1993: 170). From the image of the Asian woman as Geisha to the black male as sexual savage, mainstream white representations have coded non-white sexuality as deviant, excessive and a threat to the white social order. These images, while somewhat muted in mainstream Hollywood movies, are very much dominant in pornography that is defined as “interracial” by the industry. The absence of critique of these overtly racist images by academics studying pornography suggests that they have become so normalized that they now constitute common-sense assumptions regarding the sexuality of people of color.

Although in our image-based society images of sexuality circulate in advertisements, movies, television and music videos, pornography continues to be the place where cultural notions of sexuality are most clearly articulated and rearticulated.  Moreover, images of sex never just portray “real” sex, but rather construct representations that are based on collective ideologies of what constitutes “normal” versus deviant sexuality. James Snead, in his discussion of images of African Americans in white film, argues that “in all Hollywood film portrayals of blacks … the political is never far from the sexual” (1994, p. 8). Indeed, it is also true to argue that the sexual is not far from the political, as one of the ways in which whites demonize people of color is to define their sexuality as deviant, and thus in need of (white) policing and control. While all pornography attempts to push the limits of what is acceptable sexual practice, representations of people of color operate within a regime of representation which defines them as “other” and thus outside the realm of “normal” (white) humanity.

Definitions of Pornography

There is considerable academic debate concerning the boundaries of what constitutes pornography. Definitions are often political in nature, with pro-pornography writers such as Wendy McElroy defining pornography as “the explicit artistic depiction of men and/or women as sexual beings.” (1995, p. 43). However, anti-pornography scholars such as Catherine Mackinnon and Andrea Dworkin (1988) tend to take a more critical perspective, seeing pornography as material that sexualizes subordination through pictures and words. An example of such a definition that is widely accepted within anti-pornography feminist literature is Helen Longino’s, which states that pornography is any material that “represents or describes sexual behavior that is degrading or abusive to one or more of the participants in such as way as to endorse the degradation” (Longino, 29). While Longino points out that in most cases it is women and children who are the ones degraded, we need to include men here as they are the ones degraded in gay pornography (see below).

While debating definitions may be an interesting academic practice, the reality is that we now have a massive global pornography industry that generates estimated revenues of over $57 billion dollars a year (http://internet-filter-review.toptenreviews.com/internet-pornography-statistics). Those working in the industry know what constitutes pornography, for as Dines and Jensen document (1998), its products are highly formulaic and genre bound. A useful working definition for any discussion that attempts to map out specific genres of pornography is thus those products (in print or image form) produced, distributed and sold by the industry that aim to sexually arouse the viewer.

Pornography and Race

The two largest moneymakers for the pornography industry are feature films and Gonzo movies. The former attempts to mirror mainstream movies with some story line and plot, and employs a high degree of technological sophistication. Gonzo pornography, on the other hand, strings together a number of sex scenes devoid of a story line, and looks quickly made and amateurish. The aim here is to facilitate masturbation in the male user as quickly and economically as possible. People of color are mainly found in Gonzo, which has none of the status or “chic” associated with the up-market features produced by companies such as Vivid, which boasts porn star and best-selling author, Jenna Jameson as its “poster girl.” Indeed, in the emerging world of celebratory pornography, it is white women who are fronted by the industry with regular appearances on syndicated television shows such as Howard Stern, and photo shoots in mainstream, best-selling men’s magazines such FHM and Maxim.

The Gonzo pornography, with its emphasis on hard-core, physically punishing sex, has a sub-category called interracial. Although there are films with Asian and Latina women, much of the focus is on sex between black men and white women, with emphasis on the size and power of the black man’s penis. Films such as Big Black Cocks in White Holesard Black Poles Do White Pussy, and Ebony Dicks in White Chicks, trade in the long-standing racist myth that black men are more animalistic, sexually violent and less evolved than white men. A central part of this myth is that black men use their sexual savagery mainly against white women, who are coded as “sluts” for their fascination with black penises. One recurring sentence on many interracial pornography sites is “once they go black, they never go back,” thus suggesting that black men are sexually more enticing, and exciting because of their lack of restraint.

This visual depiction of black men is actually part of a much larger regime of racial representation which, beginning with The Birth of a Nation (1915) and continuing with pornography, makes the black male’s supposed sexual misconduct a metaphor for the inferior nature of the black “race” as a whole. Hustler, the most widely distributed hard-core pornography magazine in the world, regularly depicts caricatured black men as having oversized penises but undersized heads, thus signifying mental inferiority. They are frequently shown as pimps with gold chains, expensive cars and a stable of black and white women. When not pimping women to make money, the black man is often shown as cheating the government by claiming fraudulent welfare checks. The Hustler images  clearly speak to the dominant racist ideology that black men are criminals and if unchecked, will financially drain law-abiding whites.

Black women do not do much better in the racist world of pornography. Repeatedly referred to as ebony whores, sluts from the ghetto, and bad black “sistas”, black women are depicted as less attractive than white women, and therefore desperate for sex with anything or anyone. One site, for example, focuses on the supposed inability of black women to dress in a way that attracts men. Called Pimp my Black Teen, we see “before and after” pictures of young black women who need the “help” of pimps to look sexually inviting. Accompanying one such picture is the text “We scooped Nene straight out of the projects looking totally ghetto. We sexed the bitch up in a hot pink outfit  …” The text goes on to explain how the makeover worked as she now can find “black cock” anywhere she goes.

In contrast to black women, Asian women in pornography are constructed as the feminine ideal. Referred to as sweet, cute, shy, and vulnerable, these images trade on the long-standing stereotype of Asian women as submissive. A magazine called Asian Beauties tells the readers that these “exotic beauties” are “born and bred with the skills to please a man.” Many of the Internet pornography sites make veiled reference to trafficking in women, but rather than depicting this as sexual slavery, the men are told that “she was imported for your delight.” Totally commodified, these women cease to have any humanity but are instead goods to be traded internationally for the pockets and penises of white men.

Interestingly, Asian men rarely appear in straight pornography but are a major commodity in gay pornography. Again, referred to as submissive, shy, and in many cases young, these men are offered up to a presumably white gay male audience. Black men in gay pornography, however, are represented in the same way that they are in straight pornography. With their supposed big penises, insatiable appetites, and violent tendencies, black men are as hyper-masculinized in gay pornography as Asian men are feminized.  Commenting on the racialized hierarchy in gay pornography, Christopher Kendall notes that such imagery “justifies through sex the types of attitudes and inequalities that make racism and sexism powerful and interconnected realities (Kendall, p. 60).

Indeed, all pornography uses sex as a vehicle to transmit messages about the legitimacy of racism and sexism. Hiding behind the façade of fantasy and harmless fun, pornography delivers reactionary racist stereotypes that would be considered unacceptable were they in any other types of mass-produced media. However, the power of pornography is that these messages have a long history and still resonate, on a sub-textual level, with the white supremacist ideologies, that continue to inform policies that economically, politically and socially discriminate against people of color.

Kendall, C. (2004). Gay Male Pornography: An Issue of Sex Discrimination. Toronto: UBC Press.

Snead, J. (1994). White Screen, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side. New

York: Routledge.