Part of our conversation last week in the theology/youth culture class inevitably turned to the issue of identity, sexuality and physicality. The undercurrent of most theological discussions undertaken at seminary seem to wend their way toward talk about sex--largely because I think it is a topic so widely sloganized but seldom addressed and, let's face it, it's a big area of human existence that warrants more than a cursory good/bad comment about this or that act. Anyway, we had wade through the usual distractors in the conversation, namely, the party-line church responses to sexual activity, then the hot-button social agendas of trafficking and slavery and then of course to pornography (that sounds callous I realize and I dont intend it to be, and distractors might be too harsh of a word, perhaps starting points would be better--but the simple fact is, that the larger conversation around human sexuality in many of the christian environs I find myself in tend to focus on these issues and they have to be worked through in order to get down to the real issues people really want to discuss, which are much more subjective, personal and intimate.
We actually didn't spend too much time wading in the deep waters of socio-sexuality's darker threads, perhaps it is the benefit of an intensive or perhaps it was a particularly sharp and engaged group of people--probably a bit of both. And we held this conversation in the larger frame of identity construction in the 21st century and the effect of youth cultural dynamics upon it, so we didn't belabour too many of those expected topics. But after class was over and I had a bit more time to think things over, it occurred to me that everything is pornography today--we speak about food-porn, interior-design porn, fashion-porn, porn-violence--what we mean, I think, is an overdose of imagery related to a particular topic, the stylizing of things for maximum effect and titillation--be it the representation of food, particular fashion styles, people having sex, a Tarantino movie (interestingly, the film-maker, Nicolas Winding Refn-Drive/Only God Forgives refers to himself as a pornographer in a recent Guardian interview) or the perfect design and layout of an interior room.
The question is: if everything is porn, is anything porn? Does that mean we live in a world where everything thing is viewed through a pornographic lens, and if so, what do we do about that? I realize that these 'other pornographies' are perhaps more nuanced versions of the 'real thing' but that raises the question of what the 'real thing' is when it comes to porn, whether or not pornography is the portrayal of the sexual act itself or the particular way it is styled and represented? I imagine that a collective 'duh!" is being expressed by many who have done much more focused thinking on the topic of pornography. So I'll answer my own thought and say that I think pornography is the stylization and fetishization of sex and the removal of the real with regard to sexual activity. But if the removal of the real is the essence of pornography and everything is now porn, is nothing then real? Aaaah!! The great existential questions of life. I blame Jeff Koons. Not really, but I do think that Jeff Koons was one of the artists of the late 20th century who applied this equation to his work, particularly in his sculptures and images involving himself and his Italian porn-star wife. These works, one of which is featured at the top of this post, featured him and his wife in varying stages and positions of intimacy, in graphic detail. Koons said that they were not porn, or intended to be seen as such, they were simply images of a couple in love--but many did--perhaps because we are capable of turning anything into porn--especially images of people engaging in sexual or congress, copulation, fornication, shagging or fucking. etc., or perhaps because they are pornographic, but that determination would be up to the viewer I think. "the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction"--this is one of three main definitions offered on pornography in the dictionary--the first two refer to erotic depiction--but again, these days anything can be eroticized and nurtured for maximum arousal--think of the way the advertising industry presents food--they even have a magazine for food stylists!
So the depicting of food in a sensational manner qualifies as porn, as do most things in our visually-driven world, and , in a culture built upon desire/false desire, it's hard not to feel bombarded. But the real issue might just be that our focus on pornography is mis-directed--perhaps we should worry more about food porn and all the other mainstream depictions than the stuff we usually get bent out of shape about. Or maybe nothing is porn anymore because something is generally defined as much by what it is not as by what it is, and if everything is porn, which it seems to be...
I find it interesting that Koons wraps himself and his wife in the embrace of a snake--echoes of the Garden of Eden, and he did in fact proclaim that they were the new Adam and Eve--media man and woman. So welcome to the new Eden, where it seems everything is naked and unashamed.
A few years back Rick Poynor, wrote a book called Designing Pornotopia, in which he argued that we were in the process of creating an environment where our "dreams of sex are allowed to permeate areas of life they would never have been permitted to until recently." It's worth a read. The term pornotopia is drawn from the work of Stephen Marcus who defined it as, "that vision which regards all of human experience as a series of exclusively sexual events or conveniences." I guess all of this leads me to the conclusion that a conversation about sex is no longer about the genital interactions of particualr humans as much as it is about life in virutally every experience and expression--I feel a new class coming on!!
(p.s. take the time to check out some of the links)