By the Time You’ve Seen It, It’s Too Late

29 Jan

After having my latest essay up for a few hours, it was picked up for publication by one of my very favorite websites,TheRumpus.net.
Below is an excerpt of that essay. Read the whole thing here.

If you’re new to my blog, here are some links to my posts on my experience with gay domestic violence, the nature of compassion, and working with gay-for-pay perfomers.

You can also check out my essay on my friend and mentor, biologist Lynn Margulis, on RealitySandwich.com.

EXCERPTS from “By the Time You’ve Seen It, It’s Too Late

Our best shot at understanding the foundation of obscenity law is through watching Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror film, The Evil Dead. In it, a group of (who else?) students stay (where else?) at a cabin in the woods. Amidst the jokes and sexual tension, they uncover a book of demonic spells and rites. They also find a reel to reel tape player, and on it, the voice of scientist reciting a string of incantations.

The kids, as usual, never had a chance. Simply playing of the tape summons the demons; such was the power of the muffled words. Aside from the normal possessing and flesh-eating demons, there are also demons in the form of the woods themselves, which assault – physically and sexually – one of the girls. The demons literally fall apart at the end of the film when the occult book is thrown into the fire.

The movie is a cult classic and has spawned sequels as well as inspired later films, such as The Ring (and its Japanese original) in which the same sort of thing occurs except this time (perhaps more germane to the topic of pornography) from a VHS tape… (and) by the time the tape is playing, it’s already too late.

The obscenity trial of Michael Peacock arose from such fears of the supernatural power of the image and word, and even though he was found not guilty and we are told these laws will perhaps undergo a radical reevaluation, the fear will stay with us…

* * *

A popular approach to answering how the image affects us has been through scientific experimentation and social science surveys; and science is our most occult of philosophies, filled with symbols, images, and tools. But there, we have mostly failed. Not because we haven’t gathered evidence, but because all the evidence seems to clash. How can there be so many books on sex and violence that reach different conclusions?

In the meantime, a demand is made: Take sides.

Will watching fisting make someone want to try fisting? Yes or no. Do you believe that bareback sex in porn makes the viewer want to have condom-less sex? Yes or no. Will watching horror movies make you more prone to violent acts? Yes or no. Do fantasy portrayals of incest in pornography glorify abuse? What about portrayals of rape? What about gay or lesbian sex? What about general corruption and depravity – can watching a sexual or violent act make you a worse person?

The questions gather and back us into a corner, so it is easy to see why such a callous and ridiculous statement as Andrea Dworkin’s, that, “The Left cannot have its whores and its politics too,” becomes appealing: It’s not an answer, it’s an escape.

Just give up one or the other – your values or your sexuality.

Yes or no, please.

But most importantly, answer quickly, there are monsters at the door.

Permitting one form of the image on principle or cultural critique alone, but not permitting it in another form proves very difficult, and all arguments seem to undo themselves.

For example, one might object to comparisons of pornography and sexualized images of women in advertising because porn is consumed privately and advertising (sometimes) isn’t. But the logical consequence could easily – and often has easily – become: we cannot have women depicted sexually in public. To keep the argument logically consistent: in porn, we consent and so it’s okay, in advertisement, we don’t consent, so it’s not. That means banning advertisement with questionable content, back to women showing their ankles off in ads, and wearing full-length dresses otherwise.

More evidence for how problematic this is: Would you object, as many did, to gay cruising site Manhunt.com’s billboard campaign prominently displaying two men about to kiss (and surely, one thing leads to another) to anyone on the street, ? Yes or no.

What if they were kissing and you had your kids with you?

Since you’re reading this essay, I suspect your answer would be no, but you can see how the question weaves into others, and evades easy answers.

What if they were fucking?

Whether it’s behind closed doors or freely displayed must shrink in importance in our conversation next to the question, “How does the image affect us?” But to answer, we need to do more than respond with feelings and thoughts.

The menace of the image and its affects leads some to talk supernaturally about images, as if stating their names is evidence enough for their power. Because the depiction of the act is what has initially repulsed the critic, one only needs to state what the act is to argue. This is why arguments against pornography are often simply descriptions of the act. “He had a bullwhip up his rectum!” anti-Maplethorpe censors cried. Or, in Chris Hedges’s essay (in an otherwise thoughtful book – Empire of Illusion -from an otherwise thoughtful man, in which he desperately clings to Dworkin’s escapist quote), “The Illusion of Love”, he falls under the (sexual?) trance of naming what he sees and believing this naming presents some sort of self-evident truth: “…oral sex, vaginal sex, double penetration, and double anal.” He quotes a performer who says during a shoot, “Shove it up my fucking ass…: and “Fuck, motherfucker…” and “Fucking love it…” No explanations required for Hedges, who is always more rigorous than this.

The supernatural: To say its name is to evoke it…

16 Responses to “By the Time You’ve Seen It, It’s Too Late”

  1. thommygirl January 30, 2012 at 12:29 am #

    thought provoking as always

  2. Carlos C. January 30, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    Yes indeed, thought provoking. I always look forward to your thought via your blog.

  3. Will January 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    With SOPA and PIPA making waves in the House and Senate, and Producer/Actor Max Hardcore newly released from prison (and reportedly trying to make a porn comeback), obscenity laws are going to be the next moral battleground. Should the Supreme Court ever give definition to what obscenity is, what is now a legal gray area could become frighteningly black and white. This was a great read. I have been trying to figure out what to write about the obscenity laws for a couple of weeks and coming up with nothing. Good work, Conner.

    • Conner Habib January 30, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

      Hey there – thanks for the kind words! If you do write something, let me know.

  4. Scott Grimmwise (@muskox) January 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    Reminds me of the “things-you-can’t-unsee” segment of Web Soup :)

    “Pornography, the image, and art in general is not fantasy, nor is it real. It is something beyond both. It has fantasy effects and real effects and everyone will encounter them differently.”

    I think of this “beyondness” as kind of living mythology that we all feed into and from, uniquely. When we deny that we run on mythology and stories, we’re left with dogma, which is blinding and inescapably oppressive. (Is dogma, then, obscene?)

    “[Hedges] falls under the (sexual?) trance of naming what he sees and believing this naming presents some sort of self-evident truth”

    It’s like anti-porn porn! (like one of Gail Dines’ Pornland slide shows)

    • Conner Habib January 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

      Ha, yes, I love that – “anti-porn porn”. Thanks for your (as usual) thoughtful comments!

  5. Bull (@wldone) January 30, 2012 at 7:30 pm #

    Yes porn has influenced what I do sexually. Rimming is something I never considered doing, it had a yuck factor. Now, it’s something I do and enjoy.

    However there is a difference between entertainment and advertisement. Entertainment should not be censored just because it may or maynot influence behaviour. Murder, violence, drug use etc are common scenes in movies and tv. Barebacking is no different. Using the “safety for the workers” excuse isn’t valid here either. The risk, while there, is miniscule with the new forms of testing. As long as performers are given a choice and educated about it, they should be allowed to BB.

    It’s a backdoor way to restrict porn and could eventually lead to more and more regulations(i.e. rimming, cum eating, pissing etc.)

    While I don’t approve of barebacking, I fight for the right to do so.

  6. caroline lamb January 30, 2012 at 11:27 pm #

    I was very impressed by your observations about censorship and its problems.

    The State insists on treating citizens like children who cannot be trusted with their own (moral) decisions for the purpose to set up and manipulate moral guidelines and standards ad libitum and be able to implement them quickly and efficiently without much resistance.

  7. chadthreesixty January 31, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    I am very impressed by your intellect and vernacular. I suggest that the “no brains and a nice cock” stereotype was perplexed by me. A gay man who knows better than doing such. My apologies.
    In the end, porn is a form of artistic expression. Some MUCH more than others. But when you get the government making laws and arrests because of it…it just makes me nervous.
    Period.

  8. Michael Australia February 3, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    I cannot agree that just because something is seen equals you will do it. I do concede that children and teenagers are influenced but most do exercise choice. Obsession for example. I see Connor on film and I want him but aside from living on the other side of the world I have the ability to see him as a person and to be respected. I do also Agee that we may watch a porn film and get horny and go out and seek sex but we do know the boundary of safe sex and exercise it. I think another interesting thing is this father son movie you did. It is sexy but to say it encourages incest is possible but highly unlikely.

  9. Josh February 9, 2012 at 10:19 am #

    you have a great taste in cinema and you write about it with this interesting mix of fanboy and afficianado. We need more writers like yourself! Btw, I also loved your small write up about Damon Albarn. I will be reading your posts from now on.

  10. William February 18, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve been meaning (without fawning) to tell you that I adore everything (not least your writing) about you! Thank you!

  11. Michael Australia March 10, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    I know you have not been posting as you are busy with porn and classes (I guess I don’t live in the USA remember :)) so no stalking) but I wanted to make a couple of quick comments. First, the replies to this are interesting. The poster who says didn’t like rimming and now does it, yes I concede that I would try something if I saw it on film. One example is fisting. I tried it on a guy did not like it but I was disgusted with it until I saw one film where it was hot. I probably won’t do it again but it was influenced by a porn movie. Also you scene with Preston Steel, I found you as an agressive top really odd. I just watched it and I did like it but I would have preferred you had flip floped with the hunky goatee cub. Nevertheless, the scene is hot and I was held down once and did like it, I do not normally like being held down but as in the film with Preston, it is ok under the context you feel comfortable with. I hope you can post in the future, all the best for the rest of the year.

  12. CR April 3, 2012 at 7:54 pm #

    Mr. Habib –

    Just read your piece in AlterNet today, REST STOP CONFIDENTAL. Interesting.

    Have you ever read poet James Merrill’s A DIFFERENT PERSON? It’s a memoir, mostly concerning his psychoanalysis in Rome in the 50’s, coming to terms with his homosexuality, his writer’s block, his family, friends & lovers. He writes about his experiences with anonymous sex, getting beaten up by rough trade, sexual tourism of a sort in Italy & Greece. Merrill comes up with some intricate theories explaining the impluses behind his behavior. I don’t know if I believe them all, or sanction all of his behavior on a moral level, but I do find his exploration of this world fascinating. And gloriously written.

    I think you might enjoy reading this wonderful, one-of-a-kind book.

    CR

    • Conner Habib April 4, 2012 at 2:09 am #

      Thanks for the comment and the kind words. I love James Merrill and will definitely check it out!

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