Fwd: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market

From: Wade T.Smith (wade_smith@harvard.edu)
Date: Mon Aug 20 2001 - 16:28:46 BST

  • Next message: Philip Jonkers: "Re: Fwd: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market"

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    Subject: Fwd: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market
    Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 11:28:46 -0400
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    I suppose the bonobos just do it, we read about it....

    Then again, being an academic sometimes does mean you get to use that
    stuff you once hid inside the chemistry book.

    - Wade


    Porn is hot course on campus

    Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market

    By David Abel, Globe Staff, 8/20/2001


    Richard Burt, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts at
    Amherst and host of a provocative Web site, teaches his students about
    the modern adaptations of Shakespeare, often focusing on a growing number
    of porn flicks invoking the Bard.

    For the past five years, Henry Jenkins, a Massachusetts Institute of
    Technology professor, has asked his class to analyze photos from Hustler
    magazine and clips from blue movies such as ''Deep Throat.''

    And Hope Weissman, a women's studies professor at Wesleyan University,
    has required students in her class, ''Pornography: Writing of
    Prostitutes,'' to produce a work of pornography for their final project.

    The three professors are part of a growing movement on college campuses
    that is testing the bounds of academic freedom by introducing pornography
    into the classroom. The small but thriving community of professors treats
    pornography - an industry on which Americans each year spend billions of
    dollars - as a serious subject for academic inquiry.

    Many of the professors shun attention. But others who have written
    extensively about pornography and teach it in their classes eagerly
    explain why they are attracted to porn studies.

    ''To not study pornography is to ignore an absolutely pervasive
    phenomenon in our culture,'' said Linda Williams, a film studies
    professor at the University of California in Berkeley who helped pioneer
    porn studies with her book, ''Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy
    of the Visible.''

    ''Hollywood makes about 400 films a year; the porn industry makes 9,000
    to 11,000 titles. That means an enormous number of people across the
    board are watching pornography. It's not just dirty old men.''

    Courses on pornography are now offered at schools such as Emerson
    College, New York University, Northwestern University, Arizona State
    University, and several campuses in the University of California system.
    Professors invite porn stars to lecture about subjects such as improving
    the working conditions of sex workers.

    The scholarship is growing, too, professors say. Respected journals such
    as The Quarterly Review of Film Studies and Human Sexuality are
    publishing more and more papers on pornography. And academics are
    increasingly writing books with titles such as ''Erotic Faculties'' by an
    art historian at the University of Nevada at Reno and ''Porn 101'' by a
    sociology professor at the University of California at Northridge.

    There was even an academic forum organized in Los Angeles called the
    World Pornography Conference, which in 1998 drew professors in fields
    including sociology, philosophy, English, and film studies.

    Many such as Constance Penley, a film studies professor who runs UC Santa
    Barbara's Pornography Research Focus Group, attended to spread
    understanding of their work. But some also went to rebut critics such as
    Catherine MacKinnon, a University of Michigan Law School professor who
    argues that pornography exploits women and desensitizes men to sexual
    violence, and Pat Robertson, who once called Penley's class on
    pornography ''a new low in humanist excess.''

    ''There have been many protests, but pornography has been taught for
    years, in medical schools, psychology and sociology departments,'' said

    ''What upset people, in my case, is that I study pornography to see what
    it consists of, not debating whether it is art or deviant. I also teach
    it as another genre of film, like Westerns or science fiction.''

    Today, porn-studies professors say, there is less resistance to and
    outrage about their work, due in part to the flourishing of pornography
    on home videos, cable, and the Internet.

    The study of pornography on campuses emerged about a decade ago,
    professors say, partly in reaction to the growth of a porn industry that
    some say nets as much as $14 billion a year, but also as part of a
    growing movement in academia to study popular culture, gender, and
    women's issues.

    In fact, most who teach in the field are women. Many of them echo the
    arguments of Laura Kipnis, a professor of media studies at Northwestern
    University, who argues that pornography, in the right context, is

    ''It's about removing the stigma and understanding the taboo,'' said
    Kipnis, author of ''(Male) Desire and (Female) Disgust: Reading Hustler.''

    Men, however, still face some stigma in teaching pornography. While
    Jenkins of MIT says he never had any student complain, Peter Lehman, a
    humanities professor at Arizona State University, once had a printing
    shop refuse to copy his course packet. Now, Lehman requires all students
    who take his class on ''Sexuality in the Media'' to sign a consent form.

    ''It's to prevent possible harassment charges,'' said Lehman, who has
    co-chaired workshops on porn-pedagogy and is editing an anthology of
    pornography for college classes. ''I don't want any students to be

    Resistance to pornography in the classroom also affects female
    professors. In 1999, Wesleyan's president launched a review of Weissman's
    class, and for years antiporn activists have targeted attention-getting
    professors such as Penley for protest.

    At UMass-Amherst, administrators last year pressured Burt to take down
    his campus Web site, which featured pictures of bare-chested strippers
    straddling his lap and of his wife dressed as a porn star. Administrators
    argued the site violated UMass's acceptable use policy for information

    A year later, however, the author of books such as ''Unspeakable
    ShaXXXspeares'' has moved the Web site to a commercial server and added
    content, mixing links to porn sites and interviews with adult-film
    directors with descriptions of his classes and their syllabuses.

    For Burt and most others in the field, porn studies is merely a natural
    extension of their work.

    ''If you're going to think about Shakespeare adaptations, which is
    something that I think about,'' he says in an article posted on his Web
    site, ''then why not Shakespeare porn? It's one kind of adaptation. It's
    a phenomenon, it's out there, it's part of the culture, so why not study

    David Abel can be reached by e-mail at dabel@globe.com

    This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/20/2001. Copyright
    2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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