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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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/20/2001. © Copyright
2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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