RE: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Tue Aug 21 2001 - 11:46:26 BST

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    From: Vincent Campbell <>
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    Subject: RE: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market
    Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 11:46:26 +0100
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    Linda Williams is a pretty big name in film studies, but I've not really
    heard of the others.

    It's a bit more difficult in the UK to teach stuff on porn, but my colleague
    Brian McNair runs an undergraduate course on sex and the media, and has a
    new book coming out called 'Striptease Culture', which is not just about
    porn, so much as the mainstreaming of ever more explicit displays of
    material previously regarded (especially in the Uk) as "private", from
    confessional talk shows to reality TV, to mainstream porn (in the last few
    years the BBFC- the UK's film censors, have been getting quitely ever more
    liberal in giving licences to sexually explicit films unthinkable even 10
    years ago; add to that the new terrestrial TV channel, Channel 5, building
    audience share by regularly screening "documentaries" about the sex
    industry, prompting other channels to subtley follow suit).

    I always wanted to teach a course about media censorship (and still may
    given the opportunity), mainly as the UK offers quite a lot of good examples
    of it (the US isn't too far behind with things like the Hays code for the
    movies, and the Comics code from the 1950s).

    One of the problems of teaching such subjects is potential offence or upset.
    I showed a news feature as part of my journalism module this year which I
    agonised over because it was footage from the massacre in Sierra Leone,
    including the serious beating of an hysterically distressed child by adult
    soldiers (there are a lot of child soldiers in Sierra Leone which they
    suspected him to be). Anyway, the news programme featured it, and a
    discussion with a regulator, the film-maker and another prominent
    journalist, mainly because the broadcast regulator deemed the footage too
    upsetting to screen in full. The discussion was about whether people should
    be made to see such footage, as the film-maker wanted, in order to provoke
    action. Even in snippets it was very difficult to watch. A documentary
    screened a few weeks later, and much later at night, revealed that the child
    had survived and was in a charity camp for former child soldiers. I decided
    to show the news report, and gave a strong warning about the images being
    distressing, and that the boy survived. It was important from the point of
    view of teaching- about the ethics of journalism, and the problems of
    showing everything in order to get close to the truth. Nobody complained,
    but they might have done I suppose.

    On another course, I did show a sequence from 9 1/2 Weeks to generate a
    seminar discussion on what is pornography. The students this time were
    postgrads, and there was a wide mix of nationalities (European, North
    American, African, Indian and Asian). When one of the African guys
    basically covered his eyes throughout, I decided not to show it again for
    fear of offending the cultural sensibilities of the various students. I
    just tell them to watch Channel 5 now!


    > ----------
    > From: Wade T.Smith
    > Reply To:
    > Sent: Monday, August 20, 2001 4:28 pm
    > To: Memetics Discussion List
    > Subject: Fwd: Professors seek meaning behind flourishing market
    > 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
    > .
    > shtml
    > 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
    > Penley.
    > ''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
    > liberating.
    > ''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
    > surprised.''
    > 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
    > technology.
    > 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
    > it?''
    > David Abel can be reached by e-mail at
    > This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/20/2001. Copyright
    > 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.
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