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Essay/Term paper: J.m coetzee's "the harms of pornography"

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Sex

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J.M Coetzee's "The Harms of Pornography"


As the debate over pornography and its place in society grows hotter
every day, several authors in particular shed a new light on the subject. Both
their intuition and insight involving their beliefs can help the reader a great
deal in seeing aspects of this debate that might have otherwise gone without the
consideration that they so deserve. I believe that pornography is not only okay,
but is allowing our country to take a step back and ask ourselves how far we are
willing to go and what we are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve free
speech and our rights to personal choice.
The argument over pornography is not merely the debate over right or
wrong, but also involves the theory that its existence requires, or possibly
even causes, an inequality between men and women. I ask you, how could
something like pornography cause an in-equality between men and women when women
are the major contributors to the industry? Who is going to watch a porn without
women in it? Therefore, at least at first glance, it would seem that since women
are actively contributing to the business of pornography maybe they should be
criticized at least equally if not more so than the men who watch it. According
to author J.M. Coetzee and his article "The Harms of Pornography", the real
questions here are, "what is the difference between obscenity and pornography",
and even more importantly, "where do we draw the line between the two"? Coetzee
brings up a good point here. A point on which the entire debate over pornography
hinges. What is the defenition of "obscenity"? An excerpt from a speech by Mike
Godwin, Online Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gives a good
definition of obscenity in his on-line article: "Fear of Freedom: The Backlash
Against Free Speech on the 'Net'".

Everybody more or less knows something about what qualifies as obscene.
You know it has something to do with "community standards," right? And
with appealing to the "prurient interest." A work has to be a patently
offensive depiction of materials banned by state statute and appeal to the
prurient interest to be obscene and it also has to meet one other
requirement. It also has to lack serious literary, artistic, social,
political or scientific value. That's how something is classified as
"obscene."

Godwin states that one of the criteria for decency or absence of
obscenity is that something must contain social political or scientific value.
Is it possible that pornography is an outlet for people that prevents ideas that
start out as fantasies or desires from becoming real? If so, then it's possible
that the porn industry is doing us a bigger favor than we know. In an
article written by Donna A. Demac, the history of censorship, obscenity,
pornography and the rights of "the people" are conveyed with a decidedly liberal
attitude. Demac's article gives an intelligent overview as to the actions of
various political parties, groups and activists that have fought either for or
against some of the issues regarding pornography, and his article can be
effectively used to defend free speech. The most opinionated and conservative of
the authors included is Catherine MacKinnon, who touches on the thought that
there is a great deal of similarity between pornography and black slavery. In
her article "Pornography, Civil Rights and Speech" she states that "the harm of
pornography does not lie in the fact that it is offensive but that, at least in
developed societies, it is an industry that mass produces sexual intrusion,
access to, possession and use of women by men for profit". MacKinnon approaches
pornography not from a "moral" standpoint, but strictly from the "political"
point of view that says pornography is a threat to the gender equality of our
nation. I say she is wrong and that not only is pornography okay, but in many
cases could contribute to the health of our society. I will quickly agree that
pornography should be kept away from the eyes of our children, and that there is
a proper time and place for it, but consider some of the acts that, providing
that pornogrpahy was made illegal, would not only go under ground but might
actually become real instead of acted out.
Coetzee goes to great lengths to bring to light indescrepancies and
unclarified ideas throughout MacKinnon's article. One of Coetzee's most
prominent points is that the differences between "obscenity" and "pornography"
go far beyond a difference in term based on either political or moral argument.
While at times Coetzee seems to generally disagree with or at least greatly
challenge MacKinnon's ideas, there are times at which the two authors trains of
thought almost seem to coincide. One such issue would be that MacKinnon is not
necessarily looking to hunt out all occurrences of pornography in today's
literature and media, but to snuff out the commercial end of it. The end that
makes billions based on women being "used" by men, and does nothing at all to
improve their social standing in our society. But why must everything be used to
bolster the social position of women? It is this topic specifically that seems
to have gone un-argued by Coetzee.
Coetzee's stand on this issue of pornography and obscenity as a part of
today's culture is never quite addressed may very well remain a mystery to the
reader. From many of the author's statements and criticism's of MacKinnon, one
could gather that he takes a much more liberal stand and yet somehow
successfully avoids pressing his opinions. He also does a wonderful job of
highlighting some of the more minute intricacies related to MacKinnon's writing
which may have otherwise gone unnoticed.
If you read Demac's article you may find that "Sex", throughout history
has been more than merely a method of procreation. In Demac's article it is also
stated that the editorial and news press at times found sexual content the only
way to keep the political news interesting. Based on Demac's article, sex has
always been sort of a "mystery" or something dark that nobody liked to talk
about, and yet everybody was interested in. Maybe this is the reason that our
society today has such a hard time talking to there children about sex and the
prevention of such things as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. I am
often amazed that people have such a hard time talking about sex and sex related
topics when it rates second in priority among human drives. Second only to the
drive to eat. Pornography is nothing new, in fact prostitution is sometimes
called "the world's oldest profession". All that has changed is the degree in
which it is used. People become numb to what once was erotic or dangerous and
eventually want more. Demac's article illustrates this extremely well as he
gives a general overview of the history of pornography. His view is very helpful
in seeing how pornography has progressed and where it is now, relative to where
it has been.
Unfortunately as all of our authors have, in their own way stated, sex
is not the real issue at hand here. The issue is "Obscenity". Pornography in
these writers eyes seems to be a mixture of sex which is completely natural and
nearly every person enjoys at one time or another and obscenity which is the
element that MacKinnon says "keeps sex interesting for men". It seems that if
things (sex and pornography) were less extravagantly portrayed on the television,
print and even the radio, that less would be needed to fulfill one's "appetite"
for eroticism. If there actually were some "line" that were drawn, unable to be
crossed, would that given amount of "danger" be enough? I doubt it. The thing
that keeps men (the major supporters of the pornography industry) so interested
in women according to MacKinnon is the idea of having the power over a woman.
It's this power that breeds obscenity as men want more and more of this "power".
Sometimes it's taken much to far, but where can you draw the line? When is too
much too much?
Coetzee brings up a good point when he quotes Mackinnon: "In visual
media, it takes a real person doing each act to make what you see; pornography
models are real women to whom something real is being done". Coetzee challenges
this argument by asking the reader about violence in movies. He asks, "Are knife
thrusts and gunshots not just as real?" According to Coetzee, the acts of sex
portrayed on a television screen are happening to real people, yet one of the
greatest attributes of sex, and one of the things that make it sacred are the
feelings involved between the two people. Therefore, if there are no feelings
between the two actors, isn't it merely acting? The models are being paid and
have most likely been made aware of what will happen and therefore given their
consent. What about the possibility that the problem not only lies in the hands
of the men who watch these acts on a video tape, but the women who make them.
Without the availability of women who were willing to produce this kind of
material the pornography industry would come to a screeching halt. What's there
to watch without women? Maybe it all comes down to; "If you're not a part of the
solution, you're part of the problem".
The lines between right and wrong are often much more gray than black
and white, which is most likely where most people live. No one can say to
another what is right and wrong, or what should or shouldn't be done, that
decision has to be left to the individuals themselves. It's this issue of
pornography having an effect on women who aren't even involved in the industry
of making or even watching it. We as a nation and even a world stand to learn a
lot from simply listening to ourselves. We like to stand up and say what is
right, and yet acting on it rarely happens. In order for our society to come to
any sort of peace on this issue of pornography, it needs to be accepted that
people need to be allowed to make decisions for themselves without the
intervention of some government medium, but only as long as those decisions
don't effect or hinder the rights of others. Pornography is an immense
opportunity for an experiment in freedom of speech and democracy. The
largest scale experiment this world has ever seen. It's up to you and it's
up to me and it's up to all of us to explore that opportunity, and it's up
to all of us not to lose it. I'm not yet a parent myself, and I may not be
for some time, but I worry about my future children and pornography all
the time. Here's what I worry about. I worry that 10 or 15 or even 20 years from
now she will come to me and say, "Daddy, where were you when they took freedom
of the press and speech away from us?" and I want to be able to say I was there
-- and I helped stop that from happening.


 

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