Merits of TEDx talk by Ran Gavrieli on the topic of porn


#1

Continuing the discussion from Man convicted over “illegal” cartoons:

I welcome a discussion on the merits of his talk, and I want to say that, on balance, I agree with most of what he says. I just don’t think it belongs in the original topic of “Man convicted over ‘illegal’ cartoons.”

I respect your opinions and value what I might learn from this discussion.

I repeat that I am grateful for your linking his talk!


Man convicted over "illegal" cartoons
#2

Thank you for the acknowledgment and new thread.

I think it’s interesting how, in the other thread, people were so anxious to establish where Gavrieli is wrong, rather than dealing with the many ways that he’s right.

I mean, many of us know how ridiculous it is when say a man, who’s listening to a feminist (male or female) point out things men do, jumps up and says “Hey, not ALL men!” Who even said ALL men? Does a feminist really have to keep pausing to say “I recognize that not all men do this or that”?

How different is #notallmen or #notallwhitepeople from “Hey, not ALL porn!”


#3

And in case anyone else reads this new thread, here again is Gavrieli’s talk that I posted in the other thread:


#4

So, points I actively agree with, believe are already supported by research:

  • Porn is filmed prostitution
  • Watching it helps maintain the demand for it, which feeds further production
  • Prostitution was nobody’s childhood dream, it’s clear evidence of severe socio-economic distress.
  • We should be careful about what we put in our minds.
  • Porn supports badly distorted body images, unrealistic and impossible standards of attractiveness/worth.
  • Porn feeds the notion for women and girls that to be worthy of love, they need to be sexually desirable.
  • It is a profound injustice that the guys who share documentation of their “conquests” are admired (or at least ignored) whereas the gals whose trust they violated by publicizing are slut-shamed without mercy.

Points I’m not convinced about:

  • All porn is about male domination of women.
  • Watching porn 20 minutes twice a week is “overtaking.”
  • Boys who watch porn are “paralyzed” by it. If they are not paralyzed by it, they become imitators, aggressors.

Points I disagree with:

  • Mr. Gavrieli’s implication that his experience with porn is a representative generalization of everyone’s experience with porn

I want to stress again that I am open to dialogue, even (perhaps especially) on the points where I disagree with Mr. Gavrieli’s position.


#5

Well, While I’m kind of with you on the first bullet point, this I think takes it too far. No, nobody dreams of being a sex worker as a kid, be it stripping, porn, or actual as most people see it prostitution. And doubtless, many individuals are driven to it because of economic distress.

That said, it think it’s dismissive of the idea that anyone might find sex work gratifying. Many do, even while conceding the negative aspects. After all, people can recognize the realities of Black Lung disease, and the danger and long term degenerative effects of coal mining, but still find it gratifying work that you’d resist leaving. Just because you’d not do it without being driven to desperation, and would find doing it dehumanizing and degrading, dosn’t mean everyone does.


#6

Okay, well, what about the question I asked above (it’s not a rhetorical one)–


#7

I’ll bite: So what if it is? Seems like a valid refutation of general statements about a class. An inverse of the “No True Scotsman” if you will. If you make a statement like “Scottish people dress in Kilts and have Red Beards”, it’s not unfair to say “Erm, not all Scottish people have those attributes” even if the overwhelming majority does.

And, as my obviously silly example suggests, it’s not apparent just from the statement or the refutation just how common or not the asserted trait is, and, based on an assessment of THAT commonality, one can judge the initial statement. In the case of the example I gave, actual data on how common kilts and red facial hair is among scottish citizens would be useful in judging the honesty of the blanket statement, even if it happened to be true for at least some subset, if not a major portion of it, it’s rightly viewed as being misleading at a minimum, if not outright dishonest.

This is doubly true when it comes to things like speech or actions, when the range of possible responses to such assertions can very conceivably involve attempts at restrictions or limitations on those same acts or utterances. It seems unlikely we’ll be banning the male gender, or the notion of being scottish, but, a ban on porn is entirely conceivable, so, inaccurate generalities have a much greater potential for unjustifiable harm.


#8

I totally support the goal of a world where nobody is economically forced to do a job they find degrading or demeaning.

However, I don’t think that’s a porn issue, as there are lots of unpleasant or humiliating jobs that don’t involve sex. It’s more of an issue with our entire socio-economic system.

Porn would probably be more expensive if it was only done by people who actively wanted to do it, but it wouldn’t vanish entirely.


#9

…And let’s not lose sight of the fact that society’s attitude to sex is largely pathological in the first place…


#10

True, not unfair, but have you spent any time at all figuring out what’s wrong with interrupting to say “notallmen” and “notallwhitepeople”? They’re diversionary and ultimately narcissistic. At best, they’re merely pedantic. They distract from real problems, and in the case of porn, problems pointed out well by Gavrieli.

Most people “know” what the term “porn” usually connotes – sexist, sometimes-just-borderline abusive, mainstream, filmed-for-money sex. Of course other kinds of filmed sex exist that may well not have such problems. I think (as with men and white people) when defenders of other kinds of filmed/videoed sex point that out in the midst of a discussion of the ills likely wrought by porn, they’re being (perhaps unconsciously) disingenuous. Their interruption is really more about them and their own tastes for supposedly better porn, and about their desire to defend it. Rather than being about the discussion at hand, it’s a self-serving diversion.

As for censorship, does Gavrieli ever even mention that? Bringing up censorship in this discussion reminds me of NRA members who object to any and all limits on guns – “Next thing you know, they’ll be coming to take all of yours away!!” Although you’re standing on a slippery slope, I’m over here on level ground.


#11

TL;DW


#12

Er, yeah, without watching, I suppose that is what a lot of people would (inanely) think. :-/


#13

As far as I’m concerned, the “x” means “Potentially more bullshit than a TED talk”.

I’ve just sat through enough garbage TEDx talks given by idiots that I default to that snarky position, sorry :smile:


#14


#15

Thanks, now I have a snarky graphic for the next time this subject comes up.


#16

Usually connotes to whom?

I think that it demonstrates a useful distinction to bear in mind when people are being overly general, which can cause us to ask a fundamental question which gets glossed over:

“Are these distasteful aspects we observe merely examples of poor practice, or are they an inseparable characteristic of the medium in question?”

Similar criticisms can be (and are) leveled at any expressive medium which gets commodified into an industry. This process should be honestly considered when making blanket statements about its value. Some people would rather cling to this judgement because it confirms their thesis without comparing the fact that a meal that you have grown and cooked personally from scratch can exhibit more nuanced tastes and better nutrition than some factory-made, mass-produced “food product” does. The exploitive, commodified, unhealthy, undifferentiated pasty mass of the latter can hardly be said to devalue the former. I think a similar comparison can honestly and easily be made between work made by people who genuinely love doing what they feel is meaningful work, and those who are forced to do boring assembly-line work to get a paycheck.

When you insist that real motivations and qualitative differences are disingenuous and self-serving, it could be that you are actually in practice excluding people from discourse because their experiences do not jive with the point you are trying to make.

It does get tedious! An easy solution to the problem is to not be so lazy as to argue everything in terms of absolutes! People’s emotions are more likely to be polarized than the reality behind their controversies. Framing social problems in absolute terms invites overly simplistic answers.


#17

Ok, I sat through the talk. As a personal account of the guy’s experiences, it was sort of interesting. But beyond that, I thought he was mostly regurgitating some popular complaints by people who are generally biased against porn.

One of the first, and most basic, problems was that of shifting definitions of what he even meant by “pornography”, He makes a point of saying that porn is distinct from eroticism. And that porn is basically defined as exploitation, and a sexist attitude of what men find arousing. Why is this problematic? Because it is not how pornography is legally or popularly defined. Where I am, porn is defined as whatever is designed to appeal to prurient interests, which is an extremely nebulous definition. This legal definition would also cover most of what Gavrieli considers erotica. And popularly, if I show hardcore sex made by and for women to a sampling of people - they are still going to classify it as “porn”. If I screen it at my town library, they are still going to complain even though nobody was exploited and no men’s values were consulted. Even Gavrieli himself flips around and states that 80-90% or porn is not horrible, but that a small percent ruin the whole thing for him. So, his whole argument hinges upon defining porn itself as whatever is sexist and exploitive. This is all rather absolutist, reductive labeling which is put forth for the purpose of sensationalizing and vilifying the subject of the talk. Rather than, for instance, confronting the very real problems of sexism and exploitation directly. Most instances of these do not take place in porn or the porn industry, but in our daily lives.

Is pornography prostitution? It can be. But prostitution is not a strictly sexual term. Since the industrial revolution, when most of the population was forced to work 40+ hours per week, prostitution has grown to connote sex for money, But the deeper meaning of the word is anything that you do only because you need money, as opposed to having talent, civic duty, etc. The reason for the shift in meaning is because the truth hurts - most work that people do, perhaps more than 90% of employment - can be considered prostitution. I agree with Gavrieli that it is destructive, but this does not have anything to do with sex, specifically. If somebody is a whore, or a porn star because they like it, then it is not prostitution for them.

Most of the criticisms Gavrieli leveled against porn are true for some examples. But also, he himself was largely responsible for watching vulgar, fake, tacky porn. No sensuality? No narrative? No physical diversity? No equality? No joy? Sounds pretty horrible, really! Why not watch something better? There are better examples out there, but those would not meet the definitions of porn he put forth at the beginning of his talk. He admits that he compulsively watches lots of other video without thinking critically of what is presented. Just like with fake, exploitive movies, music, and writing - why not support those independent people who are doing something they truly love and believe in? Should we force ourselves to listen to “hair metal” or watch slasher movies so that we can dismiss these entire mediums as garbage? I think most pop culture and commercial broadcast media is exploitive sexist garbage, but I can always chose to enjoy what the medium itself has to offer without buying into the “industry”.


#18

No, he doesn’t. And the characterization of that part of my argument as a slippery slope argument is, on the whole, fair. The danger I see isn’t so much that what he’s saying inevitably results in censorship, but, on the framing of the conversation being conducive to it.

I know it seems that you’re on level ground, merely discussing things in an academic sense. Trouble is, for hot button issues like pornography, and guns, and abortion, and atheism/religion, those academic discussions can get mobilized into action in a frighteningly short period of time. And, if those discussions are framed poorly, in such a way that they ignore pertinent details that practical actions generally would not be able to ignore, that framing can be a very difficult train to stop once it’s got a head of steam behind it.

This isn’t limited to one side of the ideological continuum or another, or one type of stance or another. @popobawa4u notes in his post this dangerous slipping frame as well:

See, here we’ve got a frame that sets as a definition that one word refers only to the harmful stuff, while there’s another term for the “good” stuff. Then outlines how dangerous/horrible/harmful the harmful stuff is. Which, in a TED talk, or a classroom debate, is more or less fine. Where that gets dangerous is, when you’ve had enough of these talks, enough of these debates, where it’s more or less a decided matter that the harmful stuff is harmful, many will take the next step to say, let’s remove the harmful stuff. Then suddenly that poor framing comes to bite you right in the ass.

Firstly, people don’t actually use the terms the way they were defined for that limited academic argument. What you’re saying you’re going to restrict isn’t what people will hear you saying you’re interested in restricting, and, if you write your restrictions with those terms, without some pretty tortured definitions, the legal system will go with the common meanings of the words.

And then the most problematic thing is, nobody is really of any agreement on just what is the 10-20% (using the 80-90% good numbers above) is the “Bad” porn. It’s really easy to phrase out a general sentence that seems to distinguish the two for a TED talk, but, not so easy to do so for an actual functional restriction. But by then, the conversation and concept has momentum. “We’ve already determined the bad stuff is bad. So, there’s no reason not to ban it. Anything that isn’t bad won’t be affected!” they’ll say. Anyone objecting to individual instances or categories erroneously swept up get dismissed in the “not all X is bad” fashion. But at that point, it’s got real impact, but, it’s too late to make those arguments, it’s pretty much all done but the crying.

I know I’ve essentially sketched out the contours of a slippery slope, rather than making a hugely different argument, but, the general point is, much like in real life, it might SEEM like you’re on level ground, but if you break out the instruments, that may not actually be the case. And deviation from level can be dangerous at a much earlier point in time than what your senses are calibrated to notice consciously. A foundation for a 1 story house that has only 1 degree deviation from level may not matter much for a 1 story bungalow, but it’s a much bigger deal when building a skyscraper. Trouble is, if the bungalow is the academic argument, and the skyscraper the massive government run restrictions scheme, often there’s not a whole lot of reevaluation between bungalow and skyscraper stage. If there was a building there, after all, it must be level and stable right?


#19

I noted a difficulty defining and separating out the “Good” from the “Bad” in a rule based way, and, while you’re not directly making this distinction or argument here, your comment serves as a good springboard to illustrate that. I’m not intending to insinuate you’re making the exact point I’m going to “respond” to, here, so, please read my response with that in mind. I think you’ll see what I’m getting at here in a moment.

You outline a number of factors in your quote that people can identify as aspects of “Bad” porn. But, I don’t see anything in your list of factors alone to say that anything matching what you’ve described must by definition be “pretty horrible”.

Will start with the easiest, No Narrative. Much art has no real narrative, or at least one so opaque or open to interpretation that any narrative seen is at least arguably almost entirely in the mind of the viewer. The Mona Lisa, for instance, has little intrinsic narrative. Many (though certainly not all) still images are devoid of narrative entirely. And certainly any useful definition of porn or erotica will include still images at a minimum. Further, some abysmally bad porn has an easy to define narrative. Often it’s a paper thin, abjectly STUPID narrative, but, it’s undeniably there (Pizza man/Plumber/Cable guy/Pool cleaner shows up, you know the rest of the stereotype). So, simple presence or absence of a narrative is unhelpful in differentiating, nor is poor narrative a requirement for bad art (some works have narrative that, when examined, are nearly farcical, yet we tend not to notice due to the strength of the rest of the work. Referring to art in general, as well as porn specifically)

No sensuality? This one is a bit harder, but, we still find examples of artwork which lack an sensuality but are still nonetheless art. I have a hard time even envisioning, let alone providing examples, of erotic works that lack a sensuality that I would still categorize as erotic, but, I can at least put out the idea that, perhaps those of a BDSM bent might well have erotic work that doesn’t include anything of a degrading, dehumanizing nature, but are still erotic and lack anything describable as sensuous. After all, not all sexual acts enjoyed by fully consenting individuals in their private lives are all sensuous. It doesn’t seem a stretch to assume that those acts have presumably been filmed and commercialized, at least at some point, even if I’m not immediately aware of any examples right off.

No physical diversity? Come now, there’s plenty of porn that caters directly to the majority, but, if there’s one thing you can’t tar porn with, it’s a lack of openness to diversity. Rule 23 exists for a reason, and even ignoring the extreme niche works, You’ve got incredibly popular, mainstream work that has people of all sizes and colors. Cracked ran an article a while back about misconceptions of porn stars, and one thing it noted is, while the stereotypical breast enhanced porn starlet is undoubtably a thing, there’s plenty of porn stars today that you wouldn’t even bat an eye if they happened by you in the store.

As to No equality or Joy, well, I’d point back up at the sensuous point above. Some people find a lack of those things quite erotic. Of course, it’s easy to imagine a work that lacked those aspects that was clearly problematic. But it’s also not much of a stretch to imagine a work that stressed an inequality or a feeling other than Joy, that wasn’t exploitive, and in fact is produced primarily for the consumption of those who would fantasize themselves in the position of lesser power or equality or joy.

I don’t think it’s too far out there to say that, yes, there’s definitely some works that little to no value outside a prurient one for a small set of people, and the exploitive and corrosive effects on society are clear. But, I’ve never seen any way of defining those works in a way that clearly demarcs the good from the bad, besides perhaps the “I know it when I see it” standard, which has obvious drawbacks. And while many-most seem to clearly think they see some that are problematic, there’s plenty of disagreement on just which actual individual works are on which side of the line.

Given such poor tools on which to base a division, it seems problematic in the extreme to act as if some clear line exists, despite how obvious it seems to us individually that it must be there, and to act on that belief.


#20

What about this?