And finally, another review I originally wrote for Epinions.com. I wasn’t a fan of this book, but sex sells, so here are my thoughts. This review was written July 5, 2011.
I’m always up for a good book on social sciences, especially if it’s also about sex. That’s why I sat up and took notice when fellow Epinionator telynor wrote a review of Gail Dines’ 2010 book Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality. I have to admit that I find the subject of porn interesting. I was exposed to it at a very young age, thanks to a creepy neighbor who used to show me his stash of mens’ magazines. I also had parents who didn’t pay much attention to what I was watching on television, so I saw many films that were not intended for young eyes. Though my childhood exposure to adult films and magazines probably made me more precocious about sex than I should have been, astonishingly enough, I came into my marriage with very little actual experience. Maybe I was one of the lucky ones.
According to Gail Dines, my experiences seeing pornography as a youngster is no longer all that uncommon. Apparently, many American boys have seen porn for the first time, on average, by age 11.5. The parents of today have to contend with things that my parents never had to worry about, thanks to the Internet and cable and satellite systems that include hundreds of television channels. Some parents are taking extreme measures to protect their kids from what they deem “inappropriate” images. Not long ago, I ran across a posting on a public messageboard for moms written by an anguished woman who had decided to ban Amazon.com from her home. Her reason? The store sells underwear and has pictures of models wearing them. Of course, plenty of other parents seem to be much more ambivalent about these so-called “porn images”. According to Gail Dines, that’s a problem. She claims that porn culture is very sneakily creeping into pop culture and desensitizing people against grotesque, violent, sexual imagery.
In her well-written book, Pornland, Dines explains the history of porn, starting with Hugh Hefner’s relatively innocent Playboy magazine of the 1950s. Playboy eventually got competition from its somewhat raunchier competitor, Penthouse. And then, along came Larry Flynt’s still sleazier Hustler magazine. Dines notes that as these three magazines became more popular and earned more money for publishers, the pornography industry really took off, leading to video and DVD sales. Mainstream publishers and advertisers realized that sex sells, so now it’s everywhere.
Dines argues that the widespread commercialism of porn is making Americans less sexually liberated. According to Dines, the “hard-core, violent, sexist, and racist” images that Americans are regularly exposed to, is a public health problem that requires attention.
Besides being a public health issue, Dines points out that porn is also a religious and political issue. Mitt Romney is a well-known Mormon who attempted to run for president in 2008 and is now bidding for President Barack Obama’s job in 2012. The LDS church is famously anti-porn, so many voters would expect Romney to be anti-porn in alliance with his religious beliefs. However, Mitt Romney served on a board for Marriott hotels from 1992 until 2001. Marriott hotels, like most other major hotel chains, are major players in the porn industry, making on demand pornography available to hotel guests and picking up millions of dollars in revenue. According to Dines, the LDS church pressured Mitt Romney to put a stop to selling porn at Marriotts, but the powers that be at the hotel chain refused to cave. Consequently, Marriotts still sell porn. Interestingly enough, Marriott was founded by J. Willard Marriott, who was a prominent Mormon. Mitt Romney eventually tried to distance himself from the Marriott hotel chain, but when he lost his bid for the Presidency in 2008, he quietly rejoined Marriott’s board.
Dines also writes about pseudo-child pornography (PCP), which is porn that depicts women who are legal adults, but appear childlike. Dines worries that the violence depicted in porn can lead to more sexual assaults and molestation, by feeding inappropriate fantasies and leading to crimes against women and children.
Gail Dines is a feminist and an academic. She writes well and I learned a lot from reading her book, which I felt was well-researched and included some compelling arguments against porn. That being said, I don’t agree with some of Dines’ arguments. It’s true that some people can get into trouble with pornography, but people can get in trouble with just about everything. What’s more, what constitutes porn is subjective. To one person, an Amazon.com underwear ad is porn. To another, porn is a very specific genre with images much more graphic than underwear. To some people, porn is offensive and gross. To others, it’s exciting and fun. Who gets to determine what porn is and whether or not it’s exciting or offensive?
Dines is also very graphic in some of her descriptions of porn. Some readers might be turned off by some of her lurid accounts of the pornography she encountered while researching this book. Readers who might be offended by frank descriptions of sex acts and raw language might want to steer clear of Dines’ book.
I’m not sure Dines managed to convince me that porn is hijacking sexuality in America. In fact, I think there are a lot of people out there, particularly women, who use the concept of “porn addiction” as an excuse to demonize, control, and shame men. A lot of people, women included, enjoy viewing porn. That doesn’t necessarily make them sick, violent, or criminals.
I can’t say I really “enjoyed” reading Dines’ book about pornography, but I can say I learned new things from it. I want to thank telynor for alerting me to this book by writing her fine review.
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