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J.M Coetzee

’s “The Harms Of Pornography” Essay, Research Paper J.M Coetzee’s “The Harms of Pornography” As the debate over pornography and its place in society grows hotter

’s “The Harms Of Pornography” Essay, Research Paper

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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