Susan Jane Dwyer
University of Maryland, College Park
Pornography has attracted a good deal of academic and political attention, primarily from feminists of various persuasions, moral philosophers, and legal scholars. Surprisingly less work has been forthcoming from film theorists, given how much pornography has been produced on video and DVD and is now available through live streaming video over the Internet. Indeed, it is not until 1989, with the publication of Linda Williams’ groundbreaking Hard Core, that pornography is distinguished, in terms of its content, intent, and governing conventions, as a filmic genre of its own. Still, not all pornography exists as film, and so a full discussion of it must encompass its other manifestations (e.g., magazines, websites, comics, etc.). The central questions about pornography are these: (1) What is it? How is it to be defined? (2) What are its effects? (3) How, if at all, ought it to be regulated? While these questions are simple, providing answers to them, as we shall see, is complicated. There is plenty of disagreement about how to define pornography; research about pornography’s effects is not univocal; and this in turn leads to substantial debate about what can and may be done about pornography. It is to these matters that the bulk of this essay is addressed. To begin, however, we will take a brief snapshot of the emergence of pornographic film and of the pornography business as it exists today.
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