The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where We Go from Here takes us on a dark journey through the intriguing history of pornography in the United States. Chronologically, the text details the birth of pornography beginning with the good ole “innocent” days of the 1950s to the current state of what is termed “violent porn”.
Looking back at soldiers returning home after World War II, Sarracino and Scott explain the era’s mantra of purity as being anything but. A culture saturated in post-war patriotism and the strongly divided gender roles of heroic men and June Cleaver women, paints a stereotypical backdrop of how most people picture this era. Though many of these stereotypes prove to be overwhelmingly true, this book debunks every myth of this time period as being just good old fashioned innocence.
Starting with the explosive trend of comic books amongst all ages and groups of people, their pictures and stories transition from super hero themed to young blonde women bound to a stake with breasts large and protruding, being saved from torturous Nazi villains (to reinforce patriotism and emphasize who were our enemies at the time) sets the stage for the desensitization of violence toward more (again at that time) scantily-clad women. Comic books paved the way for the mass production of MAMs (Mens Adventure Magazines) which included far more graphic and violent themes of torture. They also were a portal of sorts for the advertisement of sex manuals, lingerie, and hardcore porn.
MAMs can be thanked for their ability to enter the homes of Americans and begin raising what Sarracino and Scott call the “shock bar” by creating each issue more and more extreme. This extremeness is what the authors consider to be more closely related to porn in the present, rather than such tame porn (by comparison) as Playboy and pinup girl photos like those of Betty Page.
The importance of examining the history of pornography might help answer the big question the book asks: when did our society begin to accept violent porn, entailing largely violence toward women, and all of its many haunting facets (which are generously spared in this review, however not in the book itself)? While many clues lie in the history of pornography, pinpointing when we accepted pornography is far less chilling than pondering whether or not we will stop accepting it.
The authors do an amazing job of analyzing violence and sexualizing ingrained in our culture through media. Hot and current Internet sites such as MySpace and Facebook may well contribute to part of our desensitization and underline the peculiarity of how we view people and ourselves. In vain and comodifying ways, we have become addicted to looking at other people on the Internet. We are, in fact, obsessed with looking at screens that display other peoples’ lives, or updates of our own. In the same manner, many Americans are addicted to viewing pornography for its quickly paced “outdoing” of itself – in other words, raising the shock bar.
Sarracino and Scott, grippingly explain this obsession of seeing other people as being obsessed with taking pleasure in other peoples’ misfortunes. The text references Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears. We sexualize these two women whether they want to be or not, because of their identity as women. We extract any humanness from them and view them only for their sex. We take this further and we ridicule them for their body size, delight in their breakdowns, and get off on their mistakes. Though this is a mainstream example, it precisely parallels the flavor of pornography.
While the text intertwines stories, commercials, and highlights the lives of very influential people such as Madonna and Snoop Dogg, the authors also include astonishing statistics of how this process of sexualization influences young girls and women and the horrific ramifications of growing up in a “porned” culture will have on them for the rest of their lives. While the book argues that women will mainly suffer from these ramifications, it also emphasizes how other groups of people are affected. Devoting a large portion of the book to the Abu Grahib prisoner torture, the authors conclude that many of the acts and torture methods implemented were extracted directly from violent pornography.
The treatment of women and other people, for example Abu Grahib prisoners, mainstreams what porn has been doing all along. The beginning of the book discusses the notion of not noticing something when it becomes part of our everyday lives. This disturbing revelation is what is argued needs to be eradicated completely before it is embedded so far in us, that we do not even see it anymore.
A criticism one could make of the book is that when Sarracino and Scott discuss the mildness of amateur porn and porn made for women, they term this as being more erotica than actual porn. While this may be the case, the notion that people demonstrating sexual acts on camera or in photos still sexualizes them. And while the storyline of this form of erotica may be more enticing with emphasis placed on the realness of the partners (i.e. natural body shape, couples that are actually in a relationship with each other in real life), the fact remains true: these people are sexualized and are only viewed for their sexuality, no other reason. However, in looking at the broad scope of pornography, this small discrepancy is in fact not a target to attack. The authors themselves emphasize to the readers the gargantuan realm of pornography and make clear what we should prioritize for the removal of in our society: violent porn.
Carmine Sarracino and Kevin M. Scott, The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where We Go from Here, (Beacon Press, 2008).