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Penn, Porn and Me

Everyone who has ever worked as an activist in progressive organizations fighting gender, racial and economic inequality, has had the experience of seeing their words and ideas twisted by mainstream corporate media. This is what happened to me on Penn and Teller: Bullshit! that is airing all this week on Showtime. And one thing in particular I have learned for sure, after many years of being an anti-porn activist, is that men get very upset when they think you want to take their porn away.

I have seen a lot of upset men, but few get close to the level of rage Penn exhibited on the show. As he yelled and screamed into the camera, I thought he was going to have a stroke. He was especially upset with me for suggesting that mainstream porn, which is increasingly cruel and degrading, has a real effect on the men who use it.

The interesting part of this story is not Penn’s out-of-control anger, but the way the show framed the story on porn. As was expected, the producers used the topic as an excuse to show lots of porn; a quick and cheap way to pull in the audience. But the porn they showed was the soft core kind that is mainly girl-on-girl sex, the type that is not the main moneymaker for the industry.

The porn that makes most of the money for the industry is actually the gonzo, body-punishing variety that shows women’s bodies being physically stretched to the limit, humiliated and degraded. Even porn industry people commented in a recent article in Adult Video News, that gonzo porn is taking its toll on the women, and the turnover is high because they can’t stand the brutal acts on the body for very long.

While I doubt that Penn is any stranger to this type of porn, I know for sure that the lead producer is aware of it. In preparation for the show, he spent several hours with me as I carefully explained the different genres of porn, and he also came to one of my lectures, where he saw in clear and sharp focus just what happens to women in the industry. He himself expressed shock and anger as we talked, yet when it came down to it, he ended up just like the rest of media producers: cowardly and untruthful. The story they told about soft-core porn is only part of the story, as what really needs to be explained is why men are, according to the industry, seeking out harder and harder porn.

I initially declined to do the show, as I had no faith in Penn and Teller doing anything that remotely looked like serious journalism. In the end I agreed because they promised to give me some serious time to talk about porn. They also promised not to edit me to look like a fool. They kept their first promise and reneged on the second. They introduced the three anti-porn activists as the “Three Stooges”, setting us up as idiots before we had said a word. Of course, every time one of us said anything, they cut back to some soft porn and Penn, who was at times having a hysterical fit. It was both scary and comical, his red face contorted with rage as he yelled at the camera that porn doesn’t cause men to be violent!

The producers saved the best for last, when they talked about the lack of research on effects, and they edited my words down to: “there are no good studies.” This was a perfect ending for the show as it granted them the final word. The only problem is that the whole thing was a set up. The producer had asked me about studies showing a direct link between porn and rape. While there are no studies that show direct causation, I had told him about a wealth of research on the impact of porn on men’s attitudes and behavior.

So of course the media gets the last word, and us activists have to take the crumbs that they throw our way, and let me tell you, they don’t get any more crummy that Penn and Teller.

GAIL DINES is a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Wheelock College. She is a founding member of Stop Porn Culture and co-producer of the slide show Who Wants to be a Porn Star? For a copy of the show, please email Stoppornculture@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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