Rape Culture: Extreme Pornography / Extreme Sexuality (Part 2)

“The steak? The steak!? What about the sole?! I’ll scalp ya…” (Dennis Potter – Secret Friends)

Extreme Pornography

Pornography: the explicit description or display of sexual organs/activities, intended to stimulate sexual arousal.

Obscenity: identified in England by its capacity to ‘deprave or corrupt’ a significant number of people that come into contact with it; hence obscenity turns on the notion of a public good or public morality – a collective fantasy of a ‘civilised society’ or a higher moral horizon, actively preclusive of sex. A luminescent backdrop against which corruption can be identified.

Extreme pornography: in no small part, the result of the obsolescence of obscenity law given the obsolescence of this social fantasy and its replacement with an individualised, consumptive fantasy.[1] An individualism where one person’s deviance is not viewed to be contagious throughout the social body, but that the social body is conceived to be fragmentary and every experience containable within its own distributed community.[2][3] Hence, the concept of extreme pornography now provides for a new social order (extremity, not obscenity), where the laws try to force certain forms of death, negativity and risk from pornography and sex. It is not the explicit, amplified expression of the sexual act that degrades – for the values of sex and the material body of the individual have replaced the soul – but rather, it is the danger of amplifying the individual’s attraction to death that is to be feared. That, or perhaps more likely, it is the individual who produces themselves according to the signs of violence or death and thereby redeems their truth who is to be feared – those signs that appear by necessity in the negative mirror of the risk-averse, hyper-positivist society.

Regarding ‘obscenity’, Baudrillard has given the term what he considers to be a modern make-over, equating it more closely with its etymological origins. Taken from obscaena, the Latin for ‘offstage’, it refers to the Greek theatre’s practice of keeping potentially offensive material off stage. For Baudrillard then, the obscene refers to production-based societies’ tendency to bring everything on-stage, to make everything visible. Pornography is obscene in its explicitness because it makes visible the secret and explodes the sex-act beyond itself (Baudrillard, Seduction, p.29). Close-ups, amplified moans, copious cum-shots and over-sized organs; sex regularly viewed from outside the act – a new sex that destroys the fantasy of anticipated sex and replaces it with a realised image of sex, thus destroying the seductive potency of the unseen. The explicit nature of pornography is a reflection for Baudrillard of the explicit nature of the Western world: obscene in its endless expositions – categories, numbers, subjectivities, identities, sexualities, drives – a liberative uncovering of everything. Then an artificial magnification of everything, which leads to the disappearance of the visible itself – genes, neural-pathways, quanta, the anatomy of a pore.

Where pornography is the explicit, over-production of sex, in the same way, extreme pornography is born of the same process, but applied to sexual negativity: trauma, violence, abuse and so on. It is the pornographic mirror of survivor stories and PTSD abreactions; it is an amplification of both the body and emotions through pain. In as much as trauma must be made visible in every detail as trauma (one must endlessly ‘speak out’), so too must its other side, which is made visible in every detail as a psychopathic pleasure. Extreme pornography becomes the explicit detailing of the psychopathology of pleasure.[4]

Previously, speaking out was done in the context of sexual repression, of sexual shame – that is, in a context where the appearance of both sex and trauma were obscured. The resulting silence was precisely what energized (through pressure) both the voice by which trauma was expressed and the force by which trauma was compounded and made representable as trauma. By contrast, today’s speaking out is done inside the echo-chambers of the traumas of previous generations. Everybody today lives on-the-one-hand, in the imagination of liberal, over-produced sex, and on-the-other, within the sticky taboo of its psychopathic twin. The survivor’s story and extreme pornography are conjoined within the same imperative to produce and the same environment of erotic phantasmagoria. Nobody, today, has not, through their imagination, experienced the aesthetics of sexual trauma and as such, we can give birth both to its fantasy and its phobia. We can also perceive the origins of the sacred status attributed to the modern victim – in law, in porn, in power, and in the marketplace of identity. That through the legacy of historical silence, the victim (and the simulation of the victim) acquires a special significance, as does their abuser. In this, extreme pornography also returns a sacred aspect to its Eros which, in conventional pornography, is lost in the necessary disappearance of sexual/relational intimacy.[5]

There is something desperate about the screen, vampyric; like it is constantly failing to speak, as if it can never get close enough to our emotions or our nerves. As such, it fosters a communication of increasing extremity in its yearning for an ever deeper involvement with the viewer.[6] We can see this online in troll-culture or the gender wars or in new activism more generally – conflict, the machine of identity and de-localized involvement.

The screen is naturally smooth, sensually atextural and in the era of LCDs, visually discrete in its images – HD is a less watery/blending mosaic. Moreover, the screen has a knack of communicating beneath the surface of its content – a sub-contentual communication of blended senses (aural and visual) and juxtapositional images/sounds. It is better attuned to a relationally-absented unconscious than it is the rational or intimate. As such, the screen is not a natural medium of relational contact and suffers from its inability to touch.[7]

Body horror and psychological horror make sense in this context and extreme pornography inter-relates with these forms. In body horror, the body is forced to speak out in its garish disfiguration and thereby the body dominates the subject (see the film Martyrs, where it is pain leads to transcendence); in psychological horror, it is the nervous system which is forced up to dominate the body (see the film Suspiria where the highly eroticized horror takes place in a house which is the extended nervous system of its architect). Body horror exacerbates the body to make up for its absence; psychological horror uses juxtaposition and unconscious shadows to force out the nerves: a nervous texture that surrogates for intimacy. Extreme pornography endeavors towards similar functions in the obscenely over-productive, pornographic context. In this, it may go beyond a pure function of self-gratification, but may too contain a culturally symbolic and aesthetic value. It at least functions in accordance with the principles of a productive society.

Part 1Part 2Part 3.1

Notes:

[1] Specifically, the English law criminalizes the possession of “pornographic material which depicts necrophilia, bestiality or violence that is life threatening or likely to result in serious injury to the anus, breasts or genitals” (BBC Magazine, 2008) and there are attempts to extend this law to simulated rape too. This writing however concerns the broader underpinnings of both the attraction to and fear of this kind of pornography which, it is argued, is not just a kind of self-gratification, but reveals a living aesthetic bound up in the structure of our culture.

[2] See the R v Peacock trial to get a sense of how much our detachment from ‘obscenity as a corrupter of public morals’ played a part in the verdict of this case. In a sense, we are the spell-bound denizens of sex and obscenity living out the nightmares of past legislators.

[3] Its worth noticing that the metaphor of a social body constituted of distributed individuals and communal proclivities directly mirrors the techno-social landscape: a society of distributed, widely available communication systems. The character of a society supervenes on its underlying structure, which grounds all its problems and effects.

[4] ‘Pathology’ here being the negative form which arises naturally from the assertion of ‘health’; ‘psychopathic’ and ‘psychopathology’ therefore also arise from the application of ‘health’ to the mind – mental health. The dominant, positive form produces and animates the contents of the negative form.

[5] Baudrillard makes the observation that in seeing each other naked, the Native American did not see nudity, but instead conflated the whole body into the face. In pornography, it is the face that disappears and all is body (Baudrillard, Seduction, p.33).

[6] We could consider this in terms of the visibility of trauma too. That with the visibility of trauma comes the death of its affect as trauma. The screen can never tell its story with sufficient impact because in achieving any impact, it destroys its own impact.

[7] Touch is perhaps a more relationally intimate sense and in the wake of new haptic technologies, there may be cause to identify ‘presence’ as a further legitimate sense. Simulation may master touch, taste, hearing, sight, and smell without mastering presence. Presence and touch have a moralising dimension in the real in that one can think, say and do anything in the virtual without the kinds of anxiety or consequence[7.i] that accompanies real presence. In this sense, death becomes part of the quality of real-presence, which may never be simulated. Real presence becomes a poison when compared to the comfort, freedom and convenience of the virtual and this mirrors the psyche of a risk-averse society – everywhere a war on the negativity of the real.

[7.i] More subtly, one may observe that the anxiety of being present is something deeper than a fear of consequence; that perhaps there is something here peculiar to the condition of being present that rational language can’t describe in terms of cause and effect.

References:

Baudrillard, J., On Seduction

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