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September 2014, Week 1


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David Church <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 1 Sep 2014 15:26:07 -0700
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[Apologies for cross-posting]

*Call for Papers*

*Porn Studies*

*Special Issue: “Canon Fodder: Reappraising Adult Cinema’s Neglected Texts”

In the inaugural issue of *Porn Studies*, Linda Williams (2014) notes that
the films explored in her pioneering book *Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and
the “Frenzy of the Visible” *(1989/1999), the first major study of
pornography as a distinct cinematic genre in its own right, “have been
taken by others to be canonical, but in fact they are simply the examples I
chose that were then available to me…through rentals in my local video
stores. […] Not enough consensus was built up around these films through
criticism and recorded reactions to call them canonical.” Moreover, she
argues, many subsequent studies have gravitated toward queer and/or
feminist pornographies, while largely neglecting the more dominant
varieties of adult cinema that have proven either harder to politically
reclaim (heterosexual hard-core forms) or generated little controversy
among anti-porn feminists (soft-core forms). Yet, by influentially
characterizing pornography (alongside horror and melodrama) as a “body
genre,” Williams (1991) suggests that the ultimate success of any given
film is dependent on its visceral impact, quite independent of qualitative
aesthetic considerations—a critical move which allowed early studies of
pornography to sidestep but not dismantle the genre’s prevalent
associations with low-budget, poorly made schlock. Nevertheless, the
posture of negative critique lurking behind so much ideological criticism
has also allowed academics to readily disavow their own affective responses
to pornography, thus downplaying this key criterion of generic success
beneath the veil of critical distance.

Unlike the once-disreputable genres of horror and melodrama (both of which
produced their fair share of low-budget and/or rough-hewn films that have
since been academically reclaimed and even championed), the field of film
studies has proven remarkably reticent to make qualitative claims for
pornographic films as a filmic genre, inadvertently implying that even porn
scholars find little aesthetic value in the films themselves. After all,
for most academics, the very idea of actively constructing a generic canon
of pornography might imply uncritically endorsing the more regressive
ideological implications of such films—a concern which, to offer a
contrasting example, did not stop the western (a genre premised on the *actual
*historical genocide of indigenous peoples) from becoming the field’s first
major object of generic criticism. In effectively leaping over the
qualitative excavation of a popular-yet-denigrated genre, an important
stage of academic/aesthetic reclamation was lost, which continues to have
vital implications for porn studies’ claims to legitimacy as a cultural
project. That is, studying the genre’s dominant forms remains too often
justified as a response to pornography’s status as a supposed “social
problem,” but less often justified as assessing the historical and
aesthetic value of pornography as a cinematic art form—thus doing little to
unravel lingering cultural skepticism about our own attempts to take
pornography seriously.

On one hand, when pornography entered film studies in the wake of the 1980s
“porn wars,” the heyday of 1960s-70s genre criticism had already passed,
giving way to the various forms of ideological criticism that, to their
credit, immediately rendered pornography’s generic status more of a
political issue than an aesthetic one. On the other hand, pornography’s
admission to the academy, as a genre as worthy of study as any other, has
seldom been accompanied by an attendant revaluing of its individual texts.
Influential films like *Deep Throat* (Gerard Damiano, 1972) have generated
plenty of scholarly ink for their industrial/cultural role in shaping the
genre, while a few qualitatively superior works like *The Opening of Misty
Beethoven* (Radley Metzger, 1976) have done likewise for seemingly proving
the exception to the rule of porn’s implicitly understood aesthetic
shortcomings. When, for example, a guidebook like Jim Holliday’s
exemplary *Only
the Best* (1986) offers a composite list of the best X-rated films, as
assessed by critics specializing in adult cinema, it quickly becomes clear
just how few of even the genre’s superior texts have received *any*
scholarly attention. It would be inadequate to take the measure of any
cinematic genre based on exploring a small handful of prominent films,
while neglecting the many smaller, overlooked films that make up the
genre’s bulk—but this is still the state facing the academic study of

This issue of *Porn Studies* will help redress this critical oversight by
offering concise but detailed readings of individual pornographic films
that extend well beyond the “usual suspects” hitherto explored in existing
scholarship. In working to expand the historical canon by drawing wider
attention to important, aesthetically fascinating, and/or overlooked films,
this issue also belongs to an ongoing historiographic shift in
reconsidering the genre’s history, including the DVD/Blu-ray re-release of
adult films from labels like Vinegar Syndrome and Distribpix. Indeed, as
scholars, students, and fans not only gain qualitatively greater access to
pornography’s historical texts, but as the radioactive rhetoric of the porn
wars recedes into the historical background, it has become easier for
scholars to foreground their own bodily responses to these films, thus
allowing us to reconcile these texts’ respective successes in making both
aesthetic and affective appeals.

Authors will not be expected to contort their arguments into politically
“progressive” or “against-the-grain” readings of ideologically suspect
texts, nor to engage in uncritical celebration that avoids a film’s
potentially problematic aspects, but rather to thoroughly engage a given
film’s ideological implications alongside aesthetic considerations.
Likewise, John Champagne’s (1997) caution that submitting pornography to
ahistorical forms of textual analysis at the expense of considering its
specific circulation and reception contexts is important to bear in mind. *The
ideal contribution to this issue will be a mini-essay (approx. 2500-3000
words) on a single text, uniting aesthetic appraisal, political
considerations, and industrial/reception history into a tightly focused
argument for the film’s canonical importance. *This short essay format will
also permit a more diverse range of contributions, since selected films may
be from any historical period (from early twentieth century to today), and
any orientation or designation (heterosexual, homosexual, soft-core,
hard-core, narrative, non-narrative, short, feature-length, etc.). Authors
are also encouraged to include a line describing where (if applicable) the
film is currently commercially available on home video.

In addition to any questions or queries, interested authors should submit a
300-word abstract and short bio by *April 1, 2015*, to the guest editor:

Dr. David Church

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Deadline to Receive Abstracts: *April 1, 2015*

Deadline to Receive Full Submissions: *December 2015*

Expected Publication Date: *September 2017*

Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the
University of Alabama: