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December 1993


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 16 Dec 1993 14:47:03 EST
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I am writing to respond to Bruce Krajewski's comments about MacKinnon. First,
let me make it clear that I do not believe that "the law and ideology
are two independent realms." They are always necessarily interconnected.
The point I rather inadequately sought to make deals with the specific
history of pornography law and the first ammendment. The Supreme Court has
consistently distinguished pornography from political speech, claiming that
political speech is protected, explicitly by the first ammendment, while
pornography is not. As it happens, I take a broader notion of the first
ammendment than the court. But, let's accept for a minute the Supreme
court's model. What MacKinnon does as define pornography by its specific
political content -- i.e. pornography is representation which demeans women --
and at the same time, threatens to expand the category of pornography to
include all representations -- advertisements, hate speech, etc. -- which
demeans women. The effect of this then is to use the concept of pornography
to go after the expression of specific political views, views which I find
intollerant and objectionable but views which as defined here clearly
constitute political speech. From my point of view, MacKinnon thus takes a
loophole within existing first ammendment protection and stretchs it as far
as possible to include many forms of political speech that need to be
protected if we are going to have a meaningful political debate about
sexual politics. Having done so, and having joined forces with the
religious right to see these views encoded into law, we can not be
suprised when the concept gets broadened even further to restrict the rights
of sexual minorities -- gays and lesbians -- to represent their own
experiences which fall outside the "moral majority" of the culture. The case
thus points towards the dangers inherent in trying to win a debate by
restricting the rights of those you disagree with to speech.
   Now, we turn to the concept of intervention we describe. I support efforts
by academics such as Williams, popular writers such as Suzy Bright, filmmakers
such as Candida Royale and Annie Sprinkles, to move the pornography debates
in different directions. Rather than trying to suppress political speech which
they find objectionable, they seek to rethink pornography as a genre. They
are writing books, which may reach only an academic readership. They are
writing magazines, such as ON OUR BACKS or running stores like GOOD VIBRATIONS
in San Francisco or GRAND OPENINGS in Boston. They are producing films which
exist on the shelf alongside other porn movies but which pose alternative
models for the development of the genre. They are trying to educate popular
taste rather than to legislate it and this seems to me a more reasonable
and constructive approach to popular representations than that posed by
   Now, as to thew issue of "aesthetic works." I class all forms of
representation as potentially aesthetic. I believe that popular culture
has its own aesthetic traditions which need to be respected and understood.
I was NOT by any stretch of the imagination constructing a cultural hierarchy
which distinguishes between HUSTLER and Duras. I was simply arguing that we
should not restrict any form of representation on the basis of its political
content. I'll grant you that pornography law as practiced now already makes
aesthetic judgements (redeeeming value tests) as well as moral and political
ones. I would reject this current law as much as I would reject MacKinnon's
position and call for a more liberate attitude within American society for
dealing with erotic issues. I do not share Ronald Dworkin's attempt to
preserve the existing law by making aesthetic distinctions which are not
meaningful in this context.
   Now, as to the question of whether pornography, advertising, etc. promotes
reactionary ideology or encourages sexist practice, that seems to me to be
a debatable proposition. I would be happy to see MacKinnon discuss it, debate
it, argue for it, march in support of her views; I simply object to putting
those positions into laws which restrict all of our access to materials and
which effectively tries to win the debate by silencing her opposition. As a
writer who draws heavily upon feminist theory, I can see plenty of grounds
for criticizing contemporary popular culture on these grounds, but I think
persuasive power to be preferable to legal power in confronting this issue.
I hope this at least clarifies my position, if it does not fully satisfy
Prof. Krajewski's concerns.
Henry Jenkins
p.s. I assume Krajewski's use of the professor in front of my name was
intended to present my position as academic and elitist, a rather odd
distortion of my own political and theoretical position, as anyone who knows
me would agree. I won my doctorate honestly; I am proud to be an Associate
Professor at MIT; I work hard for my money, but I don't allow my students to
call me Professor as a rule and I would rather you didn't call me that in this