What’s porn, anyways?

nycpornfestival

As the first ever NYC Pornographic Film Festival is set to begin Feb. 27, erotic creative artists from every corner of the industry are gearing up to show their work. Yet the unusual mix of artists has already raised questions about what actually constitutes porn. With submissions ranging from standard hardcore pornography such as “Tila Tequila: backdoored and squirting,” to more obscure erotic art films such as “Cowabunga” — described only as “the turtles get together for some pizza” — the four-day event will be thought-provoking, to say the least.

Perhaps no work in the festival has garnered as much media attention as Miley Cyrus’ BDSM-inspired short film. Directed by acclaimed artist Quentin Jones, the film features Cyrus, covered only by latex bands, gratuitously gyrating for the camera. While the submission was eventually retracted by Cyrus’ publicists, the entrance of a teen pop sensation into the traditionally seedy world of pornography — the festival was billed as a “42nd Street 1980s experience” — arouses some questions about the cultural acceptance of today’s porn industry. Are we ready for a pop princess to appear in adult films? Is porn even safe? Where is the line drawn between erotic art and porn made for youthful pleasure?

Many of us were raised to understand the harmful mental and physical effects that porn was said to have on our young, curious existence. Most of this is the stuff of the unfounded puritanical tales we are told in our homes, such as the mysterious “hair will grow on your palms” hypothesis. Beyond the obvious reasons that porn is considered taboo, the porn industry has also had a troubled history with sex slavery, keeping many performers in the trade who are not there of their own volition. The rise of rape-themed porn should also be a red flag as a newer trend in kinky porn that trivializes sexual violence and establishes a norm for something that has no place in 2015. But porn, when it is not perpetuating rape culture or promoting the abuse of people’s bodies, does have a place in society today both as an artistic expression and as something that horny teens can — healthily — get off to.

The New York City Porn Film Festival website explains that the festival aims “to give credit to adult film as a significant and socially/culturally relevant art form.” Although the Oxford English Dictionary defines porn as “stimulating erotic rather than aesthetic feelings,” I’d support the festival’s claim that the two feelings are not mutually exclusive. Consider 2013’s critically acclaimed “Blue is the Warmest Color” and its infamous 10-minute lesbian sex scene. While the film in its entirety was regaled for its artistic sensibility and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the erotica is what the audience left the theater talking about.

So why then, if the erotics of art can be lauded at somewhere like the Cannes festival, does the stigma surrounding porn remain so entrenched? If we start out with the premise that really good art succeeds insofar as it makes the viewer feel even just a little bit less lonely, then it seems to me that there’s no more important place for really good “capital A” Art than pornography. Bad sex can ironically be an incredibly solipsistic pursuit — think of the old Woody Allen joke, “I’m such a good lover because I practice a lot on my own.” Good pornography, whether it’s “Blue is the Warmest Color” or “Beautiful Agony,” stirs feelings — very good feelings — that we all have within us, in the same vein as a Bob Dylan song or even the Mona Lisa. Porn, like music and paintings, has the potential to make us feel less lonely because it binds us, within ourselves and within society, to one another in the pursuit of emotional fulfillment.

In a vacuum, there is nothing wrong with porn. The New York City Porn Film Festival celebrates an art form that traces its lineage back to the days of the Kama Sutra and permeates our culture as one of the most culturally relevant forms of expression. Let’s accept that porn is art and that it can be safe, and let’s let Miley be a porn star.

 

 

Cole Becker is a staff writer for The Weekender. Contact him at cbecker@dailycal.org.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this story stated that the NYC Pornographic Film Festival begins on Feb. 28. In fact, it begins on Feb. 27.

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  • Guest

    perhaps mark this nsfw?