C onference Schedule
Friday, April 1, 2011
08.30-09.45 Conference Registration
10.00-11.00 Opening Session
11.00-11.30 Coffee Break
11:30-12:30 Panel 1: 'Pornographic' Strategies in the Media
Panel Chair: Franziska Wenk
Jana G. Toppe (Berlin). “You Can Follow Me on Twitter”: Celebrity Fetishization in the New Media
Justyna Cugowska (Poznań). Nudity in American Fashion Photography
12.30-14.30 Lunch (Mensa am Park)
14.30-15.30 Panel 2: Notions of ‘Pleasure’ in Porn
Panel Chair: Julia Neugebauer
Jiann-Chyng Tu (Berlin). Economies of Pleasure: The Commodification of the Money Shot
Pax Chmara (Berlin). P is for Porno
15.30-16.00 Coffee Break
16.00-17.30 Panel 3: Popular Culture and ‘Pornography’
Panel Chair: Andreas Mooser
Tanja Lange (Rostock). “Wherever You Go, Whatever You Slash—‘No’ Means No and ‘Yes’ Means Yes!” The Concept of Sexual Consent in Xena: Warrior Princess Femslash
Diana Petrescu (Bucharest). With Great Power Comes Great Angst: The Advent of Superhero Tragedy Porn
Annelies Véronique Kleinherenbrink (Utrecht). “Let’s Shoot This Shit!” Lil’ Kim’s OneWorld Cover, ‘Burqa Porn,’ and Hip-Hop
17.30-18.00 Coffee Break
18.00-19.30 Keynote Session
Michael Archer, Founder and Editor in Chief of the magazine Guernica
John Patrick Leary (Wayne State University), author of Guernica article “Detroitism: What Does ‘Ruin Porn’ Tell Us About the Motor City, Ourselves, Other American Cities?”
Afterwards: Dinner at Marriott Hotel
Saturday, April 2, 2011
10.00-11.30 Panel 4: Shaping Identities via Porn
Panel Chair: Eleonora Ravizza
José L. Ramos-Rebollo (Alcalá de Henares). Gay Porn: Building the Gay Community
Olivia Badoi (Wrocław). Off or On Our Backs? Visual Negotiations of Lesbian Sexuality in Post-70s America
Milorad Kapetanović (Ljubljana). Porn: The Change of Perception, Production of Image, and Commodification
11.30-12.00 Coffee Break
12.00-13.00 Panel 5: Political ‘Pornographies’
Panel Chair: Ines Krug
Costel Coroban (Constanţa). “Recent Developments” in American Political Pornography
Ambrogio Morrone (Rome). Pornography and Political Silence
13.00-14.30 Lunch (pizza)
14.30-15.30 Panel 6: ‘Pornographic’ Pleasures and Aesthetics
Panel Chair: Stefan Schubert
Stefanie John (Hannover). Performing Victimhood: Sexualized Power Plays in the Serial-Queen Melodrama
Alexandra Hähnert (Berlin). Towards the Slaughter: A Hedonistic Reading of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
15.30-16.00 Coffee Break
16.00-17.00 Panel 7: Bodies in ‘Pornography’
Panel Chair: Maria Zywietz
Roxana Elena Ghiță (Timisoara). Redefining Pornography in a Dystopic Future in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Katharina Zilles (Gießen). Real-Life ‘Torture Porn’: The Relation Between Representation and Reality
17.00-17.30 Coffee Break
17.30-18.30 Concluding Session
Afterwards: (Optional) Dinner at café/bar Luise (Bosestr. 4)
The conference will take place at Schillerstraße 6, 04109 Leipzig. For further information on how to get to the venue, please refer to the
"For Participants" section of the website. A panel chair will introduce you and your topic before you speak.
Each presenter has a time slot of 20 minutes for her/his presentation with 10 minutes for Q&A afterwards.
Presenters are asked to assemble in the conference room 15 minutes before their session starts to ensure a smooth (technical) set-up.
Technical equipment such as a projector, laptop, and loudspeakers will be available. Please make sure to save your files in .doc, .odt or .ppt format on a flash drive; Mac users need to use Office for Mac. Also, let us know if you need any additional equipment.
You will have wireless Internet access to the university network in all university facilities on both conference days. For more information, see the conference folder or contact the volunteers at the registration office during the conference.
Refreshments will be served with no additional charge during the coffee breaks. While the lunches are free of additional charges for the presenters as well, we would like to ask guests for a modest contribution to help pay for their lunches.
Students who wish to attend the conference as a guest should register by February 28 via emai (
Olivia Badoi holds a BA in American Studies from the University of Bucharest, Romania, and an MA in English Language and Literature from the University of Wroclaw, Poland. She spent her third year studying at a liberal arts college in Virginia on a Soros grant. (Un)Fortunately, she did not pick up a Southern accent, although she still says “y’all” every once in a while, but she did catch the traveling bug, which eventually took her to Poland for her MA (as well as for generous portions of vegetarian pierogi). Her main interest lies in the field of Gender and Sexuality, as well as its intersection with Visual Culture, specifically Body Politics and Visual constructions of female desire and identity. She is currently trying out for various PhD programs across Europe, eventually deciding on the one which offers the best venues for academic research and gastronomic explorations.
Pax Chmara is currently enrolled in a MA Amerikanistik at Humboldt University, Berlin. She is currently shooting and editing a documentary on the lives of women in former-Yugoslavia. Set for distribution this October 2011, the film captures interviews of previously undocumented oral herstory. Her first solo album
White Girl Problem is set for independent release this summer.
Costel Coroban is an MA student in History (International Relations during the XIX-XXI cen. History&Diplomacy) at the “Ovidius” University of Constanta, Romania. At the same institution, he graduated with a BA in Political Science (2009) and a BA (Hons) in History (2010). His main research interests are early modern Europe, the American South and American right-wing politics, gender studies, and the Balkans. He is an editor of the
Arma Pontica cultural magazine and a referee for the Southern Historian Journal (University of Alabama) and the Journal of Peace, Gender and Development Studies.
Justyna Cugowska is a post-graduate student at the School of English at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. Currently, she is on the MOST scholarship at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. In 2009, she completed her BA degree on the subject of British South Asians’ identity problems at the School of English, AMU. Her research interests include contemporary Canadian literature, postcolonialism, Jewish studies, Canadian studies, and immigrants’ identity problems. Currently, she is working on her master’s thesis on Jewish Montreal as presented in Mordecai Richler’s novels. In September 2010, she presented a paper on Jewish Montreal during the 19th European Seminar for graduate students in Canadian studies in Milano, and, in December 2010, a paper on Jewish-Canadian relationship in Montreal during the transcultural conference in Szczyrk organized by the Canadian Studies Student Circle of the University of Silesia. Next year, she would like to commence her PhD studies. Her general interests include American cinema, photography, traveling, fashion, music, and street art.
Roxana Elena Ghiţă
Roxana Elena Ghiţă is a second-year MA student in American Studies at the West University of Timişoara, Romania. Her main scholarly interests are American postmodern literature, American culture and civilization, Religion and Politics, Film Studies, Cultural and Gender Studies and especially Jewish literature, history, religion, and culture and civilization. Literature has always been her passion and she is delighted that in the present she has the chance to be surrounded by people who share her love for books. In the near future, she would like to start a PhD on Jewish-American literature—her particular field of interest—to become a literature professor. Outside the academic field, her desire is to visit as many countries as possible, to get in touch with the lives and cultures of their inhabitants, and to enjoy the beauty of diversity.
Having earned her bachelor's degree in Anglophone Cultural Studies from the University of Magdeburg in 2010, Alexandra Hähnert is currently working towards her MA in North American Studies at Berlin’s Free University. Being drawn by a fascination with the slightly morbid, the vulgar, and the subversive, as well as their respective aesthetic worlds, her major academic interests lie in nineteenth-century American literature (particularly Hawthorne’s short fiction), contemporary American literature, as well as in gender studies (especially as regards the construction and performance of masculinities). After her master’s studies, she plans to pursue a PhD in American Studies, or to reconsider her choices and become a marine biologist and/or documentary filmmaker.
Stefanie John is a student in the MA graduate program Advanced Anglophone Studies at the University of Hannover, where she received her BA degree in English and Religious Studies in 2009. Her research interests range from British Romanticism and Modernist literature to Gender Studies and popular culture, with a special interest in early American film. Since January, Stefanie has been working as an intern at the Department of Germanic Studies at Trinity College Dublin, where she teaches German as a foreign language. In April 2011, she will return to Hannover in order to complete her MA degree, after which she wishes to pursue an academic career or work in the field of foreign language instruction. Stefanie’s paper for this conference takes up her fascination with silent film and is based on an essay she wrote for a seminar on early and transitional American film.
Milorad Kapetanović holds a BA in Philosophy and Sociology from Banja Luka University and a joint MA degree in Global Studies from Vienna University and Leipzig University. He is a PhD candidate for the Balkan Studies doctoral program at the University of Ljubljana working on the theme of Roadside Post-War Architecture in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Forthcoming publications include "Exporting the Yugoslav model: Tito, Nasser and the collective visits 1955-1970" at the conference: The Balkans in the Cold War, (27-29 May, Athens, Greece) and "Porno-tropics of the Balkans: Comparison of colonial and 2nd wave feminist reflections on Bosnia and Herzegovina" at Current Issues in European Cultural Studies: ACSIS Conference 2011 (15-17 June, Norrköping, Sweden). His research interests include architecture, commodities and commodification processes, porn, and epistemology.
Annelies Véronique Kleinherenbrink
Annelies Véronique Kleinherenbrink obtained her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology in Nijmegen, Netherlands. However, her main interest was in her Gender Studies minor. This year, she started the master’s program in Comparative Women’s Studies in Utrecht. She is currently working on a study for her internship and her master’s thesis concerning the way in which scholars of evolutionary psychology engage with notions of gender, sex, and sexuality. After this, she hopes to move on as a PhD researcher. Besides philosophy of science, her main interests are sexual identities and migration issues.
Tanja Lange started her studies as a Lehramt student (teacher trainee) at the University of Rostock in 2005. Somewhere along the way, she fell in love with Cultural Studies and became distracted by the fields of Gender Studies and Queer Theory. Her future hopes include finally finishing her studies and somehow finding a way to avoid becoming a teacher but still educating herself and others. She is currently helping to organize the third Ladyfest in Rostock.
Ambrogio Morrone has earned his Laurea Magistrale (upper undergraduate post-BA specialization) in Scienze della Traduzione (Translation Studies) from “Sapienza” University of Rome. His thesis, “Omicidio e Suicidio nelle Lingue d’Irlanda (Omicide and Suicide in the Languages of Ireland) and Translating Minorities in Ireland: Ross O’Caroll Kelly,” discusses Hiberno-English and the translation dynamics generated by some peculiar forms of non-standard Englishes, such as the D4 phenomenon. His fascination with the complex issue of how language affects gender representation and political identity has led to an attentive analysis of the Thatcher years (Political Silence), which ultimately constitutes one of the main topics of his MA research.
Diana J. Petrescu
Diana J. Petrescu has earned a BA in Social Communication and Public Relations from the University of Bucharest, which she puts to use as an entertainment blogger, serving up both written and video reviews of her favorite television shows, movies, and comic books since 2007. In 2010, she enrolled in the American Studies MA program at the same institution, with the goal to better understand how pop culture shapes the way people view the real world.
José L. Ramos-Rebollo
José L. Ramos-Rebollo has earned a BA in Humanities at the University of Alcalá, Spain, with a minor in LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, United States. He has been a gay activist in different Spanish organizations, working against LGBTQ discrimination at schools. He was a speaker at the 4th Cinema and Sexuality Seminar at University Autónoma of Madrid with the paper “Sex, Gender and Ethnicity.” Among his research interests are Sexual Diversity and LGBTQ Spanish History. He also was awarded the LGBTQ Studies Award by the University of California, Santa Barbara, for the research paper “Homophobia and Homophile Movements in Spain During the 1930s.” At the moment, he is an MA student in North American Studies at the Benjamin Franklin Institute (Spain). His current work focuses on Spanish Early-Twentieth-Century Gay History, which he intends to be the starting point for his PhD.
Jana G. Toppe
Jana G. Toppe is an MA and PhD student at the Free University of Berlin with a dissertation on the depiction of the crowd in fantastic popular fiction around 1900. Her research interests include Horror Studies, Popular Culture, and Trauma Studies. Jana has published several articles surrounding these topics, most recently the chapter “Reversing the Gospel of Jesus: How the Zombie Theme Satirizes the Resurrection of the Body” in the 2011 McFarland publication Roman Catholicism in Fantastic Film and the article “‘I'm Documenting’: Aufzeichnungen eines kollektiven Albtraums: Matt Reeves Cloverfield (2008) und die Traumatherapie nach 9/11” in the upcoming anthology
Dawn of an Evil Millennium: Horror und Kultur im neuen Jahrtausend.
A native of Taipei, Taiwan, Jiann-Chyng Tu is an MA candidate in Amerikanisitik at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He received his BA in German Language and Literature as well as English from Wake Forest University in 2008. His research interests include Anglophone Literatures, Cyber and Digital Cultures, Visual Cultures, Gender and Sexuality Studies with a focus on Masculinity Studies, and Film Studies.
Katharina Zilles studied English Literature and Comparative Literature at the University of Gießen, Germany, finishing with a Magister thesis on representations of aging and masculinity in contemporary narrative fiction. Her research interests include gender/masculinity studies, disability and the body, and intersectionality. Currently, she is working on a project which tries to integrate cultural gerontology with literary studies.
Off or On Our Backs? Visual Negotiations of Lesbian Sexuality in Post-70s America
“ Off or On Our Backs? Visual Negotiations of Lesbian Sexuality in Post-70s America” is meant to be a concise exploration of the developments in visual representations of lesbian sexuality in post-Stonewall America. One of the questions that I plan to raise is: How did the well-known feminist mantra “The personal is political” translate into the sexual practices of American lesbians? Radical feminists considered all forms of penetrative sex as reminiscent of or mimicking heterosexual dynamics and thus simulating the patriarchal invasion of the female body. The early 80s witnessed a toning down of lesbian sexual self-censoring with “pro-sex” lesbians such as Nan Kinney founding legendary lesbian magazine On Our Backs as well as Fatale Media, the first lesbian porn company.
During my presentation, I would also like to tackle the concepts of visual representation and identification in relation to pornography, as well as the importance of pornography as a visual means of authenticating lesbian experience and sexuality. Acknowledging the long history of lesbian sexploitation in Western pornography—American included—I would like to discuss three common representations of the lesbian body, as animalistic, narcissistic, and masculinized, as well as the extent to which such misrepresentations are still used in contemporary pornography. I would also like to point out the connections (and differences) between gender and sexual identity and how this dynamic is played out in lesbian pornography. One such example would analyze the impact that the constant reconceptualization of lesbian sexuality has had on queering the gender typologies of the time. While lesbian pornography from the 70s and 80s still relied on the femme/butch binary, the 90s began welcoming a queerer, more diverse constellation of gender expression and sexual practices, thus pointing to a more fluid visual representation of gender identity and human sexuality.
Focusing the Female Gaze: Reshaping Desire in the Pornographic
“I would never do hard-core pornography, because it looks too much like open-heart surgery.” (John Waters)
We are all too familiar with the construction of the male gaze. A sweeping assessment often runs from legs to ass, hips to tits, fetishizing the female form as consumable oddity. Is there such a thing as the female gaze? If so, how does attraction to the desired manifest itself? Is there an audience for this perspective and, if so, who benefits?
The penetrative act exhibited in mainstream pornography creates a desensitized audience. The audience seeks this empty exchange; the ejacula(c)tion, where genitals are detached from their bodies, incised by the male gaze. Alternatively, how do women actively look, rather than just being looked at? What does the female gaze focus on in its attraction? What are the implications for constructing a language of female desire?
To help us articulate the female gaze, it is essential to look at directors of film and pornography who emphasize the multiplicity of the pleasure experience from a female perspective. One example is Catherine Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell (2004), a film documenting a woman who employs a gay man to spend four nights at her house to watch her when she is “unwatchable.” Focusing on the female eye—on the pleasures of women—we arrive at underground filmmakers such as Petra Joy, Courtney Trouble, and Maria Llopis. With the help of these writers, directors, and filmmakers, I will address how it is possible to arrive at a new understanding of the diversification of pleasure.
“Recent Developments” in American Political Pornography
“Political pornography is not unlike the sexual kind: Difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.” (Pat Sajak)
Pornography, which is accountable for disconcerting the ethics of our society with the fascination of the obscene (Munoz), has not only put its mark on politics in regard to the disputed legality of the distribution and/or displaying of pornographic merchandise. Rather, as a complex phenomenon, it manifests itself in the very field of politics, through displays of “morbid” populism, which occur more often in the case of right-wing politicians.
The purpose of my article is to explore and try to establish connections between such examples—are there any categories and/or any “laws” that are visible in recent American political pornographies? It is interesting to note that—just like sexual pornography, which is ever changing as it requires constant escalation in provocative imagery to keep the brain interested—political pornographers also have to “keep upping the ante” (Propagandee). In my research, I will be referring mostly to examples of “pornographic political conduct” shown by Republican or Tea Party Movement politicians, such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingirch, or Dick Armey, during the last ten years.
Nudity in American Fashion Photography
Fashion photography has been associated with subtlety, elegance, and sophistication. However, a closer look into high-fashion magazines and advertising campaigns shows that this approach has changed. Contemporary fashion abounds in nudity and sexual references. Although this tendency is most strikingly visible in Europe with such magazines as Paris Vogue, I-D Magazine and brands such as Dolce and Gabbana appearing as the staunchest supporters of the nude trend, this does not mean that nudity is absent in American fashion. On the contrary, American fashion magazines and high-end designer brands are no exception, but, admittedly, nudity is not so ubiquitous in America as it is in Europe. Interestingly enough, American Vogue, unlike its counterparts in other parts of the world, remains ‘fully dressed’ and is therefore perceived as the stronghold of the conservative approach towards fashion while, for instance, French Vogue actively promotes nude photography oscillating on the verge of pornography. The majority of American designers, including Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, follow in Anna Wintour’s footsteps. However, the American fashion industry is not as conservative as it might appear at first sight. A liberal touch can be seen in other American fashion magazines and designer brands. One of the most prominent precursors of this trend has been Calvin Klein, the company that freely juggles with nudity in some ad campaigns. Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs also use nudity to promote their collections. A few magazines do not imitate Vogue’s reactionary strategy and eagerly follow this nude fashion trend, proving that America can be liberal.
The aim of this paper is twofold: The first one is to present particular magazines, brands, and their policy towards nudity. The other one is to focus on the issues of conservatism and liberalism in American fashion and hence in American society.
Roxana Elena Ghiţă
Redefining Pornography in a Dystopic Future in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale
Traditionally, the concept of pornography is defined in various ways, among others as “sexual representations” or “depictions of sex,” as the sale of sex for profit, as the portraying of men and women as sexual objects (Andrea Dworkin argues that it almost exclusively portrays women, the word pornography itself, derived from ancient Greek, meaning “writing about whores”), or as material intended to produce sexual arousal. However, this concept is reshaped and redefined in Margaret Atwood's dystopic society depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale. The “old-fashioned” pornography of the past (hinted at in the text through Offred's flashbacks) which seemed to have led to the creation of the new society, apparently purged of any sexual instincts, was replaced by the pornography of female fertility, of surveillance and violence. Women become public property, they are reduced to “wombs” and their only value lies in their ability to reproduce. Private acts such as love-making and giving birth to a child become public rituals, thus women’s sexuality and fertility are turned into performance and spectacle. A highly sexualized act of political domination, their surveillance becomes a state-sanctioned voyeurism, and the notion of privacy is totally erased. The irony is that it is suggested that the proliferation of “old-fashioned” pornography and the feminist discourses aiming at eliminating this concept from society has led to a distorted type of pornography.
Another irony is the creation of the movie based on the written text, as it is the visual representation of the voyeuristic society explored so pervasively in the novel. The voyeurism in the novel is reinforced by the inherent voyeurism of movie-watching, as it invites the viewer to the very pleasure of looking stigmatized by the novel; thus, the issue of surveillance is transposed to a metacinematic level.
Towards the Slaughter: A Hedonistic Reading of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
“They rode on ...”—While it does appeal to mythic sensibilities and the phallic imaginary throughout, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985) concomitantly works to shatter the myth of the American West, leaving the reader with uncountable dead, an oblivious terra damnata, a dancing judge, and a reading experience both titillating and disturbing. Like its most memorable character, the text itself is a big seducer.
The novel lacks a heroic figure, a moral center, and is far from life-affirming. The pleasure which the text affords, nevertheless, can to a large degree be ascribed to its hell-fired, magnificent prose. At times bordering on the theatrical, at times on the abstruse, McCarthy’s language floats above the succession of violent scenes and invests them with their very own obscene, excessive beauty.
Blood Meridian demands of the reader to leave behind any consideration of morality; in order to endure the novel’s display of transgression as day-to-day business, and its denial of a positive metaphysics, it demands of her an erotic investment that is fueled throughout by McCarthy’s inflamed rhetoric and which will be satisfied only in disruption.
While taking into account considerations of archetypal fantasies and discussions on the aestheticization of violence, the presentation will primarily approach the topic by a close reading of the text, and will explore the textual erotics of Blood Meridian. Drawing from the work of Leo Bersani, Roland Barthes, and others, the presentation will attempt to locate the generation of pleasure both at the site of the text and in the complicit reader.
Performing Victimhood: Sexualized Power Plays in the Serial-Queen Melodrama
Pornography has countless times been discussed in terms of visuality and the eroticization of images. Just as often, it has been related to the subject of film. Questions about gender and power can hardly be separated from these issues, not only in regard to diegetic representations but also with respect to film-viewer relations. In this context, the American serial-queen melodrama of the transitional period (1908-1917) constitutes a fascinating object of study.
The genre self-consciously makes use of the medium film to convey scenarios of sexually charged power plays. These serials repeatedly portray their heroines, who are otherwise characterized as independent and daring, in situations of victimization, graphically displaying them being pinioned, gagged, or imprisoned. In my paper, I shall go further than Ben Singer, who, in his seminal study of the serial-queen melodrama in Melodrama and Modernity: Early Sensational Cinema and its Contexts (2001), reads these scenarios as a degrading “spectacle of misogynistic sadism” (255). Although Singer serves as an important starting point for my paper, I will suggest a more open reading of gendered power relations, referring to scenes from The Perils of Pauline (1914) as examples. In the serial, disempowerment of women always occurs in combination with a regaining of female power, thus creating sexualized ‘proto-sadomasochistic’ tensions by means of specifically filmic enactments. Thus, I will argue, they function as decidedly performative spectacles, exaggeratedly playing with voyeuristic tensions in a ritualistic and self-reflexive way that goes beyond a merely exploitative portrayal of feminine passivity.
My analysis will thus attempt to situate the serial-queen melodrama in a framework of theoretical approaches to pornography and the aesthetics of sexual dominance and submission, pointing out its relevance to the study of the cinema and notions of pornography up to this day.
Porn: The Change of Perception, Production of Image, and Commodification
This paper studies the change of the perception of porn in the societies of North America and Western Europe. It abandons ideas of the pornographication/pornification of society and grounds the research on observing developments in groups that engage vocally in discussions about porn. I follow two arguments: Firstly, the porn industry upgraded from industry to culture, developing its own patterns and communal life. As a culture, it also developed a diversity of subcultures such as feminist, queer, and activist porn. These groups fill different dimensions of porn genres and produce pornography which identifies both the alternative and the mainstream culture/industry. Porn produced by these groups is actively changing the meaning of the phenomenon, but also—being produced by minority groups in the society—opens the new perspective on the functions of porn (educational, identity building, etc.). Secondly, the plurality of porn is being received and accepted within society, especially amongst groups that have a bigger authority on society’s values, such as beauty or knowledge. These groups, for example some artists or academics, actively show an interest in porn. Amongst artists, there is a visible shift of interest from the erotic to the strictly pornographic/porn, while academia demonstrates its interest through the increase of research and the foundation of porn studies. This change is allowing the articulated production of porn-positive images in the public sphere, which finally enters the commodification process, embodying themselves in an increasing number of porn-positive documentary films.
Annelies Véronique Kleinherenbrink
“Let’s Shoot This Shit!” Lil’ Kim’s OneWorld Cover, ‘Burqa Porn,’ and Hip-Hop
The image of Lil’ Kim on the cover of the 2003 issue of OneWorld Magazine serves as this article’s starting point to explore a specific type of representation of Muslim veiling in Western visual culture. In this picture, Lil’ Kim appears in revealing lingerie with a niqab over her head. First, I will place this image amongst similar pictures that circulate on Western websites. Many circulate on anti-Islam websites, showing naked women wearing a burqa, niqab, or hijab over their heads. Also, there is the phenomenon of ‘burqa porn.’
I argue that these images (re)create harmful cultural stereotypes about Islamic culture. Creating a spectacle out of Islamic culture, they make the veil into a fetishized commodity, through which one can simultaneously indulge in and reject their fascination with this ‘Other’ culture. Moreover, they invoke the myth that Muslim women are oppressed, and that their veil must be removed (by Western men) to make free women out of them—whose hot bodies are the reward for liberating them.
This myth also figures in a larger political configuration, for the stereotypes invoked and perpetuated by this Oriental imagery are the same that support contemporary power relations between the West and the Middle East and motivate the ‘war on terrorism.’ As such, these images reflect the practice of sexual nationalism, or how emancipatory causes are being instrumentalized in service of racist, imperialistc, and—paradoxically—misogynistic projects.
Interestingly, this specific Oriental imagery, in which the contrast between Muslim culture and Western culture is constructed and marked, seems to be invoked by Black hip-hop artists to erase or ‘unmark’ their racial difference in American society. Paradoxically, this strengthens the performance of Black female rap artists (such as Lil’ Kim) as sexual subjects.
“Wherever You Go, Whatever You Slash—‘No’ Means No and ‘Yes’ means Yes!” The Concept of Sexual Consent in Xena: Warrior Princess Femslash
Despite the sex-positive feminist movement spearheaded by, e.g., former porn star and sex worker Annie Sprinkle, recent publications such as
Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked our Sexuality by Gail Dines still suggest pornography to be an overall disturbing phenomenon. Pornography gained a strong reputation for being controlled by a male-dominated industry which promotes misogynist imagery, whose profit is due to the exploitation of the performers in question, and which dictates its passive consumers, mostly through the perspective of heterosexual male gaze, what supposedly good sex has to look like.
Starting in the late 1970s with the emergence of another cultural phenomenon, the Star Trek television series, a small niche for alternative erotica developed: slash fiction. Written by followers of the television series, slash fiction features romantic or sexual depictions of fictional characters of the same sex, such as the original Kirk/Spock couplings from Star Trek (Kustritz 371). One of many subgenres of slash fiction is femslash, also referred to as altfic (alternative fiction) or saffic (sapphic fiction). Femslash focuses on relationships between female fictional characters, since ‘slash’ is considered to be a term indicative of male-male relationships.
In the 1990s, the spread of the internet simultaneously framed the creation of a huge online fandom devoted to the American television series Xena: Warrior Princess. The show’s lead character became a feminist role model as well as a ‘dykon’ (a lesbian icon) whose ambiguous relationship to her female companion Gabrielle inspired less ambiguous stories, to some extent downright pornographic, shared in online communities by their fans. Using the example of Xena: Warrior Princess femslash, I plan to illustrate how pornography can not only challenge traditional notions of desire and consumerism but also, based on a concept of sexual consent, show sensitivity towards sexual violence.
Pornography and Political Silence
The conference’s debate on the intricacies of pornography and consumerism resonates with my current work on political identities and how they are formed on the basis of “symbolic” rather than “rational” identification (Hall; Rose). The broader definition of pornography as “the sensationalist commodification of individual acts and features” usefully calls attention to the effects of exhibitionism and voyeurism on the construction of gendered identities in political discourse.
My presentation will offer a comparative analysis of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and American President Barack Obama. Drawing on their biographies and political performances (Ginsborg; Stille; Obama), I will argue that the masculinities they project are not as far apart as they might seem. Instead, they illustrate the way in which old narratives of patriarchal masculinity and fantasies of macho-heroism (Brod and Kaufman; Murphy; Mitrano) buttress the political sphere in Italian and American democracies.
My comparative discussion of masculinity in Berlusconi and Obama will offer the occasion for investigating how public and private lives have become interwoven to a degree that stifles any critical distance. I will term this stifling conjoining of public and private “political pornography.” In 1984, Orwell offered a literary example of this political pornography when he presented opinion-less and speech-less subjects, bodies associated, at best, to a dull verbal murmur, at worst to imploded language and pre-linguistic intractability. Taking my cue from the construction of masculinity in politics, I will draw on literature, history, social studies, psychoanalysis, and rhetorical analysis to contend that the postmodern entanglement of public and private discourse results in a form of political pornography that manifests itself in a restriction of language. The question stands: Can this restriction lead to silence?
Diana J. Petrescu
With Great Power Comes Great Angst: The Advent of Superhero Tragedy Porn
Justice League: Cry for Justice, a seven-issue comic book limited series released by DC Comics in 2009, has been called by many reviewers the worst comic book they have ever read. Ultimatum is a five-issue limited series published by Marvel Comics under its Ultimate Marvel from November 2008 to July 2009 has received similar “praise.”
Both have been huge successes financially, selling tens of thousands of issues. Both involve instances of superheroes being dismembered and losing loved ones, cities exploding, and even cannibalism. These are superhero mainstream comics, not some special editions aimed only at adult audiences. Given the absurdly gory and angst-riddled nature of these two particular series, there was a public outcry against what had been christened “superhero tragedy porn.”
Any superhero worth his cape and tights has some tragedy in his life ever since Krypton was destroyed or the Wayne family went to see Zorro at the movie theater that one night. However, in the case of tragedy as pornography, there is no emotional weight to the story, no follow-up, no time for reflection: only a punctuated increase in shock value at calculated times.
How did we get to this point? This paper and subsequent presentation will be looking at the way that superheroes have been put through the emotional wringer, throughout the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and leading up to the present. Are stories like Cry for Justice and Ultimatum really harmful to the superhero genre, as some critics suggest, or are they just the result of a natural evolution of tastes and attitudes?
José L. Ramos-Rebollo
Gay Porn: Building the Gay Community
Changes performed by gay porn throughout its history have had—and still have—a great impact on the construction of gay identity and gay culture. Some examples are the beauty standards of gay men given by printed porn or films, the social construction of ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms,’ and the use of condoms in films as a ‘safer sex’ message. Regarding these issues, there are differences between gay and straight porn that still keep the latter in the closet. On the contrary, gay pornography helped to build gay community. Besides criticism that gay porn receives, mainly focused on non-real beauty and sexual standards, the growing specialization and diversification of formats of the gay porn industry should help us, as researchers, to look into this important issue.
Jana G. Toppe
“You Can Follow Me on Twitter“: Celebrity Fetishization in the New Media
Is Nicole Richie looking forward to her wedding? How does Kanye West feel about his botched interview on NBC’s Today Show? And where did Madonna’s daughter Lourdes buy these sunglasses?
Every day, millions of people follow celebrities on the social media outlet known as Twitter—an institution that allows you to say what you must in 140 characters per entry. Ranging from single words to entire discussions, Twitter offers a means of participation in the lives of those we normally cannot access. Celebrities use so-called “tweets” to address their fans, to advertise new products, or to post their day-to-day activities. The most inane post becomes meaningful, and things that would not have gripped our attention a decade ago now become all-important. My presentation will address the change celebrity culture has undergone since adopting social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and it attempts to seek out the effect this type of “communication” and utter lack of discretion has had on society. Arguing from a cultural studies perspective, I will point out that the enormous role of social media sites in the celebrity system has altered the way meaning is constructed, and I will try to show how this communication overload has served to reduce real communication to a minimum.
Economies of Pleasure: The Commodification of the Money Shot
Seminal fluid is regarded as the most valuable fluid of a man. In this presentation, I would like to address the “money shot” phenomenon and its relation to pleasure. When viewed from the perspective of the porn and sex industry, the money shot could be seen as evidence and a measurement of pleasure. In light of this, the money shot can further symbolize pleasure, power, and carnal desires. The money shot is also often fetishized and practically worshiped in hardcore pornography. I will address the social, cultural, and economical implications of seminal fluid, as well as how it has come to equate pleasure and fetish in pornography. I will also tackle how the relationship between seminal fluid and pleasure is problematic with the respect to issues of gender and sexuality. Lastly, while considering the Jamesonian postmodern consumerist society in which the money shot is situated, I would also like to discuss the multiple meanings of the money shot and how it leads to the commodification and consumption of pleasure.
Real-life ‘Torture Porn’: The Relation between Representation and Reality
My presentation deals with the infamous pictures taken in the Iraqi prison of Abu Ghraib and their role in the ensuing media scandal in 2004. I want to discuss what qualifies the images of Iraqi captives as ‘pornographic’ and in which ways they differ from other pornographic illustrations.
In this case, the relationship between representation and reality is a different one. Not only are we dealing with nonfictional depictions; the cultural and political effects of the images, and their dissemination, accordingly, also were real enough.
I intend to put the main focus on two relevant points: To begin with, the depictions of female American soldiers as taking active roles in the stagings are most remarkable. Are they protagonists or playing bit parts? In which ways are the imprisoned men’s male bodies sexually marked as different? Is the victim or the object necessarily feminine, regardless of their sex or gender? In addition, the composition of individual images deserves a closer analysis with regard to their apparent resemblance to stereotypical or well established pornographic depictions. In comparison to examples from mainstream (sadomasochist) pornography, I will discuss the ‘rules’ of composition of pornographic images.
Opening Speech by Maria Zywietz
Dear Dean of Students Professor Schwend, dear Consul for Public Affairs James Seward, dear Professor Garrett, dear Professor Pisarz-Ramírez, dear faculty and friends of American Studies Leipzig, dear presenters, dear guests,
On behalf of the organizing committee, I am happy to welcome you to the second annual MA-level graduate conference, titled “American Pornographies: Consumerism, Sensationalism, and Voyeurism in a Global Context.” In the following, I would like to take a couple of minutes to introduce you to the overall frame of the conference and to what we hope to achieve in the next two days. However, before delving into that, I want to tell you a bit more about how the conference came into being.
In March 2010, the annual graduate conference took place for the first time as part of the curriculum of the MA American Studies program at the University of Leipzig, organized by the 2008 MA cohort. In fact, we are particularly happy to see so many of last year’s organizers in the audience today. This year’s conference has been organized by seven second-year MA students—Ines Krug, Andreas Mooser, Julia Neugebauer, Eleonora Ravizza, Stefan Schubert, Franziska Wenk, and myself. As part of the practical module called iDEWEY, the conference shows that American Studies Leipzig emphasizes project-driven learning following the principle of ‘learning by doing’ associated with John Dewey’s philosophy of pragmatism. As such, organizing the whole conference within the time span of one semester—from writing the call for proposals to discussing and deciding on these proposals, acquiring sponsors, preparing and finally hosting the conference—has been a challenge, but, at the same time, it has already been an exciting and enormously rewarding experience for us, the organizing committee, and, hopefully, also for our adviser, Professor Garrett.
However, this graduate conference is not only a learning experience for its hosts, but serves three distinct purposes. Since all of the participants of the conference are currently MA students or recently graduated from an MA program, the conference specifically serves as a platform for European graduate students of American studies to present their research to fellow students and scholars and discuss their work with them. Our conference also signals to academic communities in American studies both in Germany and internationally that valuable and exciting research is done by graduate students below the PhD-level. Unlike in the US, MA research is still somewhat marginalized in Europe—a grievance this conference wants to address. Finally, as the conference brings together graduate students of American studies from all over Europe, it is not just a means of gaining professional experience early in our academic careers, but it is also a great networking opportunity. We see this as particularly important since institutionalized networking possibilities for graduate students below the PhD level are still very rare.
In accordance with these goals, one of the crucial moments in organizing this year’s conference has been the choice of topic. Following the traditions of American studies as well as American Studies Leipzig’s general research interests, our final conference theme had to allow for interdisciplinary research and had to be situated in a transnational context. As early as last July, when our cohort wrote the call for submissions for ASL’s peer-reviewed graduate journal
aspeers , we jokingly came up with a topic focusing on obscenity and pornography since we all had taken a class that partially dealt with Robert Mapplethorpe’s exhibition “The Perfect Moment” and the related obscenity trials. aspeers editor in chief and our adviser during the project Sebastian M. Herrmann suggested the title ‘American Pornographies,’ but we soon dismissed the topic for a less controversial one. A couple of months later, the topic was still lingering in the backs of our minds. After Sebastian agreed that we could use his earlier title idea for the conference, we eventually chose the topic—and this time we seemed to be more convinced. Of course, we still had doubts since pornography is often connoted as ‘immoral’ and ‘filthy’ and is generally a topic that is simply not talked about. Ironically, while the United States is often stereotypically considered ‘prudish’ and ‘morally uptight,’ it is also the single largest porn producer in the world. Therefore, this delicate topic gradually transformed into the theme of our conference—understanding pornography on literal and metaphorical levels. Although it has not always been easy to explain the relevance of this theme, we are very grateful to have found the support of all of ASL’s faculty, allowing us to contribute to the academic discourse on ‘pornography’ with this year’s conference.
We are also happy that we have received such a large number of proposals from all over Europe. This clearly demonstrates that MA-level graduate students internationally take an interest in the academic study of pornography both as a literal and metaphorical phenomenon. Out of a very large pool of submissions, we could only accept sixteen proposals due to timing limitations. These sixteen presentations are the ones we found most interesting in terms of their topical choices and most enlightening as far as their analyses and results go. We are sure that you will agree with this assessment when you listen to the presenters today and tomorrow. While this conference takes place here in Leipzig, we are especially proud that we will also listen to nine presenters who are not from German universities, promising a truly transnational dialogue on the issues discussed during the two conference days.
With the topic for the conference set, one question remains: What exactly do we strive to achieve with this conference and this topical frame? In this regard, we are fundamentally guided by the question of what pornography actually is : What turns a word, a novel, a video, an event, a practice, a text, or anything else into something one would consider ‘pornography’? In a sense, what is the ‘pornographic’ element in pornography, what are the characteristics that make up the allure of pornography? And where, actually, do we find these traces of the ‘pornographic’?
Sex and pornography have always been discussed controversially, but in the twenty-first century, it somehow comes as a surprise that people might still feel ashamed or offended by these particular topics when, according to a number of publications, sex is omnipresent in contemporary society, and when, instead of the generation X, we are now dealing with the so-called porn generation, as Ben Shapiro terms it. Yet it might not be that simple: Perhaps pornography cannot simply be reduced to sex after all. But what is it then?
One of the best-known attempts at ‘defining’ or approaching pornography comes from Justice Potter Stewart, who, in a concurring opinion on a ruling of the US Supreme Court, said that “[he] know[s] it when [he] see[s] it” (qtd. in Lehman 5). This indirect and hedged way of defining—or, rather, explicitly
not defining—pornography hints at its shunned and often silenced status. Stewart’s phrase becomes significant for us as well since one of the implicit goals of this conference is to investigate, question, and perhaps deconstruct the assumption that ‘we know pornography when we see it.’
In fact, sex and obscenity might be individual aspects that pornography is concerned with, but it is not limited to them. In contradistinction to the Supreme Court, whose arguments often revolved around the dichotomy of free artistic expression versus ‘obscene’ pornography, scholars and students, of course, try to move past these normative judgments and might not primarily be interested in notions of the obscene. Still, the question whether and which pornographies can be considered art is indeed an interesting and, at times, challenging one. As Susan Sontag argues in her influential article “The Pornographic Imagination,” pornography and art are not mutually exclusive, and she therefore understands pornography as a literary and film genre (35-36). Some of the presentations we will hear will undoubtedly reflect this challenge as they investigate the inherent attraction of pornography and the ‘pornographic.’ In trying to approach pornography from such a perspective, we will look for notions of desire, bliss, or aesthetic pleasure in pornographic contexts.
These instances of societal and academic attention to pornography are no longer exceptional. On the contrary, since the 1980s, the number of scholarly publications on pornography has been constantly rising. One of the first fields to discuss pornography was feminist theory and gender studies. For feminist anti-pornography scholars such as Andrea Dworkin, identifying and consequently condemning pornography was as easy as Justice Stewart’s ‘I know it when I see it’ since these scholars inherently linked notions of female oppression, abuse, and exploitation to pornography. In fact, Dworkin argues that pornography, specifically its production and the consequences of its consumption, promotes violence towards women. However, the debate among feminists, also known as the ‘sex wars,’ became more multifaceted during the nineties with the increasing outspokenness of scholars that were later referred to as ‘sex-positive’ feminists. They argued for more nuanced readings of pornographic texts and regarded some of them as potentially liberating and empowering. One crucial publication of this time is Linda Williams’ seminal study
Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible . ” Williams found that hard core pornography is contradictory, uncertain, and unstable in terms of its dynamics of power and pleasure (x-xi), but never fails to cause some kind of emotional reaction (xi).
Since gender studies took up the topic of pornography relatively early, ‘gender’ as an analytical category remains one of the most prominent aspects in scholarly discussions of pornography. We will see this reflected in your presentations as well—with contemporary research that focuses on deconstructions of heteronormativity, questions of female desire, or gazes in the ‘pornographic.’ Thus, it is sexuality and queerness just as well as notions of sex and gender that prevail in debates of pornography. In addition,
the ‘body’ is an equally useful and productive category, since, as Berkeley Kaite states, “[p]ornography as a discourse on sexuality constitutes the body” (37). Her discussion emphasizes that the gendered pornographic body is transformed into the “‘meta-anatomical’” (37). In this context, it seems ironic that the Internet as a new platform for online pornography and cybersex completely lacks corporeal qualities, as Dennis Waskul points out (9).
Numerous studies show that pornography does not only share similarities with gender, but also with other categories. Peter Lehman writes that categories such as race, genre, and history, but also class, religion, or age, might well be applied to the study of pornography. He cites, for example, Constance Penley, who was one of the first scholars to study class in pornography in her influential article “Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn” (Lehman 3). In turn, pornography can also serve as an analytical category itself. As Waskul suggests, porn can be used as a productive lens to ask questions about identity (10).
While all of these examples mainly deal with ‘traditional’ pornography, our goal also is to take the discussion of pornography one step further, to a more abstract level. According to Karen Boyle, so-called everyday pornography creates the “industry’s own mainstream” (2) with the help of its predominantly male heterosexual audiences. In this way, pornography’s underlying consumerist patterns become apparent. Accordingly, in this conference, we want to emphasize and explore pornography’s inherent connection to consumerism—one that is extremely productive when pornography is understood in broader terms. As one of the few scholars investigating this very connection, Boyle says that pornography can further be understood as representing “something which [is] recognized as pornographic in a context which is not itself pornographic” (2). In such an approach, we no longer understand pornography as solely related to sexuality, but rather also want to identify and start to see pornography in contexts that, at first sight, do not have anything to do with sex and sexuality. That said, this new understanding of pornography questions Justice Stewart’s notion of “I know it when I see it” (qtd. in Lehman 5).
Similar to journalist Richard Tomkins, who sees pornification as the process of detaching explicit language from its sexual connotation, detaching sexuality from pornography reveals truly ‘pornographic’ elements. We might, for example, think of food commercials by countless fast food chains that use close-ups of juicy beef burgers looking better than in real life and that thus evoke a desire and craving for delicious food. These and similar displays of food have often been labeled ‘food porn,’ which aims at deriving pleasure merely from looking at, or ‘consuming,’ photographs of food. Visual pleasure is also at the core of the terms ‘space porn,’ ‘Earth porn,’ or ‘ruin porn,’ the latter of which we will hear more about in tonight’s keynote session.
Furthermore, we should also consider so-called torture porn, which is not only related to the medialization of Abu Ghraib, but traditionally refers to techniques in the horror genre. One prominent example would be the commercially very successful SAW movies with their images of gushing wounds and ripped-apart bodies for the audience’s voyeuristic enjoyment. In a similar vein, Quentin Tarantino’s stylization of violence has often been derogatorily labeled as the ‘pornography of violence.’
As a third example, facebook and other social networks are, in a way, also ‘pornographic.’ Just as traditional pornography commodifies sexuality, on a more abstract level, social networks commodify personal relationships in a voyeuristic and exhibitionist manner by publicly displaying private information such as relationship statuses. While users of social networks voluntarily share private information, sensationalist strategies in the media aim to expose the private lives of celebrities without their consent, thus using the ‘pornographic’ to commodify privacy.
It is in such desexualized contexts that the ‘pornographic’ is most visible. In studying commodification, voyeurism, and sensationalism through the lens of pornography, we become aware of various kinds of American ‘pornographies.’ With such an approach, it becomes apparent that the ‘pornographic’ elements in pornography are not necessarily of sexual nature. One way to bring together these different elements is to see pornography as the commodified depiction of individual acts and features in a sensationalist manner deliberately set out to arouse an intense emotional reaction that is very similar to the reaction hardcore pornography aims to achieve. Terming a process or an act ‘pornography’ thus emphasizes certain qualities that, apart from sexuality, may refer to notions of commodification, voyeurism, and sensationalism. The possibilities seem endless, and we are happy that your presentations will cover a great variety of topics in using pornography as a lens and a productive tool of analysis.
Regardless of how exactly pornography is approached in the end, we are sure that the presentations to come will engender impassioned, but always insightful debates. In his introduction to
Pornography: Film and Culture , Peter Lehman said the following:
To be sure, historically there was a time not so long ago when suspicion of popular genres such as Westerns and detective films was strong and when groundbreaking scholars such as John Cawelti had to demonstrate the value of the enterprise in the face of highly skeptical colleagues. [...] [D]uring the late 1960s, [...] he first proposed in a campus lecture the then preposterous idea that Westerns could be studied in the same manner as canonical literature. Undoubtedly the academy is now adjusting—or not, as the case may be—to the equally preposterous hypothesis that pornography should be studied in exactly the same way that film has been productively studied. (2)
Without a question, Lehman’s words encourage us, as young scholars, to actively participate in this endeavor and to contribute to ongoing discussions about pornography by adding new claims, by raising new questions and, first and foremost, by being so preposterous as to take pornography seriously. In this light, we are looking forward to exciting panels, insightful discussions, and many new thoughts that will further the study of pornography.
As the organizing committee, we are grateful that our avant-gardism in organizing this year’s conference has been so generously supported by many institutions, groups, and individuals. We thank American Studies Leipzig for sponsoring this event financially and for providing advice, support, and encouragement throughout the past six months. Particularly, we would like to thank Professor Crister Garrett, who has been our most important help and source of motivation. We also want to thank the American Consulate General Leipzig for providing travel grants for a number of our presenters. We are equally indebted to the American Studies Alumni Association, the ASL Event Committee, and Shake’n’Donate for providing us with financial resources. A special thanks also goes to last year’s MA cohort as well as to the ASL PhD students, who have shared their experiences in organizing conferences for young scholars in American studies. We are particularly grateful that Michael Archer and John Patrick Leary will further enrich our conference during tonight’s keynote session on ruin porn and journalistic pornographies. Further, we want to extend our thanks to the department for history, art, and oriental studies for providing this great venue, and to our volunteers for helping us where they can during the next two days. Last but not least, we want to thank all of you for being here today, and, let me emphasize, we are pleased that such a large crowd is showing an interest in the academic work of this conference. We could not have organized this exciting event without this great amount of support.
Everything is in place, and now, there is not much more for us to do than to look forward to your contributions, to interesting discussions during and in between the panels, and to tonight’s keynote session. We hope that all of us will gain new, innovative, and enlightening insights on a number of facets and questions regarding pornography and the ‘pornographic’ in order to broaden our understandings of both the intricacies of pornography and contemporary consumerist developments and dynamics.
Boyle, Karen. “Everyday Pornography.” Introduction.
Everyday Pornography. Ed. Boyle. Abingdon: Taylor, 2010. 1-13. Print.
Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Plume, 1989. Print.
Pornography and Difference . Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995. Print.
Lehman, Peter. “‘A Dirty Little Secret’—Why Teach and Study Pornography?” Introduction.
Pornography: Film and Culture. Ed. Lehman. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2006. 1-21. Print.
Penley, Constance. “Crackers and Whackers: The White Trashing of Porn.”
Pornography: Film and Culture . Ed. Peter Lehman. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2006. 99-117. Print.
Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future . Washington: Regnery, 2005. Print.
Sontag, Susan. “The Pornographic Imagination.” Styles of Radical Will . New York: Farrar, 1967. 35-73. Print.
Tomkins, Richard. “The Pornification of Society.”
Financial Times. Financial Times, 25 Mar. 2004. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Waskul, Dennis D. “Personhood and Internet Sex.”
Net.seXXX: Readings on Sex, Pornography, and the Internet. Ed. Waskul. New York: Lang, 2004. 9-11. Print.
Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the “Frenzy of the Visible . ” Berkeley: U of California P, 1989. Print.
Closing Speech by Stefan Schubert
Dear guests, dear presenters,
I want to thank all of you once more for two days of vivid and productive exchange thanks to the many insightful presentations we heard and the many lively discussions we had. I want to take a few minutes to wrap up the last two days, but we also want to give all of you the chance at the end to chip in with your remarks and observations, and Julia will then formally end the conference with some final thank-yous.
As Maria reflected on in the opening speech, our goals with this conference have been at least threefold, in a broader sense: We wanted to provide a platform for MA students to network and exchange ideas, we wanted to situate the conference within American studies and the field’s focus on interdisciplinary and transnational scholarship, and we set out to investigate the intricacies of pornography and augment our understandings of the ‘pornographic.’ I can safely say that all of these goals have been accomplished. The demand and need for this kind of conference have been clearly evidenced by the large number of proposals we received from all over Europe. In addition, the sixteen MA students from universities from seven different European countries as well as the many guests who have come to Leipzig are further proof that academic conferences are a necessary and a very productive institution already below the PhD level. We also hope that all of you had ample opportunities to share your opinions and thoughts on a variety of topics with other MA students, furthering academic networking early on in our scholarly careers. While all of you formally come from different countries and academically from different disciplines, the approaches you took in the presentations and discussions have equally reflected the focus on bringing in different disciplines and nations in the study of ‘America’ and its literature, culture, society, history, and politics. These various angles and approaches have also structured our discussions of pornography and the ‘pornographic.’
Ultimately, sufficiently understanding and analyzing ‘pornography’ remains difficult. This is something we knew all along, something that is to be expected with such an actually elusive concept. However, it has never been our intention to come up with a precise, singular definition of pornography or the ‘pornographic’ throughout this conference. Instead, we set out to approach ‘pornography’ with the help of broader understandings and frames in order to identify some of the inherent, more abstract concepts that are part of pornography and that make up much of the appeal of the ‘pornographic’; we set out to find the many traces the ‘pornographic’ leaves in various texts and contexts; and we set out to, in turn, investigate how notions of the ‘pornographic’ might help us understand other phenomena, such as patterns of consumption and consumerism. In this sense, we have taken Justice Potter’s assertion mentioned in yesterday’s opening speech that ‘he knows it when he sees it’ as a basis, but throughout the conference, we have complicated and partly deconstructed this statement: On the one hand, by tackling pornography explicitly and without any restraints, we have taken the subject seriously and realized that not talking about it or not even daring to mention its name does not accomplish much. On the other hand, our broader understandings of ‘pornography’ have revealed traces of the ‘pornographic’ in many places and contexts where we would not readily have expected them, which has enabled us to recognize and to ‘know’ ‘pornography’ even when we do not immediately ‘see’ it. This dominance of the ‘pornographic’ and the many facets it takes have been evidenced in the diverse approaches to the topic that we have seen throughout the two days of the conference.
On the first day, we started out with what one could call ‘celebrity fetishization’ in social media like Twitter, complicating normative judgments of the effects that these trends have on communication. We investigated the differences of how nudity is consumed in European and US fashion magazines and how that might reflect conservative agendas.
Turning to notions of pleasure in porn, we learned how the money shot, as a site of pleasure, has been commodified, especially so in cyberporn, and we had a brief discussion of how to make a ‘good’ porn film, whatever that means. Furthermore, we took a special look at non-mainstream porn such as pornoterrorism and queer post-porn, which also complicate notions of consumption since one might be aroused by feelings of disgust.
The final panel of the day was concerned with the many instances of ‘pornography’ in popular culture. We examined how fans fill the gaps of what happens between episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and how the femslash fiction they produce can be seen as narratives of sexual consent. We heard about the phenomenon of ‘superhero tragedy porn’ and how one can equally say that superheroes are consumed as products, and how the serialized, exaggerated frequency of their deaths leads to excess. Finally, we got an insight into an ‘updated’ version of Orientalism in appropriations of Arab women in hip hop and in ‘burqa porn,’ touching on questions of agency, commerciality, and politics.
In the evening, while we struggled a bit with technological difficulties, we were still very glad that we were able to hear Michael Archer from New York and John Patrick Leary from Detroit, speaking to us here in Leipzig. They shed light on many different understandings and nuances of the term ‘ruin porn’ and, generally, ‘pornographic’ journalism. In our subsequent discussion, we stressed the importance of approaching this issue from an international perspective since a European audience of ruin photography might consume these images very differently. Besides debating whether Detroit should build a statue for RoboCop, we also touched on the validity and the productivity of the term ‘ruin porn’ and what is actually achieved by calling ruin photography ‘porn.’
With our batteries recharged, we reunited today in the morning to listen to three presentations on how porn shapes notions of identity. We specifically focused on changes in gay porn throughout history and on differences to straight porn in terms of interraciality, safer sex, and heteronormativity. We also looked at feminist input on the topic of pornography and sexuality as we got insights into the intricacies of the so-called sex wars, and, while learning about the origins of the vibrator along the way, we added the perspective of lesbian porn actually produced with lesbian actresses. In the third presentation of the panel, the definition of porn as ‘what you don’t want to be caught with’ was thoroughly questioned from a multitude of perspectives, which provided further insights into the difficulties of what can be considered constitutive of pornography and into the need to ‘normalize’ pornography as a subject of study; accordingly, we were grateful for the ‘confessions’ by some of you about your first contact with porn.
A quite different approach was taken in our fifth panel on political ‘pornographies’ as we listened to the difference between erotica and political pornography, the latter of which is meant to accumulate votes and achieve political gains through populist strategies. We were also reminded that such rhetorical and textual strategies are valid not only for right-wing politicians, but for Democrats like President Obama as well, whose construction of masculinity showed remarkable similarities to that of Silvio Berlusconi.
We revisited notions of pleasure in our second-to-last panel on ‘pornographic’ pleasures and aesthetics. In a close reading—or viewing—of the serial-queen melodrama, it became apparent how this genre self-reflexively deals with the topics of victimhood, power, pleasure, and gazes, and how we can relate even silent film to understandings of the ‘pornographic.’ Pleasure was also central to our investigation of the novel Blood Meridian, which revealed the inherent links between the sexual or ‘pornographic’ connotations of the term jouissance and the textual pleasure or bliss gained from reading certain prose.
Finally, still very fresh in our memories, we discussed bodies in ‘pornography.’ We heard about the reshaping of pornography as a concept in the novel The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of voyeurism—or even ‘double voyeurism’ in the film—and an invasion of privacy. In addition, we approached the concept of ‘torture porn’ as evidenced in the photographs of the Abu Ghraib media scandal, focusing specifically on the relationship between representation and reality, and how one might speak of the ‘pornographic’ or voyeuristic aestheticization of torture.
In many of your presentations, we did not only see the well-known mantra of ‘sex sells’ confirmed, but also, in turn, that ‘the pornographic sells’—even in desexualized contexts. The inherent elements of the ‘pornographic,’ particularly consumption and commodification, all have a primarily material and materialist, but also a more individual, emotional element—and an equally large appeal. All of these insights into pornography have shown that the topic is far from clear-cut. Rather, we have complicated notions of consumption, consumerism, and commodification, and many of you touched on pornography’s complex relationship with, and its impact on, so-called reality. This also goes hand in hand with the difficult relationship between porn and the ‘pornographic,’ between actual sexuality in porn and strategically calling something ‘pornography.’ The difficulties in approaching these different facets of the ‘pornographic’ are also evidence that further academic study of pornography and the ‘pornographic’ is needed.
In the end, it is of course impossible to summarize all of the many details, concepts, and insights into pornography mentioned by all of you. Yet all of these approaches have been highly relevant and have produced unique insights not just into the makings and complexities of pornography, but also into related phenomena like consumerism, voyeurism, and sensationalism; into issues of gender, sexuality, and the body; into questions of art, bliss, or the sublime; into contemporary media, politics, and popular culture; and, ultimately, into the study of ‘America’—and the many meanings of that term. In that sense, I hope that we can all agree that this conference has been a success in bringing together MA students of various universities and disciplines to analyze, discuss, and debate all of these issues. If nothing else, it has helped us sharpen our senses to identify the ‘pornographic,’ even if that means that we now might see ‘pornography’ everywhere we go. Thank you. PDFs