Friday, June 10, 2016

Shira Tarrant's "The Pornography Industry"

Shira Tarrant is Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach. She is widely quoted in international media such as The Atlantic, and her work has appeared in Bitch, In These Times, and Religion Dispatches. Tarrant is the author or editor of eight books including Men and Feminism, Men Speak Out: Views on Gender, Sex, and Power, and Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style.

Tarrant applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know, and reported the following:
On page 99 of The Pornography Industry, I wrote:
Whereas gay, transsexual, or bisexual are tagged categories of porn, heterosexual is not. Although Latina, ebony, or interracial is tagged, white is not. This reveals the implicit race and sexual bias embedded in pornography vis-à-vis keywords and tags. Unmarked terms are privileged with the assumption of being part of a dominant norm. Categories that are not heterosexual, white, or cisgender are set apart and defined, thus demarcating sociopolitical privilege and marginalization. “Tags can have different meanings in different contexts. Uses of porn categories greatly depend on national and geographical context. For example, the ‘Beurette’ (Arab girl in French) category is not understandable in isolation from an understanding of the French colonial past and postcolonial contemporary relationships, which produce young Arab girls as objects of desire for a white male gaze.”

Sinnamon Love, a performer who describes herself as multiethnic, self-identified African American, says that “racism is a symptom of the bigger problem of society and porn no more contributes to that than any other form of commercial media. Although there is certainly an element of racism in some adult movies, this is by no means the barometer to judge all pornography. This would be like judging all priests based on a few child molesters or all Southern white males based on a few members of the KKK.”

It stands to reason that any kind of hate found throughout society and media is also present in pornography. Although porn may not cause this hatred, its presence certainly does not interrupt the pattern. As with so much of pop culture, it isn’t hard to find racism, sexism, and imperialist exploitation. Yet it also stands to reason that within pornography—as with all forms of pop culture such as TV, music, or movies—it is possible to find genres that are nonracist, nonsexist, nontransphobic, and life-affirming. “I’m very critical of the industry’s racial politics and how people of color are treated. But I’m not anti-porn,” says [Mireille] Miller-Young. “Surely there’s racism in the porn industry. It affects how people of color are represented and treated but there are counter-stories—especially among women of color who are creating and managing their own product. This doesn’t get enough attention.”
In The Pornography Industry, I write about the history of pornography, legal issues, medical research, social affairs, and political debates. I also explain the industry basics—who works in porn, how much they earn, rapid technological changes that are shaping production, distribution, and user access, along with often-elusive revenue data.

Although why people like porn may seem obvious, there are important topics to consider such as: concern about teen viewers, whether porn causes violence toward women, debates about addiction, and whether watching pornography is infidelity. The debates over these topics are often infused with a high emotional pitch. Data, on the other hand, is comparatively harder to come by or often becomes obscured by strongly held opinions. The point of my book is to address these political debates and competing perspectives regarding pornography in an even-handed manner, giving equal time to various sides of the arguments. Page 99 takes up the issue of racism in pornography.

The page begins by referencing the practice of adding keywords or search terms to online porn content. Porn sites use search algorithms that are not unlike algorithms that Amazon or Netflix use. It’s curious that people forget this. It’s like part of the rational brain turns off and people think that pornography is a private sexual experience unlike the rest of their online consumer history. The chain starts with how pornography is keyworded. People put in search terms and various options pop up, but those search terms aren't all that original, really, because we learn the search words that we're looking for based on the options that are already available. And the available options are based on how keywords have been applied to content. And so porn gets keyworded in very stereotyped, often sexist, often racist ways, and often with a narrow-minded view of sexuality.

Keyword selection produces ideological and political framework that impacts how people come to think about identity and categories of sexuality. Marginalized or subjugated groups are often described using search terms that fetishize or degrade entire groups of people. This practice certainly does not interrupt patterns of racism in the culture at large. At the same time, pornography is not the sole cause of sociopolitical problems that are deeper-going and with histories that predate the Internet. In subverting racist pornography, however, there are industry insiders working to create adult content that is non-racist, sexually appealing, and life affirming.
Visit Shira Tarrant's website.

--Marshal Zeringue