Staging pornography: Code, culture and context
This dissertation is a qualitative exploration into the politics of pornography and focuses on the instability of the pornographic sign and on the external determinations which naturalize pornographic ways of looking. My project is to supplant assumptions in current debates that pornography has interior, often trans-historical meanings and effects which are "put into" the text by various agencies with the idea that pornography is a cultural transaction constructed in practice. I offer up the idea of a pornographic code to designate the moment (or the "event") which occurs when others are transformed into sexualized objects, and I explore pornographic sign as a site (rather than an object) where important cultural issues relative to gender, power and representation are staged and contested.
This dissertation is thematically divided into halves, with the first three chapters providing an historical overview of various "stagings" of pornography. In this first half, I examine key transformations of "pornography" in the United States and Great Britain from the word's first use (circa 1857) as the writings about prostitution as a matter of social hygiene to its currently accepted use as the sexually explicit material intended to arouse the consumer and which sometimes equates sex with violence. Specific chapters track permutations of pornography throughout the mechanical age (roughly 1850-1920), and, later, during the "sexual revolution" and its aftermath (late 1960s to mid-1970s).
The final three chapters explore the indeterminacy of the pornographic sign and the ubiquity of the pornographic code through an examination of current stagings. Chapter Four draws extensively from the literature of feminism and considers the problem of interpretation within a postmodern context. Chapter Five provides an analysis of the literature emanating from such Christian Right leaders as James Dobson, Carman, and Jerry Falwell; I argue that their anti-pornography and anti-gay material reenforces instrumental and pornographic ways of looking. The dissertation concludes by revisiting the idea of a feminist erotic as an alternative to pornographic culture.
0453: Womens studies