Robert Jensen is considered one of those intellectual descendents. He has an observation in his book Getting Off that I've made on more than one occassion, and for a while I could point at the misogyny of Japanese porn. (I used to think it was patriarchial-- and perhaps it is. But what I've read of women Japanese writers in the original, I can only conclude that when the tables are turned and women have power, they would mistreat men just as readily. It's not about sex: it's about power, and having it, and showing it. It might just be revenge fantasy for them. I have no idea.) But I'm seeing more of it in the United States.
There are two primary strains of pornography: the traditional kind, in which there's a script, and an intent to follow some thin thread of a storyline from beginning to end. And then there's gonzo, in which two people are put in front of the camera and just told to have sex. There's no justification, no emotional connection. Here's your paycheck: now fuck for it.
Over the past three years, gonzo has gotten mean. I can no longer deny this. The epithets fly: 'tramp', 'bitch', 'whore', 'cunt,' 'slut.' Women are slapped, choked, gagged until they throw up. All kinds of nastiness is thrown at women: comments about the way they look, the way they smell, the sounds of their voice. Gonzo these days starts with the assumption that women are stupid and cheap and exist only to be used by cruel men, and often include the subtle message that you're not a real man unless you can use women and throw them away like that.
The alarming fact is that this cruelty-based gonzo outsells all other kinds of hardcore pornography right about now. Jensen's claim, and it's one I'm having a hard time arguing with, is this: We aren't as civilized as we claim to be. This industry thrives because the vast majority of American men who buy pornography, who sit in darkened rooms and masturbate to this stuff, like the cruelty. It's a passive cruelty: we can claim that it's vicarious, and it's on TV so it's "make believe," and the actresses all say they like it. (I know, I know, I'm supposed to believe what they say and accept their empowerment, but the one time I watched a Hillary Scott film I couldn't even watch to the end; she did not look like she was having fun, and she's Adult Video News's "hottest actress" two years in a row.)
Even if that's true, why do men buy it? Jensen believes it is because we do not, as a society, reject cruelty as much as we would wish. We reject the commission of cruelty, but we're perfectly happy to watch it. Degradation and deliberate cruelty are becoming more commonplace even as pornography becomes more commonplace.
This disturbs me on so many levels. If this is the audience, do I even want to write smut anymore? I've tried to make my characters human; the ones who degrade and demean end up unwanted and unloved by the end, served with cosmic justice of the authorial sort. If people are going to engage in "merely friendly exercise," as Heinlein put it, they should at least like each other and treat one another with the kind of respect that wishes they'd come back and do it again.
I don't like what I'm seeing in porn these days. I'm hoping I'm wrong about this. Are my perceptions off, or is the market, as it widens, as men become saturated with it, now appealing to more coarse, vicious, and base instincts?
Maybe this is why I read romance novels instead these days, and ask my women friends for their favorite one-handed girly reading.