Saturday, December 28, 2013

Book Review: Pornland by Gail Dines

((Video version of this review is at the end of this post))

This book is confuddling to me because I agree (I think) with most of the book's concept: I do believe that porn has greatly influenced the way we view and shape our world, relationships, and our sexualities. Unlike the author, however, I'm not anti-porn. She says she's not anti-porn either, just anti "gonzo" or very violent porn. So, why I disliked this book shouldn't be on mere concept alone.


Overall I was confused as to what the author was getting at with her book. Does she want to end porn? Does she want people to talk about how they "use" porn? While she goes on about the evils of it she never offers alternatives. She talks about guys who are addicted and guilty about porn use but doesn't tell them what to do. She plays on women's insecurities by saying things like (paraphrased) guys who use porn get used to huge boobs so yours look inadequate, page 91. Or, guys who use porn will leave you if you don’t act like a porn star but they will leave you if you do act like a porn star because women are interchangeable, so no matter what you do if he uses porn he will leave you – Preface xiii. But the author discusses nothing of how couples could communicate their needs, desires, or expectations in a healthy way. She says that the average age of viewing porn for the first time is 11 years but has no other statistical information about how much average men use porn, how many men use certain types of porn and never even discusses female use of porn. It actually feels like she speaks for all women in this book that none of us enjoy porn at all.


So, since the author’s goal is not to provide guidance or advice, she basically spends an entire book telling us that porn is everywhere, it makes a lot of money, and it is on the minds of a lot of men. (I think it's on the minds of a lot of women too, but hey, that's me.)


Basically, Dines just takes the most direct, emotional stance against porn and leaves room for nothing else. She plays on insecurities and manipulates readers as much as the evil "pornographers" she condemns.


There were three main areas that, for me, made this book a badly written non-fiction book.


1. Lack of or completely irrelevant resources.


I'm a sucker for a good resources section and this book was lacking. Though she has some quotes from professionals in the fields of media and sociology, most of her quotes come from blogs, porn forum boards, and personal interviews. Most quotes from “pornographers” were accessed from online articles. I found few books and most of the resources might as well not been listed because I'm not going to be able to track down a student she interviewed. The quotes she used the most were pulled from online porn enthusiast forums. They’re just what random guys said on the internet. Most were misspelled (probably to make the users look like idiots and make what they're saying even more grating/violent thus making the author’s points look good) and some were taken out of context. I'm fine with showing real world examples but you have to back it up with psychological theories or studies. In this book the only thing she has to back it up are her own opinions, sometimes held together with a quote about media or some other off topic argument. It's like she just is going: “Here's what some guy said on the internet and here's what I think about that!” Which is fine if you're writing a blog post, but she wrote a book. I expect a little more from a book written by a professor.


2. The use of emotional bait and switch.


On Page 94-95 the author has been talking about regular male college students who use porn and the next paragraph abruptly turns to incarcerated sex offenders, some who are pedophiles. She talks about how these men who committed terrible sexual assaults used soft-core porn, and then says “It would seem that contemporary porn, with its body-punishing sex, would have an even greater affect as it shows women actually enjoying being brutalized” (Page 95).


That statement simply has no foundation. It would “seem” like contemporary porn (the one your boyfriend uses!) is worse than soft-core porn that sex-offenders used, therefore, the author must be right in her assertion that porn is evil. She talks about rape and “rape-myths” but doesn’t tie in how porn plays a role in this, just that men who have raped have used porn, even soft-core porn like Playboy. No studies or stats. 


3. The author did not write a scholarly book to discuss porn use: She catered to a readership who doesn’t like porn.


Countless times the author alludes to the absolute power porn has over men and boys and consequently women. She uses big, scary absolutes and talks about how “unaware” women are of what actually takes place in porn. It’s completely insulting to anyone who has actually researched porn at all.


The idea that “pornographers” are orchestrating this big plan to manipulate these impressionable men into consumers is exactly what she's doing to her readers. She states that most women and older generations are unaware of how men use porn and says that any vulgar or bad language in the book is used sparingly only because it is necessary to convey all the bad things in porn (that you don't know about.) So she has established that she is not having a discussion based on research, she is talking to people who do not watch porn and are offended by dirty words. Not the basis for a scholarly discussion, but playing to the fears and emotions of certain groups. I believe Dines' success relies on the idea that anyone who would read this book has already made up their mind – they hate porn – and they just want to read somebody ticked off about it.


At the end of the day, this book didn’t teach me anything. The author just stated what was happening: This guy feels guilty about using porn. A girlfriend is pissed he uses porn. A character in a movie was reading Barely Legal. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse and Hustler have so many subscribers. “Pornographers” are running out of ideas. Things called RealDolls exist. So? I knew that already. What’s the next step? Well, the book didn't go to the next step.

Dines’ conclusion is a weird call to arms in which she promotes a group she helped found and how to get ahold of slideshows and presentations she co-authored with ways to show them in public. Which leads me to believe she doesn’t really want to stop porn, but she does want to exploit the fact that people are emotionally tied to it – to get her name out there and sell more books/get more speaking gigs.

This is not a serious discussion about porn, as a quote on the cover insists. This is emotional wailing disguised as psychology and doesn’t help anyone, even people hurt by porn. The book simply perpetuates stereotypes that keep the topic in a stagnation that does more harm than good. 


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