Saturday, April 23, 2011


Michael Rea's paper got me thinking about porn (not the content but the subject). As the old joke goes, porn is undefinable but you know it when you see it. If so then Rea tries to define the impossible. His attempt at a definition of porn is on the 3rd page. It basically defines an instance of porn as a token of some communicative material (pictorial, print, audio, etc) which will be reasonably expected to be used to sexually arouse or gratify members of some population to which it is targeted. Some provisos are that the intended audience can not expect it to be private communication (such as when a wife sends nude pics of herself to her husband) and that the material be used to that end for its communicative content.

I think there is a very damning counter example to this definition. Consider if some large population of porn subscribers were to read up on their sex negative feminist literature and as a result have a change of mind about porn. Now they see it as oppressive of women and denounce it and refuse to tend to their porn. Now it intended audience no longer seek to arouse and gratify themselves but that doesn't mean that the materials stop being porn. In fact, they may burn such material because it is porn. Rea may reply that once the audience changes their state of mind, they are no longer the intended audience of the porn producers. But that seems false. It seems that it is far more natural to say that their intended audience has had a change of mind about their products. The intended audience is still around, just not interested in the way they had been. It doesn't make sense to say that the intended audience dropped out of existence just because they had a change of mind. In fact, the porn producers may try to "win back" that audience through suasion and so forth. That would still make them a targeted audience.