Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Pornography Industry, by Shira Tarrant

It's no secret that pornography is more ubiquitous than ever.  But it's also true that erotic art and writing have been around pretty much forever.  So how did we get to where we are now, where porn is readily available anywhere there's an internet connection, and the industry generates billions in sales every year?  Shira Tarrant explores the subject in The Pornography Industry: What Everyone Needs to Know.

First of all, given that The Pornography Industry is published by Oxford University Press, I expected a more scholarly approach.  However, it's part of OUP's "What Everyone Needs to Know" series, which, now that I look at the titles, sounds like their version of ". . . For Dummies" books.  Tarrant's topical chapters are laid out in a Q&A format, giving brief explanations and answers to a variety of questions.  This makes it an easy reference source, but on controversial topics or topics which have divisive positions, just as Tarrant got started with presenting both sides, the section ended.

Although Tarrant skips over topics like a rock skipping across a pond, she at least deserves credit for bringing the reader's attention to some of these topics.  Her subject is not frequently treated in an evenhanded manner.  Most writing about pornography goes to one extreme or the other, defending it wholly, or calling for its prohibition.  Suffice it to say that both sides are guilty of exaggeration to make their points, or glossing over facts that don't support their position.

Tarrant herself tends to gloss over the negatives of porn.  She acknowledges that it can be harmful to relationships.  She does not deny a link between sex trafficking and pornography.  She notes the toll it can take on the performers, both physically and emotionally.  Yet she tends toward a positive, nonjudgmental position in favor of porn.  These negatives are part of the "porn wars," things we have to move past.  She prefers a more positive view, and provides examples of companies and individuals who are working to make porn less sexist, less racist, and more fair trade (but no less porny).

The Pornography Industry would purport to be a scholarly approach to the history and impact of pornography on culture.  It is that, but in a watered-down way.  It's probably more than you really want to know about porn, but, at the same time, if you really want to know about porn, you will likely need to look elsewhere.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

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