Pornography: “I Know it When I See it”

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A164 Thesis2

Written by Chelsea Garbell. Chelsea, a first-time Jewrotica writer, is a graduate of NYU in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication.

Chelsea wrote “Online Erotica & The Space to Move Forward: A Modern Jewish Sexual Ethic” for her senior honors thesis in May 2013. The thesis, which was overseen by Professor Brett Gary, is dedicated to “those friends, teachers, and surprising men who have forced me to recon with my Judaism and with myself”. The piece is being published on Jewrotica over four consecutive days, and this is part two. Part one is available here.

PART TWO

Rated RThe invention of cameras, phones, and televisions each heralded in a new era of communication. Each was also used immediately for the production first of portraiture, and then of pornography. (24)

Porn, seen on websites similar to broxxx, has so deeply permeated American culture that it has become impossible to eradicate, and society has started to emulate pornography in its advertising, its fashion, and its youthful activities. Pornography has played a very important role in the lives of Americans: it has loosened moral strictures to normalize depictions of sexuality and masturbation, and thereby
the acts themselves. Even more importantly, it has normalized ideas about female sexuality, homosexuality and marginalized fetishes. When viewing porn online most people visit websites like fullhdxxx.com as it has a variety of different porn videos from all different genres including those just mentioned as well as amateur (home made) videos, there are however more specific websites that only show videos for particular fetishes, but you would need to carry out a targeted search to find these websites as they are not as common as main stream pornography websites.

The tricky task lay in defining pornography from alluring sites like watchmygirlfriend, which has been attempted and failed at by many throughout the centuries. Anthony Comstock, the great censorship zealot of the late 19th century, would place under the label of pornography dirty pictures, erotic literature, manuals of anatomy for medical students, information on birth control, and just about anything that at all implied that men and women were sexual creatures. The term pornography comes from the Greek words porne + graphien, or “depicting the acts of prostitutes,” and arose after 19th century art historians found sculptures and paintings they deemed obscene in excavations of Pompeii. (25) The word has evolved to mean anything sexually explicit that is stigmatized in mainstream society. Wendy McElroy, in her book, XXX: A Women’s Right to Pornography argues that pornography should instead be defined as “the explicit artistic depiction of men and/or women as sexual beings. (26)

This vague definition allows for a broader interpretation, and allows each individual to decide for him or herself whether or not porn is offensive, instructional, or simply a good time. Men and women are sexual beings, and to pretend otherwise is to accept ignorance as the status quo.

Secular Jews have long been involved in the production of different kinds of pornography, paving the way to a present in which a website like Jewrotica can flourish. In 1888, American anti-Semite Telemanchus Thomas Timayenis echoed the claims of early church fathers when he said that, “the strongest passion in the Jew is his licentiousness.” On the more flattering end of the spectrum was a similar sentiment echoed by Playboy’s founder, Hugh Hefner, when he approvingly said that American Jews “are more liberal” in sexual matters “than either American Catholics or the mainstream of American Protestantism.” (27)

And Heffner may have been right, for there are a substantial number of Jews in the pornography industry across the vocational spectrum. There are a number of theories as to why this might be, but it is important to first clarify that almost all of the Jews in porn are secular, cultural Jews and not religious ones. Pornography, like cinema, was a field that allowed Jews to enter. It didn’t have restrictive barriers, and it didn’t require as much start up capital as the mainstream film industry. For that particular reason Jews have been involved in the advent of a variety of new media ventures, and which as explained, often turn first to pornography.

Some of the taboo, the foreign and forbidden nature of exhibitionism and sex with Gentiles might have been appealing to the Jews who entered the business; it can be hard to resist a taste of the forbidden fruit. Pornography can also be seen as a rebellion against the standards and framework of a Torah lifestyle. It’s also a revolt against predominant Puritan values that permeate American society. Jews have often been at the forefront of personal and political liberation movements as revolutionaries and radicals. A great deal of material on sexual liberation was written by Jews in the 1960’s vanguard- Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman were the inheritors of the legacy of Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, focusing instead on work, love, sex, satisfaction, and humanizing sexuality. (28)

None of the circumstances or galvanizing forces that led to the prevalence of Jews in the pornography industry are inherently Jewish. Rather, they are a unique set of socio-economic conditions that simply applied to a group of people at a particular time – more cultural realities than religious imperatives. And yet, it is interesting to note that this involvement in the production of sexually explicit material came from a group of people whose religious tradition engages in discussions of sex and sexuality in a more positive manner than other traditions do (albeit still a restricted one). One cannot claim causation, but the correlation is fascinating nonetheless.

Jewrotica has seemingly co-opted a more secular approach to pornography for the purposes of broadening discussion in a deeply traditional Jewish discursive space. One man’s erotica is another woman’s porn, and Jewrotica is endeavoring to create a Jewish community that happily acknowledges that men and women are sexual creatures with all sorts of preferences. Not only does it acknowledge this fact, but it also strives to build spaces of conversation, of arousal, and of normalization for all types of sexual choices, including those that are often stigmatized in mainstream secular culture, such as BDSM. In one Jewrotica post, Masochism’s Jewish Roots, an academic essay exploring the roots of Sadomasochism, we learn that the author Leopold von Sacher-Masoch was fascinated by and deeply respected Jews. He wrote a huge variety of S&M stories about Jews, and empowered them through their sexuality, especially women, giving them a voice through widely read stories that celebrated and lauded their “carnal” nature. (29)

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Chelsea is a graduate of NYU in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication. Chelsea wrote “Online Erotica & The Space to Move Forward: A Modern Jewish Sexual Ethic” for her senior honors thesis in May 2013.