So, if porn is ubiquitous, should we be teaching these students how to critically interpret it? According to Time, many academics think so, including some at my own university.
"A small but growing number of scholars are probing the aesthetic, societal and philosophical properties of smut in academic departments ranging from literature to film, law to technology, anthropology to women's studies. Those specialists argue that graphic sexual imagery has become ubiquitous in society, so it's almost irresponsible not to teach young people how to deal with it."
It's hard to decide about this one. Are academics really required to help people accomodate themselves to living in the contemporary society? I know we're always told we are, but isn't that more of a therapeutic role than us eggheads should be taking on?
Most academics, however, say that they're not teaching students to live with porn. "I'm quite critical of pornography," Professor Mary Williams (UC Berkeley- pictured) says. "I'm not trying to teach people to accept the existence of it. As with any tradition of moving-image culture, we need to take it seriously. We need to try and come at it with some theoretical tools."
In other words, the poor kids come for porn and get Foucault!
And, they say that porn can challenge the student's assumptions.
Lindsey Reich, 21, a senior majoring in anthropology at N.Y.U., thought herself fairly progressive when she signed up for Professor Don Kulick's sexuality-and-gender course last year. Then he screened a film featuring the porn star Annie Sprinkle having sex with a transgendered man and another showing female ejaculation. To her surprise, Reich was shocked. "I realized I do have my biases about what is a man and what is a woman--I mean, I grew up in the Midwest--and it made me want to explore these stereotypes and get past them," she says. "Those films did that better than any academic book."
So, it can be an eye-opening experience, which is part of our job in academe.
I'm just not sure that porn's ubiquity makes it a necessary topic of academic research. Society couldn't care less about Plato... should that determine whether or not we teach the Republic? These kids come up in a porn ethos that is totally removed from the wisdom of parents, traditon or the arts. So, I think there is merit in teaching them to be critical of it.
I just wish we would also teach them about the universe of eros that has shrunk down to the pinhole of pornography, and why this diminishment is not a liberation as much as a warning signal from the species we are a part of.