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The Politics of Pornography

In order to understand some of the major currents of our day, it is necessary to recognize that one of the central purposes of pornography is political. An analysis of the politics of pornography is therefore essential.

Before doing so, it is necessary to call attention to a distinction made between pornography and obscenity. The novelist, Henry Miller, has said, "Obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.... Wherever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something revitalizing." Miller is by his own statement a champion of obscenity but hostile to pornography. What is the distinction, if there is one? Basically, Miller's distinction is this: pornography is dirt for dirt's sake, whereas obscenity has as its purpose the systematic destruction of law and moral order, a revolutionary reordering of society. This distinction is only partially true. Obscenity does have this revolutionary purpose, consciously and openly. Pornography is more exploitive, but it has nonetheless an implicit or explicit revolutionary purpose. It is hostile to morality and law, and it encourages and favors rebellion against morality. As a result, it has political implications no less than Miller's obscenity. In discussing the politics of pornography, we are therefore analyzing the basic position of the whole field, pornography and obscenity. While there are differences in emphasis, the essential position is the same.