To many people pornography is a trivial matter. It was to me until a few years ago. Some even see its permissibility and pervasiveness in our society as a breakthrough in freedom. They are alarmed at the idea of any measures to suppress it as somehow a step toward fascism. I shared that feeling, at least on an intellectual level, until about three years ago when a film called “Snuff” appeared in Times Square with advertising implying it was the photographic record of the real torture and murder of a woman, done for profit. Many of you may remember the slogan on the marquee of the National Theater: “The film that could only be made in South America… where life is CHEAP!”
Long before that film I had become aware that I could no longer be cheerful about pornography, but I had put it in the same category as demeaning advertising: you know, the women who squeeze the toilet paper or, recently, the woman who finds liberation in an expensive perfume. Stupid and slanderous, and part and parcel of the whole misogynistic trip-but there were more pressing and more positive matters for women to put their energy into, like getting job opportunities, maintaining their right to abortions, setting up alternatives for battered wives, preventing rape-the lot. And each of those things had once-upon-a-time seemed trivial, although it’s hard now to remember how they could have seemed so, they were all so obviously matters of life and death.
Well, more and more we learn that all evils are connected,. but unfortunately their nature is not to form a fabric where one strand is pulled and the whole thing falls apart. Their nature is more like that of the octopus who squirts ink in your eyes so that you cannot find his vulnerable center, and you cut off the enveloping tentacles in vain.
I will let that murky metaphor go and tell you something of my own too-intimate past connection with pornography. In 1968, I was up to my ears in what we called the “movement,” or the “new left.” At that time I was writing for a number of underground publications, several of which are long dead. One of them was the New York Free Press, in which I wrote about the school struggles in Harlem, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, etc. The managing editor of the Free Press, Jim Buckley, dropped around one day to pick up a manuscript. He told me that he and Al Goldstein were about to embark on a new venture, a no-holds-barred publication about sex, an organ of the sexual revolution.
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