Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The definitive takedown of NoPornNorthampton

Those of you who have been following the blogosphere porn wars are surely familiar with the rise of NoPornNorthampton as a major clearinghouse for antiporn writing. The context of the real-world political battle that NPNH emerges from might be less clear to readers, though rival sites MoPornNorthampton and TalkBackNorthampton have been pretty good about exposing "The horror that is NoPornNorthampton".

Now a Hampshire College student, Murial Barkley-Aylmer, has written a senior thesis, an ethnography of the porn wars in Northampton, from a clearly pro-queer and sex-positive perspective. Its an excellent piece of work, covering the porn and censorship battles in Northampton, MA from the early 1960s up to the present and presenting a thorough history of the players in the present battle, including the folks behind NPNH and MPNH. (Though, oddly enough, TalkBackNorthampton isn't mentioned anywhere, which is the one oversight I'd quibble with in this thesis.)

It pretty much pegs exactly what Adam Cohen and Jendi Reiter are all about, and describes how they "shopped around" for several avenues of anti-porn argument before siding up with the radical feminist one, a perspective that, not surprisingly, they were completely unfamiliar with until they got into this battle.

One interesting piece of Northampton history she manages to dig up is a forgotten episode from 1989 that might very well be titled "When Radfems Attack". This describes how anti-porn radical feminists managed to shut down Womonfyre, a lesbian feminist bookstore through a combined boycott, "direct action" campaign (eg, vandalism and targeted shoplifting), and threats of more direct violence (eg, firebombing). Ironically, this was a business that had previously managed to survive earlier attacks by religious right types. The crime that this bookstore was being punished for? Carrying feminist porn and erotica – On Our Backs, Annie Sprinkle, that kind of thing.

(I think this and a number of other violent incidents from back in the "sex wars" give lie to the idea that a really extreme and crazy form of radical feminism is something that solely exists as internet chatter. Anti-porn radical feminism was a very violent and scary movement back in the 1980s when it had the critical mass to be so. This is the reason so many of us, coming from various ideological perspectives, spend our energies critiquing what's otherwise such a fringe movement.)

Here's a radio interview with Barkley-Aylmer that serves as a really good overview of the thesis:

Bill Dwight Show, WHMP, August 14, 2007 (MP3).
(Interview starts at 12:00 minutes.)

Here's the thesis itself. To give credit where credit is due, NPNH is actually hosting the PDF of the thesis. Very big of them considering the work is very critical of them and pretty on-target:

NoPorn Northampton: An Interdisciplinary Ethnography Following One City’s Struggle with Pornography, by Murial Barkley-Aylmer (PDF).

NPNH gives their response here:

Hampshire College Thesis Explores Northampton Porn Debate; Our Comments

(NPNH's rebuttal is the usual mix of NIMBYism and extreme sexual conservatism dressed up as "progressive" and not really worth responding to. One point that is worth responding to, the charge that NPNH "bombards with information" and NPNH's counter that they build a strong case by presenting evidence. The problem with NPNH is that the information they present is an often-contradictory mish-mash of far-right, radical feminist, and pop psychology writing presented mostly without analysis or insight. Its the shotgun approach to argument – throw out enough charges and hope that some of them stick. This kind of "presentation of evidence" does not, in fact, amount a strong case of any kind.)

MPNH has a point-by-point comeback here:

NPN Responds to Hampshire Thesis: A Point-by-Point Rebuttal

And, an excellent comeback by Bill Dwight about the "adjustable philosophies" of Adam Cohen:

Bill Dwight Show, WHMP, August 21, 2007 (MP3).
(Runs from 19:00–30:00 minutes.)

Finally, Barkley-Aymler's conclusion is worth quoting, because its such a great "why I'm anti-anti-porn" statement:

"To oppose all pornography, delineated from erotica by a self-imposed checklist, is to impose one’s own personal boundaries, sexual preferences and sex-political views on other sexual beings, without respect for individualized needs and positively-experienced pleasures. Regardless of who or what anti-pornography activism seeks to target, this indiscriminate condemnation always negatively affects those individuals who live their sexual lives farthest from the sexual norm. Nevertheless, to applaud all pornography, without concern for sexual violence, industry working conditions, and sexually transmitted infection is to esteem the right to free speech over the value of human life."

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