Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Rising Tide of "Leftist" Sex Hate: Bob Jensen's "Getting Off"

Those who have read this space know fully well my opinion about Robert Jensen and his antipornography activism, as well as his repeated attempts to slander and convict men of merely having sexual feelings and desires that he considers too “masculinic” and “antifeminist” (meaning the antipornradicalfeminism of the likes of Dworkin, MacKinnon, and Sam Berg).

What really galls me, however, is that far too many self-styled progressives and leftists, so unconscious of their own sex ignorance and loathing about sexuality, are so willing to fall for his sophistic analysis and deep guilt-tripping disguised as “feminism”.

Case in point: Jensen’s latest tome on the evil threat of porn as the tool of “masculinity”, titled Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity, recently recieved a major endorsement from the executive editor of the progressive news service, Don Hazen; who explained in an introduction to a posting of an excerpt from Jensen’s book how he was converted from a traditional liberal libertarian point of view to Bob’s APRF vision:

Part of my thin king on pornography has been shaped by seeing what is on the
Internet myself, and part, by reading Robert Jensen’s powerful and provocative
book, excerpted below: Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity.
Jensen has convinced me that something as powerful as the porn industry and its
sexual extremism must not be kept under the rug due to liberal
shoulder-shrugging about the First Amendment. The porn industry should not enjoy
our collective denial in terms of its real-world impact on women — and men —
simply because we might be berated by first amendment purists or be
uncomfortable grappling with complex issues of sexual expression.

Never mind the fact that the actual “real world impact” of explicit sexual expression might be a bit more diverse and much less “extreme” than what Hazen sees through Jensen’s rose-colored spectacles…or that there would be no mention of “First Amendment extremism” or fears of “First Amendment purism” when the subject turns to things like opposing federal snooping and wiretapping of innocent citizens, or opposition to the war in Iraq, or organizing unions or even gender discrimination…..nope, in the mind of Hazen and the others who run Alternet, Jensen and the APRF (aka, the “feminist”) point of view is the only logical and true vision.

And what a narrow and tunnelled vision that Hazen and Jensen support, too. To buttress his notion of how far low porn has become, Hazen whips out the old tired and true “gonzo” card, as if this is the only form of sexual expression that exists these days:

One phenomenon in porn is the ascension of Gonzo films. There are two
styles of films — one are features that mimic, however badly, the Hollywood
model of plot and characters. But the other, Gonzo, has no pretensions, and is
simply the filming of sex acts, which, Jensen writes, while also occurring in
features, are “performed in rougher fashion, often with more than one man
involved, and more explicitly degrading language which marks women as sluts,
whores, cunts, nasty bitches and so on.”

The Gonzo films, which have come to dominate the industry, also
emphasize the newer trend of sexual acts, which include: double penetration —
anal and vaginal — and ass to mouth, or ATM, where anal sex is followed by stic
king the penis in the women’s mouth. In addition, many of these films include
men, often in multiple numbers, ejaculating into the faces and mouths of the
women performers. The women usually swallow the semen, but also can share it
mouth-to-mouth with a female partner. For Jensen, the most plausible explanation
of the popularity of these acts is that women in the world, outside of
pornography, don’t engage in these acts unless forced. “Men know that — and they
find it sexually arousing to watch them in part because of that

As Jerome Tanner, porn film maker explains, “One of the things about
today’s porn and the extreme market, the gonzo market, is so many fans want to
see much more extreme stuff that I’m always trying to figure out ways to do
something different. But it seems that everybody wants to see a girl doing a
double penetration or a gang bang. … It’s definitely brought porn somewhere, but
I don’t know where it is headed from there.”

Mitchell Spinelli, interviewed while filming Give me Gape, adds:
“People want more. They want to know how many dicks you can shove up an ass.
It’s like “Fear Factor meets ‘Jackass.’” Make it more hard, make it more nasty,
make it more relentless.”

Now, aside from the total fallacy of quoting porn producers and insiders as the literal Gospel in saying what men who buy these videos (or who simply download them, legally or not, for free) really want from them; there is the total and complete ignorance of what exactly “gonzo” really is. Actually, the term simply describes sex videos that feature sex unemburdened by plot; nothing about the particular acts involved. A film featuring a single couple engaged in conventional sex without plot would be considered “gonzo; as much as a video of an mulit-person orgy featuring traditional fucking and sucking.

Now…there certainly in within the genre of “gonzo” the more extreme and exotic subgenre which does include some of the acts that so inflame (arouse???) Jensen and Hazen; including double anals, double vaginals, bukkake, creampies, facials, and AtM. It is certainly open to debate whether women performers are being ”coerced” into performing them, or whether these particular acts are being promoted as things women should do in private (forgetting, of course, the possibility that some women might even — horrors — LIKE such acts done to them in private). But to conclude from that that fans of such acts are merely expressing their total hatred for the women performers — nay, heaven forbid, ALL women — merely by watching and getting off on viewing such acts is simply bizarre. The “extreme” market is just that; one market in a field of many in sexual media; and hardly representative of the majority of the hardcore sex genre. The overwhelming majority of sex videos are those featuring either (1) single women stripping and masturbating, usually with sex toys; (2) women having sex with one or two other women (i.e., “girl/girl” or “Hot Lesbian Action”, never mind if they are really lesbian or bi, or merely curious); or (3) a single woman having sex with her significant other (boyfriend, husband) or a male friend that she already knows and respects enough.

Of course, since Jensen has already clearly stated that he considers even the more conventional images of women in porn to be innately “misogynistic” because even the softer images degrade and dehumanize women by reducing them to “sex objects” and “fucktoys”, I guess that any discussion of the heavier and kinkier brands of “gonzo” are basically totally moot…or simply agitprop to convert the more gullible liberals and “leftists” to his agenda.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a Robert Jensen essay without the obligatory detailed description of a “typical” gonzo scene, as well as him (and by proxy, Hazen) imposing his (their) ideology on the performers, whatever they may actually think. Quoting again from Hazen’s intro:

Jensen clearly decided in writing his book that the often overwhelming
reality of the behavior and values of the porn industry must be experienced by
the reader, at least in written form, to understand what the issues are. Thus,
in the book, he describes porn scenes, quotes dialogue in the porn films, and
includes interviews with porn actors to help capture what they are thin king.
Some of this is a little hard to take. Here is one example:

Jessica Darlin tells the camera she has performed in 200 films and she is
submissive. “I like guys to just take over and fuck me and have a good time with
me. I’m just here for pleasure.” The man who enters the room grabs her hair and
tells her to beg the other man. She crawls over on her hands and knees, and he
spanks her hard. When he grabs her by the throat, she seems surprised. During
oral sex, he says, ‘Choke on that dick.” She gags. He grabs her head and slaps
her face then forces his penis in her mouth quickly. She gags again.The other
man duplicates the action, calling her a “little bitch,” Jessica is drooling and
gagging; she looks as if she might pass out. The men slap her breasts, then grab
her by the hair and pull her up. Later in the scene, “One man enters her anally
from the rear as she is pushed up against the couch, The other man enters her
anally while his partner puts his foot on her head. Finally one grabs her hair
and asks here what she wants. ‘I want your cum in my mouth,’ she says. ‘Give me
all that cum. I want to taste it.’ “

Jensen writes, “In researching the porn industry, one of the most difficult
parts is writing about the women who perform. Men see women in porn films as
objects of desire (to be fucked) or ridicule (to be made fun of.) When porn
performers speak in public they typically repeat a script that emphasizes that
they have freely chosen this career because of their their love of sex and lack
of inhibition.” Nina Hartley is one former porn star who frames her experience
in the porn industry as empowering — a feminist act of a woman ta king control
of her own life. But Jensen notes that while “we should listen to and respect
those voices, we also know from the testimony of women who leave the sex
industry that often they are desperate and unhappy in prostitution and
pornography but feel the need to validate it as their choice to avoid thinking
of themselves as victims.”

The fact that Jessica Darlin is actually an actresses enacting a scene in a movie, which involves a particular theme, and openly states that she has no problem whatsoever doing such scenes (of course, she must either be lying or under the spell of that evil male choking and spitting on her!!); seems to be lost on both Jensen and Hazen; certainly they would not think that when Michael Douglas and Glenn Close did that sex scene in the elevator in Fatal Attraction, they were really representing the real feelings of women and men, would they???

And we all know about how Jensen and other APRF’s really feel about Nina and other women who do happen to defend their right to make porn…right, Sam???

Oh….and Nina’s not a “former porn star”, Bob…she is still quite active in making and producing video; and has even enjoyed a sort of renaissance in the subgenre of older mature sex performers (also known as the “MILF” and “Cougar” subgenres). But I’m sure that she can defend herself better than I ever can….if you would ever allow sex-positive criticism of Jensen in your site, that is.

Moving along, we see Hazen practically spill his own seed in tribute to Jensen’s brilliance:

So that you understand, Robert Jensen is a true radical. His positions on
masculinity, race and pornography are way out of the mainstream. He thinks that
concepts of masculinity make men less than human and should be junked. “Men are
assumed to be naturally competitive and aggressive, and being a “real man” is
therefore marked by the struggle for control, conquest and domination. A man
looks at the world, sees what he wants and takes it.”

In writing his book, he turns to one of the most vilified feminists,
Andrea Dworkin, as his guide. One of Dworkin’s books, Intercourse,
enraged many readers. “In it, Dworkin argues that in a male supremacist society,
sex between men and women constitutes a central part of women’s subordination to
men. (This argument was quickly and falsely simplified to “all sex is rape” in
the public arena, adding fire to Dworkin’s already radical persona.)” But Jensen
embraces Dworkin for best understanding pornography and notes that “her love for
men was so evident.”


Jensen’s book is a serious effort to deconstruct pornography and
connect it to the society in which it grows and, in some ways, dominates. He
addresses in detail the arguments that justify porn and the research that may
connect porn to violence. His narrative, interwoven in the book, is about a
lonely journey to shed the straight jacket of masculinity, and the pain and lack
of acceptance that goes with the territory as he relentlessly pushes his ideas
into the public domain.

In the end, the book grapples with a fundamental question. “If pornography
is increasingly cruel and degrading, why is it increasingly commonplace instead
of more marginalized? In a society that purports to be civilized, wouldn’t we
expect most people to reject sexual material that becomes ever more dismissive
of the humanity of women? How do we explain … increasingly more intense ways to
humiliate women sexually and the rising popularity of the films that present
those activities?” Jensen concludes: “… this paradox can be resolved by
recognizing that one of the assumptions is wrong. Here it is the assumption that
the U.S. society routinely rejects cruelty and degradation. In fact the U.S. is
a nation that has no serious objection to cruelty and degradation.”

Robert Jensen is on a quest. And he has taken a major step forward in
his journey in producing a book that the reader can’t run away from or casually
dismiss. It is filled with facts, data, intelligent observation and analysis, as
well as examples of the raw product of an industry gone gonzo. I know this may
sound like a cliche, but I guarantee that after reading this book, almost no one
will think about pornography in the same way again.

I’ll just let you wander through and behold the magnificance of such bullshit for a while. You wonder then why progressive activism in the US is in such horrible shape???

And then, Hazen turns the floor over to Bob for an excerpt from his book….and it it so typical classic Jensen sex-hate and loathing. And well deserving of another fisking….but that will be anon.

[Crossposted as well to The SmackDog Chronicles]


  1. Great post, Anthony. I'm working on a review of that fucking book right now. It took me a month to read the damn thing, and another month to write the review (I'm trying to be very precise in my criticism, and there's a lot to take on). I am now thoroughly fed up with having him and his hatefulness in my brain. I'm really disappointed in Alternet, which has been good in every other field of progressive activism, but fawns over Jensen like the Second Coming (I don't think he's ever had a first).

  2. Thanks, Anthony, for this excellent rebuttal to Hazen's hagiographic encomium to the genius of Jensen.

    And thanks also for clarifying Nina's status as a performer. She is not retired and is, as you say, enjoying something of career resurgence as porn discovers the attractiveness of women over 25, a long overdue recognition.

    My own concern here is not so much Jensen's silly book, which is nothing more than a rehash of the preposterous arguments he's been making right along, but rather with Hazen's fulminating response, which points to what I see as a deliberate strategy concocted by APRFs and the success it appears to be enjoying.

    What troubles me here is an example of how effectively Jensen and his pals have shamed traditional liberal First Amendment supporters into abandoning their commitment to freedom of expression where explicit sex is involved. In order to distance themselves from charges of sexism on the left relentlessly hurled at them by the APRF gang, they've clearly decided to throw legal protections for pornographic expression under the bus, and that is a very real danger for anyone who values freedom of speech overall.

    Here's the part of Hazen's review that really scares me:

    " Jensen has convinced me that something as powerful as the porn industry and its sexual extremism must not be kept under the rug due to liberal shoulder-shrugging about the First Amendment. The porn industry should not enjoy our collective denial in terms of its real-world impact on women -- and men -- simply because we might be berated by First Amendment purists or be uncomfortable grappling with complex issues of sexual expression.

    The debate must be pushed, and the consciousness raised. Many will say, don't mess with the issue because it's a slippery slope and could lead to the repression of other freedoms. I've concluded we need to take that chance."

    Even if there were any substantive truth to Jensen's critique - of which there is none in my view - it has so befogged Hazen's brain that he can't see what the greater implications of "taking that chance" might be.

    Many liberal and/or progressive defenders of free speech have always been queasy about the content of porn, and I certainly acknowledge their right to criticize it as vigorously as they wish. But even if the claims of harm that Jensen makes and Hazen swallows whole were accurate, that would not constitute sufficient grounds to put at risk the entire foundation of freedom of thought upon which our form of constitutional government rests.

    Those of us who believe in popular democracy don't support untrammeled freedom of expression because we believe it is risk-free, or that there is no such thing as a dangerous idea. If that were the case, we really wouldn't need to worry about protecting controversial forms of expression because they have no impact on anyone anyway.

    As a matter of historical fact, we know that some ideas are dangerous and that their expression has inspired horrific consequences in the real world. Mein Kampf would certainly qualify as "dangerous expression." In the minds of many, so would Das Kapital. Films like Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will aren't exactly harmless either. And yet no one considered remotely liberal would suggest we "take the chance" of suppressing these destructive works.

    The assumption underlying democratic pluralism is that ordinary people are smart enough to discern good ideas from bad ideas and must be given the choice to do so, else we exchange the uncertain risks of personal liberty for the known catastrophe of official tyranny.

    As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in 1928: ''If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought. Not free thought for those who agree with us, but freedom for the thought that we hate."

    When some leftist radicals speak out against "personal libertarianism" they are really expressing their inchoate yearning for a dictatorship that would impose their own vision of what is good and right over all, even while they stridently eschew the notion of doing so by legal prohibitions (a claim rendered somewhat dubious by the long fight over the MacKinnon ordinance, which was a thinly veiled attempt to do just that). Instead, they hope to rely on "moral suasion," more correctly identified as guilt-mongering, of the type in which Jensen specializes.

    Clearly, he's striking a resonant chord with guys like Hazen who ought to know better.

    If anyone doubts that this is an orchestrated campaign, a quick look back at Chyng Sun's original AlterNet broadside that started the whole imbroglio between Nina and Stan Goff should dispel that doubt.

    Titled "Revisiting the Porn Debate," it begins with the tagline " Most liberal-minded people rush to defend pornographers' right to free speech. Maybe we should stop and ponder what we are defending."

    Coming just as Alberto "Torquemada" Gonzales was about to be anointed attorney general, with the ugly results we've all seen sense, the good professor seems to suggest in her opening paragraphs that Gonzales' rabid opposition to pornography might not constitute a valid reason for liberals and/or progressives to disapprove of his appointment.

    "In his confirmation hearing earlier this month in Washington, attorney-general-to-be Alberto Gonzales told senators he intended to make obscenity prosecutions a focus of his tenure as the nation's chief prosecutor.

    On the same day in Las Vegas, the nation's pornographers were gathering for the kickoff of the annual Adult Entertainment Expo, where they show off the material that might well make them the target of Gonzales' efforts."

    She then goes on to detail the "horrors" she observed during her quick helicopter tour of the convention floor at AEE.

    The connection is clear enough. "First Amendment purists" who oppose attempts to "rein in" the out-of-control porn industry ought to re-think their ideas about freedom of expression where sexual speech is concerned because, as we all know, women need to be "protected" from the consequences of certain forms of such sexual speech. That this notion holds sway in the most violently anti-feminist societies on earth doesn't seem to concern her much, but it ought to concern the rest of us.

    Not so long ago, feminist thought was suppressed in this culture by those who thought women needed such "protection." Margaret Sanger's writings on birth control faced such suppression, as did Victoria Woodhull's advocacy of non-monogamy (a target of not only Anthony Comstock, father of the right-wing anti-censorship movement of today, but also of her own era's equvialent of APRFs, including suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, who considered Woodhull's ideas "dangerous"). Ironically, in Canada, where the Dworkin/MacKinnon position found some traction among lawmakers, some of Dworkin's own books were banned as obscene.

    Pornographers are not always their own most effective advocates. A few, like Nina, Susie Bright, Carol Queen and the creators of this forum, can make the case for their own freedom exceedingly capably. However, they are always subject to the charge of self-interested special pleading and easily attacked as paid collaborators of an evil capitalist industry that rewards them for betraying the feminist cause.

    Without the broader support of free-speech advocates unconnected to the world of pornography personally, their voices are considerably less persuasive.

    The real battle Jensen and his allies are waging, as is so often the case with self-styled "radical" causes, is over the hearts, minds and wallets of liberals, without whom any defense of personal freedom in this country stands little chance.

    Like it or not, we need Don Hazen and others like him on our side, and the febrile reader commentaries that appeared on AlterNet in the wake of his review demonstrate just how urgently.

  3. Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ernest, and for the inciteful essay. If you don't mind, I went ahead and reposted it at the SmackChron under a new post:

    The SmackDog Chronicles: Ernest Greene on Bob Jensen, Antiporn Fascism, and the Left

    Ever thought about doing your own blog, BTW??


  4. Anthony,

    You're certainly welcome and also welcome to cross-post.

    I have thought of doing my own blog, but between, Taboo magazine and three video lines, I'm a little pressed for time.

  5. Great essay, Ernest! I was pretty disgusted by that Alternet article and how it pretty much dismissed free speech concerns with a brush and a nod. The issues you raise about free speech, even freedom for very bad speech, versus paternalism I think are absolutely central to this debate.

    I really don't know what's up with Alternet and the anti-porn/anti-prostitution kick and whether its a line that the editorship there has adopted or whether they're just throwing it out there as something to debate, or whether its just the way that a lot of their contributors happen to be leaning right now. I'm not sure how centralized Alternet is, whether they choose articles, or whether, like Huffington Post, they just happen to have contributors like Robert Jensen who have carte blanche to contribute anything. (And to be fair, Susie Bright and Greta Christina are also Alternet contributors, albeit they seem to contribute much less frequently.)

    Editor- or contributor-driven, its a cause for concern that a large number of supposed "liberals" have now convinced themselves that at the very least one should not even look at sexually explicit imagery lest you cease being able to function as a sexually healthy adult. Or worse, they're as outright pro-censorship as the religious right are.

  6. "Actually, the term simply describes sex videos that feature sex unemburdened by plot; nothing about the particular acts involved. A film featuring a single couple engaged in conventional sex without plot would be considered “gonzo; as much as a video of an multi-person orgy featuring traditional fucking and sucking."

    I think this is an overly-broad definition of gonzo porn – gonzo as a genre has certain features that distinguish it even within the larger genre of "all-sex" or "wall-to-wall" porn.

    Gonzo to me implies going out with a video camera and shooting a whole bunch of sex scenes in one sitting, while not paying a whole lot of attention to things like lighting, camerawork, etc. It may or may not mean "extreme" acts, though extreme stuff does seem to be a large subset of gonzo. On the other hand, I think "Girls Gone Wild" style porn could basically be seen as "softcore gonzo". And, of course, you also have Tristan Taormino's sex-positive gonzo. (Or Belladonna's sex-positive extreme gonzo, for that matter.)

    What I think it isn't – a series of professionally shot more-or-less all-sex vignettes ala Viv Thomas certainly isn't gonzo. Nor is the "one couple having sex from beginning to end" ala Abby Winters gonzo either.

    I really despise some of the jerks associated with gonzo – Max Hardcore, Jack Venice, Joe Francis, and the like, but its unfair to paint everybody who shoots gonzo with that brush. I personally am not a fan of the genre, though my objection to it is simply a matter of taste – I don't like the artlessness and lack of attention to aesthetics that pretty much define gonzo. But some people actually like that approach, I guess.

  7. "As a matter of historical fact, we know that some ideas are dangerous and that their expression has inspired horrific consequences in the real world. Mein Kampf would certainly qualify as "dangerous expression." In the minds of many, so would Das Kapital. Films like Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will aren't exactly harmless either. And yet no one considered remotely liberal would suggest we "take the chance" of suppressing these destructive works."

    YES. THAT.

  8. This is the part that bugs me the most:

    For Jensen, the most plausible explanation
    of the popularity of these acts is that women in the world, outside of
    pornography, don’t engage in these acts unless forced.

    O RLY? That's the most plausible explanation, Bob? Hmmm, that's odd, because I seem to recall a not insubstantial number of women (myself included) taking exception at you presupposing that you know what we do and don't like sexually. I, along with many others, told you point-blank before and will tell you again: some of those acts you mentioned? I LIKE THEM. They are things I do in my personal sex life. I was doing them before I ever knew of their prevalence in porn. I was fantasizing about them before I'd ever seen any porn. So FUCK YOU and your stereotypes of female sexuality. I can't believe that this extremely limited, regressive, same ol' same ol' dichotomy of sexual behavior split along gender lines can be remotely perceived as "progressive." It's just the same old shit in a different package.

  9. "But some people actually like that approach, I guess"


    Some of us also actually dig DP and some choking and other rough stuff...yet in the World of Bob and others Like Him, we are not allowed to exist, let alone voice our opinions...

    For the good of women, of course.


  10. For the good of women, of course.

    Well, women other than us, that is.

  11. Whenever I feel depressed about the state of the left in Britain, I can always look to the US and see how much worse you guys have got it. Unfortunately, I don't get any smug comfort out of doing so.

    Re: this anti-porn thing. What strikes me about moralising rads is how they set up all men as rapacious sexual predators unable to control their sexual urges, and women as innocent but corruptible victims. How the rads expect to win a majority over to their black and white views with this kind of crock is a mystery to me. In fact, it's more likely to repel and alienate.

  12. Re: A Very Public Sociologist

    Its funny you should put this in a UK vs US context, with this extreme radfem thing being more of a US problem. Because the consensus that I've heard is that in the UK, anti-porn radical feminism is far more dominant within feminism than it is here in the US. In fact, the "UK radfem" contingent on the blogosphere is notorious for their fervor, though of course, there are plenty in the US like this, too. Another example is the fact that right now Catherine Itzin, an anti-porn radical feminist, is one of the architects of the UK "extreme porn" censorship legislation that the New Labour government seems intent on passing.

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  14. Also, here's what Dacia had to say about her recent trip to Europe...

    During the course of the conversation and the audience Q&A, it became clear that the US and Europe have gone in really different directions with respect the idea of women watching and enjoying porn and other adult material. In the United States, the result of the sex wars in the 1980s was a surge of porn produced and directed by women, furthermore there are many online and brick and mortar sex shops that now cater to women and couples. In much of Europe, however, the result of the sex wars was that women became more limited in their options for sexual exploration and porn-viewing. Things have crawled along in the past 20-odd years: there aren’t really any female friendly sex shops, in Germany it’s illegal to buy porn DVDs online (where many women shop), in the United Kingdom stores have to be licensed to sell porn, and independent and female producers have hard time getting their work distributed.

    The American porn industry is amazingly influential in good and bad ways, and most of the women on the panel spoke of their attempt to make images that counter the mainstream, crummy, male-centered stuff being made in the United States. At the same time, the directors on the panel were envious of the distribution and support networks available in the US. And while in the US it seems to be generally accepted that women watch porn and enjoy a wide variety of screen action, judging by a lot of the audience questions, it seems like Europeans are pretty unconvinced that women are interested in seeing hardcore sex on screen. I guess all cultures have their hang ups.