In 1989, Linda Williams, a Professor of Film Studies at the University of California, wrote a book about pornographic films. In her introduction, she wrote of the difficulty of striking “a proper attitude toward pornography.” Though a feminist, she was reluctant to condemn it outright, but at the same time was cautious of being “condemned along with it.”
Ten years later, in a new edition, she spoke of the changed climate for scholarly consideration of pornography, and how this allowed her to add a few small black and white pictures to the book, and admit being moved by some of the material. She also noted that while women and gay men were active scholars, straight men, the group most likely to be criticized for claiming an active interest, were slow to engage in anything other than apologetic writings. She called for this group, the largest consumers of pornography, to write honestly and well about the subject, without defensiveness.
It’s not easy, even another dozen years later. My academic work in pornography harmed my marriage (now ended), has earned me condemnation from some acquaintances, and has been used in court to prevent me from spending time with my children. Never mind that the last thing I would watch for entertainment is porn – all other cinematic and other sins aside, most of it is deadly boring. And never mind that I also study the Christian film industry: the taint of admitting viewing porn, and finding something worth studying about it, is broad and deep.
Lately my work has been more about censorship than pornography, but it is hard to study one without a knowledge of the other. And so the taint is refreshed, the criticism continues, and the desire to self-censor raises self-doubt.
“For in much wisdom much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” Ecclesiastes 1:18
“And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.” Genesis 3:22-23