J.M Coetzee\'s "The Harms of Pornography"


As the debate over pornography and its place in society grows hotter
every day, several authors in particular shed a new light on the subject. Both
their intuition and insight involving their beliefs can help the reader a great
deal in seeing aspects of this debate that might have otherwise gone without the
consideration that they so deserve. I believe that pornography is not only okay,
but is allowing our country to take a step back and ask ourselves how far we are
willing to go and what we are willing to sacrifice in order to preserve free
speech and our rights to personal choice.
The argument over pornography is not merely the debate over right or
wrong, but also involves the theory that its existence requires, or possibly
even causes, an inequality between men and women. I ask you, how could
something like pornography cause an in-equality between men and women when women
are the major contributors to the industry? Who is going to watch a porn without
women in it? Therefore, at least at first glance, it would seem that since women
are actively contributing to the business of pornography maybe they should be
criticized at least equally if not more so than the men who watch it. According
to author J.M. Coetzee and his article "The Harms of Pornography", the real
questions here are, "what is the difference between obscenity and pornography",
and even more importantly, "where do we draw the line between the two"? Coetzee
brings up a good point here. A point on which the entire debate over pornography
hinges. What is the defenition of "obscenity"? An excerpt from a speech by Mike
Godwin, Online Counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gives a good
definition of obscenity in his on-line article: "Fear of Freedom: The Backlash
Against Free Speech on the \'Net\'".

Everybody more or less knows something about what qualifies as obscene.
You know it has something to do with "community standards," right? And
with appealing to the "prurient interest." A work has to be a patently
offensive depiction of materials banned by state statute and appeal to the
prurient interest to be obscene and it also has to meet one other
requirement. It also has to lack serious literary, artistic, social,
political or scientific value. That\'s how something is classified as
"obscene."

Godwin states that one of the criteria for decency or absence of
obscenity is that something must contain social political or scientific value.
Is it possible that pornography is an outlet for people that prevents ideas that
start out as fantasies or desires from becoming real? If so, then it\'s possible
that the porn industry is doing us a bigger favor than we know. In an
article written by Donna A. Demac, the history of censorship, obscenity,
pornography and the rights of "the people" are conveyed with a decidedly liberal
attitude. Demac\'s article gives an intelligent overview as to the actions of
various political parties, groups and activists that have fought either for or
against some of the issues regarding pornography, and his article can be
effectively used to defend free speech. The most opinionated and conservative of
the authors included is Catherine MacKinnon, who touches on the thought that
there is a great deal of similarity between pornography and black slavery. In
her article "Pornography, Civil Rights and Speech" she states that "the harm of
pornography does not lie in the fact that it is offensive but that, at least in
developed societies, it is an industry that mass produces sexual intrusion,
access to, possession and use of women by men for profit". MacKinnon approaches
pornography not from a "moral" standpoint, but strictly from the "political"
point of view that says pornography is a threat to the gender equality of our
nation. I say she is wrong and that not only is pornography okay, but in many
cases could contribute to the health of our society. I will quickly agree that
pornography should be kept away from the eyes of our children, and that there is
a proper time and place for it, but consider some of the acts that, providing
that pornogrpahy was made illegal, would not only go under ground but might
actually become real instead of acted out.
Coetzee goes to great lengths to bring to light indescrepancies and
unclarified ideas throughout MacKinnon\'s article. One of Coetzee\'s most
prominent points is that the differences between "obscenity" and "pornography"
go far beyond a difference in term based on either political or moral