“Porn & Philosophy” or: The Myth of the Gape

(I wrote the foreword to this excellent book, published two years ago this month)

Can’t we just let porn happen without placing it within someone else’s idea of a helpful context? Or it possible we could enjoy it even more if we concentrate really hard? The new anthology “Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink” provides entertaining and thoughtful discourses on current and historical views on porn through those eras’ philosophical trends.

And I wrote the foreword thinking, since I have ancestral ties to the U.S. Postal Service, that it was a book about philately.

I spoke with the book’s editor, Dave Monroe, of the Applied Ethics Institute at St. Petersburg College.

Gram: Is it possible to think too much about porn? Does that kill the mood?

Monroe: I certainly think it’s possible to think too much about porn, though I suspect that the reverse is more often true–that is, not thinking enough about it. I’d guess that the majority of porn viewers devote little to no time thinking about what they’re doing or watching, and so could probably benefit from a dose of thoughtful reflection. Whether thoughtfulness about porn bears a relationship to how we enjoy it is an interesting question. Off the cuff, I think the answer is likely to depend on the individual(s) in question. I can easily imagine porn losing some of its mystique, allure, and even tendency to arouse us if, like you, one spends a lot of time thinking about it. On the other hand, I can also imagine the opposite being true; for example, a mainstream movie critic who never tires of watching and enjoying movies. From my own experience, thinking about porn and learning some of the nitty gritty hasn’t changed my level of enjoyment at all.

Gram: What aspects of your own background led you inexorably to this editorship?

Monroe: I suppose it would be my early discovery of Playboy. In all seriousness, I’ve always been interested in the adult entertainment industry because it’s “taboo.” I think most people have a taste for the “dark side,” and want to test social stigmas, etc. For example, I spent my eighteenth birthday at the Deja Vu in Lansing, MI. I found that I was more excited by the atmosphere of “sinfulness” and doing something “naughty” than by the dancers. I suppose it’s part of the human condition. Additionally, I know or have known people who work in the adult industry since I was younger, and have always been curious about the ins and outs, as it were. Mostly, though, I think I attribute my editorship of this volume to a bit of academic recklessness. I had suggested the title a year or so before it was actually approved. There are some in academics who frown on projects like this, so it took some time to generate momentum for a book on porn. Luckily, I just don’t give a ham sandwich whether other academics look down their noses at me, so the editors at the publisher (Wiley-Blackwell) who ultimately commissioned the project figured I was the guy for the job. The people at Wiley-Blackwell were immensely supportive throughout the whole process. My editors, like me, are convinced that we ought not sweep interesting subjects under the rug because they may make some folks uncomfortable.

Gram: Ham sandwich. Is that some kind of ivory tower distancing terminology meant to keep people like me out of the discussion? Also, what are some of your other thoughtful pursuits?

Monroe: I teach ethics by day at [St. Petersburg College] in Florida, and by night I spend a good deal of time thinking about ways to keep my wife happy! But I do have some other philosophical interests aside from porn. I am the current president of the Lighthearted Philosophers’ Society, which is a group of philosophers who spend time joking about philosophy’s seriousness and seriously discussing philosophy of humor. I’m also interested in the philosophy of food, sports ethics, and the concept of wellbeing (i.e., the “good life”). The last comes out in the essay I co-authored with Dylan Ryder –who’s wonderful, by the way.

(Dylan Ryder is, along with evolutionary psychologists Anne K. Gordon and Shane W. Kraus, the eye candy of the book, which also includes an interview with BDSM heroine Mz. Berlin and an essay by the esteemed porn reviewer and similarly anagramynous Roger T. Pipe.)

Gram: What type of reader will benefit most from this book? Who is your audience?

Monroe: I think anyone who reads the book will benefit from it–there are ideas and insights that transcend the discussion of porn. After all, the series in which this book appears is titled Philosophy for Everyone. But I think the people who will enjoy it most are those who are already interested in porn, one way or the other. Maybe they want to know what porn stars think, or whether there’s anything wrong (or right) about watching porn. Perhaps they’re contemplating getting into the business on either side of the camera, or just thinking of shooting some home videos for fun. Maybe they are readers of your observations on porn valley, Howard Stern devotees or even ardent feminists. I think there’s a bit of something for everyone; I want the book to represent different points of view, including continuing standing arguments from academia, but be the sort of thing anyone might pick up and enjoy. Sadly, though, the only nudity in “Porn: Philosophy for Everyone” is a print of Aristotle being ridden like a horse. So if a potential reader hopes for centerfolds, we’ll let them down.

Gram: Well, that would require the same shattering of the ego that allows heterosexual men to enjoy lesbian porn, according to the Lacanian view of contributor Chad Parkhill.

I have not read all the entries in this book, but they all look intriguing, including essays on sex tapes, why the First Amendment is a flawed defense of porn, and a dialogue between Aristotle and Phyllis.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: You won’t have Dylan Ryder to dick around anymore; Rating the “Jersey Shore” porn parodies; Thomas Aquinas becomes Digital Playground contract saint; Gram saves steveporn’s credibility; The Second Lex; Whateever works—Goodbye, Jamie Gillis
See also: Buy Porn – Philosophy for Everyone: How to Think With Kink

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