[-empyre-] Welcome to May: Boredom: Labor, Use and Time

John Stadler john.paul.stadler at gmail.com
Thu May 7 04:43:52 AEST 2015

Renate, in regards to your first question:

> Would you take some time to unpack what you mean specifically  about your
> research in relationship to boredom as a culturally contingent concept.

Certainly. By a culturally contingent concept, I mean that boredom has
not always been legible as such, and that the shifts in its meaning
are the result of host of forces that are culturally inflected.
Perhaps something akin to boredom existed prior to its present meaning
in a phenomenological sense, but it likely took shape under a
different sign (as ennui, disillusionment, alienation) and historical
context. As it is currently known, boredom is commonly thought to be a
condition of modernity (a Marxist critique could point to our
alienation from labor and the creation of leisure time to account for
boredom’s emergence). My project is of a very small scale in that it
seeks to address boredom exclusively from the representation and
reception of pornography, and in that its primary interest is to
understand boredom in relation to the question of pleasure.

>From within the purview of pornography, I think boredom has shifted in
its deployment and understanding, a great deal of which I see as the
result of pornography’s mediation. The boredom of loops largely
concerned a lack of a developed narrative. The boredom of porno chic
films might be (I don’t have a definitive answer yet) the result of
narrative tropes codifying, or with their increased running time, a
general sense that the sexual scenarios persisted for too long and
without enough variation. But it's not just about identifying what
gets classified as "boring," but also understanding the underlying
argument of such a description. Boredom is treated as a form of
dismissal in many of the instances mentioned above.

In contemporary pornography, the non-event (what I would characterize
as the non-sexual scenario) within pornography presents a unique
function, which in amateur and cam shows I believe authenticates these
pornographies as genuine and so helps to foster pleasure. The
oversaturation of a professionalized system of pornography from the
1980s through the present day developed a grammar to pornography that
amateur pornography--which the Internet has greatly
facilitated--attempts to overcome. But boredom here looks very
different from boredom even thirty years ago. And amateur pornography
comes to remediate commercial pornography (and vice versa), so
feedback loops add complexity to the task of trying to parse out a
linear story for boredom. The "pornification" of culture that many
scholars write of and ability to locate a kind of pornography for
every taste, fetish, and preference suggests, too, that pornography
has in many ways become boring (and, slightly normalized) and is
constantly attempting to reinvent and reestablish itself as not that.
I'm not sure pornography should disavow boredom, though.

And in reference to your second question:

> I am wondering what feminists particularly think about these assumptions
> realizing that it may be opening up a rather large discussion especially given
> the history of the historical ramifications that ensued revolving around the film
> ³Deep Throat² and the article,  Porno Chic.

I think the question of normalization might be helpful in addressing
this one, too.

On the one hand, Blumenthal’s article “Porno Chic” served a
normalizing function that aimed to account for the rise in popularity
of pornography in the 1970s as something men and women alike were
viewing, and with a social function in mind (it was entertainment and
a manner of occupying leisure time). Blumenthal presents the
pornography of this era as normal in other ways, too: by focusing on
its production value, its reliance on a narrative structure, and its
capacity to be something beyond merely prurient (it was comedy as
well, in the instance of "Deep Throat").

I think the idea of normalizing is interesting, in relation to
boredom, because when something becomes normal, it can very easily
slip into the realm of boredom. It represents an expectation that is
met time and time again. But "Deep Throat" was also a novelty in its
popularity at the time, and Blumenthal wants to push hard on the idea
that this kind of pornography is not boring, but is interesting /
entertaining. He has to walk a fine line between normalizing
pornography and the project of defending it as not boring, which it
still gets called. The tension is there, and I'm not sure it gets

On the other hand, feminists in the late 1970s and early 1980s would
engage in the “sex wars,” which has been (in my opinion, inadequately)
represented along a binary of “pro-sex” and “anti-pornography”
postures. I would characterize this debate as an exceptionalizing one,
which views pornography not as normal in any sense, but as a quite
literal embodiment of patriarchal violence against women in the case
of the anti-pornography feminists, and as exceptional in its
empowerment of its performers for something like the feminist porn
movement. That said, my project aims to reinsert the question of
boredom into this conversation, because too often it is the
"spectacle" of pornography that gets called upon to represent all
pornography, but not enough what I think is an equally present feature
to pornography--its repetitive nature, its regulation of time, its
representation of non-sexual relationality--all things that receive
shorter attention because they are quite literally not sexy.

I see my project as a queer project in the broadest sense of the term,
in that I'm trying to denaturalize the way we talk and think about
pornography. At the same time, my project does not intend to dismiss
the feminist arguments on pornography that have preceded it, but
rather to ask what might have been left and how boredom could be
incorporated back into the discussion.

Some References:

Attwood, Feona, ed. Porn.com: Making Sense of Online Pornography.
First printing edition. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc., 2009.

Attwood, Feona. Mainstreaming Sex: The Sexualization of Western
Culture. I.B.Tauris, 2014. Print.

Blumenthal, Ralph (January 21, 1973). Porno chic; "Hard-core" grows
fashionable-and very profitable. The New York Times. Print.

Duggan, Lisa, and Nan D. Hunter. Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and
Political Culture. 10 Anv edition. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Nikunen, Kaarina, Susanna Paasonen, and Laura Saarenmaa. Pornification
: Sex and Sexuality in Media Culture. Oxford ; New York: Berg, 2007.

Smith, Clarissa. “Pornographication: A Discourse for All Seasons.”
International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics 6.1 (2010):
103–108. Print.

Taormino, Tristan et al., eds. The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of
Producing Pleasure. New York, NY: The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2013.

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