A Look at “War on Pornography” and “Shock and Awe” Tactics

Since Stop Porn Culture changed its feminist coat for a Christian cloak to team up with religious organizations and declare "War on Pornography" last week in Washington, it seems appropriate to examine their perennial strategy in "shock and awe" military battlefield terminology. Tactics to shock your audience into agreeing with your position can be effective, though they don't make for a solid argument. As we see in the above clip from 2008 (when Stop Porn Culture launched) Penn and Teller unpack the "shock and awe" put into anti-porn presentations and theories, which categorically claim that porn viewing causes rape and child abuse -- usually bracketed with extremely graphic descriptions (or pictures) of decontextualized BDSM or fringey shock porn. The idea behind "shock and awe" is to paralyze the adversary's perception of the battelfield (in this case, the audiences' perception of porn as a whole via nonconsensually shocking audiences outside of their comfort zones), and destroy the will to fight or challenge (here, the capacity to question the information being presented). It also creates an atmosphere which discourages dissent in the form of social pressure.

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These tactics can be clearly seen in anti-porn presentations by Gail Dines from the past several years and are a template for creating a "for the terrorists or against the terrorists" environment. This effectively polarizes any and all discussion about porn. More importantly, this makes anyone who might question the information appear sympathetic to people who commit sexual crime, or suggest the questioner may be a rapist, child moletster, or helpless and victimized sex worker. The most recent presentation by Dines last week in Washington presented the same "shock and awe" template. The language and tone asserts the viewers' agreement that all pornography is the same, that sex workers are victims of sexual abuse, that sex work could not possibly be consensual, that all men are "sleeping" rapists until triggered, and that most sex is rape.

In my opinion, this is a "rapid dominance" form of conversation, but typically does not survive debate as it is one-sided. Upon examination, it is also incredibly offensive to rape survivors, child sexual abuse and sexual trauma survivors, men in general, and of course, porn performers. It's important to remember the "shock and awe" tactic when speaking to media; this is something I tell sex educators to stay on alert about so they don't get off-topic when "shock jock" interviewers attempt to provoke emotional responses. There is nothing here from, for or about female porn viewers, LGBTQ porn and porn performers, and most especially the gay porn industry and its substantial consumer base.

About violet

Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com) is a Forbes "Web Celeb," a high-profile tech personality and one of Wired's "Faces of Innovation." She is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and technology, a sex-positive pundit in mainstream media (MacLife, The Oprah Winfrey Show, others) and is regularly interviewed, quoted and featured prominently by major media outlets. Violet has many award-winning, best selling books; her book The Smart Girl's Guide to Porn is featured on Oprah's website. She was the notorious sex columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She headlines at conferences ranging from ETech, LeWeb and SXSW: Interactive, to Google Tech Talks at Google, Inc. The London Times named Blue one of the 40 bloggers who really count (2010). Violet Blue is in no way associated with the unauthorized use of her name (or likeness) and registered trademark in pornographic films.
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4 Responses to A Look at “War on Pornography” and “Shock and Awe” Tactics

  1. Victor Riley says:

    That was one of my favorite P&T episodes. For one, it had nudity. Second, it so thoroughly exposes these fools for the ignorant morons they are. Third… it had nudity. (Yes, I realize one and three are the same reason… but I thought it was so good, it was worth mentioning twice.)

  2. Actually, Violet, there is nothing there even for mainstream porn viewers either, since the “Shock and Awe” strategy of SPC and other antiporn organizations tend to gloss over the basic fact that the overwhelming majority of “mainstream” porn out there consists mostly of consenting adults engaging in either masturbation or mostly “vanilla” sex. They only use the most shocking, most “violent”, most “degrading” and most “extreme” images as a bait to grab people’s attention, then switch them to their genuine ideology which opposes even consensual non-degrading porn (even Playboy pictorals or nudes) as innately “degrading” and a “gateway” to the supposedly worse stuff out there.

    Plus, it’s mostly a means of attacking what they consider “deviant” sexual practices that are definitely consensual, but don’t meet their restrictive standards of what they consider to be proper sexual behavior.

    I’m not necessarily a Penn and Teller fan, but on this case they were right on point.


  3. Here’s the website of the owners of Pornharms.com:


    An idea for another contest – best story describing what the hell is going on in the picture at the top of that page!

  4. maymay says:

    anti-porn presentations and theories, which categorically claim that porn viewing causes rape and child abuse

    So, honest question: since Dr. Gail Dines clearly watches so much porn, and if we are to buy into her anti-porn ideology in which watching porn is a slippery slope towards child abuse, is she telling us that after 20 years of intense “research” about the stuff she’s watching, she isn’t a child molester or rapist? I mean, by her apparent logic, since she’s been researching porn for almost as long as I’ve been alive, her chances of being a sex offender are way higher than mine, no?


    An idea for another contest – best story describing what the hell is going on in the picture at the top of that page!

    ROFLMAO! I bet they’re looking at porn. :)

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