Last month, respected media outlet The Atlantic ran an article that surprised many. “Hard Core: What Porn’s Ubiquity Says About Men and Women” by Natasha Vargas-Cooper surprised The Atlantic’s even-headed readers by depicting a pretty graphic, one-sided anti-porn argument. It just didn’t seem like an Atlantic article. Many people wondered what I thought about it: and while I considered my response, I enjoyed reading what the guys on Hacker News thought.
It really bugged me that no one mentioned that the article’s title is taken from a famous, well -referenced pro-porn book that is in many college courses: Linda Williams’ “Hard Core“. It is an academic look at the effects of porn, and a true, comprehensive analysis of porn. Some criticize it because it does not conclude (or offer opinion) on the accusation that porn degrades women. It is highly recommended for an objective viewpoint.
Don’t confuse it with Vargas-Cooper’s article that uses the same name.
AlterNet responded eloquently, and with much balance in Tana Ganeva’s, The Anti-Male, Anti-Sex Falsehoods That Rule Discussions about Porn and Sexuality: The latest missive in the war against porn, courtesy of the Atlantic, presents male sexual desire as brutish and violent. Really?
(…) many of the pieces that decry porn’s impact on the populations allegedly most vulnerable to its harms come off as needlessly prudish and alarmist about sex. Even worse, many end up trafficking in some pretty nasty assumptions about gender and sexuality themselves.
This month’s contribution to the genre, published in the Atlantic, continues in that vein. Like many articles of this type, “Hardcore,” written by Natasha Vargas-Cooper, is characterized by an obsession with anal sex. (…read more, alternet.org)
As Tana Ganeva points out, the article tripped enough early warnings that Vargas-Cooper’s article was torn apart for its contradictions out of the starting gate by commenters on link forums. Cooper’s porn tropes were like an old laundry list of masturbation scare-myths from 1910. There is an unsettling repetition of mentioning double anal penetration – surely, to be shocking. Porn references throughout seemed 20-30 years old. Suggesting that women dislike anal sex, and that as a sex act it is inherently degrading.
With this, a conspicuous lack of anal sex in a male-receptive context, which is actually prevalent in modern porn. Threats that kids look at porn, that porn desensitizes, that it’s freaky and full of midgets, for men sex is a weapon, porn makes men sexually aggressive… pretty much every single anti-porn stereotype was presented as if it were fact. As if everyone is heterosexual, as if women are inherently victims, as if there are not (millions) of female viewers.
Vargas-Cooper did indeed attempt to present an “expert” point of view, despite having no experience or pedigree in writing or punditing about pornography. Lest we question her presentation, the entire article was wrapped in a cloak of a troubling sexual encounter she had, described too intimately to be objective, too difficult and tied to porn to make readers feel safe to go, hey – wait a minute.
A lot of cheap tricks to get pageviews and emotional reaction – and avoid reproach. If only The Atlantic would provide a counterpoint, or an objective view, from someone not so out of touch. I think it would be a lot more interesting if they did, and it would foster the click-baiting they apparently desire.
Funny thing is, I feel sorry for The Atlantic. Their reputation took a hit with this one. Most of the message board reactions thought it was way off base and it was massively ridiculed.
The Atlantic also suffered in that it continued Vargas-Cooper’s pattern of writing sensationalist and wildly inaccurate articles about sex; if they had done due diligence they would have discovered that her past articles contain outrageous inaccuracies. In one article about slash fiction, she described TV show “The Office” as a show about vampires (it was fixed after commenters pointed the inaccuracy out). Fact checking was not in the house at The Awl.
When the actual subjects of the Awl article left comments that they were very upset that they had been grossly misrepresented (even down to stating their ages incorrectly), the author responded in the comments by ridiculing the subjects themselves. She made fun of them. Commenters saw this and said that no wonder people in the article refused to talk to her – while in the article Vargas-Cooper suggested they would not talk to her because they were ashamed of their sex writing. Unprofessional on all counts. I would not hire her to wash my dishes, let alone organize my porn collection.
The article is a failure for The Atlantic. We expect the usual level of thoughtfulness from them. It’s factually incorrect, slanted, and explicitly portrays the writer’s perverse obsession with anal sex. WTF, Atlantic? The article is stitched-together, garbage opinions that are totally unfounded in data, but supported by conservative values.
What’s more, it dismisses the reality of the very subject it claims to describe.
It is as if someone is telling us the facts of modern American football after only watching the 1958 NFL Championships, and focusing far too much on the player’s butts. Also, the author seems grossly unaware of her own contradictions, which run rampant throughout the piece. It’s like, does The Atlantic not edit authors, either?
Frankly I don’t know what’s worse: the “all males are aggressively, dangerously sexual” undertone or that it maintains that all women are sexual victims.
Both value sets are harmful to perpetuate, in addition to being false.
There are no facts to support any of her conclusions; nor is there any data to back up her assertions about porn fueling male sexual aggression or male sexual apathy. Perhaps it is because the available data supports the opposite viewpoints on aggression and apathy, respectively.
It’s a shame to see a new article about porn be so dated and inaccurate. The contemporary, accurate portrait of today’s porn is so much more interesting, and more titillating. How awful, too, that the feminist pro-porn revolution, the LGBT porn movement, and the millions of female porn viewers have been left out of this opportunity to have a rich, engaging (and traffic-generating) article about pornography and how it affects sexual interaction. Instead The Atlantic got a quick sensationalist piece, a short-sighted spike and drop.
Pretty much everyone concluded instantly that the writer took a tiny slice of porn and tried to (unconvincingly) pass it off as the entire porn experience and define it to suit her agenda. No one bought it. The Atlantic did their readers a huge disservice.
It’s interesting to see this porn hysteria come back as a trend; porn is so easy to research nowadays that it looks like people are really having to make this stuff up to keep the hysteria viable.
I found January 15th, Salon article to be a much more realistic snapshot of how porn is affecting people’s (women’s) sex lives: The modesty of the porn generation: When it comes to smut, we’re much more shy — and basically human — than the media narrative would have you think. By the comments and sharing on Tracy Clark-Flory’s piece, it seems that I’m not alone in that opinion.