Friday, February 20, 2009

History of Pornography

by Jessica Eastman

“Which of the following represents the greatest threat to society?”

A. Larry Flint – the publisher of the adult magazine Hustler
B. Clarence Thomas – a Supreme Court justice accused of sexual harassment with an alleged pornographic movie viewing habit
C. Law and Order: Special Victims Unit (SVU)

The answer, as Dr. Nanette Thrush presents, is Law and Order: SVU. Its consistent themes of sexual deviance and pedophilia numb audiences to the true impact of the situations. This is just one of the ideas she presents within “a class that raises eyebrows.” For, as Thrush says, “Traditionally my job would be to uphold the canon and teach standards, but now my job is to pull the rug out from underneath.” It’s all about the “'and maybe we should' factor.” Maybe we should go there. Maybe we should take it to the next level.

This semester is the second run of the course at Chester College of New England. Last year, when the class first ran, the Board of Trustee’s required students to sign content waiver forms to participate. Since then, many have felt the positive impact of such a course on campus. Raising questions such as “What makes an image pornographic,” and “How do society’s morals influence these definitions,” the course contributes to students’ understanding of their own artwork. Like Dr. Thrush asks, “What does it mean politically and socially to do a figure drawing? For a writer to write porn?” It is always important to discuss the censorship of artwork. How else would artistic styles grow?

As for the content covered within the class, it is never the same twice. Since last year, Thrush has “telescoped down coverage of the ancients to include more contemporary pieces.” She has also added a film section this time to discuss pornographic videos and what they mean within the grand scheme of things. As Thrush explains, “It’s partially reactionary.” She always feels the need to build material into the curriculum to “challenge generational taboos or dislikes.” Thrush not only questions the current taboos herself, but really challenges students to think about them in relation to their own ideas and artwork.

Needless to say, Dr. Thrush’s History of Pornography course raises eyebrows for all the right reasons. Even when asked to pick an image to represent the course, she picked two images that many may consider unsuitable to be published with such an article as this. However, for the sake of art and its argument, the images are presented below, edit free.

"The Origin of the World"
Gustave Corbet, 1866

"The Negation of the Universe"
Richard Phillips, 2001

1 comment:

Ryan Hoarty said...

Great article! I still get asked about this course and it's really hard to articulate why it's important. You did it quite well. Kudos!