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PORNOGRAPHY AND PERSUASION by Flo Leibowitz The assertion that movie and television violence encourages violence in society has once again claimed public attention, and the assertion that violent pornography encourages violence against women is still a common basis for feminist objections. What's more, there is a particular underlayment on which these concerns typically rest, and so the staying power of these concerns invites an examination of it. The underlayment is a fear that repeated exposure to representations of pernicious scenes can strengthen the hold of pernicious ideas which may have tentatively lodged themselves in the viewer's mind. Ideas with such a strengthened hold are referred to as ideas which have been "reinforced." In this essay, I consider two prospective models of the reinforcement of ideas, the repetition model and the narrative enthymeme model. Each of these is applied to the example of pornography in order to consider how pornography might reinforce sexist conceptions of women. The first model appears to make the reinforcement of such ideas possible, but the model is based on such a simplistic picture of the viewer that it is not plausible. The second model embraces a more complex picture of the viewer and hence a more complex picture of reinforcement, but even its support for the reinforcing powers of pornography is limited. In "Sexuality, Pornography and Method: 'Pleasure Under Patriarchy ,'" Catharine MacKinnon attacks pornography for fostering violence Philosophy and Literature, © 1994, 18: 118-123 Flo Leibowitz119 against women. She presents the comments given by the sex researcher E. Donnerstein at a public hearing on pornography in 1983: As sustained exposure perceptually inures subjects to the violent component in expressly violent sexual material, its sexual arousal value remains or increases. "On the first day, when they see women being raped and aggressed against, it bothers them. By day five, it does not bother them at all, in fact, they enjoy it." Sexual material that is seen as nonviolent, by contrast, is less arousing to begin with, becomes even less arousing over time, after which exposure to sexual violence is sexually arousing. Viewing sexual material containing express aggression against women makes normal men more willing to aggress against women.1 According to the passage, representations of sexual violence can encourage aggressive behavior, and this occurs when repeated viewing reinforces an association of sexual arousal with violent scenes. The suggestion here is that a conception of sexuality as violent sex can be burned-in to the mind by means of pornographic representations, as a cursor mark is burned-in on a video screen. The notion of reinforcing a repeated idea by means ofvisceral or bodily pleasures may be referred to as the repetition model of reinforcement, and it has become part of what appears to be the reigning folk-psychology of the mass media, familiar from popular discussions of advertising. The more serious models of the psychology of marketing do not resort to anything this crude. So it is a littie surprising to see this questionable notion crop up in the presentation of scientific findings. The repetition model ofreinforcement is most commonly invoked in connection with advertising pitches which link a product and a taste (rich, dark chocolate), a feel (ice-cold beer), an aroma (freshly brewed coffee), or with sexual pleasure. An example of a sexual association occurs in the promotional poster once sent by a tool company to, presumably, its male customers. The poster took the form of a pin-up picture which showed a woman wearing a halter top and cut-off shorts, holding one of the company's tools. There is no text other than the company's logo. In this case, the customer buys the company's brand of tools because through repeated looking at the poster, the customer associates the brand with the pleasurable sexual feelings that come from looking at the picture. In this context, buying the tools is a behavior. The idea that is reinforced here is a conception ofpower tools as symbols of male sexual prowess. 120Philosophy and Literature Other advertisements may associate doves and soap or mountains and beer. In these cases, the product is being associated with something whose appeal is more intellectual than physical, e...


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pp. 118-123
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