Damon Young

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:

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Although not often included in standard histories of cinema, moving-image pornography has existed for as long as cinema itself, and in the early 21st century it accounts for a considerable percentage of global film and media production and consumption (for estimates, see Studies of the Industry). The earliest attempts to account for the generic specificities of moving-image pornography took the form of enthusiasts’ accounts appearing in the 1970s—the decade in which the mainstream success of films like Deep Throat (1972) marked the emergence of hard-core moving-image pornography as a public (and no longer only a private) mode or genre. Around the same time film critics, such as Parker Tyler and Raymond Durgnat, took up the topic of sex in cinema, addressing pornography to some extent, though focusing mainly on sexual themes in Hollywood and in European and US art and avant-garde cinema. In the late 1970s and the 1980s pornography—still somewhat in the abstract—was widely taken up as the polemical object of the so-called sex wars between feminists dividing into “antiporn” and “anticensorship” camps. Although a number of excellent early essays by film scholars, such as Richard Dyer, Thomas Waugh, and Gertrud Koch, drew on methodologies from the emergent disciplines of film and cultural studies to approach pornography from an analytic rather than a polemical position, it was the publication in 1989 of Hard Core, Linda Williams’s book-length study of heterosexual moving-image pornography, that constituted a watershed moment, isolating specifically hard-core pornography as a historically variable popular genre meriting detailed textual analysis. Since that time research on pornography from within film and media studies has proliferated, drawing broadly—as did Williams’s book—on developments in the history and theory of sexuality as well as the history of visual technologies, including new media studies. Such research comprises textual and genre-based approaches, studies of historical conditions of production and exhibition, audience studies, legal approaches, queer and antiracist approaches, and a new generation of feminist antipornography criticism. Many contributions to the field that has come to be known as “porn studies” remain US focused, though an increasing number of European, Asian, and Australian studies are appearing. The sheer breadth of the contemporary scholarship indicates that pornography is a mode or genre whose study, whatever position one takes on it, remains—perhaps more than ever—crucial to an understanding of contemporary culture.

Article.  10430 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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