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On Pornography:

"God Chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise"
1 Corinthians 1:27

"An adult needs pornography as a child needs fairytales."
Alain Robb-Grillet

We've just survived St. Stupid's Day here in San Francisco. Carnival lurks on the near horizon. A thread, tattered in recent times by the commercialization of the world's festivals, connects those two modern celebrations with the Feast of Fools, a mediaeval church festival centered around a mass performed by the inferior clergy and featuring barnyard animals, cross-dressing, and burning shoes. Like most ancient festivals, these three celebrations are built around a temporary inversion of status and protocol.

Besides the swearing-in ceremony of the US presidency, one can hardly imagine the church sanctioning a ritual in which an ass played a major role. Fornication on church pews? Men dressed like women singing indecent songs? Incense made from old shoes? Why not? These acts were part of the subset of things the devout just didn't do in the cathedral on normal church days. Reversal of power and fortune: the powerless needed a good dose of it to enable them to keep their unfortunate noses to the grindstone for one more year.

Of course, upon hearing about this mockery of the mass, the arrogant and powerful church leaders moved to suppress the Feast of Fools. But the resulting backlash from the local clergy was a more powerful force than one can imagine these days, and bought the festival some time. Even the Theological Faculty of Paris got into the act, arguing passionately that "even a wine vat would burst if the bung-hole were not opened occasionally to let out the air." Eventually fornication was allowed only outside the churches and later it was declared that the Boy-Bishop would not be allowed to be drenched with more than 3 buckets of water during Vespers. Pity.

Repeated prohibitions and penalties, especially those imposed at the council of Basil in 1431, caused the celebration to die out completely. The reformation would soon follow. But what of the wine barrel, with its presumably cemented bung-hole? What's become of the very idea of sanctioned relief from repressive social policy, if even for just a short period? When's the last time you heard the word "cathartic" repeated in polite society?

And what's the most actively repressed human desire you can think of? If you didn't say "sex" I'd have to figure that you're among the minority.

In any case, fictional sex is represented by two literary forms: pornography and erotica. It is said (frequently) that nobody can define the first. And telling the two apart isn't always easy. But it's a fair bet that somewhere in a dimly lit Washington back room lines are being drawn.

The fact is that even without politicians' inordinate attention to the "problem" a wall is slowly rising up between smut and erotica. The bricks and mortar for this wall are formed from fear and guilt: fear that smut is a virus that will attack willing readers and render them helpless to the demands of their basest desires, and guilt over the fact that porn turns out to be rather attractive to otherwise normal folks.

We've heard the smut-as-virus story long enough to believe it as truth, despite a dearth of evidence. What fool, in light of the social sanctions against such blasphemy, would propose that the opposite is true? There's clearly no benefit in upsetting the established social order is there?

Well, hang on a minute. The role of the fool is to make fun of the high and mighty, to bring society back to a more balanced state after it has tilted toward a too-rigid hierarchical social structure. When Bishop Joey, the supreme pontiff of the First Church of the Last Laugh was recently asked to define the role of a fool, he answered, "To reverse and inverse the order of reality. Turn it on its head and shake it up so everyone can get a better perspective."

Sounds like fun. Allow me to play the fool for a moment. You'll have to wait while I don the Purple Bung, a holy, wine-soaked Cabernet stopper once used in a lap dance by none other than Marilyn Chambers herself and fixed to my scull by a length of stretchy string drawn around my chin.

While you're waiting for me to put on my holy vestments, you'll notice that the wall of the modest cavern in which I conduct my ministrations is clearly lined with smut of the basest type. You are justly appalled. This is not a proper way to conduct oneself in public

Most certainly it is not. For that matter the moral behavior of the wicked witch or the three bears isn't all that much to write home about either. But this isn't exactly public, and it isn't often I let others see.

But shush! The ceremony is about to begin.

First I raise a book toward the heavens from my stone altar. Perhaps it is Miller's Crazy Cock, or it might be the prolific Anonymous' Slutty Bimbos from Way Out West or any one of a number of lurid fairy tales. I let it slowly drop, touching my lips to it before laying it upon the stones, something I would never do with the holy bung. After all, you never know where these things have been. The books I bought new.

(You will most likely be aghast through much of this. Perhaps more so if I were naked. I know I would be. I've seen myself in a mirror.)

Then, after much cackling about "the alternative paths" and the gut wrenching happiness of having cracked through the underworld and conquered my own soul I will have finished. You will have been spared the hymns to pagan lust--nobody ever sings them properly anyway.

As usual when you exit such a service you will feel strangely detached--as if you had missed something vitally important--and hungry, no doubt, but not for sex, you've seen enough of that.

And that may well be the point. Smut, porn, and stroke fiction have a purpose. If it were only to sate the desires that would muck up our lives if we constantly pursue them, that would be enough. But it's more than that.

Remember that smut is different than erotica. Remember also that nobody's really defined pornography because if they did they'd be at the mercy of fools who'd remind them constantly of errors in the analysis. But fools rush in anyway, you see, and I'll take a crack at it. It's frightfully easy to define certain universal conventions in heterosexual porn. The men are stick characters, sorta dim. The women always say yes, no matter what the proposal. Neither sex passes on nor worries about disease. The women take in enormous quantities of sperm from penises that are never softer than the barrel of a revolver and they never, ever get pregnant-unless they want to, of course. Orgasms are noisy and frequent. Just a touch will do it and even the dimmest of the men know the spot.

Remember Bishop Joey's "To reverse and inverse the order of reality. Turn it on its head and shake it up so everyone can get a better perspective"?

Well, that's smut for sure. It's an alternative reality cloaked in mythical form; it's different from the concerns that bring tension into our lives: love, lack of love, disease, guilt, and performance anxieties among them. Most of us understand the concept of relief that comes from this topsy-turvy view of life. When we have a few moments free from the drab stuff we're made to do in real life (like, say, attending a boring meeting made tolerable by watching the boss smoothing her silk blouse over bodacious boobies squished into a push-up bra) we might pander to our God-given desires by later, in the privacy of our own hovels, flipping open a smutty book or stuffing a porn vid in the VCR and masturbating. That's what it's for. Society represses this instinct but the fact is that porn releases the bung of our tension-wracked libidos. It's cathartic. It's a temporary inversion of status and protocol. At worst it doesn't hurt anyone. Besides, studies show us that smut used regularly reduces sex crimes of all types. So fools ask: why aren't we celebrating it?

Having a safe context in which to play out our deepest fantasies without fear of scaring the horses or suffering the consequences of boinking an unwilling boss as she bends over to retrieve her originals from the copying machine is just another function of pornography, although I'm a fool to mention it.

I am a fool also because when people talk about the sexually degrading position of, say, a phone sex operator, I can't for the life of me see the reasoning behind such an assessment. Other folks seem to envision a woman degraded to slut status by merely doing a job that the government shouldn't allow. (By the fuzzy logic of the same ruling class that constantly advocates the government's moral obligation to eliminate these job categories, it is said to be wrong for the government to "meddle" in the affairs of the economy by providing an alternative means of morally acceptable work at the same pay rate. Some people were evidently made to live on the street and are welcome to do so as long as they do not involve themselves in any form of sex.)

In any case I, the fool, see a woman in her bathrobe working from home making a living by repeating naughty words into a telephone. Not a bad gig says the guy with a bung on his noggin. You want degrading? Just think of the other end of that line, where a lonely father of six waits with a credit card clutched in his sweaty hand. Behind him he's got a chair wedged under the door handle to prevent his wife or kids from entering. He's willing to spend about a zillion dollars a minute for some woman to whisper the word cunt or twat into his ear while pretending to be interested in masturbating with a dildo the size of a five gallon paint bucket. Now envision our hero, cock in hand, heading for the home stretch, Jockey's dangling from a scrawny ankle, his right hand a blur, his left fidgeting in the desk drawer for the rather stiff sweat sock that he hopes will sop up the coming mess before his wife calls him to bed--and he's 265 bucks poorer if he hangs up before the woman on the other end of the line is done.

Does the sexual process degrade the provider of fantasy, or is the degrading factor the foolishness and cost the rest of us are forced to endure in order to connect with our fantasies and resolve the daily tensions of life? And, while we're at it, can someone point out the harm in this exchange?

I don't get it. That's why I'm a fool.