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Beating meat

Porn.

The one thing Indians actually created but don't want credit for. The narrative adopted by those wishing to weaponize this fact goes something like this: the Hindu sage Vatsyayana wrote a book to celebrate sexual intercourse and all the various kinds of fun there was to be had. This book is now rejected by the Brahminical orthodoxy due to lack of knowledge of its place in Indian thought.

But see, the thing is, this narrative is hard to buy in its entirety for several reasons. For one, Vatsyayana was a philosopher more than a sage. He was a member of a largely atheistic philosophical sect called the charvakas - whose call for the acquisition of sensual pleasures would place them loosely in the same category as the Epicureans of the Western world. Charvakas were not particularly popular at any point in history, and most mentions of their work only appears in works of criticism or commentary by philosophers of other traditional schools, like the Vedanta or Jaina groups. So, the fact that this work remained obscure all the way until the late 19th century should not come as a surprise to anybody. Further, I don't think that it was the Brahminical orthodoxy that pushed sexuality out of the picture. To the contrary, it might just have been the effect of repeated conquests by pious Muslim kings and changing social mores. Nothing radical.

But having said that, there's a crucial aspect in which internet pornography today is not the same as the lurid literary content to be found in the Kama Sutra: while Kama Sutra is an exploration of the art of pleasure, porn is far more limited in its reach. While the former teaches you the philosophy of pleasure and how to maximize it, the latter shows you how to concentrate said pleasure to the tightest possible definition of it.

Unlike what the industry likes to believe, I don't believe that porn does anything to fix any of the sexual repression so rampant among young adults. It neither fulfills their urges in a lasting way, nor does it teach them the proper and safe way to engage in such activities. But despite what the overprotective activists and closeted politicians say, it does not promote deviant sexual behaviour either.

Porn's problems are mostly widely acknowledged, but for the benefit of completeness, let's address them:
  • Porn objectifies women
  • Porn normalizes a poisonous brand of machismo where the biggest dong is the most pleasurable, leading to possibly unhealthy, hurtful sex and unsafe displays of bravado by not wearing a condom
  • It makes too many concessions for the pleasure of the men involved while ignoring the fact that women have sexual needs and desires too
  • It portrays all kinds of undesirable behaviour as being acceptable if done in pursuit of sexual ends, because the woman definitely wants it. This is evident in pornos where the man is clearly raping the woman, but it's portrayed as being acceptable since the woman clearly wants the D
Now that I've got that out of the way, let me try to make an argument in favour of the role porn plays in social structures.

It is, at its core, an art form. It does not follow the same sort of rules as any other traditional art form since it is not the same as the ones that came before, pardon the pun.
Porn is a social art form. 
What does that mean? Well, a porno is not very different from a B-grade movie, when you think about it: it has the same kind of indifferent acting by the lead characters, the same garish, over-the-top displays of sexuality, the same low-cost makeup and costumes, nearly the same production crew and some of the same sets too. 

Where these two media diverge is in the scope: movies can always go for any idea that can be shown in a visual form. So, this lends itself to futuristic ones like 2001: A Space Odyssey, dystopian movies like 1984 and Minority Report, all kinds of sad and depressing ones like Synecdoche, New York etc. All kinds of flicks can sell. Because people just go in looking for a good story. What matters to a movie is the story: fantasies sell just as well as hard-hitting social commentaries as long as people are engaged for a couple of hours.

Porn doesn't work that way. The director of a porn flick cannot just pick up any topic or idea - how ever relevant or thoughtful - and turn it into a porno. The mere introduction of naked, heaving men and women does not make a porno. Neither does it simply need some chiselled hunk of a man going at it with a sultry babe. A good plot is not necessary; indeed, a case can be made that it may even be harmful. When the porn movie Sanatorium arrived on DVD in 2010, it didn't fly off the shelves despite having all of the above (and some more). It is considered one of the most original and entertaining adult movies of all time. And yet, it's not even on the list of the 100 top-selling pornos of the last decade.

The appeal of porn is fantasy. It is true that one of its functions is in allowing for a safe outlet to possibly undesirable or taboo expressions of sexual thoughts and desires. It allows one to simulate the possibility of sex with their mother-in-law without any of the ghastly repercussions. So, the producers of porn have to be acutely mindful of the society and norms they operate in. Porn can - and indeed, must - be very quick to pick up on trends that most other art forms can very easily overlook. For example, while hoverboards and fidget spinners haven't made their way into any movie so far, they've featured as central figures in several pornos. Even before Hollywood realized that there's a certain lifestyle change in people towards natural therapies and tantric treatments, there was massage parlour porn. In many cases, porn can pre-empt social trends before they happen. So, it is a porn director's job to make every person's fantasy as real-yet-desirable as possible. 

And that is why it is an art form: we are constantly shaping it. If you could go back in time and randomly sample the pornos from every year, you could very easily see the trajectory of society and the real progress made by the populace. Porn is an honest marker of our journey with respect to repressive ideas of femininity and racial purity. Hollywood has long made movies with women in strong lead roles, and was quick to celebrate the end of racial inequity and social injustice. This was done, I presume, under the delusion that movies shape human thought and provoke conversations in high places. But the fact that we are here in this version of the world in 2017 shows that society has largely ignored such conversations. We're still exactly as prejudiced and sexist as we were a half century ago.

Pornos, on the other hand, still follow the same archetype: a dashing young man coerces a young, neotenous woman into forceful, unprotected sex and in the end, leaves her largely unsatisfied and rather used. Once or twice in between, he growls or commands her to come, and in the next few seconds, she obediently proceeds to do so. 

If that isn't a sad caricature of modern-day society, I don't know what is.

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