Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The sensitive issue of transgressive erotica--veinglory

I was reading today about the online 'world' of second life. Specifically about how second life virtual banks were closed after several of them went under and took a lot of very real money with them. In my mind this sparked something off. The fact that in the virtual world, the money can still be real.

In the erotic fiction world, are the erotic motivations still real? It seems like they are often treated that way. Violence my be condemned is all the visual media but books are only very rarely criticised on this basis. Issues of characters being 'immoral' in other ways are very rarely raised at all and a serial killer or torturer can even be a sympathetic protagonist in a mainstream novel. But the reaction to erotic stories with transgressive themes is often not just 'I don't like it' but 'it shouldn't exist'.

Now the first thing I would say is that I fully believe that many readers can and do enjoying reading about sexual behavior that they have no desire whatsoever to even see in real life. I have a whole book of horse bestiality stories but I assure you I am not lurking around the local stables with a supersized condom and a stepladder (I mean, ew.) I have read all sorts of things just to see what they are like: under age, non-consensual, forced feminisation, consensual snuff (non-consensual snuff is still a step too far for me).

That said if I found out the guy I was dating had dozens of rape fantasy books under his mattress, it probably would change my opinion of him. But just one, in the middle of a bunch of other books with various erotic and non-erotic themes? probably not. Judgements are funny things, aren't they? More often emotional rather than purely rational, I think.

It's a fuzzy thing. But ultimately I don't think any written (that is to say: victimless) material should be forbidden. And I don't think sexual material is fundamentally more 'real' than violence/torture fantasies or other arguably gratuitous motivations (get thee behind me chocolate cake recipe).

I mean, the existence of alcoholism does not, to my mind, make alcohol innately evil. But I do recognise that its availability for my pleasure extracts a terrible cost from other people. If I had lost a close friend or family member to a drunk driver I would probably feel differently. Ditto gambling, drugs and other more-or-less regulate materials and opportunities that are dangerous, or at least not helpful, to certain people.

So, circling in as I am to the issue of underage character in erotica and of sexualised rape, here is what I think. I have no problem with anyone who reads, writes or publishes underage prose material like Lolita stories, yaoi-style schoolkid plots, role-playing or even contemporary literal erotica--occasionally or habitually. It's not my thing but it can be a purely fictional fantasy, not associated with any real world motivations.

However it is an area that calls for unusually high levels of sensitivity and caution because yes, there are people for whom these motivations are real, and there are victims of abuse who don't need to have that kind of scenario unexpectedly or unpredictably presented to them. We already take care to distribute explicit erotica to adults so having filters and veils around certain types of material is something we are already set up to do, after all.

When the arguments start up, as they always do, there is a middle ground between 'SQUEE' and 'You're going to hell!!' And that is to realise one person's martini is another person's poison--and marketing transgressive material as fiction to those who will treat it as fiction. Erotica, please consume in moderation.


Hot Sauce Reviews said...

I didn't care to blog about this because we've all been through this before and the same people are running the same arguments that were run... what, two months ago? AND I have a pretty bad flu.

So I'll just say this. THAT discussion, and I'm sure it's the same one that sparked this blog entry, has long lost the boundary between fact and fiction. Just like it happened the last ten times the same folks doing the arguing lost sight of the fantasy part of the equation and started arguing about the age real life folks are allowed to have sex.

When it comes to romantic erotica versus porn, "the children" is the new "Holocaust". Bring it up the children and the discussion officially goes to hell.

kirsten saell said...

I couldn't agree more, Mrs. G and Emily. Time and again I've witnessed the voice of reason and moderation utterly lost in these kinds of debates, smothered under a mountain of intolerance on both sides of the issue.

People tend to forget there's a huge difference between advocating for an author's right to write the story they want, and as one commentor put it, "teaching my seven year old son to put on a condom". I'm not interested in pedophilic fiction, and it's where my personal boundary lies. Knowing someone indulged in reading or writing such material would definitely change the way I think about them, and I can tell you my child would never spend another moment in their presence.

But. D/d or ageplay fantasy roleplaying is not the same as pedophilia. Non-con fiction is not the same as actual, IRL rape.

But it seems the moment anyone (and I know from experience, ugh) brings up the very facts you just have -- that fantasy is fantasy and NOT NECESSARILY remotely rooted in reality, and that perfectly healthy, normal, law-abiding people can get off thinking about perfectly weird and squicky things that they would never ever do IRL -- they are branded as perverts, loonies or enablers of pedophiles.

How long has this post been up? I'm waiting for the shitstorm to start.

veinglory said...

Give it a little time. Perhaps I should help it along by mentioning research showing that sexual interest (not sexual interaction just sexual interest) in post-pubertal children is "statistically normal". meaning if you measure hormones and swelling and such most people have it.

[Goes to hide under the desk]

Anonymous said...

It's one of those topics were opinions are so polarized even before discussion starts, that there's little to no chance of most of the people reading/commenting to think before reacting. Their response is so visceral, that's all they can see.

But then, we all have different hot buttons and different comfort zones.

kirsten saell said...

Just watch some Desmond Morris--sexual attraction in humans (especially male attraction to females) is comprised of two parts in equal measure: hyperfemininity or masculinity, and extreme youth. These seem like oxymoronic terms, but look at the sexy cartoon girls of the past (Bettie Boop, et al). Very feminine and hypersexualized, but at the same time having the rounded cheeks, huge eyes and bow mouths of little girls.

In evolutionary terms, health and fertility are the two main factors that attract humans to potential mates, and both of these factors are irrevocably tied to youth. The only time IMO it gets to be worrisome is when the sexual maturity/fertility factor somehow gets forgotten and the focus is entirely on youth. I think that's the line where pedophilia begins...

Anonymous said...

I added you to my reader--I couldn't help it. ^_^ I was reading the opening of this entry where you state: But the reaction to erotic stories with transgressive themes is often not just 'I don't like it' but 'it shouldn't exist'.

then you say, That said if I found out the guy I was dating had dozens of rape fantasy books under his mattress, it probably would change my opinion of him.

So basically, 'it shouldn't exist' if he's a guy your dating? In other words--you'd be more bothered by the rape-mags, than actually finding chloroform, a mask, and some rope in the trunk of car? I'm asking because, in the genre I write for [erotic comics] there's an incredible hostility toward shotakon [which in itself is just fiction] and yet one of the first charges leveled at any women reading shotakon manga is...are you a pedophile?? ^_^ I touched on this level of angry in my own post on 'fan reaction' to shotakon, over at GGY. I angered some fellow creators because of what I said--and what I couldn't beleive was--they were not speaking to me, because of my thoughts on their reactions to fictional circumstances. 0_o

I agree completely, it is fuzzy ground--but it seems to be less Fuzzy these days, when it comes to film and illustrated material.

Somewhat related: Remember the film Pretty Baby, starring Brook Shields? No way that film could be made today--not without the writer being given a second glance, the actors or producers involved being maligned, and child services being notified on Brook's mom. I wonder, are the times we live in, also a factor?

veinglory said...

If I found a rape kit under the bed I wouldn't be incomfortable, I'd be calling the police. So no, finding fiction wouldn't worry me more than finding tools--but ut would worry me.

The way I see it emotional reactions are learned a whole different way to rational beleifs. They don't have to make sense, and I don't assume that what I feel emotionally is right or logical--or that I should change my thoughts and rationals to conform with my emotions. In fact more of ten it is the reverse. Emotional reactions should be examined. But even when I don't find my emotional reaction to be correct, that doesn't make them go away.

Here is another example. I mived to the US having only ever met 4-5 Americans, none of them black. On about the third day living there I was walking down a street at night and there was a young black man walking a distance behind me. I had an immediate emotional reaction that I recognised immediately as springing entirely from prejudices and impressions I has gleaned from Amerucan crime and fiction shows. I knew it was wring and bigoted--but that didn't mean it wasn't there. I had to go beyond the feeling to consciously look at how the man was behaving and whether my alarm was rational. Finding that it wasn't I made myself relax and not cross the street. It wasn't comfortable.