The Nexus of Porn and Violence - Porn As Reality, Reality As Porn.
[tw/advisory: graphic descriptions of sexualized violence]
In researching the intersection of the Abu Ghraib story and pornography, we found that Google searches on the prison scandal regularly returned porn sites alongside news venues like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Fox News. As it turned out, when the media began reporting the additional hundreds of photographs and videos kept classified by the government, the lawmakers who viewed them described them with many of the same terms that violent porn sites use to promote their product. The most popular adjective such sites use to describe their product is ‘brutal’.
On Google, a search using the keywords Iraq, brutal, and rape, yielded 333,000 possibilities, and about half of those (of the first several Google list pages we took time to read) were for violent porn sites, with the rest fairly evenly divided between news sites and blogs. Some of the listed sites were examples of an Internet marketing strategy in which a site consists solely of a list of terms likely to be searched attached to another list of links to commercial sites.
On the first such portal site we visited, ‘Iraq’ was nestled between ‘girls raped and gay young teen boys getting raped’. The links, drifting down the long page, were a Dantesque descent past “violent sex movie” and “teen rape movies” to “illegal pedo rape”. The linkage of Iraq to these sites suggests a belief on the part of the site producers, at least, that their target customers are likely to connect it with a catalog of sexual violence. Given the events at Abu Ghraib, such ideas cannot be dismissed.
According to Bill Asher, president of Vivid Entertainment, one of the largest producers and distributors of hardcore pornography, fetish porn (which he sees as including violent porn) is the fastest growing segment of the porn industry. It is worth repeating that our goal in this book is to investigate the growing dominance of porn in our culture without, as much as possible, passing judgement on the morality of its production or consumption. It is difficult, however, to delve into the subindustry of violent porn without coming away disturbed. Given the presence of porn in their lives, it seems likely that the guards perpetrating the abuse at Abu Ghraib deliberately imitated the violent porn that now thrives on the Internet.
After all, the imagery of Abu Ghraib is readily available online, with actual women instead of male prisoners playing the role of “woman, the object of abuse.” In two popular subgenres of violent porn, prison porn and military porn, the porned images of Abu Ghraib have filtered back into pornography in fairly direct ways, adding realism to the violent imagery.
One of the most popular violent porn sites on the Internet is Scream and Cream, dedicated to all forms of “violent extreme forced sex fantasies.” Despite the fact that sites such as Scream and Cream - and there are many others - use words like ‘fantasy’, every effort is made visually and through accompanying text to heighten the “reality” of the rape narratives to which the sites offers access. Much like an Abu Ghraib video that Seymour Hersh and others allege shows the rape of a teenage Iraqi boy, Scream and Cream promises that their online videos include all the sounds of rape, in the highest audio quality.
Indeed, the uncountable sites that provide violent porn have entered into a realism race. The premise of the website Violent Russians, a popular site, is that women are first stalked and then raped. Despite enlarged “fantasy” disclaimers added in the summer of 2005, the videos make use of the gritty film techniques that Hollywood directors have chosen to convey “realism” (ambient lighting, film stock, and camera movement, for example). The site imparts to the viewer a sense of the lived reality of the onscreen stalking and rape.
Sites like Scream and Cream depend on free online tours to convince viewers to pay the subscription fees (usually around $30 per month), tours that show explicit stills and excerpts from videos. The “fantasies” these sites offer highlight pain and fear even more than they do hardcore sex. Camera angles focus on faces, goggle-eyed and streaked with streaming mascara. Mouths are open in screams sometimes silenced by large ball gags. The rapid intercutting between shots of penetration and terrified faces makes the locus of “pleasure” clear.
Sites like Rotten and Goregasm (its tagline: “Where bones meets boners”) present a mix of photos and videos of actual violence and gore with hardcore pornography. Within a number of such sites one can easily go back and forth from violence to porn, navigating from rape pornography to videos of American hostages being beheaded in Iraq, from the homemade porn of “my wife’s hot pussy” to hundreds of photos and videos of the bodies of American soldiers and Iraqi men, women, and children mangled and killed by gunfire and bombs.
It should surprise no one that the murder of Nicholas Berg, an American civilian taken hostage in Iraq, is widely available online, and that some watch it for entertainment. But the fact that violent porn sites became the most common purveyors of the video suggests that those site producers understand that a linkage does exist between staged rapes and actual beheadings, that simulated violent sex and actual violence are not only appealing separately, but for certain viewers gain in appeal when brought together, side by side, so that one can easily go from one to the other and back again.
What these gore sites do, then, is provide the Internet consumer with the opportunity to relive the activities of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, who similarly moved back and forth in their daily activities between porn, including violent porn, and the violence of beatings and abuse. Sites like Scream and Cream, Goregasm, and Rotten make commercial use of the same dehumanization that was literally on display at Abu Ghraib."