Alternative pornographies, regulatory fantasies and resistance politics

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Copyright: Stardust, Zahra
Alternative pornographies position themselves as contributing to a revolutionary and democratising social and political movement, with the capacity to change our relationships to sex via interventions in the representational and production practices of porn. Meanwhile, current trends in regulation focus upon preventing minors’ ‘exposure’ to pornography, prohibiting ‘extreme pornography’, and making condom use compulsory. Australia has a world-renowned queer and feminist porn movement, but onerous criminal, classification and customs legislation restrict its production, screening and sale. In this study, I investigated the aspirations and limitations of alternative pornographies in the current regulatory framework and explored whether they could inform a better approach. I took a four-pronged methodology involving: 35 qualitative interviews with Australian porn performers, producers and stakeholders to speak back to legal and policy frameworks; auto-ethnography (performing in and producing pornography) to enrich the interviews and highlight recurring themes; review of legislation and case law to understand the overarching regulatory climate; and archival research at the Eros Foundation Archives and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives to provide the historical context. I found that alternative pornographies practice a prefigurative politics, pioneering ethical processes that emphasise performer-centred care, informed consent, collaborative decision-making, transparency, accountability, and joint ownership. However, they are complicated by a heteronormative legal framework that criminalises non-normative intimacies, engineering specific bodies and practices that can be viewed; an economic environment that co-opts sexual subcultures, encouraging unpaid labour whilst centralising profits in the hands of distributors; and a technological context whereby private platforms arbitrate community standards, incentivising the performance of safe, sanitised and risk-averse representations of sex. Alternative pornographies make provocations to regulators: they challenge the sequestration of sex as exceptional, the positioning of sex as without redeeming value, the pathologisation of kink practices, and the decision-making criteria for acceptable content. But further, their internal dialogues reveal provocations for social movements more generally: the limits of strategies for visibility and inclusivity, the risks of employing a politics of respectability, the pitfalls of investing in law reform, the importance of listening to the most marginalised, and the value of imagining alternatives beyond the existing terms of reference.
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Stardust, Zahra
Harindranath, Ramaswami
Joyce, Daniel
Albury, Kath
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PhD Doctorate
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