Moral panic: Porn, art, or both?

porn-or-art

There’s plenty of debate on where the line is between art and pornography, or whether there really is a line at all. But before we start comparing the two, it’s a good idea to first define both terms.

Art: “the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance” (Define Art at Dictionary.com, 2015).

Pornography: “obscene writings, drawings, photographs, or the like, especially those having little or no artistic merit” (Define Pornography at Dictionary.com, 2015).

So what are the differences and similarities between the raw definitions of these two terms? Looking at the definition of art on its own, it seems as though pornography fits the same criteria. Pornography is created for the sole purpose of being aesthetically beautiful, appealing, and of more than ordinary significance; as per the definition of art. However, the dictionary definition of pornography completely contradicts this, stating that the word ‘pornography’ is especially definitive of erotic images with little or no artistic merit. So why is it that one thing can essentially be defined by two vastly different terms?

Dictionary definitions aside, art and pornography share many fundamental concepts. I created the cover image above to illustrate an art gallery hosting content that some people would consider pornographic, though many would also argue that there is plenty of artistic merit to the images, allowing them to essentially fall under both definitions. The dictionary definition of pornography is fairly broad as it relies heavily on the reader’s perception of what can be considered ‘obscene’. For example, in some cultures where faces or complete bodies are to be covered, a facial portrait may be considered obscene. So is there any art that can’t be considered pornographic? Or any porn that can’t be considered art?

The two following characteristics can often be used, to an extent, to determine if an artwork can be considered pornographic:

  • Viewer intention
    • “It’s what people are going to use it for. Are they going to look at it and admire it? Or are they going to use it in a sexual way?” (The Resident 2009). However, using this alone to determine whether or not an artwork is pornographic is unreliable, as it’s impossible to determine the intention of every viewer of an artwork.
  • Artist’s intention
    • Many would also say that it’s more so the intention of the content creator than the viewer, however artists aren’t always able to convey their intended meaning to their audience. It’s possible that their artwork could be interpreted as something completely different to what they intended, and this also relies on the viewer intention.

What I’ve concluded from this is that it’s often hard to determine whether an image can be defined as art, pornography, or even both. The way in which we define both of these terms are too broad to draw any sort of definitive line between the two. Contributing to this are the ambiguous dictionary definition of pornography, varying cultural perceptions of what is obscene, and difficulties in determining the intent of both the viewer and artist of a piece of content. Until we can refine these, we will always have issues differing between what is and isn’t porn.


References:

Cover image Photoshop’d from the following images: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Scerra, S., 2011, Drawing the line between art and porn… if there is one, Called To Write, viewed 19 April 2015, <http://www.stephaniescerra.com/2011/12/drawing-the-line-between-art-and-porn-if-there-is-one/>

The Resident 2009, Nudity: Art or Porn?, online video, 22 December, The Resident, viewed 20 April 2015, <http://www.theresident.net/nudity-art-or-porn/>

Be careful what you do both on and off Facebook.

Re-thinking the Role of the Media: What is Facebook Doing With Your Info?

Facebook users have always been anxious about the effects Facebook is having on their lives, and rightfully so. As you’ll find out in the post below, Facebook’s data collection and the way they present this data to their advertising partners consists of far more than what meets the eye.

Since its creation, Facebook has been consistently criticised for collecting and storing data about its users; this is nothing new. Facebook states right in their Privacy Policy what data they collect about you and how they use it. However, Facebook has also come under fire for padding out their User Agreements with seemingly meaningless statements, in order to further discourage users from reading it. So what exactly is Facebook doing with your info, and how does it affect us?

Facebook is a free service; their #1 source of income is serving targeted advertisements to their users. From a corporate perspective Facebook is, at its core, an advertising company. They make most of their income from serving advertisements to an audience targeted to specific groups the advertiser wants to reach. This is done by collecting info about their users’ activity both on and off Facebook (more about this later) and breaking users down into demographics.

So how does this affect our lives? Advertisers on Facebook are able to target different ads to different groups of people, and these groups can be made incredibly specific. I created a Facebook Ad campaign to see what kind of demographics advertisers can target to using the data Facebook has collected:

The list of options Facebook provides to advertisers - their primary source of income.
The list of options Facebook provides to advertisers – their primary source of income.

Facebook gives companies the ability to target ads to people depending on their relationship status, sexual orientation, level of education, ethnicity, employment status, the age of their children, travel plans, and apps installed on their phone; among other things. Is this an ethical treatment of users’ data? When businesses advertise on Facebook they are given the ability (perhaps even encouraged) to concentrate their ads towards stereotyped groups of people. It’s safe to say many people would be at least a little disturbed by some of the “Defined Audience” groups mentioned above.

However, Facebook’s tracking of its users isn’t limited to Facebook itself. Facebook can also gather information about your behaviour on any website or app that you log into with Facebook (such as Spotify, Candy Crush, etc) and use this data to further categorise your profile.

Many Facebook users accept that Facebook is collecting and retaining their data, but most aren’t aware of how far this data collection goes – that Facebook is tracking you even after you’ve logged out. The vast majority of people who use Facebook don’t know that ads are being targeted to them based on things such as their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc; and would certainly think twice about creating an account if this in the first sentence of Facebook’s privacy statement. There’s simply no way for regular users to know how their information is being presented to advertisers, not even in Facebook’s privacy policy. This gives Facebook users every right to be anxious abut the effects of Facebook on their lives, and to what extent they are being stereotyped by Facebook and their advertising partners.

There have been countless news articles and blog posts on this issue and although they receive large amounts of attention via Facebook (the irony) there’s never any lasting effect on how we use social media – it’s already too deeply embedded in our lifestyle to quit any time soon. Just the way Facebook wants it.


References:

Cover imageFacebook’s privacy policyFacebook’s Ad Creation pageWhat Does Facebook Know About YouMySecureCyberspace – What Facebook Collects and SharesSlate – What Facebook Won’t Tell You About Personal Data Collection.