My head is still spinning from my first appearance on Melissa Harris-Perry on Saturday. Watch it below or at these links—Segment 1: Porn in America and Segment 2: The Business of Pornography. I’ve done a fair amount of television appearances, and I have mixed feelings about them. In the past, I feel like many TV producers shy away from difficult topics, don’t allow for complex, nuanced analysis, and often want me to “dumb it down.” This time, none of that happened. I was excited when a producer for the Melissa Harris-Perry show on MSNBC contacted me last week about a show about female sexuality and porn. We had a spirited conversation where I feel like she really listened to me, rather than attempted to fit me into a quasi-script she had already written. When I found out that one of my co-panelists was author and activist Jaclyn Friedman, I felt relieved to have a sex-positive feminist sister there.
Segment 1 of 2 “Porn in America”
Fun fact: Jaclyn Friedman and I were both in the class of ’93 at Wesleyan University, and we were fellow activists and friends during college. Although we’ve followed and supported each other’s careers since then (I blurbed her newest book What You Really Really Want: The Smart Girl’s Shame Free Guide to Sex and Safety and she appeared on my radio show Sex Out Loud), we hadn’t been in the same room since the late 90s. We had dinner the night before, and Jaclyn reminded me we wouldn’t talk about the show, so that everything would stay fresh for the next day. We had plenty of catching up to do, so it didn’t matter!
At every stage of the booking process, the folks behind the scenes at MHP were competent, respectful, and, well, have their shit together. In the green room before the show, Jaclyn and I met Zephyr Lookout (author of Mousepads, Shoe Leather, and Hope: Lessons from the Howard Dean Campaign for the Future of Internet Politics) who sat on the panel for an earlier segment and would be joining ours. She is a law professor at Fordham. I liked her immediately, and we bonded over our love of the children’s book Tuck Everlasting. She admitted she was “probably the most anti-porn of everyone on the panel,” which I appreciated her saying up front. It’s actually refreshing to engage with someone who really wants to dig into the topic and isn’t just ready to shut you down (like Gail Dines and crew are). After being fitted with our mics and mic packs (during which Jaclyn had her hands all the way up my dress to assist the sound guy), the three of us sat down at the table. That’s when I met the fourth panelist, Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson (author of Holler If You Hear Me), and I truly had no idea what he was going to say about porn. I was pleasantly surprised to discover he knows quite a bit about it (he name checked Lexington Steele and Mr. Marcus!) and had smart things to say.
Segment 2 of 2 “Business of Pornography”
MHP introduced me as a feminist pornographer and showed the cover of my new book The Feminist Porn Book: The Politics of Producing Pleasure, co-edited with Celine Parrenas Shimizu, Constance Penley, and Mireille Miller-Young and forthcoming from The Feminist Press at CUNY in 2013. The two segments just flew by so fast, and suddenly, she was doing the closing of the show (naming activist teen Julia Bluhm the Foot Soldier of the Week for petitioning Seventeen magazine).
Afterward, we all stood in the hallway, continuing the conversation, and I got to meet several more of the show’s producers including Jamil Smith and Executive Producer Shirley Zilberstein. Melissa Harris-Perry is so smart, it’s actually intimidating. But in a good way. Obviously, we barely scratched the surface on some pretty important topics. I have a whole lot more to say about race politics in the porn industry, shifting representations of sexuality in porn, today’s porn economy, queer porn, and on and on. But this was definitely a start, and great one.
Very few mainstream media outlets, and even fewer, if any, television news shows are willing to look at porn in an intelligent or balanced way. I am so impressed that Melissa Harris-Perry and her producers took a risk and really broke down a barrier. I know they have already gotten flack about it from conservatives and anti-porn feminists. So, if you want to show your support for the topic of this show, applaud Melissa Harris-Perry and MSNBC for making space for this conversation, you can do so in a number of ways:
Comment on the blog about the segments
Email the MSNBC network with your support