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A new sexual revolution? Critical theory, pornography, and the internet.

Spiritual "procreation" is just as much the work of Eros as is corporeal procreation, and the right and true order of the Polis is just as much an erotic one as is the right and true order of love (Marcuse 1974:211).

HERBERT MARCUSE WAS WIDELY REGARDED AS a leading intellectual figure of the "sexual revolution" that marked North American popular culture in the 1960s. As Douglas Kellner (1984) notes, "Counterculture advocates of play, free love, flower power and personal liberation could find powerful articulations of their values in Marcuse's writings" (pp. 2-3). Although he was a theorist in the Marxian tradition, concerned with the dominance of technological rationality and the contradictions of advanced industrial society, Marcuse melded his critique of capitalism with a call to liberate sexuality from the strictures of bourgeois patriarchal morality. As a result, his work fitted almost seamlessly into the social, cultural, and political climate of the 1960s.

Today, we might wonder whether we are living through a comparable period of sexual history. Sociologists speak of a "hypersexual society" (Kammeyer 2008), historians document the emergence of "a world made sexy" (Rutherford 2007), while media studies scholars analyze "the sexualization of culture" (Attwood 2009). The impetus for these diagnoses is a strong sense that sex has now entered the mainstream of contemporary Western popular culture--that its presence in advertising, on television, and in other media reflects the advent of a "striptease culture" based in the imperatives of sexual confession and self-revelation (McNair 2002). Everywhere one turns today, it seems as though sex is increasingly out in the open and has become a key dimension of social relations and commercial culture alike.

A central element of this new "sexual revolution" is the Internet and the proliferation of various forms of "cybersex." Sexual representations have always been closely linked with developments in technology--most notably, the printing press, photography, film, and video---and the advance of digital technologies and the Internet has allowed for both a vast expansion of pornography online, along with increased ease of access. In this context, some commentators have argued that we are seeing a "democratization" of sexual desires and the advent of a more pluralistic sexual culture (McNair 2002). This argument intersects with a recent "sex-positive" current in feminist theory that rejects calls for censorship or the characterization of heterosexual pornography as inherently misogynistic, in favor of celebrating porn's capacity to represent active female sexual desires and to express previously hidden forms of sexuality. From this perspective, pornography operates as a form of "cultural critique" insofar as it transgresses societal conventions (Kipnis 1999). Although many feminists remain highly critical of pornography, arguing that it degrades women (Dines 2010) and contributes to the rise of a "new sexism" in popular culture (Walter 2010), the emergence of more diverse forms of "netporn" challenges sweeping condemnations as new sexual economies begin to take shape via networked social interactions (Jacobs 2007). Within an expanded critical perspective, it seems apparent that research on pornography needs to consider the changing technological environment and to ask whether the Internet is more than simply another medium for the delivery of familiar pornographic representations and a "distorted" version of sexuality. As Simon Hardy (2008) notes, the issue is no longer so much the impact of porn on our "real" sexual lives, but the fact that "it is an increasingly significant part of that reality" (p. 63). Such a situation, I suggest, requires a move beyond pro- or anti-porn positions toward an approach that is sensitive to the complicated relations that hold between sexuality, pornography, and gender relations in contemporary culture.

Given that we are in the midst of a technologically mediated reorganization of the social relations of sexuality, then what of Marcuse today? Does his critical theory, formulated in response to the era of sexual liberation and capitalist industrial society, have anything to offer to an analysis of sexuality in the digital era? In his recent major study, Internet and Society, Christian Fuchs (2008) claims that Marcuse's work still has much to contribute to the analysis of our contemporary information age. Guided by his reading of Marcuse's nondeterministic dialectic philosophy, Fuchs formulates a critical theory of self-organization oriented toward the antagonisms inherent to the Internet as a techno-social system. For Fuchs, Marcuse's writings have contemporary relevance insofar as they direct our attention to the ways in which the relation of the Internet to society manifests competing potentials between, on the one hand, competition, exclusion, and exploitation, and on the other hand, cooperation, inclusion, and participation.

Fuchs reads Marcuse's dialectical approach as offering a prototheory of self-organization that has applicability for understanding how the Internet may allow for the emergence of a new social order. From this perspective, it is the task of critical theory to foster the release of virtual potentials in emergent forms of self-organization. Fuchs produces an extensive social theory of the Internet and informational capitalism and it is beyond the scope of this article to engage with it in detail. Instead, I would like to pursue here a road that he chooses not to take. Specifically, although Fuchs draws much of his inspiration from Marcuse's work, the topic of sex barely features in his analysis of the Internet. Despite the importance of sex to the Internet, and the contemporary importance of the Internet to sexuality, Fuchs elects not to follow Marcuse's lead in viewing this aspect of social life as central to critical theory. Yet, by not granting sex a place within the dialectics and dynamics of the Internet as a techno-social system, the neglect of this dimension of Marcuse's work risks repeating the tendency of orthodox Marxist theory to relegate sexuality to a position outside of the real action in society.

The intention of this article, in contrast, is to argue that Marcuse's work is relevant today precisely because it focuses on the intersection of sex, technology, and capitalist economy. At the same time, this is not to advocate for a simple return to Marcuse's work. Rather, it is to suggest that his version of critical theory, which productively draws together Freudian psychoanalysis, Heideggerian phenomenology, and Marxian political economy, has significant purchase on many issues related to sexuality and the Internet today. As such, it may be viewed as ripe for reanimation and reinvention in response to changing techno-social sexual relations.

It has been observed that technology is often intertwined with sexuality (Springer 1996). Manuel Castells, for example, claims that the online communities which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s around early bulletin board systems (BBSs), and which were important in the development of the Internet, had their origins in the countercultural movements and alternative ways of life emerging out of the sexual revolution. He notes that, "one of the earliest BBSs in the San Francisco Bay area was a sex-oriented system Kinky Komputer: it spearheaded a blossoming form of on-line practice, both private and commercial, for years to come" (Castells 2002:52-53). Given both this history and the current prominence of online sex, especially pornography, I suggest that a critical theory of the Internet and society cannot afford to ignore this dimension of techno-social life. In order to make this argument in more detail, I will first consider the basic question of why pornography is worth thinking about in relation to social critique. I will then outline Marcuse's theory of the role of Eros in social life, before examining two Web sites that seek to combine eroticism and social critique. In assessing the limitations of such sites, I argue that Marcuse's emphasis on the potential of phantasy to negate existing oppressive realities needs to be supplemented by a focus on masculinity and the place of the male body in online pornography.

PORNOGRAPHY AS SOCIAL CRITIQUE

Although sexual acts have been represented throughout history and across cultures, this does not mean that there has always been pornography as we now recognize it. Lynn Hunt (1993), among other historians, has detailed how pornography was not a separate category of representation before the nineteenth century. The beginnings of a genre of sexual representation resembling contemporary pornography first emerged in early modern European societies alongside print culture in the sixteenth century, but these texts and images were regarded as a form of social or religious criticism. Associated with an Enlightenment sensibility that rejected conventional moralities and religious orthodoxies, these publications took on a more political tone in the eighteenth century as they circulated among the educated and wealthy classes. Indeed, such representations form an important part of a long tradition of using nudity for satire and other forms of social critique (Barcan 2004:212-26).

Notably, in contrast to mainstream pornography of the recent period, Hunt (1993) points out that early modern "pornography" is marked by a "preponderance of female narrators." Rather than mere objects of a masculine pornographic imagination, these characters (usually prostitutes) were "... most often portrayed as independent, determined, financially successful and scornful of the new ideals of female virtue and domesticity" (Hunt 1993:38). Thus, it seems apparent that explicit sexual representations have not always simply been a matter of men taking pleasure in the objectification of women's bodies. Moreover, it illustrates the fact that the sexual revolution of the 1960s was not unprecedented in identifying sex as a site of political potential and social critique.

Hunt (1993) goes so far as to claim that these early pornographic texts tended to elide the very idea of a rigid sexual difference between men and women, which was at the time an emergent feature of eighteenth-century social organization. She notes that the interchangeability of bodies within these stories had radical implications for gender differences, suggesting that the latter could "effectively lose their meaning" (Hunt 1993:44). Such a reading of early pornography needs to be tempered, however, by the recognition of limits to the ways in which men's bodies, in particular, were (and still are) represented. Early modern pornography may have been explicit in its depiction of women's sexual lives, but it was more reluctant to explore men's sexuality. Indeed, as Hunt (1993) notes, it was "as if male sexuality were too threatening to contemplate" (p. 41). This is, I think, largely still true; and I will suggest below that the one-dimensional, phallic representation of men's bodies is central to both the potential and the limitations of online pornography today.

Historical evidence suggests that the early part of the nineteenth century was the crucial period for defining modern pornography as we now know it today. At this time, porn lost its overtly subversive qualities and became merely a means of displaying women's bodies for the purposes of men's sexual arousal (Hunt 1993:42). The distinct character of modern pornography began to take shape around the pleasures that men could take in the explicit display of women's bodies. As Lisa Sigel (2002) has argued, the character of sexual representations changed as "pornographers focused on consumer products, and states across Europe concerned themselves increasingly with moral surveillance of their subjects" (p. 11). Thus, although nineteenth-century pornography still offered a space in which cultural anxieties over sexuality, gender, race, and class could be worked through, porn lost its role as social critic. Instead, a dialectic was established between the wider availability of porn (in part due to a new technological innovation--the invention of photography) and moves to restrict its circulation in the name of preserving public morality from the threat of "obscenity." As Hunt (1993) argues, "pornography as a regulatory category was invented in response to the perceived menace of the democratization of culture" (pp. 12-13). In this context, early attempts at censorship can be seen as not so much concerned with the explicit representation of sex per se, but with the threat that porn posed to the social order.

Pornography was not a simple prop for existing gender relations or heteronormativity; rather, it was both a threat and a buttress to dominant gendered and sexual relations. On the one hand, it displayed and reinforced women's sexual differences from men; yet, on the other hand, it threatened to let sexual desires run out of control, beyond the boundaries of conventional propriety. Rather than being merely the product of a confrontation between natural desires and the repressive power of the censor, modern porn became a space in which gender and sexual arrangements (as well as issues of race and class) were simultaneously reproduced and put into question. In this sense, pornography retained a political valence that could, in the right context, effect an implicit social critique.

The sphere and reach of pornography has continued to expand over the past 200 years and, in one sense, the Internet is simply the latest medium through which sexual representations are produced and consumed. Yet, the question is whether new forms of netporn represent little more than another site for co-opting sexuality in order to reinforce gender, sexual, racial, and economic inequalities, or, alternatively, do they make social antagonisms available for analysis, critique, and possible change. Marcuse, who was acutely aware of the former possibility, provides us with cause to consider the latter option and, in this, he is not alone. Feona Attwood (2006), for example, argues that at a time "when sex lives right at the heart of--and is driving--new developments in technology," it is apparent that sexuality and the "sexualization of culture" are crucial sites of social and cultural change (p. 91). Similarly, Katrien Jacobs (2007) suggests that producers and consumers of new forms of netporn can be conceptualized as "multitudes" that challenge existing social and economic structures and generate new sexual behaviors. In particular, Jacobs (2007) argues that "real amateurs" who freely distribute pornography online "thrive on complex sexual feedback loops" and create an online gift economy that exists "in dialectical relation with dominant capitalist economies" (p. 46). In this regard, Fuchs' (2008) claim that "Internet 2.0 is characterized by [an] antagonism between information commodities and information gifts" (p. 185) can be extended to the domain of sexuality. Pornographic images can be considered as informatic products that circulate around the Web in both of these modes. Notably, it is the techno-social network of the Internet (or, more specifically, Web 2.0) that potentially enables porn to recover a dimension of social critique as it emerges out of the distributed actions of a multitude of users. The "sexual revolution" currently taking place online suggests a renewed relevance of Marcuse's thought, and it is to this topic that I now turn.

EMBODIED EROS AND THE PERFORMANCE PRINCIPLE

Marcuse's most sustained reflections on sexuality are found in his Eros and Civilization (1974). Writing in the mid-1950s, at a time in which opposition to capitalism in North America appeared to have faded away as the desires of the working classes were sated with material commodities, Marcuse was prescient in identifying the subject of pleasure as a key site for social critique. This move was made via a critical engagement with the work of Sigmund Freud, and was reportedly motivated by Marcuse's dissatisfaction with "the absence in Marxism of emphasis on individual liberation and the psychological dimension" (Kellner 1984:154). Marcuse's claim, against Freud, is that repression and the sacrifice of sexual drives are not simply a necessary feature of the establishment of human culture, but, rather, derive from the historically specific organization of modern capitalist society. This is the source of Marcuse's (1974) well-known concept of "surplus repression," which he describes as "that portion [of repression] which is the result of specific societal conditions sustained in the specific interest of domination" (pp. 87-88). It is the argument of Eros and Civilization that sexual desires, as the foundation of the "pleasure principle," contain tendencies toward the construction of culture and the establishing of connections between people. For Marcuse, the struggle for sexual expression is also the struggle to establish social relations that foster an increase in human freedom.

In the aftermath of the 1960s sexual revolution, Marcuse's work was often criticized for its incorporation of Freudian "instinct theory," with its overtones of biological determinism (Kellner 1984:194), and it largely fell out of favor on this basis. Yet, I believe that Marcuse's arguments are more sophisticated than such readings suggest, and, in the context of the recent revival of interest in the sociology of the body, it is perhaps an apposite moment to revisit his writings. Marcuse (1974) himself insists that "Freud's theory is in its very substance 'sociological"' and, moreover, that "Freud's 'biologism' is social theory in a depth dimension" (pp. 5-6). Rather than simply importing a psychoanalytic or biological dimension into critical theory, I suggest that Marcuse should be read as providing us with a nascent social theory of the body. Joan Alway (1995:75-76) notes that Marcuse's reading of Marx always emphasized the human subject as a "sensuous being," and this provides the necessary context for understanding the importance placed on "sensuous pleasure" in his later work. From this perspective, Marcuse's emphasis on sensuous desires and embodied pleasures is not so much a Freudian imposition as it is a recovery of an important dimension of Marxist theory. As Chris Shilling (2005), one of the leading exponents of the sociology of the body, has argued, Marx's work contains an account of the body as a source of society that was subsequently lost in the sociological tradition. Marx "begins with real human beings engaged in sensuous, practical activity," and he argues that it is out of our embodied human nature that social relations emerge (Shilling 2005:28). Indeed, for Shilling (2005), Marx can be read as providing a theory of the body as a "multidimensional medium for the constitution of society" (pp. 24-25). Here, the body is understood as a source of society, as a location for the effects of social structures, and as a means by which social reproduction or social change occurs. Marcuse, I submit, similarly aims to take into account the generative properties of the body, its vulnerability to suffer domination by technological rationality, and its potential to serve as a vehicle of liberation. As such, his writings can contribute to the project of constructing a sociology of sexuality that engages with the material dimension of the body without retreating to a radical social constructionist position.

In Eros and Civilization, the body is central to the dialectic that plays out between the pleasure principle and the historically specific reality principle that Marcuse calls the "performance principle." This latter principle determines what is considered necessary, axiomatic, or "real" in the current historic period, and "under its rule society is stratified according to the competitive economic performances of its members" (Marcuse 1974:44). In the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx (1988) had argued that "[alienated labour] estranges man's own body from him" (p. 78), and Marcuse develops this idea to argue that the performance principle governing contemporary capitalist society constitutes human bodies as subjects of surplus-repression by reducing libidinal bodies to instruments of alienated labor. This occurs not only via the compulsion to devote ever-more of one's time to work, but also [as Horkheimer and Adorno (1993) had earlier argued] by organizing leisure time via the extension of technological rationality to the sphere of popular culture as it increasingly comes under the influence of the commercial entertainment industry.

In assessing Marcuse's claims about the "repression" of sexuality today, however, it is necessary to read him in the light of Foucault's work. Following Foucault's (1990) criticism of the "repressive hypothesis," or the belief that power primarily operates in a repressive manner in relation to sexuality, it may appear as though Marcuse is guilty of perpetuating a simplistic focus on repression, premised upon the existence of a natural, presocial sexuality that stands outside of power relations. Yet upon closer examination, I think there is less distance between Foucault and Marcuse than first appears [or, as Mark Cobb (2004) and Paul Breines (1994) both point out, less distance than Foucault himself implies]. Indeed, there are moments when their convergence is more remarkable. For example, when asked about his views on repression in a 1984 interview, Foucault (1994) replies: "it is not a question of denying the existence of repression. It's one of showing that repression is always part of a much more complex political strategy regarding sexuality" (p. 126). Marcuse (1974), for his part, points to an element of this complexity in noting that, "The power to restrain and guide instinctual drives, to make biological necessities into individual desires, increases rather than reduces gratification" (p. 38). Thus, rather than power being exercised simply to deny sexual pleasure, Marcuse alludes to the spirals of power and knowledge that generate different forms of sexual pleasure.

Even more importantly, Marcuse (1974) argues that:
   The organization of sexuality reflects the basic features of the
   performance principle and its organization of society.... It is
   especially operative in the "unification" of the various objects of
   the partial instincts into one libidinal object of the opposite
   sex, and in the establishment of genital supremacy. (P. 48)


In this way, "repressive" power is productive of a form of heteronormative sexuality and a specific organization of embodied desire. Marcuse (1974) follows Freud in describing the sexual drives as by nature "polymorphous-perverse" (p. 49) and, in this sense, the performance principle is perhaps better described as subtractive than "repressive." Sexual desires are understood as inherently undifferentiated and thus subject to forms of social organization. As with Foucault, Marcuse does not presume that there are presocial sexual identities merely awaiting liberation from power. Although he gestures toward the future emergence of a "nonrepressive reality principle," I think this needs to be read in terms of his reworking of the basic Freudian point that the development of sexuality is always tied up with (historically specific) social relations.

Marcuse's analysis of the subtractive, socially produced, sexual body informs his view of the importance of sexual pleasure in establishing a new reality principle that will promote human freedom. This is a process that he refers to as "the transformation of sexuality into Eros." Importantly, it is not an individual undertaking; he is clear that, "Libido can take the road of self-sublimation only as a social phenomenon" (Marcuse 1974:209). To understand sexual liberation merely in terms of the private satisfaction of individual desires, or as the realization of an inherent sexual identity, is to fail to break free from the instrumental rationality of the performance principle. For Marcuse (1974), the erotic force of life tends toward the generation of supraindividual social formations, and "Nonrepressive order is possible only if the sex instincts can, by virtue of their own dynamic and under changed existential and societal conditions, generate lasting erotic relations among mature individuals" (p. 199). While this utopian moment in Marcuse's thinking has generally been dismissed by critics, if we follow Fuchs' suggestion to read his work in terms of a theory of self-organization, then the idea of an emergent "libidinal rationality" can be given more credence. For example, Marcuse (1974) claims that "The erotic aim of sustaining the entire body as subject-object of pleasure ... generates its own projects of realization" (p. 212). From this perspective, new forms of sexual expression and representation might be understood in terms of the potentially productive, aesthetically and intersubjectively intense moments that Jill Dolan (2005) refers to as "utopian performatives." Writing about theater, Dolan (2005) argues that utopian performatives exceed the content of a particular performance to "capture fleeting intimations of a better world" (p. 2). Such a notion is, I think, close to Marcuse's understanding of what the "aesthetic dimension" can contribute to sexual freedom and justice. The question before us today is whether the techno-social enactments of online pornography can contribute to such a project.

"SEE SOME NUDES/SAVE THE WORLD!"

The ethos of sexual revolution and, arguably, of Marcuse's work can often be observed online today. A prominent example is the Web site of the "Sensual Liberation Army," which juxtaposes pornography and political activism, thereby giving expression to the idea that sexual emancipation can be linked to progressive social change. Established in 2000 by a blogger going by the name Dr. Menlo, the site clearly appears as pornographic in a largely conventional sense. It is visually centered on a series of "teasers"--naked or semi-naked images of women embedded with links to different, largely for-profit, porn sites--which invoke many familiar tropes of the mainstream pornographic imagination. Alongside these images on one side of the page are links to other sex-oriented Web sites and blogs, while the other side of the page contains links to progressive or left-wing political groups and media outlets such as http://www.treehugger.com, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org, and http://www.freepress.org. Among the latter links are some other Web sites that explicitly combine porn and politics such as http://MasturbateForPeace.com. The connection between sex and revolution, however, is largely left implicit on the Sensual Liberation Army Web site. Partial exceptions lie only in the Web site's tagline "the revolution will be sensualised" and the page heading "See Some Nudes/Save the World!" where the oblique implies a close affinity between the two actions. There is no philosophical explication offered to assist visitors to the site in making the conceptual link between the sexual images and the political goals (although the site's archive does contain a brief introductory blog post from Dr. Menlo in December 2000 describing the site as an "experimental attempt to merge sensuality and activism"). The political appeal of the site is generated by an intuitive sense of connection, which, in turn, trades on the long history of using sexual expression, especially nudity, as a form of political protest.

Marcuse, similarly, maintains a link between sensual representation and politics, but on the basis of a critical theory of aesthetics. Following Theodor Adorno (1997), he holds that political potential is more the product of aesthetic form than of the explicit content of a representation. Moreover, in Eros and Civilization, Marcuse (1974) advances the claim that, "Under the predominance of rationalism, the cognitive function of sensuousness has been constantly minimized" (p. 180). He then goes on to explicitly draw a connection between a broader notion of sensuousness and sexuality:
   In German, sensuousness and sensuality are still rendered by one
   and the same term: Sinnlichkeit. It connotes instinctual
   (especially sexual) gratification as well as cognitive
   sense-perceptiveness and representation (sensation). (P. 182)


In this way, Marcuse links sexual representation with the recovery of a sensuous form of cognition--or, with the recovery of an embodied cognitive dimension of experience that is devalued and ruled incoherent by the dominance of technological rationality. Indeed, this is a perspective that is not completely absent from contemporary debates over pornography. For example, Paul Willemen (2004) emphasizes the longstanding link between sex and sensuous knowledge and suggests that the taboo on sexual representation in modern Western culture is linked to the production of anesthetized capitalist subjects whose sensory deprivation disables their ability to recognize underlying social dynamics. He argues for restoring "cognitive capacities" to pornography and for the need to "rediscover the critical, anti-authoritarian (anti-advertising) dimension in representations of ... sex" (Willeman 2004:23).

While Willemen is pessimistic about the possibility of porn producers taking up this critical task, this is surely part of the promise of netporn. The majority of the porn Web sites linked to by the Sensual Liberation Army hub can be classified as "positive porn," "indieporn," or "altporn." These are sites that have taken advantage of easily accessible digital technologies and the Internet to produce and distribute sexual images outside of the traditional, mainstream porn industry. This form of independence has allowed the emergence of a genre of pornography that styles itself in terms of providing an alternative to the relentless images of dominant men, submissive women, penetration, and ejaculation in conventional pornography, http://SuicideGirls.com was one of the first and best known of these sites and, as Attwood (2007) notes, the "participatory culture" of Web 2.0 is central to "altporn sites [where] sexual content is combined with coverage of music, news, art, culture and counterculture" (p. 444). Such sites are often seen as offering women the opportunity of taking back control of the ways in which their bodies are represented in pornography (DeVoss 2002). If there is potential for the recovery of a critical, aesthetic/cognitive dimension in porn, then it would seem as though this is where the Internet can play a role.

For example, another online hub that exists to foster awareness of an alternative type of sexual representation is the Web site "Positive Porn." Unlike the Sensual Liberation Army site, visitors to Positive Porn are greeted with a clear rationale for the contents that they will find within:
   Most porn advertises itself as "nasty" for good reason. Because it
   is. But porn does not have to be disgusting, exploitive or evil.
   Scattered among the bad are quite a few porn sites and erotic
   photography portfolios that are sex-positive, respectful toward the
   women they portray, and sophisticated in their presentation.
   Despite all its virtues, positive porn is usually much more erotic
   than the mainstream drivel most people associate with the word
   porn. If you don't believe me, peruse the galleries and reviews on
   this site, and see for yourself that porn doesn't have to be bad to
   be good. (http://www.positive-porn. com/main.html)


"Positive porn" is characterized as sexual representations that are respectful of models, honest in their portrayals, positive in their depiction of women and sex, and produced by people who take pride in their work. The site is organized around links to other porn sites that are deemed to fulfill these criteria, which are divided into four categories: unique porn; erotic photography; tasteful porn; and indie porn. Beyond providing links, the Web site provides editorial material that describes the merits of each recommended site. Notably, the descriptions all revolve around the value of authenticity: the sites are described as "real," "honest," and "personal"; while the women displayed on them are "intelligent," "assertive," and "confident." There is something here that resonates with a shift toward recovering a cognitive dimension of sensuality--although, in this case, the primary emphasis is on the potential for visitors to "really get to know" the women on these sites and, implicitly, to learn something of the real truth of sex, a truth that is withheld by the corporate porn industry.

Yet, while such alt- or indie-porn sites are not without their merits, it is not clear that the Sensual Liberation Army and Positive Porn Web sites embody the sort of sexual revolution that Marcuse hoped to foster. One important aspect of both sites is that, although many of the sites they link to evoke a "queer" aesthetic, they themselves remain almost entirely within the bounds of "straight," heteronormative porn ("girl on girl" images notwithstanding). As Hardy (2009) observes, the images on sites like "Positive Porn" are "overwhelmingly of young women ... simultaneously acting as subjects while positioning themselves as objects of the erotic gaze" (p. 15). That gaze is discursively positioned as belonging to men, and one important means by which this positioning occurs is the almost total absence of men's bodies from these Web sites. While this does not hold for all alt-porn sites, which exhibit more diversity than the two discussed here, the absence of men's bodies (in a sense to be further specified below) is something that I wish to focus on here and in the following section of this article. It is almost as if the male body is unable to be represented within the space of "positive porn"; as if its presence is unable to be contained within the narrative of "sensual liberation." While images of women's bodies may have diversified considerably with the advent of netporn, men's bodies as sites of aesthetic pleasure appear to remain a step too far.

What this absence points to is the importance of maintaining gendered power relations as a central dimension of the critical analysis of pornography online. There remains much distance between the critical feminist perspective on gender and pornography (Dines 2010; Jensen 2007) and the "pro-sex" feminist perspective that has emerged primarily out of the work of film studies scholars (Williams 2004). Yet, both traditions contain important insights, and I contend that a critical theory of netporn needs to break out of this dualism. As Peter Lehman (2006:20) has argued, it is more important to develop a "complex" analysis of porn than to be pro- or anti-porn. Notably, intersections between gender relations and sexual expressions are a key element of this complexity and, yet, this is a dimension of analysis that some critics have argued is absent from Marcuse's account of sexual liberation. Bryan Turner (2008), for example, in his assessment of Marcuse's contribution to the sociology of the body, charges that in Eros and Civilization "The liberation of desire is implicitly the liberation of male desire" (p. 27). Hence, for Turner (2008), "Marcuse's approach to reason/desire with its emphasis on play as liberation fails to take adequate notice of pornography as a practice of power" (p. 28). This echoes Kellner's (1984) claim that "Marcuse fails to make gender distinctions in [Eros and Civilization], and does not analyze the specificity of women's oppression" (pp. 191-92). With these critiques in mind, any rereading of Marcuse's work today clearly needs to consider the issue of gender relations alongside his theory of Eros, and it is to this task that I now turn.

MASCULINITY, PHANTASY, AND THE BODY

It is not entirely correct to say that Marcuse does not pay any attention to gender relations in developing his theory. Most notably, it was a topic that he turned to explicitly in the last years of his life (Marcuse 2006). In Eros and Civilization, he claims that the emergence of a new reality principle, along with the broadened scope of libidinal relations that would concurrently emerge, "would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family" (Marcuse 1974:201). Although this analysis is not developed to any significant extent, the implication is that the social construction of heteronormativity is responsible for maintaining patriarchal gender relations. In other words, Marcuse's insight is that the construction of a (hetero)sexed body under the sway of the performance principle is a key mechanism via which gendered power relations are institutionalized in society. I suggest that this inchoate connection between sexuality and gender relations is what needs to be taken up and elaborated more fully in rereading Marcuse in the age of online pornography.

A gender dimension can also be read into Marcuse's work in places where he does not explicitly take it up as a focus of analysis, especially in relation to the concept of nature. His turn to Freud is grounded in the belief that the latter's meta-psychological analyses reveal something about the historical condition of human nature in the modern period. In particular, Marcuse is interested in the implications of modern technoscientific rationality for the relation of humanity to nature. Critical theory in the Frankfurt School tradition has always maintained a focus on questions about the place of nature in contemporary society (Vogel, 1996), and Marcuse's work on sexuality can be situated within the terms of this endeavor. For example, he claims that, "The ego which undertook the rational transformation of the human and natural environment revealed itself as an essentially aggressive, offensive subject" (Marcuse 1974:110). This rational subject is one who experiences nature (including its own nature within) as something that must be "fought, conquered, and even violated"; hence, "Nature is a priori experienced by an organism bent to domination and therefore experienced as susceptible to mastery and control" (Marcuse 1974:110). While Marcuse frames his account in generic terms, I maintain that it can profitably be read as a gendered discourse describing the normative constitution of a masculine subject. A number of key texts in feminist science studies have made apparent the connection between the rise of modern science and technology and hegemonic formulations of masculinity (Jordanova 1989; Schiebinger 1993; Wajcman 1991). Read in this light, Marcuse's concern with the domination of nature, and especially of sexuality as inner nature, can be translated into an analysis of masculinity, power, and men's relation to nature.

Such an analysis, I argue, is precisely what is needed to understand the significance of the proliferation of online pornography today. The contemporary pornographic imagination is structured around a pattern of gender relations in which men are both in control of women and of themselves. Both mainstream heterosexual pornography and the alt-porn discussed above stage a confrontation between Man and nature--one in which the ongoing desire to establish control over nature by bringing it to order is central to the status of masculinity. In this sense, pornography is a key domain of experience where we can observe the belief that "to be a man" requires being in control (Garlick 2010). Men's power and control over women in porn has often been noted and criticized, but self-control over men's own sexual natures is equally crucial to the performance of masculinity in porn. The male body in pornography is almost always figured as a machine that functions with a nearly emotionless, rational efficiency. This is especially the case for white men. As Anja Hirdman (2007) notes with regard to representations of the male body in pornography: "The white man's sexual drama, as evident in hardcore porn, concerns questions of how to have a sexual urge while controlling it, how to simultaneously be a body while denying this cultural position" (p. 167). It is here, as much as in representations of women's sexuality in porn, that we find the central confrontation between men and (embodied, sexual) nature--a confrontation that revolves around a desire for control.

Joan Mason-Grant (2004) has productively argued for the value of a phenomenological approach to pornography centered on the lived body. Sharpening the focus on men's bodies, both in pornographic representations as well as in practical engagements with them, extends such an approach to consider not merely the subordination of women's bodies, but porn as an embodied practice that shapes men's experiences of their own bodies. In Marcuse's terms, this can be understood as the application of the performance principle to the domain of sex, with particular implications for men's bodies: "the libido becomes concentrated in one part of the body, leaving most of the rest free for use as the instrument of labor. The temporal reduction of the libido is thus supplemented by its spatial reduction" (Marcuse 1974:48). Here, Marcuse could well be describing the male body, reduced to the erect penis, as represented in pornography. As Willemen (2004) notes, it is men's "phallic endurance which is the defining dimension of the porn narrative" (p. 21). Such endurance represents control over nature--both in the form of women's bodies and of nature within--and stages this battle for control in terms of a competitive contest among men. Indeed, Ian Cook (2006) points out that because Internet porn presents its viewers with a world in which there are an endless number of women who are available for sex, the effect is "... to demand that men conquer increasing numbers of women to demonstrate their manliness"; moreover, the repeated display of well-endowed male bodies "... reinforces the idea that women can only be satisfied by men with large penises who can maintain erections for indefinite periods" (p. 56). Under the rule of the performance principle, the male body is turned into a competitive instrument of alienated labor. As we saw above, men's bodies are often absent from the pornographic scene. Even when they are present, however, they are often merely synecdochally represented by the hard, erect penis. Male bodies, for example, are almost never penetrated within heterosexual porn, or shown to be out of control in any significant way.

What makes Marcuse's work particularly relevant here is the fact that he locates a key source of resistance to the performance principle in the realm of "phantasy" or imagination. Sexuality, of course, has often been associated with fantasy, and pornography is often defended on the grounds that it is a safe space in which people can realize fantasies that might be inappropriate in the "real" world. For example, sex therapist Marty Klein (2006) argues that critics of porn view it too literally and fail to appreciate the ways in which it enables people to reclaim their own sexual experiences in contravention of social norms. In particular, he claims that, in comparison to the empirical world of sex and relationships with women, men are able to assuage their "fear of losing control" by entering into the realm of pornographic fantasies (Klein 2006:250). For Klein, this is largely because women in porn are represented as being completely accepting of men's every sexual request and desire; yet, it is also because men's bodies are represented as resoundingly phallic. The latter point is important to note because it alerts us to the fact that the vast majority of porn is not in fact "phantasy" in the sense that Marcuse uses the term. Following Freud, Marcuse describes phantasy as a mental activity that links the conscious with the unconscious dimensions of life that are repressed or denied by the performance principle (especially in relation to sexuality). Phantasy is thus an expression of the antagonisms of contemporary society. As Marcuse (1974) describes it:
   In and against the world of the antagonistic principium
   individuationis, imagination sustains the claim of the whole
   individual, in union with the genus and with the "archaic" past
   .... As a fundamental, independent mental process, phantasy has a
   truth value of its own, which corresponds to an experience of its
   own--namely, the surmounting of the antagonistic human reality.
   (P. 143)


Although it is certainly possible to read many forms of pornography, especially many of the alternative pornographies that have sprung up on the Internet, as expressions of an erotic life that is excluded by conventional social norms, when we turn our attention to the ways in which men's bodies appear (or fail to appear), then I think we catch a glimpse of the limits of most pornographic fantasies.

To put it in more Marcusean language, we might say that most pornography offers "affirmative" fantasies--that is, fantasies that affirm the existing reality. This is a largely gendered, heteronormative reality in which men remain in control. In contrast, the sort of aesthetic form of phantasy Marcuse has in mind is "negative" in the sense of canceling the current state of affairs by refusing to signify within its symbolic economy. Phantasy effects a reconciliation of reason and sensuousness that serves as a critique of the dominance of the performance principle in life. This is, Marcuse (1974) freely admits, "unrealistic," but he also notes that "The relegation of real possibilities to the no-man's land of utopia is itself an essential element of the ideology of the performance principle" (p. 150). Such reflections lead Marcuse to turn to myth as a site in which truths that belong to a different reality are preserved.

OF MYTH AND MASCULINITY

In order to illustrate the potential of phantasy to negate the world of the performance principle and to stand for the possibility of a different reality, Marcuse turns to two figures from ancient Greek mythology: Orpheus and Narcissus. In conclusion, I would like to suggest that these examples are both highly relevant to thinking about the world of online pornography today. In popular thinking, Orpheus is associated with poetry and music, while Narcissus is distained as representative of an irresponsible preoccupation with the self. Yet, at the same time, both are figures that reject conventional (hetero)sexuality--Narcissus in favor of love for his own image, and Orpheus who turns to the love of boys after the death of his wife. Marcuse (1974) notes that Orpheus is linked to "homosexuality" in the classical tradition: "Like Narcissus, he rejects the normal Eros, not for an ascetic ideal, but for a fuller Eros. Like Narcissus, he protests against the repressive order of procreative sexuality" (p. 171). Read in this light, Marcuse (1974) argues for a reevaluation of the story of Narcissus, suggesting that he does not merely love himself, for "He does not know that the image he admires is his own" (p. 167); rather than a withdrawal from social relations, Narcissus symbolizes the integration of the ego with the world around it. In communing with nature, outside of the heterosexual economy imposed by the performance principle, "narcissism denotes a fundamental relatedness to reality which may generate a comprehensive existential order" (Marcuse 1974:169). In other words, for Marcuse, the mythic phantasy contains the potential kernel of a new reality principle.

This evocation of an implicitly homosexual pleasure in the mythic stories of Orpheus and Narcissus suggests that one site for such a transformation might be the growth of gay sex-oriented Web sites. Yet, this is a potential that also appears to remain largely unrealized, as gay online porn often does little to challenge conventional sexual or gender norms (Moorman 2010). A good example is the popular gay men's Web site http://Gaydar.co.uk. While this site may play an important role in validating a gay subculture, Sharif Mowlabocus (2007:68) has argued that gay male subjects are rendered culturally legible on Gaydar only if their bodies conform to strict norms of "regular" masculinity. Thus, while the scope of online gay porn certainly contains a greater diversity of representations of men's bodies, stepping outside the ambit of straight porn is no guarantee of escaping dominant symbolic frameworks and the embodied practices they prescribe. As is the case with the "positive" or indie netporn discussed above, it should be noted that the range of gay porn available online is more extensive than that discussed in this paper, yet the Web sites examined here illustrate that the critical potential of online pornography in relation to sexual norms often remains limited by existing gender relations.

In this regard, the point I wish to make here builds on Marcuse's discussion of myth. For aside from rejecting heteronormative sexuality, Orpheus and Narcissus are also linked by the pleasure that each takes in the male body. Whether it is pleasure in other men's bodies or in the reflection of one's own body in nature, in both cases the ma]e body is rescued from the world of alienated labor and re-sexualized. Orpheus and Narcissus are male figures who refuse to reduce the body to an instrument of power and control. If the Internet, digital technologies, and the emergence of new forms of netporn hold the potential to bring about a shift in sexual and gender relations, then it may be that such potentials will be released only by confronting the relation of masculinity to nature as addressed through the body.

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STEVE GARLICK

University of Victoria

Steve Garlick, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, Box 3050 STN

CSC, Victoria, BC,

Canada, V8W 3P5. E-mail: sgarlick@uvic.ca
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