#foodporn #realestateporn #spaceporn #pornporn #hashtagporn.

I hate the usage of the suffix “-porn” to denote subject matter of overwhelming and addictive visual appeal, and I want you to stop using it.

It’s not that I have a problem with porn per se—

Wait, back that up. I do have a problem with porn per se. I find porn embarrassing, not so much when I see it, but when I think about it. One of the revolutionary aspects of modernism was the acknowledgment by scientists like Freud and Jung and artists like Joyce and Proust that within the innermost life of even the most timid and respectable persons there is a never-ending lurid erotic phantasmagoria: commercial pornography, it seems to me, involves the colonisation and strip-mining of this sacred and profane territory by capitalism. In a society where there were no disparities of wealth or status or gender, where there was no male privilege and no one was ever trafficked to another country where they had their passport confiscated and told that they had an immense debt to repay by being filmed having unwanted sex, a healthy, frank and non-exploitative pornography might be possible; it is surely possible between consenting partners today, but to think that all porn is like this is to deceive oneself. Porn, as countless sketch-comedy parodies have made clear, is incredibly dumb. Porn gets people like me into an embarrassed tangle because we like to think of ourselves as open-minded and against censorship and therefore feel forced to cavil, dishonestly, with weasel words like “It’s not that I have a problem with porn per se—”.

To take a different tack: it is curious that our language tends to express compulsive enjoyment of the arts by metaphor. In earlier times, these metaphors came from the realm of religion, and we still speak of a cultural mecca, of devotees, fans and enthusiasts, while being scarcely aware that “fan” is short for “fanatic” and “enthusiast” comes from a Greek term for divine ecstasy which in English still carried some of its derogatory force against nonconformist protestants as recently as the nineteenth century. In our day, if we want to quickly point out that images of beautiful library shelves or outer space or delicious meals are spectacular and compulsive, we reach reflexively for the suffix -porn, and I suppose if this metaphorical link did not make psychological sense, it would not be as widespread. But that doesn’t mean that it should be encouraged, if only to spare us the kind of annoying moral snarl I fell into in my third paragraph.

The next time you see, or are tempted to perpetrate, a hashtag or headline ending in ‘-porn’, I invite you to perform the exercise of making the metaphor literal:

“These upper-middle-class interiors are inducing in me the physical evidence of sexual arousal.”

“These photographs of food are encouraging an unrealistic set of expectations regarding the frequency, variety and perversity of meals prepared for me by my partner.”

“These views of the Orion Nebula as perceived by the Hubble Space Telescope allow me to achieve orgasm without the need for a partner, a creative imagination, or potentially troubling introspection.”


Drawing by Mike Lynch, 2013.

Drawing by Mike Lynch, 2013.