Pornography is central to the regulation of all forms of sexual representation on television because it is their distinction from pornography, as it has been historically defined, that legitimizes the circulation and consumption of erotic texts in the main­stream media. In this way pornography acts as a boundary marker arising from its cultural status as an illicit genre defined though legal prohibitions and restrictions. As a consequence, on television it remains entirely marginal. The marketing of ‘adult’ cable channels, a term that marks the concern to protect children from exposure, is excluded from mainstream listing magazines and access is controlled by subscription and encryption. These channels are also marginal to the study of television, as is indicated by the overview provided in The Television Genre Book, which doesn’t mention them at all (Creeber 2001c). Nevertheless, television, alongside video and the Internet, has allowed for the wider distribution of visual pornography and expanded the range of consumers to whom it is addressed, which now, crucially, includes women. This availability is approached here in relation to changing cultures of taste in post-war consumer culture rather than in relation to the anti-porn/ anti-censorship debates that have, until recently, dominated discussions on this genre. Through a discussion of four studies that have taken this approach (Juffer 1998; Jankovich 2001; Kertz 2002; McNair 2002), I provide the groundwork for this book’s analysis of the discourses of taste that differentiate and legitimate all forms of sexual discourse on television.

First, I want to establish the emergence of pornography as a genre of sexually explicit discourse that was defined through restrictions limiting its circulation. This was premised on the following:

• The differentiation between pornography and legitimate art and literature on the one hand or science and education on the other.

• The assumption that adult men are the primary consumers of pornography, and that women and children should be protected from unwanted exposure.

• Fears that its sexually arousing effects will have harmful consequences. Puritans frame this as moral corruption, whereas anti-porn feminists are concerned that it objectifies and devalues women.

This means that pornography as a genre has developed as a form of ‘low’ culture for men that lacks cultural legitimacy and is hedged by legal restrictions. This marginal and stigmatized status has meant that on television its circulation has been restricted to late night and subscription cable channels. The more widespread incursion of sexually arousing imagery into mainstream programming has depended on the development of hybridized documentary formats and ‘quality’ drama series that are legitimized through their educational and aesthetic value. Transformations in genres and their positioning in a hierarchy of taste cultures differentiated by class and gender can therefore be seen as central to the circulation and legitimation of erotic texts for new groups of consumers. This chapter looks in particular at the hybrid ‘infotainment’ formats that combine documentary with pornographic conventions in an appeal to a new generation of less puritan consumers as well as at new forms of soft core pornography addressed to women.

One of the features of bourgeois (upper-class) taste, in Bourdieu’s (1984) analysis, is the belief that art is detached from everyday life, and doesn’t have any utilitarian purpose. Bourdieu refers to it as the ‘aesthetic disposition’. One objection to pornography then becomes its singular intention to produce sexual arousal. If this effect is offset by other aesthetic ‘intentions’ that put it in the category of ‘art’, the same degree of sexual explicitness becomes legitimate, such as the tradition of painting ‘nudes’ that are on open display in bourgeois homes and in art galleries (Ross 1993). Linda Williams (1990) points to the emergence of pornography as a genre category in the nineteenth century as a consequence of the development of the mass media:

pornography as we know it emerges at that moment when the diffusion of new kinds of mass media – novels and magazines in the Victorian era, films and videos today – exacerbates a dominant group’s worry about the availability of these media to persons less responsible than themselves.

(Williams 1990: 12)

A second problem, then, is the concern that pornography will have a bad effect on ‘the masses’ who have not developed this aesthetic disposition in relation to erotic imagery; that they will in fact be corrupted into lascivious thoughts and deeds without the protection of this intellectual distancing.

The first piece of anti-obscenity legislation in the UK was the British Obscene Publications Act, in 1857, which defined pornography as material that is likely to corrupt and deprave. That is, it was defined not by any specific textual characteristics but by its presumed effects. In the nineteenth century any type of explicit sexual writing could be liable to censorship. It is through recurring obscenity trials in the twentieth century, most famously the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial in 1960, that pornography has progressively been distinguished from anything that could be seen as having any artistic value (Ross 1993). A similar set of legal distinctions developed in the USA, with legislation in 1957 allowing for the circulation of sexual materials that had ‘redeeming social importance’ (Williams 1990: 96-8) (see Chapters 7 and 8 for how this affects sexual portrayal in television drama).

Another feature of bourgeois culture is the high status of science as a privileged domain of knowledge. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries sexology came to operate as a new ‘regime of truth’. While in polite bourgeois society it wasn’t respectable to speak about sex, especially in front of women and children, it became something that could be legitimately talked and written about within this scientific framework (Foucault 1990). Thus scientists were able to define the framework for thinking about sexual behaviour, based around classificatory notions of the normal and abnormal, as well as having the power to define what is true and what is false. Because sex had become so hidden in everyday life, in contrast to the pre-modern period (Elias 1994), it became a secret that had to be discovered through techniques of observation, confession, investigation, classification and labelling. Through these tech­nologies of the self that emerged in the new social and medical sciences of sociology, psychiatry and sexology we would gain an insight into who we truly were. Freudian psychoanalysis emerged from this context at the turn of the twentieth century, as did Kinsey, an influential sexologist in the post-war period, who sought to discover an objectively determined body of fact about sex to counteract the ‘myths’ of popularly held beliefs (Kinsey et al. 1948; Kinsey 1953). So it is that, nowadays, in contrast to the prosecution of Annie Besant for obscenity in 1877 for publishing a pamphlet on con­traception, any sexually explicit discourse that has a legitimate scientific or educational purpose backed up by ‘expert’ knowledge is exempt from being defined as ‘porn­ography’. This has had an important influence on the kind of pedagogic address adopted in many of the television documentaries that engage directly with sexual issues (see Chapters 5 and 6).

The disciplinary effects of these legal distinctions between legitimate and illegitim­ate sexual discourse are realized through ‘subjectification’; that is to say, the ways in which people internalize the normative values these distinctions embody. It is a form of self-disciplining in which people adjust their own reactions to sexually explicit imagery in ways that conform to pre-existing cultural distinctions (Juffer 1998: 39). In this way social regulation becomes naturalized as individual ‘taste’ through what Foucault has called a ‘technique of the self’. The bodily effects of disgust and embarrassment that people can experience as a reaction to the arousing effects of sexually explicit imagery and talk are the result of this process. This bodily ‘disposition’ (Bourdieu 1984) appears to be a ‘natural’ reaction beyond conscious control, thereby reproducing the socially constructed boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate forms of sexual

representation without any conscious awareness of its cultural production. Numerous techniques are used by television producers to establish the cultural worth of pro­grammes that include explicit sexual imagery to help viewers to avoid being disturbed in this way (these are elaborated in subsequent chapters).