An Argument in Two Halves – by Ian Shearer

by Horror Sleaze Trash on June 27, 2011

Response to ‘Poetry or Pornography?’:

An Argument in Two Halves

by Ian Shearer


On bended knee, begging for rationality…

Ben Smith is my friend.  I also help him to run his website, Horror Sleaze Trash, and I edited his recently released poetry book by the same name, so I have a professional interest in – as well as a personal admiration for – his work.  It was with that in mind that I decided to write this, as for the most part I have little time for the sort of low-rent critics I am taking on here.

It saddens me to hear him labelled a misogynist  and his work reduced to nothing but pornography.  Not only because both assertions are incorrect and offensive, but because throwing those sorts of words around only serves to cheapen them, like calling someone a racist for uttering a racial slur, regardless of context, when there are still fools wearing white sheets and rocking swastika tattoos.  Words themselves can no more be misogynistic than they can be racist, it is their intention and usage that determines their import.  Unfortunately many people never get past the words.  They don’t get past the dirty words to examine their real meaning, and yet somehow they only ever seem to read the poems with the dirty words in them, because the people who are so quick to condemn Ben’s work never appear to have read the wealth of poems that are funny, or beautiful, or painful, or more often than not a combination of all three.  The truth is, in cases like this, the criticism says a lot more about than critic than the artist.  What the critics are really responding to is Ben’s honesty.  On some level they are uncomfortable with the things he is saying and, rather than choose to examine and discuss, they dismiss.  This is not the same as simply not liking something.  You might go to a stand up comedy show and not laugh once, but though you may say he or she was simply not funny, you would not dismiss the act as not being comedy at all, but something else that both the comic and the audience ought to be ashamed of taking part in.  Unless, of course, the comic happened to say something that struck a chord with you – a chord you didn’t like the sound of, because it challenged, or outright refuted, some fundamental belief that you hold very dearly.  The irony of course is that only the very best art ever invokes such an emotional response.

Many people also take exception to Ben’s publication of pornographic photography, suggesting that he is complicit in the objectification of women and using his sexually explicit, male-centric poetry to back up the argument.  Once again the crucial distinction to make is between what is being said or – in this case – shown, and the intention behind it.  Artists have represented the nude female form for centuries but though they may have caused some uproar in their time, the oil paintings that now hang on museum walls are judged by different parameters than the artwork showcased online.  Again, a value judgement is fine.  If you don’t like the photography or artwork on the site, that is your opinion and you are welcome to it.  But to accuse the publisher of the material of objectifying women is ridiculous.  Do certain people look at these pictures and objectify the women in them?  No doubt.  But the day we start censoring art based on the opinions of the few is the day we should post an ‘Abandon All Hope’ sign and move on, because what is truly demeaning to women is not to take pictures of them with their clothes off, but to tell them they have no right to have those pictures taken because of how they might be interpreted by a handful of cretins who have no respect for women.  The women featured on the site are alternative / erotic models.  This is what they do.  More to the point, they are consenting adults who have a right to display their bodies and explore their sexuality any damn way they please.  Your personal feelings on the matter simply don’t enter the equation.  Not only is it bad logic, it is offensive to women in general to suggest that the models featured on the site are either willing participants in the objectification of women, or simply not intelligent enough to recognise it.  The truth is they are  beautiful, clever women who enjoy both looking at and participating in erotic photography.  There is no shame in it, and to suggest otherwise  is simple narrow-mindedness.

Of course I don’t delude myself into believing that by writing something like this I will ever change any opinions, but the voices of the critics always ring out louder than the fans who, for the most part, are content to keep reading.  As part of the Horror Sleaze Trash team I thank them for their continued support.  As for the rest of them, well, it needs to be said:

Standing on the bar, chest thumping…

What the fuck is wrong with pornography?  I like porn.  So do hundreds of millions of other people worldwide.  Despite this, even in 2011, the word still carries the baggage of deviancy and shame.  As the internet continues to expand it gets harder to ignore porn but by god, many of us still try.  The truth is porn is just like anything else, while there is a demand, there will be a supply and the more shame and criminalisation we heap onto the demand, the shadier the supply will become.  Also, like any other commodity, 95% of porn just downright sucks.  Now Horror Sleaze Trash has no intentions of competing in the hardcore porn market, but you can see some nice pictures of pretty, naked ladies there.   While you’re at it, you can also check out some of the very best poetry, prose, photography and artwork out there right now.  There aren’t a whole hell of a lot of sites who can make that claim.  If Ben was nothing more than a peddler of smut he wouldn’t take the time, money or effort he does to feature all of this incredible material.  He just likes titties too.  A lot of us do.  Get over it.  And if, unlike us, you don’t like seeing titties alongside your poetry, go somewhere else and take your page hits with you.  We don’t fucking need ’em.

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