The Lexicon of Offense: The Meanings of Torture, Porn, and ‘Torture Porn”

In Feona Attwood, Ian Hunter, Vincent Campbell & Sharon Lockyear (eds.), Controversial Images: Media Representations on the Edge. Palgrave-Macmillan. pp. 186-200 (2012)
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Torture porn has been vilified on grounds that are at best unconvincing and at worst incoherent. The subgenre’s remonstrators too often ignore the content of the films themselves, and fail to make sufficiently detailed connections between the subgenre and the cultural sphere. Reactions to torture porn rarely consider what values the films apparently contravene, and why, if the films are offensive, they are simultaneously so popular. The central derisive mechanism in operation is the ill-conceived combination of ‘torture’ and ‘porn’ itself. The use of ‘porn’ as a label works to illegitimate torture porn and demand that body-horror retreat to its more ‘fitting’ position on the outskirts of the cultural radar. However, this approach is too busy pointing at violence, and fails to deal with the fact that sex is displaced. If violence is now pornographic, it is unclear what position sexual portrayals occupy, or whether they are still perceived as more offensive than violent representations. Furthermore, it is uncertain how we are to describe sexual images if that is the case, since the lexicon of offense has been waylaid. Torture porn’s critics commonly fail to account for the new context of ‘porn plus horror’, and what that combination says about visual representation and its limits. This chapter is a step towards rectifying that oversight.

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Steve Jones
University of Northumbria at Newcastle


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