AVN Awards 2015: Pornography Deserves Better Criticism

Jan 29, 2015
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Why doesn’t pornography get more appreciation as an art form?

Every single year the Adult Video News (AVN) Awards come around, to the apathy and/or amused giggles of mainstream entertainment outlets everywhere. The closest adult entertainment equivalent to the Oscars just don’t seem to get a lot of respect from the critical community in general, but that should come as no surprise. Pornography doesn’t get a lot of respect during the rest of the year either, and for that, we critics deserve a scolding.

The history of art criticism and journalism is riddled with the shameful disregard for genres and artistic movements that didn’t fit inside the traditional model of what is “good” and what is “bad.” There was a lengthy period when movies themselves were not considered a serious art form at all. There was a more recent time when science fiction and horror movies were not considered serious genres by many critics. Although a lot of contemporary critics seem eager to distance themselves from these views, growing up – as many of us did – in an era when Star Wars and Halloween had long since legitimized those genres, we still have a long way to go.

AVN Awards 2015: Pornography Deserves Better Criticism

There is no such thing as a “bad genre,” although it could probably be argued that some genres are more conducive to “high art,” an expression which can only written in quotation marks. After all, art is subjective. Whereas earlier critics found little-to-no artistic value in I Spit on Your Grave, contemporary critics have embraced the admittedly shocking rape-and-revenge film as a classic example of challenging, confrontational feminism. And let us not forget the original derision that even Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey was subjected to during its original run, compared to the nearly universal praise Kubrick’s rumination about the origin and destiny of life on this planet now receives.

And yet here we are anyway, with critics jumping en masse atop the mean-spirited pile to claim, to cite a mainstream example, that a delightful cheesy erotic thriller like The Boy Next Door must be bad. (As of writing, the film has a dismal “18% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the positive reviews – mine included – only numbering in the single digits). This in spite of the fact that Rob Cohen’s film has been entertaining the hell out of everybody, some of those critics included. Not that The Boy Next Door is pornography, per se, but there is a considerable amount of overlap between a mainstream film that luxuriates in sensuality to elicit an instinctual audience response, as opposed to a serious intellectual one, and X-rated films that do the same thing, albeit with much more directness.

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