I recently read a piece by William Bibbiani on Crave, which addressed the question: “Why doesn’t pornography get more appreciation as an art form?” (1/23/15).

I was excited to read the piece, as I had asked myself that very same question when I was working on my dissertation research in graduate school. I found that, though there were some places that looked at adult content as a wider social artifact, most porn film criticism wasn’t looking at the bigger pictures framing adult content – the social aspects, the synergy between production and wider society, the performers’ and directors’ bodies of work, and so on. Though I understood (and grew to understand even further) the absolute necessity of the blow-by-blow porn review, I thought there was space for more of something additional.

So, for this reason and many others, I started writing critical reviews on PVVOnline.com in 2010. And four and a half years and hundreds of reviews later, I felt PVV had really made an impact. My reviews were archived alongside the works of very significant adult industry critics and seemed to help highlight the significance of some critical reviewers’ existing work. I also got great dialogue from industry luminaries and found moments to connect with mainstream media about their *lack* of coverage. Thus, regarding William’s Crave article, I thought for sure this work would be mentioned within a thoughtful assessment of what more we could all be doing to understand porn’s significant place within wider society.


I was greatly disappointed to read the original version of William’s piece, which outlined two poles discussing adult film content: the strict anti-porn position and the blow-by-blow industry review. The anti- position was engaged decently well, but I was shocked to find no consideration of what purpose industry reviews might have (FYI: they are heavily consumer-motivated and often double as content and catalogue descriptions, among other things – they are very useful, multifaceted, and important) as well as no mention of existing work looking at porn more critically, including mine.

Don Houston, himself a thoughtful and sharp assessor of adult content, drew my attention to this piece… And so I figured I would ask William about it. What resulted was a wonderful exchange on Twitter and addendum to the original piece!

Read “AVN Awards 2015: Pornography Deserves Better Criticism” in full on Crave here, and read William’s addendum below.

We have received some very positive responses to the above article from people within and without the industry, who appreciated our effort to encourage more meaningful discourse about pornography. But with meaningful discourse comes criticism, and some of it is indeed warranted, so we wanted to address those particular concerns here, in plain view.

The intent of the above article was primarily to discuss the general failings of mainstream media and film critics to respect, cover, or even openly talk about, pornographic films as an art form. There are some publications who have been making strides, including UpRoxx.com, which deserve credit for their efforts, but which did not receive that credit above. For that we apologize.

In addressing the general state of criticism which does focus on pornography, some important aspects of the conversation either went unaddressed, or were not addressed in enough detail. As has been pointed out by noted porn critic Don Houston in the comments below, many of the issues that were raised about the general patterns of porn criticism were developed over time, naturally, and have practical applications for consumers and publishers. This is a fair observation that deserved greater emphasis in the original posting.

The principle counterargument to made to this point is one that applies to mainstream film criticism as well, which is that the practical application of said criticism – which often amounts to consumer reporting and/or advocacy – may be viable and even vital, but is also only one small part of what art criticism can achieve. The intent of this article is not to deny the validity of current pornographic criticism but to argue that we can do better as an industry, particularly in the so-called “mainstream,” to elevate the discourse above and beyond the current standards, and to improve opinions about the art form as a whole in order to promote not only sex positivity but also a broader range of standards from which art criticism could benefit across the board.

It has also been pointed out, mostly on Twitter, that the above article generalizes trends in pornographic criticism without noting that there are indeed exceptions to those swatches of the spectrum. This was not the intention, and attempts were made to allow that those exceptions exist, but clearly we could have done better. If nothing else, it would have been fair to cite examples. Readers seeking pornographic critics who are approaching the medium from different perspectives are encouraged to seek out Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, and Gram Ponante. [Please note that these websites are comparatively NSFW.]

To all who have supported this article and its intentions, we thank you. To all who are holding us to a high standard, we thank you as well. Improving the discourse is a responsibility we all share, and we appreciate every single person who takes that responsibility seriously enough to contribute to the conversation and attempt to make a difference.

What do you think?


Image via Crave (no idea)

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Got a sociology question? Need some social justice informed life advice? Contact Dr. Chauntelle right here.

One thought on “Film Criticism: Adult Content Deserves Better

  • February 24, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Chauntelle, off the cuff, some thoughts about this article by William Bibbiani…at Crave.

    Perhaps some art simply works on a primal level that serious art critics are unwilling to accept as “good,” perhaps because they don’t understand why it works or – equally likely, especially in the case of pornography – they are hesitant to be the first out of the gate to suggest that it deserves more serious critical analysis instead of ridicule and scorn for being arguably lewd.
    **Me..99.9999% of porn deserves no critical artistic analysis..it is nothing more than people sexually using people…for $money$.
    What should be, at its core, an Intimate loving expression becomes publicly degraded.
    That is Lewd. (as is, also Lewd, the Politician et al who uses people’s trust for personal gain)

    Pornographic films may frequently tell their stories with less depth and nuance than other motion pictures, but that is not a flaw in the overall genre. It is a stylistic decision that has to be made, because every pornographic style has a particular, wholly intended effect on its target audience for each film and/or scene.
    **Me:. “may frequently tell their stories with less depth” ?? As I see it and as I see Life, porn films…as so many films, at their “Core”, simply are not created with the ultimate intent of addressing the “true human condition/real needs”…the deepest human issues.
    They are simply “showing sex”.
    If they were to truly attempt to “incorporate” deep meaning….it would be seriously overridden,
    squashed, by the sheer force/power of raw visual sex…which so many of us feel/believe is not meant to be put on public display..like a “spectator/sport entertainment”.
    When human beings take physical sexual intimacy into the public eye…they have lost the True meaning of Intimacy. True Intimacy is about Love…as I said, not a spectator sport.

    In our innermost.. deepest being…we are beings, spiritual, whose Truest needs cannot ever be met by something as counterfeit as pornography.
    Take good care…Tim

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