I was standing by the water cooler with some of our writers and editors when this whole erotica versus pornography debate reared it’s sexy dragon head again. I was pretty confidant we had laid that beast to rest. Since the dragon in this metaphor is erotica, I shouldn’t be surprised that she or he (pick your pleasure) needs to be laid again and again and again.
The question that came up was whether some of what we had been calling porn could still meet our criteria for what we were calling erotica, specially if the porn in question showed all the characters wanting sex and enjoying themselves. After further discussion, we decided it was still porn. Here’s why:
The movies we tagged as pornographic all have — in our humble opinion — lousy writing, lousy acting, lousy directing, lousy videography, lousy music, and really lousy sex. We simply couldn’t believe it when the women in these movies passionlessly delivered lines like, “Oh, baby, just like that. Mama loves it when you do her like a dog.”
So to our earlier criteria distinguishing erotica from porn, we have to add the following requirement:
The characters need to be credible.
That doesn’t mean that you need to believe in dragons. It means that if there are dragons in the story, and they shapeshift into sexy paramours, you have to find it believable that the people sleeping with them are totally into it and really turned on.
The story needs to be good enough to draw audiences in. For that to happen, the artists putting the work together need to have some skill.
Even if they’re faking it (and let’s face it, acting is by its very nature faking it), the cries of ecstasy need to be Meg-Ryan quality. (By the way, did you notice how many times in that deli scene in When Harry Met Sally she screamed “Oh, Yes!”?)
Anything less, and the viewer or reader will know it’s fake. At that point, the story starts failing our other criteria for what counts as erotic. It fails to be erotica because there are:
- No real subjects with real desires
- No genuine consent and participation
- No mutual satisfaction
I guess what we’re saying is erotica needs a level of quality for a story to work as genuinely erotic instead of pornographic.
Since quality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, I think it’s probably also true that this debate is one dragon we’ll never really lay to rest.