Don’t You Have Something More Important To Do?

Post to Twitter Post to Facebook

I just thought I’d get that tired derailment query out there, since it is inevitably raised when you ask a question that makes someone uncomfortable. No, for the next three or four minutes, I don’t. Regarding the expression “law porn,” Paul Caron posted this quote from Pam Karlan, who is credited with coining the term, for which she seems reluctant to take credit:

When I started using the term “law porn” to refer to the glossy promotional materials from various law schools (and I don’t know whether someone else used it first and I just picked it up or whether I was the originator), I was playing off an existing expression — “food porn.” That phrase referred to a kind of breathless, over-the-top journalism about obscure recipes, usually accompanied by arty photos of food shot with annoying lighting techniques and the like. My guess is that the word “porn” was being used there to refer to the titillating way the articles appealed to the senses. Lots of people had been using that term. I was struck by the resemblances between the law school magazines and the foodie publications. Like the food magazines, the law school magazines were characterized by arty photos that often seemed designed to make the buildings or the faculty look vaguely sexy, using come-hither photos. Like the food magazines, the law school magazines used overblown language littered with adjectives designed to convey a sort of excitement. All you need to do is to look at the cover of the current issue of NYU’s magazine, with its “Dworkin on Dworkin” cover, and, at least if you’re in the legal academy, you’d see what I mean by law porn.

The entire point of calling the magazines “law porn” was to make fun of them, so the faOkact that the term seems nonsensical to you suggests its utility. …

Okay, the idea that law schools are using “vaguely sexy, using come-hither photos” of its faculty to improve their Useless News rankings is amusing, I admit. But Pam Karlan must get very different porn spam than this blog does. The porn spam plaguing this blog is incredibly racist and degrading, and the photos depict body parts. Faces, when they are shown, tend to look submissive rather than “come-hither,” at least to me.

I have to admit I have special blog-related reasons to hate pornographers beyond the spam, though. A number pose as feminists online while simultaneously trying to silence bloggers who are actually feminist. For just one account of this, go here. And when they succeed in driving a blog off-line, they often manage to usurp the URL for porn, meaning blogs like this that had linked to what were feminist blogs in the past inadvertently become SEOs for porn sites, as I explained here. So yeah, on this issue I’ve become a humorless feminist, absolutely.

–Ann Bartow

NB: Whoops, forgot to direct y’all to Bridget’s great comment here.

This entry was posted in Academia, Law Schools, Law Teaching, Sociolinguistics. Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Don’t You Have Something More Important To Do?

  1. bob coley jr says:

    The usurping of abandon URLs by anyone, especialy porn sites, should be controlled. Maybe the GRANTOR of the URL should be required in some way to ask the GRANTEE (e-mail maybe) if the address should be voided or may be reasigned. The arguments of the providers against this as being too difficult or expensive just don’t hold up. Maybe a small cancelation fee similar to a cell phone contract (but way less). Of course, it could be the ISPs some how profit from inaction.

  2. FrankP says:

    I too am concerned by the “porn” designation, and I think it’s an unfortunate meme. Here is what I think is going on.

    Calling these promotional materials “law porn” is on one level an effort to discredit them. But as more and more things that are supposedly visually appealing get called porn, a strange reversal happens, whereby first the term “porn” starts seeming more legitimate, and then that legitimacy rubs off on the thing itself.

    It reminds me a bit of Godwin’s Law, whereby we are warned against Holocaust comparisons because if we make them too profligately, the uniquely horrifying nature of the Holocaust is diluted. I think you’re right to be concerned that some semiotic dilution (of a lesser order, of course) is going on here, and the expansive porn meme should be questioned.

    I’ll only defend the usage on one ground–that, as Collins and Skover note, in an ever more sensationalized public sphere, it’s hard to get attention. And once a term becomes commonplace, it’s hard to get everyone to use a new one. But I commend your efforts to get us to question the politics of this usage.

  3. bob coley jr says:

    Oh yea, the use of the word “porn” is a blatant attempt to get attention, no matter who used it first or the weak analogistic and comparitive excuses. Although most of us can be manipulated, many see what’s going on even as they fall prey to the tactic. Using human nature for fun and profit is a science, marketing I think they call it now.