25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom is written by a comics writer but it is not a comic book. Nevertheless, it sparked some thoughts about pornography that I thought were worth exploring. I wish to post both a review of the book and a response, the latter of which will be forthcoming. [Edit: Here’s the analysis post]
PART ONE: REVIEW
25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom is basically an essay by Alan Moore on pornography. Moore’s influence on comics and pop culture should not be understated here, and you can check out his Wikipedia page for more about that. In terms of pornography, he is the author the three volume erotic comic, Lost Girls, which I’ve read and appreciated for the visual quotations of artists’ styles, such as Franz von Bayros‘ delightfully playful and intricate work. However, I found 25,000 Years more than a little disappointing. While Moore’s tour through the history of porn is entertaining, if you are expecting anything more than learning about his personal views while looking at random reproductions of smut through the ages, you’d best read something else.
Moore’s overview is highly idiosyncratic and he writes about what he knows. A fair bit of ink is spilled over some areas such as erotic comics in the West, whereas other areas like early pornographic cinema, gay porn or erotic art outside the Occident is completely ignored. However, as this is not meant to be a scholarly piece, I don’t point this out as a criticism. In fact, the essay is strongest where it provides random historical anecdotes and quirky details pulled from Moore’s memories. Delivered with a biting sense of humour, these were quite enjoyable to read.
25,000 Years falters when Moore indulges in a grossly oversimplified thesis about how societies with an accepting attitude toward pornography will produce “enlightened” civilizations like ancient Greece* whereas sexual repressed societies will produce… the Holocaust. At first, I thought he was being facetious, but after hammering home this point over 80 or so pages, I must conclude that he is being entirely sincere. I don’t have anything against the thesis itself, but even a superficial analysis reveals problems in his arguments, which are largely based on conjecture. Unfortunately, this makes getting through 25,000 Years difficult at times as his main thesis degenerates from worthy of consideration to irritatingly facile. It appears I am not the only person to draw this conclusion… Moore also calls for the return of what he deems to be “good” pornography which I found problematic (I will address this further in the following response post).
In terms of the accompanying illustrations, 25,000 Years offers a fairly random cross section of Western erotic art, save a couple of famous Hokusai prints and carvings on the Devi Jagadambi Temple. As they often are not directly related to the text, I imagine that the works featured constitute what Moore would deem to be “good” pornography. That is to say, porn that is tasteful, aesthetically pleasing and in which artistic skills and sensibilities are evident. I liked the inclusion of works from the fine arts tradition, especially pieces that would probably be overlooked today in terms of pornography. I will also note that the works chosen are for the most part, hetero/white/vanilla/softcore pieces that serve the male gaze.
I received 25,000 Years from a friend. It is available online, as well as in some bookstores and sex shops.
* Of all the conjecture presented in 25,000 Years, Moore’s ideas about ancient Greece and his heavy reliance on this one case study irked me so much, I’d like to specifically address this point. Ancient Greece is a one off. You can’t pick an outlier and then build a generalized theory around it. The factors that led to ancient Greece’s outstanding intellectual and cultural output are debatable and to attribute this output to the fact that there were statues of giant penises and supernatural bestiality hanging about is not convincing. (Although if someone knows of any convincing arguments that demonstrate a direct causal link between ancient Greece’s proliferation of phallic art/pederasty and the works of Plato and Pythagoras, I’d love to hear about it.) In any case, there are plenty of societies that have both a guilt-free/Christian-free attitude to sex and an acceptance of sexual imagery that don’t resemble any “enlightened” civilization, nevermind that of ancient Greece. But most importantly, the popular notion that ancient Greece was a sexually permissive homo hopping free for all is just false. It is especially false if you did not happen to be a member of the elite male ruling class. I understand that ancient Greece can look permissive and sex-positive and in some ways it was more so than today’s Western nations. However, if you really wish to know about the ancients, sex and pornography, you’re better off taking notes from historians like Michael Foucault or Kenneth Dover. #endrant