A new book, “Cyber Sexy: Rethinking Pornography” by Richa Kaul Padte is billed as a “nuanced account of the sexual shopping cart”, but all social media hype on the book aside, it fails to unravel or, even revisit, several significant facets of what has come to be a part and parcel of our lives.
The rise of the World Wide Web, just like it allowed “porny content to reach a wider audience easily”, has also provided easier access of information to the readers. The tools of research that were once the priceless possessions of writers and scholars, albeit with the changing times, are within most people’s reach now. The readers are curious and will not be “forced to snort a line of marijuana”; they are looking for more than a compilation of what is already known — unfortunately, this much-hyped offering fails to deliver on this front.
Consider how Kaul-Padte, whose writings have appeared in Rolling Stone, Buzzfeed, The Establishment and Yahoo! Originals, traces the history of pornography.
For instance: There is no deviation, no depth, no analysis, no counter arguments, no fresh line of thought and no substance, to say the least, other than what can be glanced up in dozens of articles with just a few clicks on the keyboard. It does not “rethink” (as the title claims), but compiles a compendium of both information and perspectives already prevailing.
A large chunk of the book simply charts the author’s discussions on porn with numerous people; or is drawn from other books, articles and research papers. The author is recalling what others have said, in conversations with her, or in their own writings and not “rethinking”. Another aspect of this book that deserves scrutiny is its frequent deviation from the given topic. References to art exhibitions, movies and personal anecdotes are floating across its pages and many a time, the writer loses track of what she set out to do — rethink pornography.
A book that rethinks a given subject should culminate in new observations and foster new ways of looking at it and not barely tell us what we already know. T.M. Krishna’s recent “Reshaping Art” is a case in point.
“Cyber Sexy”, however, is not devoid of merit and Kaul-Padte deserves credit for highlighting two very crucial aspects of pornography — how women relate to porn and the issue of consent. At least in this context, her anecdotal references or of those she interviewed help create a clearer narrative. The author is unsparing when it comes to consent and highlights several examples of consent being taken for granted and moots her suggestions for the way forward.
But even here, her arguments or findings or suggestions are not unprecedented. We have heard similar points time and again — and if you are “rethinking pornography,” tell me something new.
Asked about the role of the state in what she calls the sexy internet, Kaul-Padte told IANS that the state has “no business interfering in citizens’ sexual lives, unless people are seeking legal recourse for sexual harm”.
“And even then, I’m talking about the courts, which should technically operate independently to the government, and be an impartial space where people can access justice. The state itself needs to stay out of citizens’ bedrooms and out of our browser histories,” she said.
The author further maintained that the sexy internet has been “tremendously important for so many people” to learn about “sex, to understand the shape of their own desires, and to sexually connect with other human beings”.
There’s no denying her assertions.
The biggest flaw of this book lies in the fact that it fails to look at porn as an organised industry today — an industry that attracts a wide audience but is also marred by trafficking, forced prostitution and blackmail, among others. Of course, she highlights “Revenge Porn” but again, like with most other things in the book, there is nothing new that the writer finds or puts across.
Too lost in personal narratives and compiled as a “sexy” book of sexual liberties that may attract some quick readers in the marketing-driven scenario of today, “Cyber Sexy” is a missed opportunity, whose presence may fade away as quickly as the eyeballs that it has grabbed within the few days of its publication.
Lastly, there is a constant ranting throughout the book, in which the author is essentially presenting a liberal outlook towards pornography, which would be fine, if done with an open mind. But Kaul-Padte’s narrative is skewed and lacks maturity.
There is no denying her assertion that pornography or consumers of pornography should not be looked down upon and blah blah blah (since the book follows an unconventional tone) but is it something that should be glorified’ After all, if not forced by circumstances and sometimes trapped, not all the “tits” and “dicks” she pens about would be hovering all over the sexy internet.
Or maybe, this is not the case and glorifying pornography, like Kaul-Padte does, is for the greater good. But the point is the book does not answer the questions it raises.
Published by Penguin India, the 255-page paperback is priced at Rs 399.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at email@example.com)
By Saket Suman