Final Blog: The influence of pornography in popular culture

March 9, 2009 at 12:57 PM (Pornography, Sex and Food, The Cougar/MILF)

Sometimes I blush. More often, I find myself derisively snickering at the Food Network gods and goddesses after they’ve obliviously made some ridiculous comment or facial expression while cooking in their mock kitchens. But there comes a point when you realize, hey, these are smart, wealthy business people; they’ve got to know what they’re doing.

Of all their seemingly pollyanna personalities, Giada De Laurentiis has played the part impeccably. Kauffman explains Giada as the “resident glamazon” in her article Debbie Does Salad. De Laurentiis epitomizes the qualities the Food Network seeks in their food personalities: attractive, shapely, innocent but with another side, and seemingly Pollyanna with her word choice and facial expressions.

Like the porn industry people, the foodies “create this sensual, lush world, begging you to be drawn into it,” with their narrow sexual scripts, sex kitten hosts that are seemingly innocent but secret bad girls, tantalizing language used, and highly sensualized shots, angles and sounds. Kauffman elucidates that the popularity of these shows, like pornos is how beautifully idealized that world seems.

Porn industry vet Barbara Nitke parallels porn and foodTV by explaining that they work to create impossibly replicatable scenarios for their audiences. Gastroporn, as Kauffman calls it, is incredibly popular because “like sex porn, gastroporn addresses the most basic human needs and functions, idealizing and degrading them at the same time.”

Her show aside, this picture of Giada De Laurentiis from Esquire depicts just how in the loop she really is. In her tight and low-cut virginal-white dress her hair is long and full and her makeup is flawless. The only thing that seems purposefully flawed is her dress — particularly her half-exposed breast with a splash of sauce dripping down her chest.

Giada’s posed “finger in the mouth” is the quintessential Freudian phallic symbolism. Here, the use of Giada’s finger is two-fold: it insinuates an oral fixation shown in pornographic media while veiling symbolism for an action that is seen over and over again when chef’s taste-test their food (as it drips off her hand). Nitke points out that the constant repetition and looping of shots, like the final tasting, is very reminiscent of porn.

I won’t even bother to go into the obvious Freudian phallic symbolism, and how ridiculous I think it is that she’s sitting in a swimming pool of tomato sauce (???). But this, like her segments goes to show that in gastroporn “reruns don’t matter, and neither do beginnings, middles, or ends. “The big thing in porn is you can’t have too much story line,” explained Nitke. “It detracts from the sex. Same thing here. Nothing detracts from those food shots.”

The popularity of both the porn and food industry is indicative that they’ve tapped into cultural desires and needs. Similar to mainstream media, Food Network programming teases sex but never fully “puts out”. It’s as if porn is there to remind us of the other aspect – the last chapter to the novella it begins to tell but never fully finished in its entirety. It’s almost like a continuous wheel of self-promotion of popular media in all its forms.



Kim Kardashian rose to Paris Hilton-like fame after the release of her sex tape with her then boyfriend. Before the existence of the sex tape, Kim Kardashian was just another rich girl living in California, however, following the tapes release she was tabloid fodder. Her.. ahem.. lower-half was shadowing the fame of J.Lo’s famous tush and her dating life was just as closely recorded.

Her fame launched her career and opened doors that more than likely would not have been sans her X-rated video. Since then she has been cross-marketed and commodified by everyone from her famiy to her boyfriends to E! network. In the picture above, Kim is posed seductively in a tight, strapless dress for her and her famiies reality show, “Keeping up with the Kardashians”….. And without fail, she makes sure the public gets a good angle on her backside.



Hollywood socialites turned reality stars; saw kim as a sight (site) to commodify. “Kim Kardashian’s bouts with the tabloids and other celebutante- inflicted problems take center stage in the narrative construction of the show…. Following what seems to be the formula for quick fame in Hollywood, Kim Kardashian’s early 2007 sex-tape scandal projected her from being another rich, L.A. girl seen with the Hilton sisters to being a rich, L.A. girl with a video of her having sex with her then boyfriend, rapper and R &B artist Ray J., being broadcasted to any interested spectator across the internet.




Candance Haddad “Keepig up with the romp rage: E!’s commodification of Kim Kardashian’s assests”


Riding the wave of body-focused publicity induced by the sex-tape scandal, the show text itself presents multiple secondary plotlines that contribute to the ongoing fame-seeking narrative of Kim Kardashian aspiring to become a Hollywood sex symbol. Whatever the exact job requirements and prerequisites needed for this status are, of course, debatable.


.. Through the number of events and gigs Kim (and sometimes her sisters) are shown doing on the series, being a poster child for all clothes scantily-clad seems to be the type of job done by one aspiring to become a model and, thus, their occupational goal. Therefore, it could be said that Kim Kardashian’s occupation is that of a model with a reality television show. Yet, I am hesitant to state this as her profession for it becomes apparent in the show that she is not necessarily considered a model by the industry. Kim’s hesitancy with deciding what to aspire to combined with the discontentment of a number of the designers she works for — they explicitly state her non-professional model status….  

…make it clear that it is her sex-tape, rump-associated persona that gets her the jobs. Nonetheless, Keeping Up follows Kim on a number of her excursions in creating this new form of stardom. Whether the camera follows Kim who is accompanied by her mother and manager, Kris, on her photo shoot for Playboy or dropping in on her and her sisters’ karate lesson, where they constantly comment on her backside and its ability to the do the defense move called “the butt strike”, Kim’s backend blatantly plays a major role in the narrative of show.

Promotional items and appearances produced by E! for Kim and Keeping Up also promote this rump-centric discourse. With her family in the background to each of her sides, the cover of the Season 1 DVD features Kim wearing a skin-tight, animal print outfit in the foreground striking her signature look-behind-the-shoulder pose – thus, ensuring that her backside takes center stage. Further promoting this idea is the supplementary website of Keeping Up found on the E! Online site. The official E! Online Keeping Up website features photos, episode synopses, computer desktops able to be downloaded, and a number of other staples of online star and television show promotional items and activities. One of the online games/ activities you can play on E! Online’s Keeping Up website is the “Take the Tush Test” quiz game. Presented with two pictures side-by-side of two different celebritys’ backends, the user is asked to decide which of the two is Kim Kardashian’s. After being matched up against other stars such as Jessica Biel and Jennifer Lopez, the user finds out how many backends they “brilliantly branded” by choosing the “correct” tush.


it is undeniable that E! promotes Kim Kardashian’s image by constantly drawing upon the abundant and, thus, familiar rump-centric discourse


it’s apparent that E! is not only in the business of generating rump-centric discourse and putting Kim and her assets in the leading role(s), but also draw upon familiar strategies of fetishizing the ethnic, female other through audience flattery. In these instances of comparison, it is important to take into consideration the different ramifications and connotations this rump-centric discourse has between a Latina, second-generation Puerto Rican star and a multiracial Armenian and Irish-German star

While further investigation and comparison is needed to make strong conclusions between the stardoms of Jennifer Lopez and Kim Kardashian, I find this association between the rump of Kim and the rump of J.Lo to be working as a way to pan-ethnicize and contain the peculiarity of Kim’s racial and ethnic identity.


While the instances of Kim’s rump commentary are plentiful (I have only presented a select set of examples produced by E!), I want to conclude by discussing the implications of this discourse surrounding the body of a mixed-race, off-white female. While conclusions can immediately be drawn by dismissing these instances of fetishizing the Other as only an effort to contain its potential threat, I want to open up the potential for Kim Kardashian and her curves to be working as an active agent in pushing the status quo of white-centric beauty dominating the United States media landscape.3 However, I do not want to present too optimistic of a view, for it is undeniable that Kim’s Hottentot-inspired imagery does present a problematic representation of a non-white female unquestionably under the scrutiny of the white and male gaze. Furthermore, her complex form of stardom as a socialite turned sex-tape star turned reality television star struggling to articulate her role in the Hollywood limelight further complicates her agency. Nonetheless, as a multiracial woman who is only gaining in popularity with United States media, Kim Kardashian’s and her body’s infiltration into the mainstream media and discourse of beauty ideals should not be taken lightly. Further exploration into the continuing formation of her stardom and career in tandem with investigating the reception of her persona will further reveal the complexities and the politics of her (and her rump’s) representation.



Meredith Levande wrote in Women, pop music, and pornography, “Pornographic images are everywhere, but they did not magically appear. They are becoming increasingly corporate and are part of a larger business model. From the auto industry to wireless services to hotel accommodations, pornographic imagery has crept into the mainstream because it is owned by everyday companies.” 

Advertising tells women to express themselves sexually through consumerism, pseudo-lesbianism, and marketing oneself. The marketing package unfortunately includes some pornographic undertones. In the example of Domination, one of our five elements of the crossover of pornography in the mainstream media (popular culture) we will examine the 2008 cover album of the Pussycat Dolls, entitled “Doll Domination.” Part of the porn industries adult film collection includes a domination fetish. Fortunately for the Pussycat Doll’s, there is a large male audience for this fetish. Something about the “tough girl” image certainly creates a fantasy for some men.


Thanks to the Spice Girls, we see a pseudo-feminism backlash to actual feminist artists, in the “girl power” movement. The Pussycat Dolls are shown above straddling motorcycles, half dressed, with the word “domination” printed above the photo. This photo was the front cover for their 2008 album entitled “Domination.” With the back arching, and male fantasy of “doing it” on the back of his bike, it is clear that there is no girl power going on in the photo, only oppressed women using pornographic images to sell their album, and declaring to teen girls everywhere that “porno-chic” is cool.  To us it is a photo of contradiction.  While there is a certain “toughness” allowed amongst these women, popular culture would not allow for the femininity of these women to be compromised. The costuming speaks volumes for the representation of the porn-mass media cross market. With leather, black, and just a dash of girly, what are these women trying to portray? While this photo does represent the domination element of the cross market, it also screams identity crisis.


Katy Perry’s song “I Kissed a Girl” pretty much sums up the pseudo-lesbianism element of the cross market of porn and mass media. We know she is heterosexual, and we also know we have never actually seen her kiss a girl, either in her music videos, or on stage. Always for the male gaze and fantasy, never for true lesbianism.

In the article “Twenty one moves guaranteed to make his thighs go up in flames: Depictions of “great sex” in popular magazines” authors Menard and Kleinplatz write “women tend to be portrayed as sexual objects, whose goals should be to attract and please male partners, both sexually and otherwise. There is a strong emphasis on female readers being sexually active in the service of men” (p.3). Girls making out with girls turns into that very notion of girls being portrayed as sexual objects. Joe Francis, Girls Gone Wild director, knows a thing or two about making girls in to objects. In fact he encourages girl on girl interactions, yet the target audience is male. Katy Perry’s song was a huge hit, but also a huge blow to feminism and true lesbianism. Instead we are left with young girls feeling pressured to impress the men at fraternity parties and prom by making out with her best friend. It is one thing to truly explore one’s own sexuality, but when the true exploration is substituted with wanted to put one’s self on display for a man or for public attention, any type of true sexual exploration has been compromised. 

Magazines constantly perpetuate the idea of the male gaze and the objectification of women. Krassas et al. states in Master your Johnson, “magazines depict sexuality, sexual attractiveness, and sexual practice in a limited way that reinforces the objectification in the male gaze” (99). The cover of the Sports Illustrated magazine is absolutely no exception. The annual swimsuit edition is dedicated to the most beautiful women (models) in the world. It’s ironic that they call it the swimsuit edition, because the magazine is not selling the swimsuits at all. On this particular cover, the star beauty, Bar Rafaeli, is on display because of her physical qualities; perfect tan, flat stomach, voluptuous breasts, and of course, the little amount of clothing she has on. However, little is known about her personal qualities, intelligence, or her background.


This is to be expected, since the concept of the male gaze is strictly based on observation. After all, it wouldn’t be called the male gaze if it were anything more than a visual image. In the Brooks article entitled, The Centerfold Syndrome, the author explores the problems of centerfold models and the effects it has on society. According to him, there are five elements to the centerfold syndrome, however we will focus on just one of them: objectification. Brooks states that, “centerfold women are left devoid of real personalities, portrayed as superficial cartoon characters” (444). This cover is solely visual with no depth about her personality making her nothing more than a pretty body and face. It does not mention anything about her intelligence, or life goals. Instead, right next to her name, there is a little caption about where the picture was taken. While Ms. Rafaeli is beautiful, she is not the only woman out there. But the editors chose Bar for a reason, her success if based on her body image, not on any personal factors.


To top it off, Southwest Airlines recently plastered Rafaeli’s body on the side of some of their aircrafts. Protesting bloggers suggested the photo was pornographic, but Southwest stood by its decision to advertise for Sports Illustrated saying that it has received mostly positive feedback. This is just one more example of the partnership of mass corporations and pornographic images. While we do not feel that Sports Illustrated is explicitly pornography, it does have multiple suggestively pornographic images all seen through the male gaze. 



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