September 17, 2012

The Problem with Ecopornography

Though I can understand the rationale behind Welling's usage of the term "ecopornography," I feel that I am in the same boat as a few others in the sense that I find its somewhat questionable. Welling's primary reason for using the term "ecopornography" is because representations of nature have appropriated the visual language used in sexualized depictions of women. This has significant ethical implications because the rhetorical model of ecopornography has actual persuasive power and it shapes the way humans think of their relationship to nature. Also like pornography, representations of nature can be utilized in the name of empowering the subjects represented when in actuality it financially exploits the subjects in order to facilitate agendas contrary to their interests.

Despite this, I still think Welling's delineation of the concept is a very loose one that is problematic for a few reasons. The first is that Welling is apt to use the term "pornography" to describe the media content and practices of nature organizations but Welling only characterizes (or insists that others characterize) nature in feminine terms. This is problematic because women and femininity are not the exclusive subjects of pornography. Sexualized depictions of men and the sexualization of masculinity have a history and a visual language just as those of women yet this is completely ignored through the article. Welling appears to have cherry picked the sort of examples that characterize nature as a "woman whose maidenhead hath not been sack'd." The reason this is problematic is because it takes the similarities between nature and female virginity as granted and one who doesn't think according to the heterosexist male narrative of the world probably wouldn't characterize nature in such a way.

Even though the underlying relationships of power between the represented and the representative are similar between female pornography and ecological imagery, I feel that Welling is wrong to use the term "pornographic." Welling is able to draw similarities between ecological imagery and pornography only by defining pornography in an incredibly limited way, to the exclusion of both non-feminine subjects and the intentionality of sexual arousal, which many believe to be the defining feature of pornography. And on a purely technical writing level, Welling waits until the very end to mention PETA's "We Would Rather" campaign which is probably the strongest example in support of his conclusion. Though I agree with Welling's overall position, I feel that he had to do quite a bit of stretching in order to make this "ecological imagery as pornography" analogy work. The problem is that Welling undermines the multitude of subjects depicted in pornography and betrays its often transgressive undertones by only characterizing nature as "untouched femininity."

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