Over at Film School Rejects, Cole Abaius presents a good argument for retiring the term "torture porn," a phrase coined by New York Magazine's David Edelstein in the 2006 feature "Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn." Edelstein's feature offers plenty of ideas to chew on as to why ultra-violent movies like 'Saw' and 'Hostel' have gained such mainstream popularity, but what's stuck with us is the glib idiom.

As Abaius points out, it's lost all meaning. It's reductive and dismissive, used by critics or viewers to write off movies that they themselves don't find any worth in, as well as their audience. The term can apply to anything from the Guinea Pig films to 'Salo,' and I'm sure there are people who would argue that both contribute to film from a theoretical standpoint.

I'd go a step further, though; using the word porn as a pejorative is equally lazy and reductive. Just because you don't like something or agree with it or find any worth in it doesn't mean you can completely write it off. While it's impossible to ignore the connection between sex and death, the term "torture porn" implies that the viewer is getting off on violence, which I don't think is necessarily the case. Meanwhile, our lexicon is now full of ridiculous terms like food porn, shoe porn, and handbag porn. Why? What does that exactly say?

I reject the notion that all porn is useless and devoid of meaning or value, just as I reject the notion that upsetting, truly disturbing horror movies are all mindless exercises in voyeurism or some sort of Freudian fever dream. And there are plenty of pornographic movies and horror movies that are mindless crap -- but if we're going to write about them at all, we need more constructive, interesting and insightful language to bolster our arguments.
categories Horror, Cinematical